As the disc jockeys at WZYQ in Frederick squeezed into the studio the other day, they were greeted by a fuzzy stuffed monkey swinging from a microphone, two stuffed green frogs perched on the tape deck, five small electronic organs, a plastic bowling set, three Barbie dolls in western garb, four soccer balls and a dozen cartons of Play-Doh.
It was impossible to walk anywhere in the radio station's cramped headquarters without tripping over a stack of board games, matchbox cars, roller skates or oodles of Crayolas.
The toy shop atmosphere at the rock-and-roll station, which bills itself "Z104," was the aftermath of "Christmas Cash for Kids," a 62-hour, on-the-air marathon held to buy holiday gifts for 3,000 needy children in Frederick County.
Listeners pledged $29,332. The money was used to purchase new toys and clothing gift certificates at area stores, said station manager Howard Johnson. The gifts are distributed by the Salvation Army, which operates a center in Frederick where parents unable to pay for Christmas presents can choose toys to put under their trees.
"The intent is not to go into the home and say, 'Here's your toy.' We want the child to feel mom and dad have provided Christmas for them," said Berkley Jenkins, a Salvation Army officer.
The Salvation Army and other local welfare agencies accept applications from families needing assistance. WZYQ does the fund-raising.
"If it weren't for them, we'd really be out on a limb," Jenkins said.
WZYQ started the campaign seven years ago to help a few children and "it snowballed on us," Johnson said. Last year, he said, the marathon provided toys for about 1,200 children, but this year 3,000 need help -- a reflection of the economic times.
The marathon was three days of nonstop talk on the AM-FM station, with a few Christmas songs woven into the pitch from the station's disc jockeys. The broadcast took on a competitive air, as local companies challenged other firms to match their donations. Frederick Mayor Ron Young played "Stump the Mayor" on the air one night, a contest in which a caller made a donation if Young could guess the punch line to a joke and the mayor kicked in money if he couldn't figure it out.
Johnson said contributions this year ranged from 20 cents pledged by a school girl to $1,550 from an anonymous man who walked into the station, handed over an envelope filled with $100 bills and left after refusing a receipt for his donation.
One of the more touching moments, Johnson said, was when a 3-year-old arrived with her parents and offered her ceramic piggy bank "so other children could have a real Christmas." The piggy bank was fat with $80, saved by the little girl and her parents since she was born.
The total pledged this year surpassed the $26,000 promised last year, of which about $21,000 was collected, Johnson said.
"It was more moving this year than in past years because of the way the economy's been," said disc jockey Kemosabi Joe. "We had more kids needing help and a lot of us were concerned about whether we'd be able to raise as much as last year."
Most of the gifts go to Frederick County youngsters, Johnson said. The station does reach Montgomery County, however, and in proportion to the pledges from Montgomery residents, WZYQ donates toys to needy children there, he said.
At the marathon's conclusion, the station asks toy stores to pick out this year's most popular toys for various age groups. The station purchases the toys, blankets and clothing gift certificates at a discount.