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Aid for broadcasters

After a bout with cancer, a West Coast radio broadcaster found himself in dire financial straits, unable to support his blind wife and 15-year-old son. On the advice of a friend, he contacted The Broadcasters' Foundation, an industry group whose mission is to help financially troubled broadcasters.

The foundation came through with a monthly check. "We couldn't do it without them," says the man, who asked for anonymity. "We paid off the hospital bills. They are a godsend."

The foundation's mission is to help persons who have worked in broadcasting and who have fallen on hard times. "They are regular people who have been in the engineering rooms of this industry," says Foundation President Gordon Hastings. For the most part, "this is not a glamorous industry. No one is making big money."

Hastings, brought on board in March 1996 to revitalize what was then known as The Broadcast Pioneers, says the group is helping 21 families with grants averaging $500 a month, up from $200 in 1996.

Those numbers will rise if the foundation's current membership drive is successful. To lead it, the foundation has brought in non-profit maven David Meleczko. Membership now stands at 830; the immediate goal is to add 250 names by June. Dues are $100 a year, but retired broadcasters are invited to pay whatever they want. "Some pay more, some less," says Hastings.

Dues are just a small portion of the foundation's income. Most comes from an avid fundraising centered on the group's Golden Mike Award. "This isn't an Emmy, a Cleo, an Academy Award," Hastings says. "We are not rewarding good ratings. We are looking for good community leaders, in keeping with the idea that broadcasting is a public trust. In accepting the award, the recipient is endorsing [our] mission."

Through the annual Golden Mike Award Dinner, golf tournaments, several other fundraising events and membership dues, the foundation netted $300,000 in 2001. Of that, $125,000 is used for the monthly grants. The balance—about $175,00—is used the run the organization.

The foundation also maintains an endowment, now hovering around $1 million, and hopes to build it to $4 million before tapping the investment income for grants. Hastings pledges that every cent that comes out of the fund will go into direct grants.

He also wants to expand the services of the foundation, perhaps providing health insurance or even a retirement home.

Right now, though, Hastings simply wants to get the word out about the foundation: "My greatest concern is that there are people out there that need our help that we don't know about."