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A wink and a smile on camera

Jan 22, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

A public TV viewer made a connection with me during pledge week.

A group of Ranger people went on television not long ago to help raise money for Wyoming PBS. I was on camera a few times over the course of an evening with my Ranger colleagues Craig Blumenshine and Randy Tucker.

Craig is an old pro at on-air fundraising, and Randy, as anyone who knows him will confirm, is a willing -- very willing -- talker on any subject in any setting.

As for me, well, let's just say I lacked a certain polish.

I was, however, the only one on the panel who both smiled and winked while on the air. In fact, I did both at the same time.

That took place about half an hour after my personal lowlight. It came when I was reciting (more like stuttering) some information informing viewers that the station would accept pledge contributions any time, not just during the evening pledge drive. If all the phone lines were busy, for example, a supporter could call later, or wait until the next night, or go online and make the pledge that way.

Summoning all my telegenic brilliance, I croaked out something like "You don't have to call right this moment if it's not convenient. You can call later, or call tomorrow, or the next day, or even next week ...

" ... so call now."

Smooth.

Later, the stage manager gave me the sign to wrap my segment. We were running long, so I had to finish up right then. Thinking quickly, I came up with a sure-fire way to save time.

"So make your pledge today," I said. "Call 307-856-694."

Yep, leaving that final digit off the phone number saved a precious 20th of a second. Dazzling. A star is born.

Midway through my third segment, a broadcasting student helping with the pledge drive slipped me a note. It was a message from a viewer.

"Tell the man with the beard that I will pledge an extra $25 if he smiles and winks at the camera," it read.

What's this? An admirer? Someone out in the void who likes shiny scalps and stammering mannerisms? A viewer who appreciates truncated phone numbers and long, silent gaps in air time?

Evidently.

The next time the camera's red light glowed to life, I lurched my way trough the details of a coffee mug premium that seemed perfectly logical when I had read it beforehand, but appeared written in alien code once the studio lights were on.

Then, seconds before I was supposed to "throw it" back to Craig, I squared my shoulders, leveled my gaze, almost quieted the nervous tic in my right eyebrow, and said "Now I'm going to make an extra $25 for the station."

And I winked and smiled.

It got a few chuckles from the assemblage in the studio, and during the program break I was feeling a lot better about how things were going. A viewer had noticed I was there. A viewer had asked for me. I had made a connection. Craig and Randy hadn't been asked to wink and smile, had they? No they had not. My admirer had saved that request for me.

Who was this anonymous caller? What exotic longing did this person hold for me? What deep-seated need was being satisfied by my smile? What about my particular wink would make this person want to part with more money? What special power did I posses, and for whom?

These were the things I was thinking as I was putting cheese on a cracker between pledge breaks.

I guess I must have been speaking some of them as well, because an exasperated phone-bank operator, rolling her eyes, finally interrupted me:

"It was your wife, stupid."

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