President's Blog: A Halloween Hangover

Monday, November 4th 2013


This time, the travels took me to Lafayette, IN, a town I called home on two different occasions in my professional life, and a place where I jumped in with both feet into the world of theatre organ. I call it “my musical home.”

As I turn 61 this week, it is hard to imagine I moved to Lafayette in 1976 for my first job in TV, and in 1979 began working toward installing a theatre organ at the old Mars Theatre, now Long Center. Gads, does time indeed fly by. We premiered the organ in 1982.

So, last Friday night, I was at the Wurlitzer to play for The Phantom of the Opera and leading up to the performance, everybody was worried.

Through the 80’s and 90’s, our concert series was a spectacular success. We had 550 season ticket holders, averaged 750 a concert, and my performances sold out regularly. The power of the TV exposure my sportscasting career provided well in evidence and reflected in those attendance numbers.

But that was a long time ago. That audience has dwindled. And my recent concerts and our recent efforts have met with tough times, like so many in our chapters around the country.

What to do?

Through the efforts of Jay Mermoud, a good friend and HARD WORKER, and our Long Center Theatre Organ Society board, we did some soul-searching and worked on a few things differently.

New management at Long Center (we are two distinct, individual organizations) was much more open to partnering with us (LCTOS) to put on this show. This helped in terms of overall expenses and budgeting, not to mention marketing and outreach.

Then, Jay called a friend who happens to be the sales manager at a local radio conglomerate. This step was huge, and paves the way for future partnerships and a LOT of exposure and promotion for our concert efforts.

Ski Anderson at WAZY-FM agreed to a promotional package. There was no charge to LCTOS or Long Center. We provided the station tickets for give-away and for staff use. (Very easily done as unused tickets we had PLENTY of.) For two weeks leading up to the event, not only did WAZY 96.5 FM run promos, Ski agreed to run promos on their “sister stations” which played rock and also country.

For the first time in a very long time, we ran out of programs and had to hold the show to get the lines of folks at the box office in the doors. It was a very exciting night.

This promotional opportunity is available to all of us if we work professionally to approach a radio partner. And it can help immensely if you partner with the right station.

In this case, WAZY-FM targets an audience that is 18-45…rock n roll for sure, but not too “far out.” I spent an hour on the morning show the day of the performance. And we had an audience that was made up of a lot of faces I had never seen before.

Ski Anderson from the station brought his family to the event; was blown away by the Wurlitzer as were his young kids (both under 10); and we are set with this station to do more.

The station was happy. Long Center management was happy. LCTOS was ecstatic. We drew nearly 400 where before we were hoping for 200 and a break-even event.

We are not alone. In Seattle, the Paramount runs its silent film series with major sponsorship from the Trader Joe’s chain, that sponsorship not only helping the bottom line budget, but also providing a ticketing outlet that helps put “butts in seats.”

I’m sure there are others who are having some level of success with promotion, sponsorship or both. And we all need to “go to school” on these successes, learn from them, and put them in place in our own efforts to draw new crowds to theatre organ events.

So, while we focus on the new marketing opportunities that Facebook, Twitter, and email “blasts” and more provide, traditional “good ol’” radio can also have its place in helping promote our events.

I can guarantee you it makes it a lot easier on the organist when there is a big crowd responding to the music (or in this case, the movie). And even better when most of the faces in that crowd are new ones.

More next week! By the way, travels next will take me to Southern California, New Zealand and back home. Puttin’ in the miles!!

Ken Double

November. 4, 2013