During our college days at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, early December meant the annual telethon for Wisconsin Badger Camp, a place that provided outdoor recreational opportunities for the developmentally disabled. It was broadcast on the campus cable station, and it was all hands on deck for 24 hours—even those of us who didn’t work much TV found ourselves involved. (I tried to remain pure by handling the audio board.)
In December 1980, The Mrs., then a sophomore, was a co-host of the telethon, and was on camera for the whole 24 hours. “The week before the telethon,” she remembered, “I got to visit a local bridal shop in town that loaned me three or four different formal gowns to wear during the telethon. I had actual costume changes!” She also said, “The next year, I wanted to participate again. The telethon always had new co-hosts each year, so I convinced the supervising faculty member to let me be the 24-hour telephone answerer. Different student organizations would provide people to help answer phones in four-hour shifts every year. I sat at the end of the line, so all the other phones had to be busy for me to get a call. Several times an hour, the cameras would turn on me (and I mean that in both meanings of the phrase) and I’d do my best to get people to call in, even if it was just to talk to me so the darn phone would ring while we were on camera. That telethon seemed to last a lot longer than the year before.”
For the 1980 telethon, we decided to get the campus radio station involved with a promotion we called Jock Around the Clock. The plan was for me to do a 24-hour shift on the station during the telethon, soliciting donations and doing who-knows-what to keep the audience (and myself) entertained. We promoted the hell out of it for a couple of weeks, only to have the station’s transmitter kick the bucket three days beforehand. We were off the air entirely during telethon week (which was also the week John Lennon was murdered), so Jock Around the Clock didn’t happen. There was talk of trying to do it again the next year, but I had lost interest by then.
There is absolutely no guarantee that I would have been able to complete the 24-hour radio show, of course. Thinking back on it now, it seems absurd to have believed I would. I hadn’t planned anything special apart from staying on all that time—I hadn’t booked any guests, from Badger Camp, from the TV crew, or from anywhere else—and I suppose I assumed that the novelty of all-me, all-the-time was going to be sufficient. In those days, it would not have been out of character for me to bail on it partway through, even after the station had spent weeks promoting it. Such was the extent of my ego back in the day.
The Badger Camp Telethon got shorter over the years, and it aired for its last time in 2013, I believe. But during its 40-year lifespan, it raised untold amounts of money, and it remains a fond memory among those of us who participated in it. It was a rare opportunity to do live, long-form television—and it was usually capped off with an epic party involving the TV station staff, volunteers, and the Greek organizations that co-sponsored the telethon. One year, when the party was raging at 2:30 in the morning, we looked around and noticed that only the broadcasters were left standing—we’d outpartied the frat boys in their own house.
(Rebooted from a post first appearing in 2009.)