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“A History of the WHAS Crusade for Children,” by Gary Yurt

February 15, 2013

In 1949, NBC made television history by broadcasting the first-ever telethon. Hosted by Milton Berle and lasting 16 hours, the event raised more than $1 million for the Damon Runyan Memorial Cancer Fund. Five years later, WHAS-TV in Louisville, Kentucky, launched its own effort to raise money for charity: the WHAS Crusade for Children. It would not have been possible without support from station owner Barry Bingham Sr., who also served as editor and publisher of the local newspapers. On October 16, 1954, in Louisville’s Memorial Auditorium, actors Pat O’Brien and Pedro Gonzalez helped the first telecast bring in $157,000 in pledges. Over the years, other headliners have included Captain Kangaroo, Doc Severinsen, Kenny Rogers, the Neville Brothers, magician Lance Burton, Lee Greenwood, and Peabo Bryson.

Since its beginning in 1954, the telethon has helped raise more than $148 million, all of which goes to schools, hospitals, and agencies devoted to assisting children with special needs in Kentucky and southern Indiana. The Crusade for Children’s other key component is local fire departments, which conduct road blocks and other fundraising events.

Held annually during the first full weekend in June, the Crusade airs on television as well as radio (WHAS AM 840) and the Internet (

About the author:
Safety consultant Gary Yurt has more than 27 years of experience as a volunteer and career firefighter, with an eight-year tenure as fire chief for Louisville’s Worthington Fire Department.


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