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All pledge all the time

Willy Astor and Sabrina Setlu take phone calls from donors at the live broadcast of the SAT.1 telethon benefit 'Germany Helps - Contributions for the Victims of the Tsunami Catastrophe' at the SAT.1 studios January 3, 2005 in Berlin, Germany.

Kai Ryssdal: I'm about to speak two of the most dreaded words in public broadcasting. Here you go.

Pledge drive.

No, it's not that time again. But there is a cable station launching today in Pittsburgh, Penn., where it's that time all the time. Yeah, you heard it right: A public television station that reruns nothing but pledge drives -- all day long.

Marketplace's Gregory Warner has the story, and it's not going to cost you a dime.


Gregory Warner: WQED, a public television station in Pittsburgh, launched its newest cable channel today with a rerun of "Easy Recipes for Thrifty Cooking."

Clip: And here they are, they're genuine Pittsburgh recipes from Pittsburghers submitted together in one book, which we're making available right now, for your membership pledge to WQED in the amount of $60. So if you'll go to your phone.

So call now, or call later, because these phones are always open.

Introducing Channel 13.4, the first cable channel to continuously stream public television pledge show reruns. Remember Dr. Who?

"Dr. Who" clip: Now that we're stuck here for eternity, at least you won't be bored!

Doug Eichten: I don't get it. I don't know why anybody would listen or watch.

Doug Eichten runs DEI, a nonprofit that works with public media fundraisers. He says other stations are shortening pledge drives, not making them 24/7 cable.

Eichten: Unless what it is is a very transactional, almost Home Shopping Network-type operation.

Home Shopping Network -- that's kind of a public television slur. But WQED station president Deborah Acklin hopes this channel will bring in $2,000 a week in pledges. That's a lot of coffee mugs and tote bags.

Deborah Acklin: I think in public broadcasting, we're a little bit embarrassed about pledge, and we shouldn't be. We forget that audiences do tune into pledge. And there are some people who just plain love it.

OK, love pledge? Apparently they're out there.

Craid Reed: Um, we call them the pledge fanatics.

Craig Reed is director of research at TRACmedia. He says at every public television focus group, there are always one or two people who can't get enough pledge shows. Celtic dancing, doo wop by the Marcels -- bring it on.

Michael Soper is a former senior V.P. of development at PBS. He says a lot of pledge content is designed to trigger memories.

Michael Soper: You can use nostalgia to make an emotional connection with people.

And then you ask them for money.

Soper: Well, you hopefully continue that emotional connection. You know, it goes from the music to the person who says 'I helped make it possible, I'm doing something for my community.'

Which is a beautiful public broadcasting sentiment, but the whole idea of pledge is that you do your duty and then we go away.

Soper: Wow. And at the $250 level, we'll send you the DVD and this beautiful coffee table book. And the popeil pocket fisherman.

Michael, stop, oh no -- we're not pledging! We're not pledging!

Soper: And there's more!

And there's always more.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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