WHUT, the Howard University-operated public television station, is getting back into the pledge-drive business after an eight-year hiatus.
For the next two weeks, starting tomorrow, WHUT (Channel 32) will air taped messages from local government officials and TV personalities seeking financial support for the station before and after prime-time music, self-help and financial-advice shows.
WHUT General Manager Jennifer Lawson initiated the idea, which comes when the station, along with public television in general, is struggling with shrinking budgets.
"Pledge drives are a real effective way of both raising funds and cementing community ties," says Lawson, a public television veteran who took the reins at WHUT in March.
Lawson, who oversees the station's $3.2 million budget, is not setting a financial goal for the drive. "Our attitude is that every dollar we raise through this drive is a dollar more than we had last year," she said.
WHUT provides diverse programming but draws a minuscule audience compared with other stations in the market. This month, it is averaging about 6,000 TV households in prime time.
The station abandoned pledge drives in 1996 when the expense of running them began to outweigh the funds raised, according to Lawson. For that reason, she said the station will avoid the live, phone-bank-style fundraisers, like those seen on WETA and Maryland Public Television, and rely strictly on taped pieces that will run between programs.
Premium items such as mugs and tote bags will still be given to people who pledge certain amounts. "What is public television without a good quality tote bag?" quipped Lawson.
Kojo Nnamdi, the WAMU radio talk show host who has moderated WHUT's "Evening Exchange" for the past 19 years, will be one of the local personalities asking for money in the taped pieces and says he's "delighted" that the station is resurrecting the drive: "Viewers complain constantly about pledge drives. Nevertheless, when you don't do pledge drives viewers feel that you're really not doing anything new. If you're not conducting pledge drives and asking for money . . . you might not really be worth watching anymore."
This past year, WETA raised $3.1 million from pledge drives in August, December and March, accounting for about 12 percent of its budget.
WHUT's drive kicks off tomorrow night at 8 with "He Touched Me," a documentary about the gospel music of Elvis Presley. A concert by gospel singer CeCe Winans, taped in New York, follows at 9.