The Beacon Santa
The charity’s beneficiaries are local families down on their luck, and the money helps to buy Christmas Dinner and other essentials. For families to go without at that time of year is, in Western Culture, practically a crime. Imagine Tiny Tim in Dickens’ “A Christmas Story” not getting to eat roasted turkey at the end of the story. People would have burned the book. Just as winter settles upon New England, WAVM hosts take to the air for three December days of live, non-stop money raising. Quite a spectacle ensues. Witnesses have noted a scene with moments of organization, pandemonium, mirth and fatigue (Some years, the event lasted fifty-hours). However, despite all of the madness, there’s also a lot of fun, and WAVM has returned every year to take on the Beacon Santa as much for the challenge as for the charity’s reason.
The Beacon, a regional newspaper, started The Beacon Santa Fund in 1965, but WAVM didn’t become involved until 1978. In previous years, WAVM members such as Pete Hill had organized Christmas specials where the students would broadcast from 7 a.m. one Tuesday until 5 p.m. the next Friday. During these sixty-hours of programming, prizes were given away, and there were special holiday programs including additional church services.
In the Winter of 1978, Bill Cassidy and Bill Nelson turned the holiday special into a fundraiser marathon for the Beacon Santa. Bill Nelson remembers, “Bill Cassidy being the guy to want to go round the clock, mainly because it never had been done at the station.” Nelson also added, “My biggest memory of the first marathon is that I was put onto the Polka show because Jimmy Pileeki and I had a great following. So I got bumped from the over night….and was in bed by eight.” They raised $1,600.
In 1979, The Beacon Santa fundraising was headed by Kathy Doran Boyle, Brenda Lockhart Sullivan, and Chris Whalen, who says “it was a pretty silly crew.” They kept the show going for 60-hours and added a few gimmicks.
“For some reason,”says Kathy Boyle, “Brenda and I along with some friends started collecting hats during the summer before senior year. It seemed like a good idea to bring all of them in to reflect our moods during the Marathon.”
And, according to Brenda Sullivan, “We changed the hats every hour.”
“Of course,” Kathy added, “Chris could not be outdone and dragged in anything he could find to compete with us.”
At one point, the three hosts also played Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” to death. Kathy Boyle says, “Up until that time [2 a.m.], we had a group of listeners who stayed up with us and who called in frequently. However by that hour, they were long gone. So we decided we’d break the rules of normal radio, because no one called. So we figured we’d play it [“Satisfaction”] again, and again, and again……”
Chris Whelan mentions, “we had the song on LP, and we made copies on cart tape and reel-to-reel. We threatened to play “Satisfaction” until someone called in and told us to stop.”
“We played it on both turntables,” added Brenda Sullivan. “Enough to drive anyone insane.”
However, it seems the only one driven insane were the three hosts themselves, because no one called. Kathy finished saying, “After a time, we gave up and played Pink Floyd” Still the radiothon was a success, raising $2,500.
The radiothon was suspended in 1981 in favor of raising money through the sale of movie tickets. For three weeks, WAVM showed films in the M.H.S. auditorium and raised $1,010, which, considering tickets sold for 50-cents apiece, meant WAVM students 3,000 tickets.
In 1982, the Beacon Santa shifted back to radio and into television, a new venture for WAVM. Using the visual medium to its fullest, Beacon Santa Telethon was able to raise larger and larger amounts of money each year by showing off its auction items.
It all starts with the staff voting to choose the hosts, who will not only be on air for the duration of the Telethon but will help organize the whole event. They have to motivate the students to gather pledges or auction items. The Technical or “Tech” Crew are the ones to make sure all of the necessary equipment is in the right place; and that everyone is timely.
The overriding goal of the Beacon Santa Hosts is to raise money. Pledges are collected through door-to-door drives or pledge cans. During the event, dares are taken for the students to complete some wacky or embarrassing feat. Finally there’s the donation of items which will be auctioned off. All totaled, these little pledges or small auction items have raised quite a bit of cash.