Memories of the NCVO Radiothon and Telethon

It is the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Telethon on Saturday, 3 November, and it should be supported by everyone in the Cayman Islands. Not only does it raise money for a number of worthy programmes that the organisation runs, such as Miss Nadine’s Preschool, it is also a community event that has been followed every year by anyone who grew up here.

The telethon actually began as a radiothon back in the day, because of course there was no local television station back then. Each year we would tune in to Radio Cayman and listen to people such as pioneer Olive Miller requesting pledges, and reading out those that had already been received. Volunteer drivers were dispatched to all the districts, as if people couldn’t drive to the station or one of the drop-off points, they were willing to come to you.

When it all began there were few street signs. George Town had its main streets, and everyone knew where roads like Eastern Avenue were. But once you started to get deep into some of the areas, all you had to go by were directions along the line of “… then left at Ms. Mary’s House and right at the old Poinciana tree …”

There were no mobile phones, radios maybe, but most of the time if a driver got lost, the announcers would have to request over the radio that someone try to help them. It was local teamwork at its finest. Sometimes they spent 15 minutes tracking down $2, but the rule was that if someone was willing to donate anything, the organisation was willing to pick it up.

Entertainers and the like would stop by the station throughout the evening and as the night went on, updated totals were given out. They read as many names as they could of those people who had donated. My favourite was when someone would call back to ask if their name could please be read out again, and this time with the correct pronunciation.

I was lucky enough to be asked to cohost the NCVO Telethon for a number of years when I was in my twenties, or was it thirties…? It was originally held in the WestStar television studio, which despite its relatively compact size, was able to accommodate a full band, multiple video cameras, and John Foster and me. Sheena Hurlstone was directing from behind the cameras, moving like a panther along the floor and in between the cables, letting us know when to announce a video or when we were going to commercial.

The lights were hot enough in the studio to warm the glue between the floor tiles, so as the hours passed, our shoes would stick to them. Any papers that we had dropped accidentally would end up attaching themselves to the soles, so by the time the night was done, we’d have paper trails behind us as we walked.

I loved those evenings. There was nothing quite like live television, and you never knew who would stop by. Cardinal DaCosta would visit with a donation and some of his CDs to be used as spot prizes, representatives from the fire department and police would drop off donations collected throughout the week, and then just random members of the community would come by to say “hello” and make a donation. The children were always so fun – smiling but shy, handing over their pocket money.

The telethon has since moved out of the studio to such venues as the Harquail Theatre and the Hard Rock Cafe, but the format has always remained the same – volunteers from entertainers to drivers to phone operators come together to help raise money for the organisation.

Usually one of the first indicators that the telethon is close at hand is the presence of those burly, smiling firefighters in George Town collecting money on the street. I’ve always got the impression that they really like that part of the job.

So whatever you’re doing this Saturday evening, make sure you keep with one of the islands’ oldest traditions and give to the NCVO telethon. It brings together the community for one evening to support local charity programmes, and no donation is too small. Give what you can and be a part of this wonderful annual event.

The NCVO Telethon is being filmed live at the Prospect Playhouse Theatre and the public is encouraged to come out and watch it at this venue. It will be simulcast on Cayman 27 and Radio Cayman from 7pm.

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