LOWELL -- He is the radio face of the Greater Lowell Salvation Army's biggest fundraiser of the year.
Dracut resident Warren Shaw has used his microphone and his "Saturday Morning Live" radio program on WCAP 980 AM for the past 17 years to summon local politicians and municipal, civic and business leaders to "pony up" with the cash. The annual radio-thon offers listeners the opportunity to buy a vast array gift certificates for goods and services. Folks also call in to bid on assorted auction items, including tickets to New England's sports teams, vacation getaways and other big-ticket items.
But it is Shaw who is the catalyst of the event, which last Saturday ran from 6 a.m. to about 1:45 p.m. and garnered more than $100,000. At press time, Shaw said that organizers were still counting and a final tally would be announced this Saturday on the regular "Saturday Morning Live" broadcast. It is a far cry from that first year in 1995, when the fundraiser pulled in $5,000.
Shaw deflects some of the praise, saying the 50 or so "team members" behind the scenes deserve much of the credit, but Shaw's is the voice that begs and cajoles, beseeches and implores and is not embarrassed to put a local politician on the spot, challenging him or her, in a jovial manner, to double their donation. Or he may challenge the politician's colleagues to match or surpass the donation.
If it seems as if a certain auction item will not fetch as much as Shaw thinks it should, he's been known to raise the bid substantially and challenge listeners to take it away from him. His method is effective. At $1,000, U Mass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan was the high bidder for the privilege of being a guest writer of Lowell Sun Chairman Kendall Wallace's Saturday Chat column.
The money that is raised helps provide services to struggling families in Greater Lowell who are unable to afford Christmas. The funds are not restricted to Christmas, however. Money is also used to stock the food pantry, provide winter clothes for children and heat assistance for people caught between buying food or heating their home or apartment.
Several items are still available and can be viewed by contacting the Salvation Army. Donations to the Salvation Army can be made year-round. Checks should be made out to Salvation Army and sent to 150 Appleton St. in Lowell.
Q: What was the best part of Saturday's radiothon?
A: "As always, it's the wonderful energy that develops spontaneously with the callers, the volunteer teams and anyone else who stops into the studio. It just happens. You cannot manufacture that."
Q: Were there any surprises that absolutely floored you?
A: "Yes, Senator-Elect (Elizabeth) Warren baking an apricot upside-down cake, in her very own kitchen on Saturday morning and me selling it to Lowell Spinners owner Drew Weber for $550. That was totally unexpected."
Q: What auction item fetched the most money?
A: "We auctioned off a buffet for 50 people at Lenzi's in Dracut for $1,500."
Q: Is there any politician in the Greater Lowell area that you don't know?
A: "Yes there are, but I can't remember their names."
Q: How long do you see yourself hosting the annual Salvation Army radio-thon?
A: "Until they wrestle the microphone away from me."