Vaudeville on the Radio During KUSC Membership Drive
October 8, 2013
Truth be told, most public radio membership drives are barely tolerated by listeners. But at Classical KUSC, where the fall membership drive kicks off Oct. 10, many listeners actually look forward to the drives. They particularly look forward to the first day kickoff and last day finale, when announcers Rich Capparela and Jim Svejda team up for what aficionados call “vaudeville of the air.”
In a normal week, the two announcers, who are among the nation’s best-known and most knowledgeable commentators on classical music, host separate shows on Classical KUSC. But from 4-7 p.m. the first and last day of each membership drive, Capparela and Svejda join forces and let the musical jokes, puns and humorous asides fly. For the fall drive, they will team up on Thursday, Oct. 10 and Friday, Oct. 18.
“They put a lot more of their own humor into these hours,” said station general manager Eric DeWeese. “We know there are people who tune in specifically to hear them.”
Svejda and Capparela claim to be mystified about why listeners tune in to hear them co-host. Said Capparela: “I’d credit Jim with being flawlessly focused and easy to interact with on air. But beyond that, there’s some chemistry going on between us that is a mystery to me. It’s a little like that storied married couple who finish each other’s sentences. … I dare not ask more, lest I tip over the apple cart. We do get great feedback, especially when one of us inevitably cracks up the other and that person falls into helpless giggling.”
Said Svejda: “I’ve always thought of it as two middle-aged guys desperately trying to behave but failing.”
DeWeese said the station also gets positive feedback from listeners during membership drives on The Opera Show with Duff Murphy, when Svejda joins Murphy in the booth for clever repartee. That duo will be broadcasting from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 12, talking between excerpts from various operas.
Those aren’t the only special additions to the Classical KUSC schedule during the membership drive. There will be a one-hour special on classical music in film scores that will air at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11. It will be hosted by Capparela. Another one-hour special on classical guitar will air at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15.
The station’s membership drives are vitally important, as about 70 percent of Classical KUSC’s operating budget comes from individual donors.
DeWeese, who organizes the membership drives with Minnie Prince, the station’s director of development, said that several of the thank-you gifts given to donors have proven so popular that they are offered drive after drive. The longest-running gift, offered annually for nearly two decades, is a recording of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue recorded by Mitch Miller.
Svejda, who was a friend of Miller’s, calls the recording the premier version of the Gershwin piece. He offers listeners a money-back guarantee when he promotes the recording a few times during each drive. If listeners don’t agree it is the best version of the famous rhapsody, he offers to personally refund their money. So far, he has been able to sit on his wallet. “I do the hype-and hyperbole-proof guarantee on most things and have never gotten stung yet,” said Svejda.
DeWeese said the challenge of membership drives is to keep the messages positive so listeners enjoy the increased time spent on conversation. “We don’t want to make people feel guilty or listen to begging,” he said. “Listeners tell us they like learning more about our announcers, and hearing their humorous sides.”
[Images at top, from left: Rich Capparela, Jim Svejda, Duff Murphy]
Classical KUSC is located in downtown Los Angeles and broadcasts hand-picked commercial-free classical performances, expert music commentary and coverage of the arts in Southern California. The listener-supported station has been broadcasting for more than 60 years as a broadcast service of the University of Southern California at 91.5(FM) in Los Angeles and Santa Clarita; 88.5 KPSC in Palm Springs; 91.1 KDSC in Thousand Oaks, 88.7 KQSC in Santa Barbara and 99.7 KESC in Morro Bay/San Luis Obispo. It is live-streamed at kusc.org, attracting listeners around the globe.