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by Bud Buck, 2/11/00

DC: This is DCR, an enhanced reality program. When is enough of a good thing too much? Experts usually draw the line at a point where a person feels they have lost control and are helpless in the face of their compulsion. But few of us are skilled at knowing where that point is, and it's deceptively easy to go too far. Bud Buck has a startling report about a woman who meant well, but as you'll hear, her idea of "doing good" was doing her no good at all.

(sfx: phones ringing)

Bud: Here in the membership center, they knew Lucy Quinn very well.

Ashley: She'd phone us around a hundred and fifty times a day.
Normally we hear from a person once, maybe twice.
It was obvious ... there was a problem.

Bud: The problem? Literal Listening Syndrome.

Lucy: They said "call this number." So ... whenever they said that, I called.

Bud: But ... you had already renewed your membership?

Lucy: Oh yeah. I got through right away and it took about 90 seconds. But then they said "add to your membership" so of course I did that.

Bud: Nothing wrong with bumping the old membership upwards a tic.

Lucy: They said "you'll feel good if you do it" and I did and they were right, I felt good. I fully expected it to be over ... but then a little bit later they said to call ... so I did.

Bud: Even though you had already called twice?

Lucy: They SAID ...

Bud: Didn't you realize they weren't talking directly to you?

Lucy: Yes ... and no.

Bud: In fact, people suffering from LLS feel compelled to do whatever they are told. To the letter. It's a serious problem, says Dr. Andrew Merry.

Dr. Merry: A lot of doctors, when they have a Literal Listening patient, prescribe public radio because ... well ... you can imagine what would happen if they were allowed to tune up and down the dial.
The commercials alone would overload them with things to do ... and the song lyrics ... it would be a bacchanal.

Bud: Public radio does have it's share of commands.

Dr. Merry: Well ... yes. Mostly it's "tune in" or "stay tuned," which is relatively harmless. But a couple of times a year we do run into this membership thing.

Bud: The "membership thing" can quickly become a problem for Literal Listening Syndrome sufferers.

(sfx: footsteps away slightly)

Lola: And in these cupboards over here ....

(sfx: doors open)

I have about half of my mugs.
Coffee mugs. Tea mugs. Every size and shape mug you can imagine.
And in the basement I have three steamer trunks packed full of t-shirts.

Ashley: The public radio pledge drive really relies heavily on the assumption that the listener has two things. 1) Rational judgment. And 2) Free will.

Bud: What about money?

Ashley: O.K. Three things.

Pledger: (fade on) ... the mug is a bright, fire engine red. It's quite eye catching, and this mug is our thank you gift to you ... (fade out) ... when you call ...

Lucy: The mug sounded wonderful. I wanted the mug. I had to have the mug. I called them right away and gave them whatever they. And as soon as I put the phone down on it's cradle ... I could feel it.

Bud: (sympathetic) You could feel ... what?

Lucy: The rush. The high. I loved it. It was unlike anything I've ever felt before.

Bud: Was that frightening?

Lucy: Oh, no. It was wonderful. But ... it faded fast. (weepy) Within an hour I realized ... I had to have an entire set of mugs!

Bud: (annc) But it didn't just stop at the mugs. Once she memorized the number, Lucy Quinn was on the pledge line all the time, trying to maintain that feeling of euphoria that she got from her first membership call.

Lucy: Here's my collection of program mugs. They haven't done a public radio show that I don't have the commemorative mug for. And this is my t-shirt closet. I have them all on padded hangers. I've got clock radios, kitchen timers, tire pressure gauges, books books books, coffee pots, toasters, decals, doormats ... (fade) ...

Bud: Lucy's family got involved. Her husband, Joe, was decisive.

Joe: I took her to an "M.I." meeting the very next night.

Bud: "M.I.?"

Joe: "Members Incognito."

(sfx: group hubub)

Dave: (cheap mike sound) Hello everyone. Settle down and welcome to Members Incognito. We're all here because we realize we're helpless to turn away from the Siren's song of the public broadcasting pledge drives. I ... myself ... have 157 mugs.

(sfx: light applause)

Thank you. We are united in our desire to support the stations we love ... but within reason. As part of that it's important that we can stand up here and say ... I love to pledge ... and my name ... is none of your business.

(sfx: more applause)

Lucy: The whole focus of the group is to get you to admit you have a problem and then to get you to withhold your name. That's the "incognito" part. 'Cause that is really the big step you know? Once you tell them who you are, there's no turning back.

Ashley: Is it a big problem? No. It's pretty obvious ... the ones who are hooked on it. They call, then they call again. Then they call to up their pledge. Then they call to buy a gift membership. Then another. Then they call with a membership for their dog, their cat, you name it.

Bud: When you see someone spinning out of control ... what do you do?

Ashley: We get an intervention specialist on the line and we try to talk them down.

Bud: One such specialist is wellness expert B. Marty Barry.

B Marty: It's really all about goodness. The membership IS something good. And when something is good, like ice cream, you want to have more and more. But everyone has to know their limits. And when I get on the phone with some of these people, that's what we talk about ... limits.

Bud: But can you afford to say 'No?"

B Marty: We don't say no. We say "slow". Slow down. One woolen blanket a year is enough, isn't it?

Ashley: Like any good bartender, we keep an eye on people and we will cut them off if it looks like they've had too much. It comes as a shock for some of them, but they need to realize what they're doing, and take control.

Bud: And for Lucy Quinn, that moment came after she'd been going to "Members Incognito" for a few months.

Lucy: Hello everyone.

Group: Hello.

Lucy: I have 209 mugs, 88 t-shirts, and Lord knows how many bumper stickers. I love my station, but my name is none of your business.

(sfx: applause)

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