WMAR takes to heart telethon for sick children


Harry Kakel recalls taking a photograph in the early 1980s of three young cancer patients at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. At the time he was serving as art director for a WMAR-TV telethon that aided the Children's Center, and the patients were among those being profiled.

"I looked at it three years later and realized all the kids in the picture had died. I was totally wrecked," says Mr. Kakel, now the station's production manager and the executive producer of the 12th annual WMAR-TV Children's Miracle Network Telethon. It begins at 9 tonight and runs through 6 p.m. tomorrow on Channel 2.

"But that's what local television can do. It really reaches people," says Mr. Kakel, a 30-year WMAR veteran who has been involved in all the station's fund-raising efforts on behalf of the Hopkins Children's Center.

The Children's Miracle Network is a national organization funded by the Osmond Foundation of Salt Lake City. Singer Marie Osmond and actor John Schneider are co-hosts of the national telethon, which is marking its 12th anniversary.

The telethon, airing live from Disneyland, benefits children's treatment facilities around the nation, with all donations funneled directly to the local beneficiary, rather than a central national fund.

WMAR anchors Stan Stovall and Mary Beth Marsden are co-hosts of the local production. Local segments comprise about 20 minutes of each hour, originating in Channel 2 studios, at the Children's Center and other remote locations.

To date, Miracle Network telethons have raised more than $13 million for the center -- including about $2 million from last year's telethon, according to the center.

"I never thought we could reach that level," says Mr. Kakel of last year's total.

Baltimore ranked sixth nationally last year in telephone contributions, which, Mr. Kakel says, is sharply higher than the city's 22d-place among TV markets nationally.

WMAR's telethon involvement with the Hopkins facility dates to the early 1980s. In 1981 and 1982, Channel 2 teamed with the Variety Club fund-raising organization to help Children's Center cancer patients.

"It seemed like a natural extension of what we were already doing with the Muscular Dystrophy Association," says Mr. Kakel.

"I think Channel 2 is really unusual," says Peggy Warner, development director for the children's center. "What they give us is so much more than 21 hours of air time. It's a year-long commitment."

In some cities, she says, TV stations charge organizations for the air time, or provide fewer hours. WMAR's time is donated, and regular network programming is pre-empted.

"It's part of our heritage of community involvement, I guess," says Mr. Kakel.

"It's fun. For this weekend, the whole station transforms into the telethon center," he notes. About 1,200 volunteers participate in all phases of the telethon, according to the Children's Center.

Volunteers will answer phones and work the tote board at the WMAR building on York Road.

Mr. Kakel is not bashful about the promotions benefits the station enjoys. "I'd be lying if I said it's not important that all our people are visible," he says, noting that the entire news staff contributes to the telethon.

Mr. Kakel also notes that co-anchor Mr. Stovall, who is married to former WMAR reporter Yolanda Graham, has a special interest in the center. One of the couple's two children was a patient there several years ago.

At that time, Mr. Stovall had already done four telethons. But he says he gained personal proof that "they gave great care and they treat the whole family."

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