Let me get this out of the way first: I've been listening to public broadcasting for 40-plus years, and I would write this column whether or not I work for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM now.
Nobody welcomes public broadcasting fundraising drives, which interrupt our favorite formats, but Maryanne Zeleznik and Jay Hanselman do it better than anyone else I've heard. They truly put the most fun into fundraising, of all the Cincinnati non-commercial stations.
Maryanne and Jay are two old friends who make the fund appeals entertaining because they sound like two old friends. Or a sister and brother. Or a married couple, as a listener once said to Hanselman.
"We figure if we aren't having fun talking, no one's going to have any fun listening," says Zeleznik, WVXU-FM news director. Zeleznik and Hanselman left WNKU-FM news in 2005 to join WVXU-FM when Cincinnati Public Radio bought the station from Xavier University.
They've known each other since 1990, when Hanselman started as a WNKU-FM intern and part-time reporter for news director Zeleznik. They've been pitching on radio together since 1995, and co-anchoring WVXU-FM's "Morning Edition" fund drives for 10 years. Their experience and relationship allows them to go "off script" to raise funds.
"Sometime we just take a script, look at the main points, and do our best to get those points out just by talking. Some scripts have to be exact (perhaps about a special thank you gift), but most things we can put in our own words, and we've been doing this so long that we can talk on this subject for hours and hours without even trying," says Zeleznik, who worked her first fund drive in 1980 or '81 as a Miami University student on WMUB-FM, which now simulcasts WVXU-FM.
"There are lots of people who don't like fund drives, everyone understands that," Hanselman says. "I think our goal is to do what we have to do -- ask for money -- while making it more tolerable with a little humor. We try to have fun with a few laughs, but usually not over the top so the reason for us being on the air to ask for money is not missed."
It's a fine line not to be too funny, or too flippant, to remind everyone the importance of supporting public radio – especially this year, when the Trump administration has considered eliminating funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In my 32 years as a TV/Media writer, I've heard a lot of excruciating fund drives. I've heard lots of threats to donate now, or we'll cancel the programs you love. (Like that 1973 National Lampoon cover, "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog!") I've heard lots of boring monologs and preaching to the choir, and way too much desperation.
But not on the "Maryanne and Jay Show," which returns Wednesday for a nine-day limited engagement on a radio station near you.
They get it. So do you. A listener named Nicole said during the January drive she had been "waking up to Zeleznik's voice for 10 years" and commented: "I love fund drives because I get to see behind the scenes (with you and Jay).”
"Some people have said we act like brother and sister. One person went so far to say we sounded like a married couple bickering back and forth one time," Hanselman says.
"Lots of people tell us… it's more fun to listen to than fundraising they've heard at other stations," Zeleznik says. "Every once in a while we'll get a call from someone telling Jay not to pick on me, or to be nicer. I think they don't always realize that I'm in on the 'gag' too. They are very protective of me sometimes which is very sweet. Got to love those listeners!
"We truly wouldn't be the station we are without listener support," she says.
Maryanne and Jay – and everyone at Cincinnati Public Radio – knows you don't like the pledge drive interrupting programs. They try their best to broadcast most of "Morning Edition" during drives, and most of the important segments. "We actually time-shift the program so we can preserve segments and still fund-raise. And we can always adjust, if the news of the day warrants it," Hanselman says.
Thanks to 8,000 sustaining members, "we cut fund-raising hours during every drive," says Sherri Mancini, vice president for development. "We do pitching practice, produce new spots every drive (though you can tell Alec Baldwin's spots are among the favorites), and we partner with national radio hosts and producers like Rick Steves and Dave Isay from StoryCorps for a different perspective.
"We look for ways to add a little fun," Mancini says, "but the goal is always to raise the funds needed and get back to business as usual."
In about nine days.