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Rather miraculously, Chicago fine arts radio station WFMT-FM (98.7) raised $518,221 in its just-concluded 11-day membership drive, exceeding its announced goal of $500,000 in the midst of a severe national economic downtown.

WFMT General Manager and Executive Vice-President Steve Robinson said the station's avid and growing band of supporters are, in large measure, responsible for the astounding results. "I think people realized that in this economy it's more important than ever to support the station," said Robinson, who also admitted it helped to extend the membership drive from the typical eight days to an unprecedented 11. "Two-thirds of the way through the drive, I wasn't sure we were even going to crack $400,000," said Robinson.

The average contribution during the just-completed drive inched up slightly to around $144 from $143 last November, and the number of callers this month was about the same as in November. What also impressed Robinson was the fact that 24 percent of those who pledged in February were first-time callers and contributors -- an indication the station continues to forge close bonds with its listeners.

Now Robinson is thinking he may not go 11 days for the next membership drive in June. He believes nine or 10 days may suffice. And he wants to try a couple of new things, like offering would-be WFMT members the chance to buy paintings donated by local artists. The paintings would be hung in local galleries where would-be buyers could go to view the work -- thereby generating visibility for the artists, foot traffic for the galleries and monies for WFMT. A win-win all around.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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