Monday, May 29, 2023
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Live from THON on Saturday Night: A TV Showcase of Penn State’s Best

About eight years ago, Penn Stater Doc Sweitzer approached me to try getting Penn State’s Dance Marathon (THON) on TV. He wanted to highlight the most important event that takes place on our campus. We also thought a TV broadcast would drive donations and awareness.

But mostly, we wanted to showcase Penn State’s incredible students and their long-established commitment to serving society that is an example to us all. The students of THON can legitimately look in the mirror and know that their efforts changed and saved the lives of others. Positively impacting the destiny of others is a power beyond all others.

But going back to how this THON show project started, Doc had a personal interest in this. He was part of the first Dance Marathon in the HUB Ballroom. The last couples standing were the winners. And now that the statute of limitations has run out, we can report that competitors in that event used performance-enhancing substances from kegs of beer to diet pills packed with stimulants.

Times have changed. THON has grown exponentially but the focus on philanthropy remains the driving force behind a year-long test of stamina and endurance.

So last year the efforts to get THON on TV finally came together with WPVI/6ABC as a fitting partner. Starting around 2012, they regularly committed resources and effort to cover THON and share the positive stories.

By late 2021, James Aronow, John Morris and Mike Monsell from 6ABC were really driven to get a show done to acknowledge 50 years of THON. The focus was to tell the stories of students, THON and of Four Diamonds kids and families on a journey to defeat pediatric cancer.

In a blitz of maneuvering, calls and prodding we were able to secure Penn State Health as the show’s sponsor, and a lineup of stations to join 6ABC in Philly. It was all done on a volunteer basis, and we found willing partners in TV stations across the commonwealth. 

By the time the show aired, Penn Staters could tune into ABC affiliates in New York City (ABC 7), Philadelphia (6ABC), Harrisburg (ABC 27), State College (ABC 23) and Pittsburgh (ABC 4). That lineup returns for 2023. All told, our network of stations reaches one of every eight homes in the United States, hitting the homes of almost 38 million people.

And for Penn Staters outside our broadcast footprint, they can watch on the sites for 6ABC and ABC 7.

But it is one thing to reach those homes; it is another thing to get people to tune in. Last year we all wondered if people would watch. But a few days before that broadcast, in a moment full of Penn State confidence, I told the 6ABC team: “If you throw a party Penn Staters will show up in huge numbers. That’s what we do.”

Once the weekend was over, we found out just how Penn Staters showed up. In the 7 p.m. Saturday night slot, Penn Staters made the THON show No. 1 in both New York City and Philadelphia. Turns out, people loved seeing uplifting examples of selfless Penn State students giving their time and effort to save the lives of others.

And not only did we win the No. 1 and No. 4 TV markets in America, but we witnessed in real time the viewers opening their hearts and wallets to the cause. As the show aired, it sparked a 400% spike over normal traffic to the THON donation site. By day’s end, that Saturday became the biggest online fundraising day in THON history.

Now in 2023 the THON returns to those five ABC stations, reaching all or parts of eight states. This year we bragged that our goal was to win the time slots again, to break more fundraising records and for Penn Staters all over the world to blitz the hell out of the live-streaming broadcasts on the 6ABC and ABC 7 sites.

For our Penn State THON students, this weekend is the final push to the summit carrying a half-century legacy and the hopes of children and their families battling a hard journey for their futures. The rest of us can do our part on Saturday night. Get in front of your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone and tune in to the show. 

There’s an old story about a preacher who wanted a new church. That preacher told the congregation “The good news is that we have the money. The bad news is that it is in your wallets.” The good news is we have the money to beat pediatric cancer… and you can figure out the rest.

After all, service to impact others’ lives is what WE do at Penn State. And in so doing our roar multiplies into an unstoppable force that changes the world.

Donate to THON here or use the QR code below.