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Monday, September 2, 2019

Remembering the MDA Telethon

As a child, I remember watching the MDA Telethon with Jerry Lewis on the national broadcast, and Eddie Meath on WHEC Channel 10 for the local portion here in Rochester.  I remember kids in the neighborhood going house to house with a can, looking for donations.

As a young teen, when I was a member of the Greece Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, I remember marching down East Avenue for the Labor Day parade. On one Labor Day, after the parade, we went to the Mapledale Party House parking lot to do a performance when Eddie Meath came outside.

WHEC Channel 10 was one of the original stations to broadcast the MDA Jerry Lewis telethon when it first began in 1966.

Little did I know in those days that I would end up working many of those local broadcasts myself.  I started working at Channel 10 in August of 1982, just a couple weeks before Labor Day.  I was still training to be a control room crew member.  If memory serves correct, the Rochester broadcast was coming from the ballroom at the Americana Hotel on State Street.  Today it is a Holiday Inn, which is weird for me because back then the building across the river from there was a Holiday Inn.  That day, my job was to change the numbers on the Tote Board every time we had a new dollar amount for donations that had come in.

I left the station on September 5, 2014.  From 1982 through 2013, I worked almost every Labor Day for the MDA Telethon.  The remote location changed through the years.  After the hotel ballrooms, we moved to the Xerox Theatre for a number of years, and then down the road to Rochester's School of the Arts. I worked different control room positions at different times through the years; camera was always fun because I liked picking out different volunteers to get closeups of while they were taking phone calls.  I also worked audio, video switcher, and videotape playback.  There were some years I was back at the station, running master control.

There was a large group of volunteers that worked behind the scenes at the MDA telethons.  They put many hours of work into this worthy cause.  I always enjoyed being at the remote location with them. In between local broadcasts, while the national portion was on the air, we often hung out with some of them, or down at the tables where food was being served.

It's sad in a way that the telethons have ended.  I recognize that today it's not the most effective way to raise funds anymore.  I'd like to believe that progress has been made in a cure for muscular dystrophy, but obviously it still exists.  Maybe someday.

Here's a video of a WHEC local portion of the MDA telethon sometime in the late 1980's.  I'm one of the camera operators.  I believe this was at the Xerox Auditorium.

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