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Broadcasters Give TV, Radio Time To Help Victims

December 8, 1985

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ West Virginia’s Flood Relief Telethon, a five-hour broadcast on every TV station in the state aimed at raising $1 million, got a big boost when John Denver agreed to a live performance Saturday night of ″Country Roads,″ an unofficial state anthem.

Every major river in the eastern half of the state flooded Nov. 4-5, killing at least 39 people, and officials estimated damage at more than $500 million. More than 8,000 families were left homeless and major roads and bridges were washed away.

The telethon first went on the air with videotape of flooded residents watching the waters roll past their homes. In the final sequence, a flood victim looked into the camera and said, ″We’re proud. We hate to ask, but we have nothing.″

In the telethon’s first hour, a bank of 40 telephones, some answered by Sens. Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both West Virginia Democrats, stayed busy as $102,155.90 in pledges came in. That pace was about one-half of what promoters said was needed to make the $1 million goal.

The West Virginia University Percussion Ensemble opened the entertainment, followed by blues singer Richie Havens performing ″Here Comes The Sun″ and ″The Guiding Light″ actress Kim Zimmer singing ″On My Own.″

Denver, whose appearance was scheduled later in the show, struck an emotional chord in the Mountain State in the early 1970s with his hit recording of ″Take Me Home, Country Roads.″ The song’s line ″Almost heaven, West Virginia,″ became a state slogan about its wooded hills and sheltering valleys that is still on many jukeboxes around the state.

Denver was the last major performer to confirm an appearance on the Saturday fund-raising show, agreeing to fly to Charleston after a Washington concert to help the flood relief effort. The performance also will mark a reunion of Denver with the song’s co-authors, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert.

Other stars who agreed to perform were folk singer Tom Chapin; Larry Groce of West Virginia Public Radio’s ″Mountain Stage″ program; country artist and Cross Lanes native Kathy Mattea; Poco; and actors Chris Sarandon, formerly of Beckley, and David Selby, formerly of Morgantown.

″We’ve got on such a short notice a great lineup of artists. There is a wide range of talent that will draw a wide range audience,″ said show promoter Andy Ridenour of West Virginia Public Radio.

That broad-based appeal justifies a $1 million goal, Ridenour said.

″With 14 TV and about 50 radio stations, we expect to reach a potential audience of 1 million people,″ Ridenour said. ″We think that $1 million is the goal we have to work for; but we think we can get it.″

Before noon, more than $800 had been raised from people who wanted to get their pledges in early, Ridenour said.

″Our first call came from Prosperity, W.Va. I took the call. It was from a family that was not going to be able to watch the telethon,″ Ridenour said.

Some of the 300 crew members got additional calls from Florida, Virginia and other parts of West Virginia and ″called in the National Guard″ to staff the phones until all operators could arrive, Ridenour said. The National Guard had volunteers at the Cultural Center to help with the show.

It wasn’t Denver’s first appearance in the state. ″Country Roads″ is so popular here that he was brought in for a free concert on the Capitol steps shortly after it climbed the charts, and in 1980 he was brought in to sing it for the dedication of West Virginia University’s new stadium in Morgantown.

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