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Unreal just can't get enough of the KETC pledge drive; plus we give the Sanford-Brown update, celebrate the 125-day anniversary of our Editorial Fella and take "The Many Moods of Blake Ashby" to a new level

Readers with cable or satellite probably whiz past KETC (Channel 9) with nary a thought on their way to Starz, Spice or Oxygen, but St. Louis' PBS affiliate accounts for nearly 15 percent of Unreal's zone-out options. So when the station's quarterly pledge drive arrives, it's big news and big-time drama: Will they reach their goal? Will that one woman manning the phones -- front row, second from left -- keep flirting with callers?

Yes, there's a certain spring in Unreal's step come pledge-drive time, when we're treated to chanteuse Sarah Brightman's come-hither looks, host Will Shaw's witty banter and the opportunity to hear -- for free, no less! -- "Come Sail Away" performed live with 41-piece-orchestra accompaniment.

During the drive, KETC pre-empts its signature programming -- Frontline, Nova, Antiques Roadshow. "We know they're excellent programs, our members tell us, 'We absolutely love [them],'" KETC senior VP Dean Orton says of the station's usual fare. "Unfortunately, they're not the vehicle that will be the most effective at bringing in a new member through pledge."

What follows, then, is a synopsis of "effective" "vehicles" for the pledge drive than ran from November 29 through December 14.

Monday, December 1, 10:02 p.m.: Daniel O'Donnell and Friends, featuring Ireland's most white-bread Lawrence Welk impersonator. He's Irish and, as such, offers an Irish medley featuring all Unreal's favorites: "Rose of Tralee," "Dublin in the Rare Auld Times," "Galway Bay."

Wednesday, December 3, 12:23 a.m.: Haley's Hints. Pretty much an informercial for books written by one Graham Haley. (Can KETC legally air infomercials?) "The book has over 1,000 hints in it!" Haley exclaims. Among them: Got an ant problem? To prevent the pesky critters from entering your house, draw a chalk line at the threshold. Haley: "Why do we do this for you? Because we want your life to be the fullest." Thanks!

Sunday, December 7, 10:02 a.m.: Sissel in Concert: All Good Things. If you've been living under a rock for the past few years -- or have cable -- you probably don't know that Sissel is a hot Norwegian songstress best compared to, er, Sarah Brightman. From "Sarah's Song": "When your fingers touch my skin/And you kiss my lips and tickle my chin/I breathe you in/Oh, Mama, I'm where I belong/This is my song -- to you." (Reports Ortman: "We've been introducing her talents to St. Louis. She sold out two different concerts at the Sheldon for us. Our members absolutely had a wonderful time, and there's been a really strong response for her.")

Wednesday, December 10, 7: 42 p.m.: Michael Amante in Concert. A tenor hailed by Tony Bennett as "the next Mario Lanza" -- a factoid dispensed by pledge host Will Shaw 863 times over the course of the broadcast.

Thursday, December 11, 10:07 p.m.: Dennis DeYoung, of Styx, is in the KETC studios! "This is my wife," he says, introducing the woman sitting next to him. "We've been married 33 years." The appearance is prerecorded, but still.

Thursday, December 11, 10:33 p.m: Dennis DeYoung, recorded live on Soundstage. With a 41-piece orchestra! The first words whisper out of DeYoung's mouth: "You're wondering who I am/Machine or mannequin?"

Thursday, December 11, 10:35 p.m.: Dennis DeYoung does the robot during "Mr. Roboto."

Thursday, December 11, 10:36 p.m.: Dennis DeYoung does the robot while walking during "Mr. Roboto."

Thursday, December 11, 10:36:21 p.m.: Dennis DeYoung grabs a Mr. Roboto mask and pokes it in the eyes. Does the robot again.

Overall results of the winter 2003 pledge drive: $548,000 taken in from 3,100 callers.

The First 125 Days

A lot has happened in St. Louis since the Post-Dispatch started publishing newspapers 125 years ago. Killer tornadoes. World's fairs. Beer-hawking Clydesdales. It's been an exciting ride, as the hundred pages of photos and text in the Post's recent celebratory retrospective reminded us.

But in Unreal's estimation, even more has happened in the 125 days since Editorial Fella Ben "Shirtsoff" Westhoff came to the Riverfront Times.

The orientation process, which constituted the bulk of Westhoff's first week on the job, led him down a winding, often mentally challenging path, filled with codes, customs and directions to the lavatory.

He soon started writing. Calendar items, mostly. Sometimes they were 112 words. Sometimes 93. Westhoff hit the word count every time.

Occasionally, after work, the staff grabbed beers together in the Loop or the Central West End. They seldom invited Westhoff along.

Finding his editorial focus, Westhoff launched a series of now-legendary Unreal items. Many chronicled his solicitations of women. Fewer chronicled his failures.

His work elicited copious reader response. Some story subjects claimed to have been misquoted. Others said facts had been taken out of context.

The RFT's holiday party was an inspired affair. Nearly every staff member snorted a pleasure-inducing powder of some sort off an unclothed body part of another employee. Almost equally inspiring was the Belleville Public Works Department's annual budget meeting, which Westhoff was assigned to cover.

Westhoff's work has not gone unnoticed. RFT editor Tom Finkel called Westhoff the staff's "hardest tryer" and added that the new guy's decision to cease taking herbal dietary supplements has made his presence in the office easier to bear.

Unreal salutes you, Shirtsoff. Here's to 125 more!

A Season on the Brink

Despite a furious comeback that saw Sanford-Brown close an eighteen-point second-half gap to two with eight seconds to play, the Indians came up short against Concordia Seminary this past Friday, falling 96-92 to head into the holiday break with a 4-6 record. Senior shooting guard Ron Burton led the way with a season-high 24 points, followed by Darrin Burns' 18, Jeremey Harris' 15 (along with 12 rebounds) and reserve Scott Shell's 14. Collectively, the Indians drained eleven three-pointers, including five by Burton and four by Shell. The Indians next face Baptist Bible College at St. Louis Christian at 7:30 p.m. on January 8.

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