Follow Up Friday: the evolution of WAGM telethons

Published: Nov. 21, 2023 at 11:16 AM EST
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - Over the last 40 years, telethons have evolved here at WAGM. We now regularly bring in over a hundred thousand dollars for local charities every year. However, it didn’t always used to be this big of an event. When the telethons first started at WAGM they were significantly shorter, they were much less often, and they would only happen at night.

Rene Cloukey, the assistant news director and sports director at WAGM, says that telethons in the 1980s were “completely different” to how they are now. “It pretty much started at 7:00 in the studio and we would be in there for an hour or two hours and just challenge people to do different things,” Cloukey says. “We just had a lot of fun times, and if we had certain goals then we would have someone do some challenge.”

The telethons were irregular and less frequent until 2016, when WAGM Vice President and General Manager Kelly Landeen decided to make them a three-times-a-year event. “Well we just started doing three in a year because the need is so great,” Landeen explains. “Feeding people and keeping people warm in the winter were just two, you know, it helps everyone.”

Landeen says that extending the length of time of the telethons felt like a natural progression. “We decided to extend the length of the telethon because naturally we have the news[casts], so we thought why not start with our morning news and then just kind of go through the day with cut ins and to really put a spotlight on the need so people knew what they were giving the donations for and it could showcase the nonprofit that was collecting the money,” Landeen says.

Cloukey says that although the telethons have changed, WAGM has a history of wanting to give back to the community. “Telethons are nothing new for us at WAGM, but we went a long time between them and now that we’re back into doing them it just means a lot to the whole team at WAGM,” Cloukey says.

“This was a way for us to use the power of television to get to as many people as we can, tell a story that tells people what there is a need in our community,” Landeen adds.

One thing that hasn’t changed throughout the years is how much the community continues to support WAGM telethons and the charities we serve. Over the years the community has always stepped up to help by donating as much money as they can. Cloukey says that the telethons used to bring in between $7,000-$8,000 each. “In the 80s and 90s that was a lot of money, and everyone was very happy and very happy to take part in it,” he says.

Landeen comments on how the community’s support is critical to the success of the telethons today. “That is, I think the biggest thing, why we’re able to do three telethons in a year, is the county people want to help people . . . even if they’re just giving a small amount they want to help,” she says.