WIBX Heart Radiothon organizers in Utica, New York, won't let COVID-19 halt their 50th anniversary.
The event, which raises money to help the American Heart Association fund research, will be on air at 6 a.m.-6 p.m. EST on Friday, March 5.
"We've had a lot of unique challenges this year," said Jeff Monaski, brand manager at WIBX 950 AM. "But the reality is whether we're dealing with the coronavirus, or if it's just a regular year, heart disease is a problem for everyone, every year. Raising money for heart research is more important than ever."
Heart Radiothon is part of America's Greatest Heart Run & Walk, which regularly draws thousands of participants to Utica during the first weekend in March. Over the years, the event has raised more than $28 million for the AHA.
"This is one of our community's signature events," Monaski said. "It's something people look forward to every year. It's been a time when we get to meet up and see people we haven't seen all winter."
Although in-person gatherings are limited this year, Monaski hopes listeners still support the cause and remember the roots of the event.
The station started the fundraiser to honor radio personality Ralph Allinger, who passed away in 1971 from a heart attack. One year, a few participants ran to the radio station to deliver their donations – creating Utica's Heart Weekend.
"This is an example of how a few people doing something good snowballs into something really big," Monaski said.
Traditionally, the broadcast is held at Utica College during a heart expo that features health screenings, vendors and prizes. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the broadcast this year will take place at the radio station and include phone interviews and AHA staff taking pledge calls remotely.
The popular outdoor run/walk will be a virtual event on May 15. Participants are encouraged to form teams as they have in past years to honor loved ones with heart conditions. Then they can walk or run where it's convenient and post photos on the event's Facebook page.
Monaski credits local residents and businesses for making the event a success.
"The bulk of the committees are made up of volunteers," he said. "This speaks to the involvement of the community who give of their own time and their own money."
Marolyn Wilson, director of media events, said the pandemic has prompted even more community members to want to connect with others.
"This is an opportunity for people to get back in touch with their hometown and remember how much fun we've had over the years," said Wilson, who's been involved with Utica's Heart Weekend for more than 30 years. "With the events going digital, it's also a chance to attract a larger audience from across the country.
"So many people were affected by COVID, which does impact heart disease. Knowing how many people are in need means this would be a good year to step up. This is a good year to contribute and find ways to advance heart research in any way you can."
To listen, visit wibx950.com or download the WIBX 950 app.
To register for America's Greatest Heart Run & Walk, visit UticaHeartRunWalk.org.