The Faces Behind the Telethon

It takes the talents of many different people to put together the Telethon each year. A lot of planning and preparation happens beforehand, and the two days of the Telethon itself are a whirlwind of excitement. We spoke to some of our CatholicTV personalities, who shared their favorite Telethon memories, both on and off camera. 

Jay Fadden: The first year the telethon was 3 days and we were on air for 33 hours during that time. We had a live auction outside and a lot of acts. We were running everywhere! During the last hour of the telethon I was exhausted and was losing my voice. My legs were cramping and I had run out of things to talk about the day before. While standing there listening to Father Frank I literally fell asleep while standing up on air. I was sound asleep on live TV. I remember hearing Father Frank calling my name which woke me up and I just started talking. I am not sure what I said but no one seemed to notice. At least I got a nap in!

Kevin Nelson & Sean Ward: One moment that stands out is when we reached $200,000 pledged for the first time in 1999. Monsignor “Father Frank” McFarland decided that was enough. We still had about an hour to go but he basically shut down the phone set and everyone went into studio A to hear the musical performance. I think it was the first (and last) time any act played in front of a live studio audience.

Jay Fadden: My family always come in to help on the telethon. I have always enjoyed when my parents, sisters, my children and wife have come in to work. My dad liked to clean up and never got on the phones. My sisters liked to answer the phones and my son loved to collect the pledges. My mother loved to talk to the callers and tell them she was my mom. I could always hear her talking to the callers while I was on air talking. She would laugh and tell about her family and in turn they would share stories about their children. My mother passed away this past year so I will not hear her voice but know she will be there in spirit!

Sean Ward: My favorite thing about the telethon is seeing all the behind-the-scenes work coming to fruition. While it is only two days of live television the viewer sees and the faces most familiar to them are hosts and guests (and the people on the phones), it is the crew behind the cameras that I think are the real stars of the telethon.

They do some of their best work in the months, weeks and days leading up to the event. I can only imagine what it was like in the beginning when the telethon was three days long. I remember when I first started at Boston Catholic Television in July 1998, it was like watching Santa’s workshop preparing for Christmas. It still amazes me what they did back then with fewer people and old technology. If you read the CatholicTV magazine, some of the pictures of telethons past are featured there.

Sure, the preparation has become easier and the network has way more content to work with now, but the job is still hard. There’s Kevin Nelson preparing the script; editors creating packages; getting the studios ready; coordinating volunteers; asking for sponsorships and matching donations; arranging food service; I could go on. It all works in concert and then, poof, the big day(s) is/are here. Hearing the phones ring after seeing what the crew has produced must be like Christmas morning for the viewers. Maybe that’s why they always give so generously?

Jay Fadden: My family always visits at some point during the telethon. When my children were younger this could be very chaotic. They would run around and be very loud. Ten years ago Shirley showed up with the kids with surprising results. Amelia entered first and ran onto the set, leapt into my arms and gave me a big hug. Shirley followed but I did not see James. Then from behind James waddled in dressed in a dinosaur outfit! Someone had given us the outfit and he had fallen in love with it immediately. His faced peeked out through the mouth of the costume. His tail swayed back and forth as he moved. I had no idea he was going to appear on the telethon as a dinosaur and he was convinced that people would think he was an actual dinosaur. It was a fun moment.


Tune in for even more memories and surprises during Telethon 25, airing on Friday, 9/9 from 9am-9pm ET and Saturday, 9/10 from 9am-10pm ET. We hope you will join us as we continue to make memories and strengthen our ministry!


The Faces Behind the Telethon