Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Last night, in my quest to, um, do something else with my life, I did my stint as a phone volunteer with KBCS. It's been something that I had in mind for a few years now. I even went so far as volunteering a few years back, but given my limited availability, they didn't take me up on my offer. This year, however, I was able to make the cut.

I signed up for the 7-9 shift, so a bit after supper, I headed east to the Bellevue Community College campus. I got their with a modicum of hassle--I'm still not used to rush hour traffic. The studio is in a converted house on the BCC campus. I walked in there with some pre-conceptions, I admit. First off, I wasn't picturing a house. I had always imagined some faceless building like we had at the College of DuPage, with a state of the art studio, just like they had on WKRP in Cincinnati. This imaginary broadcasting complex would also have a separate room for the phone volunteers, who would sat gathered around a large table or two--snacking or goofing around when the phone calls slacked off.

Instead of my daydream, I got a house. I suppose it was a nice enough house, but I didn't see too much of it. I walked into the entrance into what must have been a dining or rec room at one time. Posters festooned the walls and a mid sized table was in the middle with four people sitting around it. A couple of people were moving about--it seemed quite busy. I was directed to sign in and sat down near the table. One of the phone volunteers greeted me and gave me the 30 second rundown about the whole process. There's a form we follow, which has the stock phrases written on it. Soon after she finished her spiel, the phone rang and I was able to watch her field a call. As she deftly handled hte transaction, I belatedly recalled that I hate talking on the phone. What the heck was I doing there?

As the horror of my actions washed over me, the clock struck seven and all the phone volunteers got up and left! As public affairs gave way to music over the airwaves, the chaos of pledge drive central faded away like the morning mist. I was left alone at the table with one of the regular volunteers working at a computer over on the side of the room. The sounds of the program, FolkSounds, wafted around the corner. (I never did find out if it was a monitor speaker, or if there was actually an open walkway to the studio.) I got myself oriented in my chair, looking over the various paperwork before me. There was the pledge form, of course, as well as charts listing pledge premiums and employers who offer matching funds. My first call came through soon enough and I handled it with all the awkwardness I should have expected, had I been thinking. At least nobody cancelled their pledge in mid-call.

The calls came in rather sporadically. There was supposedly some other person scheduled to share the shift with me, but they weren't needed. I helped out with some filing, so I wasn't totally useless. (I discovered that a lot more people pledge on the phone rather than online.) (Probably so they can hear their name mentioned on the radio.) Occasionally one of the DJs walked out to get updates on the incoming pledges. The dearth of calls were slightly disappointing. But in the end, we did make our financial goal. In the waning minutes of the show, one gentleman--moved by a wonderful fiddle tune--called in with a pledge that put the total over the top. The crowd went wild and I was able to leave on a happy note.

So why did I volunteer to answer phones? Well, to support the station, of course. I think there was also an element of my wanting to do things that my old work schedule wouldn't let me do. But mostly it was a desire to connect with the station. I've enjoyed it for years, and in China it was one of those links to our home. That's mainly why I chose the shift I did--during the show which Poodlepums listen to so faithfully in China. (It was funny to think, during the last fifteen minutes of the show, that the student back in Yunnan were swarming into the cafeteria for lunch.) So now that my quest is fulfilled, will I do it again? ummmm, maybe. For all the disillusionment, it wasn't a bad experience. We'll have to see what life is like come springtime.

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