Divas on stage, Boston butts on the smoker, first responders and community members behind the phone lines and two tearful hosts — all collaborating together to raise over a quarter of a million dollars for the children and families of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Now in its 16th year, the WBKR St. Jude Radiothon managed to accomplish what it does every year — rallying the community together for a common cause and raising thousands of dollars for pediatric cancer research.
This year’s total of $252,529, up $37,000 from what the station raised in 2018, was revealed live on air Friday afternoon. Although St. Jude has become a heart project of WBKR morning DJ Chad Benefield and co-host Angel Welsh, and the station’s biggest mission of the year — those involved are aware they would not able to raise this amount of money on their own.
“It’s all about the people that raise the money,” Benefield said following the on-air reveal. “A quarter of a million dollars, really? We make more money in Owensboro than major metropolitan cities…that says a lot for the people in this room and everybody listening. For us to go toe-to-toe with San Deigo, Ca. — that’s one of the top ten largest cities in the United States and, you all, our tote board nearly just matched theirs. That’s incredible.”
While Welsh gave much-deserved credit to Benefield on air through tears for working tirelessly, sometimes 14 to 16-hour days, the list of community members that visited the station in the crucial last 48 hours of fundraising was overwhelming.
Members of the Owensboro Fire and Police Department, Sheriff Keith Cain and the Daviess County Sheriff’s Office, Jailer Art Maglinger, Jason Koger, Goldie Payne, Diamond Lake Resort owners and Purdue Farms were just some of the many volunteers that took to the phone lines to encourage listeners to become “Partners in Hope” by donating $20 a month to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Young WBKR partner Gavin Howard raised over $9,000 this year with his hard work and 2019 St. Jude T-shirt design. Jackie Blue Handmade designed a one-of-a-kind “HOPE” bracelet to benefit the charity, while Whitesville Trinity and St. Mary of the Woods schools held penny wars that raised a total $3,800.
For each of the last six years, the final tally has been revealed after one of the station’s most impactful community members finishes cooking and joins the crew at the station. This year, Jerry Morris and the “Angels for Ashley” cooking team added smoked bologna to their Boston butts, slabs of ribs, whole chickens and plate lunches. Between their Shoe Stop and Norman McDonald’s Country Drive-In locations, Morris and his crew raised $65,000. Benefield thanked the cooking team for “braving the elements,” which Morris said included pulling a school bus up beside the pit in Whitesville in order to block the wind.
“Jerry is probably the most selfless person I have ever met,” Benefield said. “I can’t imagine our Radiothon without Angels for Ashley being a part of it. They are a huge part of our St. Jude family.”
Benefield and Welsh were filled with joy as they continued to praise the community and its listeners for a heartfelt and generous job well done.
“Oh my goodness — I am absolutely blown away,” Benefield said. “Our St. Jude Radiothon celebrates community. It truly has become a community event. Our listeners embrace these stories, these families, these patients and the mission of this hospital. St. Jude is a family and that family grows every year. The fact that we just raised over a quarter of a million dollars — situated here in Owensboro, Ky. — is a testament to the hearts of our WBKR listeners.”