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A telethon (a portmanteau of "television" and "marathon") is a televised fundraising event that lasts many hours or even days, the purpose of which is to raise money for a charitable, political or other purportedly worthy cause.
Most telethons feature heavy solicitations for pledges (promises to donate funds at a later time) combined with variety show style entertainment. The equivalent term for a radio broadcast is a radiothon; most radiothons do not include the entertainment.
In 1949, Milton Berle hosted the first ever telethon, raising $1,100,000 for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation over the course of 16 hours. The first published appearance of the word "telethon" was in the following day's newspapers.
One of the first continuing annual telethons in the United States was the United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) telethon. Television executive Leonard Goldenson and his wife had a daughter with cerebral palsy, and with the help of other affected parents, launched the UCP Telethon in 1950, with early television personality Dennis James as host. He continued to host New York-based segments on the telethon through the 1980s. The telethon is now defunct as UCP raises funds through other means, including its website. By 1955 televised telethons had become a familiar enough part of American culture to be parodied that year in the film noir Tight Spot as comic relief.
The oldest continuing annual telethon in the United States on the same channel is Green Bay, Wisconsin station WBAY-TV (channel 2)'s local Cerebral Palsy telethon, which helps provide financial support for equipment for Cerebral Palsy, Inc., that began broadcasting as a 22-hour event on the first weekend of March 1954. As of 2016, WBAY has presented the telethon for 62 years.
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