Public radio tattoos make a comeback

By Dru Sefton

The latest package of public radio fundraising premiums allows devout listeners to temporarily brand their passion for their favorite shows on their forearms — or elsewhere.

A set of eight rub-on tattoos in colorful vintage designs tout the titles On the Media, Fresh Air, Morning Edition, All Things Considered and This American Life. They’re offered to stations by longtime pubcasting premium distributor VisABILITY in Lyons, Colo.

A candle-topped skull is one of eight temporary tattoos celebrating public radio available to stations for this month's pledge drive. (Photo: This American Life)

A candle-topped skull is one of eight temporary tattoos celebrating public radio available to stations for this month’s pledge drive. (Photo: This American Life)

The temporary tattoos are the second to be created for listeners who want to express their support for public radio through body art. Ira Glass, whose cleverness in creating pledge-drive premiums helped to build station carriage for This American Life when it was a new public radio series, first approached  VisABILITY owners Janice Gavan and John Burke about pubradio tattoos in 1998.

“I first said, ‘This is public radio, listeners don’t want temporary tattoos! ” Gavan recalled. “But Ira said, ‘We can make them look authentic, with skulls and crossbones.’”

“We didn’t think it was cool,” Burke said. “We were wrong. Ira was right.”

VisABILITY used two original designs to produce the first TAL temporary tattoos, and they were a hit with public radio listeners. Stations distributed 70,000 to their donors.

This time around, Glass brought other public radio series into the premium package, Seth Lind, TAL director of operations, told Current. “We thought it would be a much better fundraising premium if it included more than just our show,” he said. They reached out to Fresh Air from Philadelphia’s WHYY and On The Media from New York’s WNYC, which both wanted in. NPR agreed to include designs for Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

Lind oversaw the project. Brooklyn tattoo artists Alex McWatt and Andy Perez contributed designs, as did Claire Keane, who does work for Disney and did illustrations for TAL’s recent live show.

The tattoos were manufactured by Brooklyn-based Tattly, “and turned out really great,” Lind said. “I have the skull on my arm and it’s still looking good after four days. And I swear I’ve showered.”

Designs range from sweet and graceful (Fresh Air’s pretty swallow) to bold and fierce (two tangled cobras are labeled Brooke and Bob after the cohosts of On the Media — that would be Gladstone and Garfield, respectively). Contributors also can opt for a simple black tribal PUBLIC RADIO option, which comes in two sizes.

Listeners will be encouraged to post photos of their tatts on the TAL website and Twitter (#pubradiotattoo). “That makes it very interactive,” Burke said. With all the social-media tools, “we think this will be an incredibly popular promotion,” Gavan added.

The full set of temporary tattoos come in eight designs. (Photo: This American Life)

The full set of temporary tattoos, which come in eight designs. (Photo: This American Life)

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