Motivating seminar gets attendees 'radiothon ready'

Carrie Underwood at St. Jude

Carrie Underwood and St. Jude patient Miriam Escamilla share a
moment during Underwood's tour of St. Jude during the 2006 Radio
Training Seminar.

Carrie Underwood, winner of the 2005 American Idol contest, had just arrived at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to begin her first tour of the hospital when she found herself beside Randy Owen, lead singer of the group ALABAMA and co-founder of the Country Cares for St. Jude Kids® program.

Owen's vision of involving the country music industry in supporting St. Jude is what set in motion Underwood's visit as part of the 2006 Radio Training Seminar. Owen shared insight about the hospital and the patients he has come to know and love for almost two decades. And he told her – as many are told before they walk through the doors of St. Jude for the first time – "It's a happy place."

From there, Owen and Underwood embarked on separate tours but with the same purpose: to share moments with families and children at St. Jude.

"St. Jude is a good atmosphere for the children," Underwood said after meeting with patients and families, echoing Owen's earlier statement. "And everyone here seems to care."

It's not just the people at St. Jude who care, but thousands of supporters of radiothons around the country who have demonstrated their compassion for children and their desire to eradicate the deadly diseases that strike them. Together, they have raised more than $250 million in pledges since Owen first challenged the industry to support the hospital. And this weekend more than 800 radio representatives from St. Jude's partner stations joined country music artists to learn more about St. Jude.

Joining Owen and Underwood were country artists Rhett Akins, Jamey Johnson, Julie Roberts, Susan Haynes, Rodney Atkins, Joey Daniels, Hal Ketchum, Rockie Lynne, Zona Jones, Little Big Town, Ashley Monroe, Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand, Trent Tomlinson, Josh Turner and Trent Willmon. Each spent Friday morning visiting with patients.

"It's not a normal hospital," said Rhett Akins. "Everyone is full of life. I didn't think I was in a hospital." Akins has been supporting St. Jude radiothons for almost 10 years, but this year was his first visit for the Radio Training Seminar. "You don't really know what it's like until you come," he said, adding that he knows the importance of cancer research. Cancer struck his brother in 1999. But, thankfully, his brother is now six years cancer-free. "It costs a million dollars a day to operate St. Jude and every penny really does count."

Patient Nia Mitchell was excited about the visiting artists. "I think this is great that they are willing to come and visit the kids," she said. Nia has been undergoing treatment at St. Jude since August for a brain tumor called medulloblastoma. Mitchell met Underwood as the singer was visiting in-patient rooms at the hospital. They talked about Underwood's music and how Mitchell was looking forward to returning to college to complete her degree in elementary education. Then Underwood and Mitchell exchanged autographed photos of one another, so each would have a keepsake of the moment.

"It was wonderful," Mitchell said. "I was glad to have met her."

For more than 17 years, the country music industry has put all of its support behind St. Jude. Today, more radio formats are joining in the cause: Adult Contemporary, Gospel, Urban AC, Lite Rock, Classic Rock, Oldies and more.

Seminar guests were given guided tours of the hospital where they learned about the cutting-edge research going on at St. Jude that has helped push the survival rate for childhood cancer from less than 20 percent to more than 70 percent.

The seminar continued on January 14 with roundtable discussions and special guest speakers designed to inform the 800 radio representatives about the work that is being conducted at St. Jude and to help them take that knowledge back with them to share with their various communities.

Following breakfast, the seminar guests spent the morning attending a series of discussions designed to help radio personnel create innovative ways to broaden the reach of their specific radiothons.

"Everyone here - the employees, the patients, their families - looks forward to this seminar," said ALSAC/St. Jude Radio and Entertainment Marketing Director Teri Watson. "This is the one time of the year when we can embrace our radio and music friends to thank them and remind them of why we still need their support. We want every child to go home healthy and, in part because of our radio partners, we are making strides toward reaching that goal."

Lunch followed the roundtable discussion and with it, a bevy of speakers including a warm and inspirational audio message from Terre Thomas, daughter of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas. Thomas thanked those in attendance for their support of the mission that her father began in 1962 when the hospital opened. Thomas has been a backer of the radiothon program since its inception and routinely calls in to radiothons around the country.

Tom Bowen, father of St. Jude patient Ben Bowen, followed Thomas' message. Bowen shared with the crowd about his experiences as a father at St. Jude, where his son valiantly fought for life before succumbing to the brain tumor that affected him. "As a firefighter," he told them, "I always made sure I had all the necessary tools to do the best job possible – just as you need to have all the tools to do the best job possible at your radiothons."

This year's special guest motivational speaker was Tony LaRussa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. LaRussa told the attendees about the importance of teamwork. "Each member needs to be fully committed to the goal. Just like in baseball, all of you need to pull together and keep building on this championship team."

After hearing the Cardinals manager's "pitch," the representatives heard from patients and families during the Meet the Patients session led by ALSAC Chief Executive Officer John P. Moses. This year's session included Briana Cuevas, who came to St. Jude for treatment of a brain tumor after Hurricane Katrina devastated her family's city. Briana's mother had previously worked in radio and had herself attended the Radio Training Seminar in years past. "I have sat in your seat five times," she told the group, "and I never thought I would be here."

The 2006 Radio Training Seminar concluded with the annual Songwriters' Dinner, during which Marlo Thomas thanked the representatives for attending the event and for their support of her father’s hospital. The dinner featured performances by a number of well-known songwriters such as Roger Cook ("I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"), Liz Hengber ("For My Broken Heart"), John Jarvis ("Love Can Build a Bridge"), Monty Powell ("Days Gone By"), Mark Slaughter ("Fly to the Angels") and Jeffrey Steele ("Something to Be Proud Of").

"This past weekend St. Jude enjoyed another successful Radio Training Seminar," said David L. McKee, chief operating officer for ALSAC. "This is such a tremendous way to start each year. It's always great to see the enthusiasm of new attendees and to see the veterans of the seminar learn of the new and exciting discoveries St. Jude has made. We are very appreciative to the radio industry and its listeners for helping making those discoveries possible."


January 2006

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