WFMT hits one-day pledge drive record using only music from one CD

By Ben Mook

Cover from L.P. Records CD of Chopin music played by pianist Vera Gornostaeva. Photo courtesy of L.P. Records.

Cover from L.P. Records CD of Chopin music played by pianist Vera Gornostaeva. (Photo: L.P. Records)

WFMT-FM in Chicago racked up 700 pledges in a six-hour period relying solely on listeners’ reactions to recorded performances of a Vera Gornostaeva, an 84-year old Russian pianist who spent most of her peak performing years trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

WFMT ran a one-day pledge drive April 4 with the goal of collecting 700 pledges. For the drive, the station only played selections from a CD featuring recently remastered archived recordings of Gornostaeva performing compositions by Chopin. Listeners who pledged $40 received a copy of “Chopin Recitals” as a premium gift.

WFMT played the CD four times, and pledges continued to pour in despite the repetition, according to Steve Robinson, g.m. As a result, the station hit its goal around 1 p.m. and suspended the fundraiser.

“I never would have dreamed of only using one CD, but we were getting 100 calls an hour,” he said. “It was like an avalanche.”

The CDis part of the “Discovering A Legend” series published by L.P. Records. The 15-track recording features “Fantasie in f minor, Op.49” and “Nocturne in c minor, Op.48, No.1.”

Given the audience’s response to Gornostaeva, WFMT mounted a second, 12-hour drive this week, but packaged the CD with two others for a $115 premium offer. The additional CDs featured Gornostaeva performing the Beethoven Emperor Concerto, the Mozart Piano Concerto Number 20 and included works by Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky.

The premium package generated $115,000 during the 12-hour drive, beating WFMT’s standing record of $112,000.

“To be able to do this with just one artist, who isn’t Horowitz or Pavarotti, I think is amazing,” Robinson said. “And, she was unknown to most of our listeners.”

Robinson credited David Polk, WFMT program director, for pursuing the idea to mount a drive featuring Gornostaeva. Polk worked with the owners of L.P. Records, students of the Russian pianist, who had re-mastered the old recordings of her work for three CDs, to produce the fundraiser.

The recordings dated to the 50s and 60s and had been warehoused in an archive in Moscow. Robinson said Gornostaeva had not heard the recordings. L.P. Records spent nine months re-mastering the CDs.

The story of Gornostaeva’s life and career also inspired listeners to pledge, according to Robinson. She was born in the Soviet Union in 1929, and her decisions to openly practice Christianity and decline membership in the Communist Party limited her career to performances within the Soviet Union.

Robinson said WFMT is considering plans to produce recordings of Gornostaeva performing from her dacha in Moscow.

  • Israel Smith

    The way this is written is a bit worrisome. WFMT is a vital radio service with passionate fans. The article focuses on their interesting CD experiments as the reason for their fundraising success.

    My guess is the actual root cause is the value the audience places on WFMT’s programming and role in the community. What I assume was focused messaging about that, combined with the compelling catalyst of the CD offer, activated a strong response.

    It would be interesting to know how these CD days compare to average fundraising days at WFMT.

  • http://wfmt.com Steve Robinson

    Great response…except for the first sentence. I don’t get what’s worrisome. What’s to worry about here?

  • Israel Smith

    Hi Steve – the worry is that it looks like people gave you money for some CD’s, not the valuable programming you provide all year. I doubt that’s true.

    The article focused on the transaction – not the long term value you have built with your audience.

  • http://wfmt.com Steve Robinson

    Izzy is right, listeners pledged because they love WFMT. In this instance, they also wanted the CD’s by Vera Gornostaeva, an artist most listener had never heard of before. The pledge drive referenced in the article was actually a full-blown, 13-day drive, not just two days. When the dust settled, listeners requested an astonishing 3200 Gornostaeva L.P. Classics CD’s (lpclassics.net). The drive also broke several WFMT on-air fundraising records: $871,000: highest dollar total for a spring pledge drive; $167,000: most funds raised in a single day; 3200: most thank-you gifts from a single artist (see above). With a total of 5500 pledges we came close to our record of 5800. Classical music radio is alive and well in Chicago.

  • Natalie Alexandr

    It might be intriguing to know how these CD days contrast with normal gathering pledges days at WFMT.

  • http://wfmt.com Steve Robinson

    There was a sharp contrast because, as the CURRENT article makes mention, we played Gornostaeva’s Chopin album four times over five hours to garner the 600 calls. And the following Friday, as is also mentioned, we played only three of this remarkable artists CD’s for 12 1/2 hours and raised $115,000. Prior to this experience the thought of using just a few CD’s for so long never occurred to us. For a more complete report on how this came about, check out Norman Lebrecht’s blog from Friday, where he posted the press release I wrote about it.

    http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2014/04/this-archive-recording-raised-115000-in-12-hours.html

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