Every year, the radio stations involved with doing the annual St. Jude Radiothons all over the country gather in Memphis for a weekend called the Country Cares Seminar.  I have been six times, with three different radio stations, and I go any time I get the chance.  I often have people ask me what happens there, so let me explain.

I should first give a little background on Country Cares.  In 1989, Randy Owen headed a campaign aimed at country radio stations to give up two days of programming to hit the air and raise funds for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Since that time, the Radiothon program has grown throughout the entire country, and even into other radio formats, including all the stations of Townsquare Media Evansville/Owensboro.

The Country Cares Seminar is a time in mid-January where members of all the stations are invited to Memphis to share ideas, and see first-hand what St. Jude is all about.  Music industry reps and artists also make their way there to show their support, learn about the hospital, and to network with the radio folks with ways to raise money.

The seminar starts onThursday as stations arrive at the legendary Peabody Hotel in


downtown Memphis.  While DJ's, Country artists, and other industry type people gather in the lobby where the famous ducks swim in the fountain, they await the night one dinner, which usually includes some traditional Memphis BBQ at joints like Rendezvous or my new favorite Blues City Cafe.  Over dinner, you catch up with your St. Jude staff and other stations in your area.

Friday morning, the official seminar gets going with an early breakfast and the boarding of shuttles to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  We take small groups through the amazing facility, stopping along the way to watch inspiring videos, and hear straight from St. Jude patients and doctors about their experiences at the hospital.  Along the way, I always will find myself learning something new, or passing a beautiful patient in the hall, not sad, but smiling and full of life.  After several hours at St. Jude, we head back to the Peabody and listen to a panel of radio folks who give us insight into their successes with the Radiothon.

WKDQ/Ashley Sollars

Finally, we finish the night with a fun event called Casino Night.  All participants are given fake money to use and play casino games.  The more money you win, the more you can use to buy autographed merchandise from the general store or buy raffle tickets to win autographed guitars.  All this stuff can then be used to raise even more money for the kids.  It's a super fun part of the weekend that supports the cause.  This is where the artists in attendance really get into the fun as well.  This year, artists like Brantley Gilbert, Hunter Hayes, Joe Nichols, JoAnna Smith, The Henningsens, Maggie Rose, X-Factor winner, Tate Stevens, The Voice winner, Cassadee Pope, and more attended.  In past years, I've seen folks like Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and others.


On Saturday, it's another early day, with lots of learning.  Things start with breakout sessions, where attendees get to choose what panel of experts they want to sit in on.  Each session gives you insight and brainstorming into how to best raise more money for the kids of St. Jude.  Many of the extra events we use to raise funds at WKDQ came from ideas picked up in sessions like this.  After the sessions are complete, we hear from more speakers at lunch.  We usually have a St. Jude doctor tell us about advances the money collected is supporting, and more radio staff that have great ideas for the Radiothon.

The next couple events are the real highlight of the weekend.  First, we hear from our mystery keynote speaker.  These can be anyone with an inspiring message of hope, or someone with a personal tie to the hospital.  Two years ago, Joe Theismann shared his inspiring story from his career and its abrupt end in the NFL.  Last year, we had a powerful and graphic story from Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of a Navy SEAL mission in Afghanistan.  This year, we heard from Bob Crawford, member of the Avett Brothers, a folk/country band, who also happens to be a St. Jude parent.  These speakers are always intriguing and one of the highlights of the weekend.

Following the speaker, we get up close and personal with St. Jude families.  This is the


time that we really get out the tissues, as parents and kids who have been through the St. Jude experience share their story.  There are no words to describe hearing from these heroes that we've all helped!

Finally, the weekend ends with a treat for the attendees, as Country Cares founder, Randy Owen hosts the songwriters' dinner featuring stories and songs from some of the best writers in country music and even Randy himself.  This year, we heard from Tommy Lee James (Life Ain't Always Beautiful, Bleed Red, If You See Him/If You See Her), Neil Thrasher (Fast Cars And Freedom, Fly Over States, There Goes My Life), and Tony Arata (The Dance, The Change, Dreaming With My Eyes Open).  Once the night ends with Randy leading the entire crowd in Angels Among Us, we are ready and motivated to get some money for the kids of St. Jude.