Since my only job these days is to stay good-looking and not die, I have some time on my hands. So I figured I might spend some of it volunteering for my local public radio station during one of its insufferable pledge drives. I swear those things happen with more frequency than failed senator/presidential candidate Rick Santorum says something like this. Which at this point in the Republican primary is like all the time.
When I signed up for a volunteer shift manning the phones and relieving people of their money, I was told the only open slots were 6-9 a.m. Awesome. Because there’s nothing I like better than waking before dawn and pretending to be cheerful about it. But I figured this would be my penance for the years I spent listening to public radio for free, so like a traumatized former Catholic, I took the punishment and thanked them for it.
I arrived at 6 a.m. and was ushered into a room with banks of laptops and phone headsets. I was easily the youngest volunteer by about 50 years and that’s saying something since I’m like nearly 60 (I kid. I love the old!). I was also the sleepiest. The other volunteers were as perky as Katie Couric during her TODAY Show days. The volunteer coordinator gave me a packet of instructions and told me to do a little dry run-through before I began answering any calls. When I felt comfortable that I’d be able to fake knowing anything at all about the pledge drive or Vermont Public Radio reasonably well, I punched in to take some calls.
Now, I should note that I’m one of those weird people who loves both talking on the phone and filling out forms, so this task could not have been more perfect. I’m pretty sure if I took the Myers-Briggs test, it would tell me that the career I was most suited for was call center operator. Perhaps I should consider a move to Mumbai.
My first call was form a listener from Quebec who chided me for not knowing how to spell his French last name. Um, sir, I only speak American and if your last name is something foreign, I can’t be expected to know how to spell it. But really, we just had a spotty connection and I couldn’t hear him when he said LeDulabouvillechardmontvrier.
The next few calls were smooth sailing. There was a matching challenge going on so if folks gave $120, that donation would be doubled. Like my many parking meter fines. If they weren’t into giving $120, I upsold like I was working tables at TGIFriday’s. I begged, I guilted, I promised to send them suggested nude photos of myself if only they would increase their donation. Oddly, the promise of pictures of my naked, doughy, winter flesh was not at all enticing to VPR listeners.
But perhaps promising listeners something other than smart programming and vital news and information might work to get people to crack open their wallets. I think towards the end of the pledge drive, when the radio hosts get a little loopy, they nearly do vow ridiculous things in exchange for donations. I’m pretty sure Jane Lindholm has come within inches of offering to make videos of herself sissy-bouncing (watch this now) with Pat Leahy and her German short-haired pointer up and down Church Street (Jane, if you do that, I will give VPR $1000, no joke). And I could swear Mitch Wertlieb was moments away from pledging to be shot out of a cannon into Yankee Stadium wearing nothing by a Red Sox hat and a strategically placed VPR artist mug. Listeners might give a little more if they got a little more. Pizazz kids, pizazz. Just saying.
No need to be so hostile, VPR.
The highlight of my morning came not from the beyond pleasant interactions I had with numerous callers, but rather the negative interactions I had with three of them. Having worked in print media for nearly a decade, I have received more hate mail than Jowls McNewtrich during his failed years as House speaker. I assumed that public radio was free from ranting lunatics and their crazy-making screeds. I figured public radio was all cupcakes and rainbows and baby animals and year-round tans. You know — the good things in life. I was wrong.
My first rant came from a man who said he would pledge money on one account — if VPR broadcast more news about Ron Paul. Now, as a volunteer, and a groggy one at that, I don’t have any control over the news. I explained this to the man and told him I would gladly connect him with the comments line so he could pontificate there all he liked. Then he asked me why VPR didn’t cover a rally for Ron Paul in DC featuring anti-Obama veterans. Again, I told him I didn’t know, but that he could leave a message on the comments line and someone (not me) could help him. I also mentioned that nobody is writing about Ron Paul because only about three people are interested in teetering gynecologist Goldbug Gramps McGee becoming president.
When he finally stopped, I had to ask him a question, just so I was clear.
Me: So you’re saying you don’t want to donate today?
Ron Paul lover: Nope.
Me: So you don’t want the artist mug? It’s libertarian and it loves freedom.
Ron Paul lover: Click
The next fellow who called was even more worked up. Our conversation went a little like this:
Me: Good morning and thanks for calling VPR. My name is Lauren. May I get your name please?
John Q.: John Q. Conservative*
Me: Hi, John. Have you given to VPR in the past?
John Q.: No, and I can’t in good conscience do it this year.
Me: Ok… so you’re not interested in pledging?
John Q.: No. You see, I think you have a problem with neutrality. You’re supposed to be unbiased. But you’ve got a bias against conservatives. Conservatives don’t get a fair shake on your programs. There are no stories about conservative issues. So why aren’t you neutral when you claim to be?
Me: Well, sir, I’m just a volunteer. But I’m assuming that if you want to listen to people claiming that the earth is only 2,000 years-old, or that more women wearing short skirts leads to more abortions, or that Jesus is going to suck all the true believers up to heaven in a giant evangelical Hoover come the end times, then there are plenty of FOX-affiliated radio and television broadcasts that might be better suited to your political leanings. If you want to be transferred over to the comments line, I can do that for you now.
John Q.: Sure. Thanks.
*not real name
The last rant was from a woman who was pissed that someone from VPR didn’t respond to a question she posed on Twitter. More accurately, she was mad because they didn’t answer her Twitter question in a way she felt was adequate. She told me that because VPR doesn’t know how to use Twitter, she wasn’t going to give them any of her money. Fair enough. I never give people money if they don’t know how to use Twitter. That’s always my test for homeless people. I’m like, Hey Joey Tentsleeper. I’d love to give you some spare dimes, but first you must prove your proficiency with this social media application. And if he can’t, well, looks like Joey is eating out of the trash again tonight.
All and all, my VPR volunteering experience was pretty good fun. Granted, it wasn’t like a Jerry Lewis muscular dystrophy telethon with celebrity variety acts and rotary telephones. But I got free donuts and a warm fuzzy for helping out. Oh, and free donuts.
(This is a funnyish video about NPR pledge drives.)