Some of Nashville’s brightest stars traveled west on Music Highway to join representatives from more than 200 country music radio stations at the 2009 Country Cares for St. Jude Kids Seminar in Memphis. Celebrating its 20th year, the fundraising program brings together all facets of the music industry and has raised more than $345 million to find cures and save children with life-threatening diseases.
More than 800 participants from across the country attended, including Lee Ann Womack, Richie McDonald, Lady Antebellum, Chris Young, Heidi Newfield, SheDaisy, Point of Grace, Jason Michael Carroll and Randy Owen of the GRAMMY® Award-winning group Alabama. Owen co-founded Country Cares in 1989 after meeting St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, who asked him to play a part in curing childhood cancer.
“I’m so proud that the music that helped me put bread on my table and have a career is the same music and the same fans, to a certain degree, that have made incredible contributions to Country Cares,” Randy Owen said. “I look forward to the future. I absolutely know we’re making a difference in a very positive way.”
Making a surprise appearance, country music star and devoted St. Jude supporter Keith Urban joined Owen and Richie McDonald – also a long-time crusader on behalf of St. Jude – and performed at the highly anticipated Songwriters’ Dinner Saturday evening. The dinner, which concluded the seminar’s three days of activities, also featured sponsor recognition and honored radio stations and individuals that have championed the fundraising program since its inception.
Twenty five radio stations have partnered with Country Cares since its start 20 years ago including: WQYK of Tampa, Fla.; WKAK of Albany, Ga.; WSTH of Columbus, Ga.; WKKT of Charlotte, N.C.; WKML of Fayetteville, N.C.; WPAP of Panama City, Fla.; WDEN of Macon, Ga.; WAMZ of Louisville, Ken.; WTCR of Huntington, W.Va.; WWMS of Tupelo, Miss.; KHLS of Blytheville, Ark.; KAMS of Thayer, Mo.; WGKX of Memphis; WIL of St. Louis, Mo.; KCLR of Columbia, Mo.; KEZS of Cape Girardeau, Mo.; WUSY of Chattanooga, Tenn.; WSIX of Nashville; WIVK of Knoxville, Tenn.; WFMB of Springfield, Ill.; KXKZ of Ruston, La.; KMDL of Lafayette, La.; KSON of San Diego, Calif.; KMPS of Seattle, Wash., and KDRK of Spokane, Wash.
Eight industry professionals, who first heeded Owen’s call to action, are considered to be the pioneers of Country Cares. Gene Bridges, Greg Fowler, Joe Galante, Lon Helton, Rhubarb Jones, Don Langford, Bill Mayne and Barry Mardit were honored at the Songwriters’ Dinner. Owen and David L. McKee, chief operating officer and interim CEO of ALSAC, were also presented with awards in recognition of two decades of dedication to Country Cares.
The first Country Cares event was designed as a nationally syndicated radiothon and it raised $1 million for St. Jude. However, these pioneers knew the country music industry and its fans were eager to do more, and the program has expanded today to local markets across the country.
Although Country Cares radiothons across the country are held year-round, the majority will begin the week of January 26, 2009 and continue through June 2009. These events typically last two days and feature St. Jude patient stories, story song vignettes and radio station promotions.
Since 1989, hundreds of country artists have given their names and time to the program through recorded appeals, visits to the children at the hospital or call-ins to radiothons.
“When Country Cares began, the survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was approaching 73 percent; today, it’s 94 percent,” said Teri Watson, senior director of radio and entertainment marketing for ALSAC/St. Jude, the hospital’s fundraising organization. “But something else has increased over the course of 20 years, and that’s the hospital’s daily operating cost. It’s grown from $169,000 in 1989 to nearly $1.4 million in 2009. Now more than ever we need the support of the listeners of our Country Cares radio station partners so St. Jude can reach its goal of pushing the overall cure rate of all childhood cancer to 90 percent in the next decade.”
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. St. Jude is the first and only pediatric cancer center to be designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. St. Jude is the only pediatric cancer research center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance. No child is ever denied treatment because of the family’s inability to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization. For more information, please visit www.stjude.org.