Wielding the Power of the Microphone
The founder of the Children’s Auction reflects on the event’s growth, popularity
LACONIA—Back in 1976, when Warren Bailey was starting his career as a morning DJ at WLNH, his mentor taught him something that has since changed the lives of thousands in the Lakes Region. “He told me, “The microphone is a powerful tool. Do something meaningful with it,’” Warren recalled.
It wasn’t a message Bailey knew how to act on back then. He was 24. He had yet to glimpse need firsthand. But six years later, he knocked on the door of an apartment building in Laconia to let the resident inside know he’d won a prize for displaying a WLNH bumper sticker on his car.
There was no furniture inside. A baby was lying on the bare wooden floor, wrapped in a blanket. Bailey was confused at first, thinking perhaps this man at the door was just moving in. Bailey then realized he was looking at poverty in the eye for the first time.
Bailey heard the echo of his mentor’s mantra and well understood what he needed to do. He gave birth to the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction that year, using the power of his microphone to raise money for children and families in need.
Broadcasting on WLNH from an unheated van parked on North Main Street, Bailey raised $2,100, auctioning off two truckloads of items donated by people in the region. By ones, twos, and threes, over time, area residents got behind Bailey’s passion, adding their own and creating an event that helps to sustain 62 area nonprofits that provide for children and families in need.
The Auction now involves thousands, many of whom give up a week’s vacation for the privilege of taking part in dozens of ways. The items that are auctioned off are so plentiful the event venue is vast. A nonprofit board now governs the Children’s Auction. The total raised continues to climb each year. In 2018, the Auction raised $580,584.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Bailey, a gentle and tender man who gets weepy as he tells the Auction’s stories, which have played out over nearly four decades. They are the stories of the people who have helped the effort grow, the people who have been served and now give back. “It takes your breath away,” he added. “The volunteers are there every year.”
Bailey came to the Lakes Region and joined WLNH in 1976 after working in radio in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for several years. “I fell in love with the area and the station. The local owner and our wonderful staff was there for me right from the beginning,” he said.
After leaving WLNH in 2001, Bailey co-owned a radio station and later moved to television and digital sales. In 2015, he launched his own media-buying business, WB Media 1—the “1” added so the firm wouldn’t be confused with Warner Bros.
As he does each year, Bailey will make his traditional appearance at the Auction, though, during the 38th annual event, to be held from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 at the Belknap Mall. Returning gives Bailey the pleasure of hearing stories from children who were helped long ago and now give back in gratitude—like the young girl who walked away from the auction site 25 years ago, accompanied by a crying mother; the mom was deemed unworthy of assistance due to an addiction and sent away by a volunteer—long since excused from service. Bailey chased the two out; he gave the mother $20, saying, “Promise me you will do something for your daughter with this.”
Not long ago, that girl—now a grown woman who is a paralegal in Boston—drove to the Auction. She asked for Bailey personally, thanked him for the help he offered her late mother, and handed him a check for $1,000. “That’s the kind of impact that the Auction has had,” Bailey said. “And that’s just one powerful story.”
In the beginning, Bailey spread the word by asking everyone he met to listen to his story of the Auction and its magic for 10 minutes. In this way, he built steady and unexpected support and growth.
In 1998, Terry Hicks came to town as the new general manager for Metrocast and offered to televise the event, which had previously been broadcast only on the radio. Around the same time, businessman David McGreevy spearheaded the building of an elaborate set from which the Auction took place.
Alan McRae, who worked for the telephone company NYNEX, made it possible for the Auction to have four phones, instead of one. (Now there is an entire phone bank of volunteers.) And RJ and Bridget Harding, owners of the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, offered their entire staff and a host of equipment for the full week of the event, starting a tradition that continues still. The Auction that begin with Bailey tabulating the proceeds with a pad of paper and a pencil became tech-savvy with the Harding’s IT assist.
Most recently, Patrick’s Pub & Eatery created Pub Mania, a 24-hour event that raises the lion’s share of each year’s profit, bringing in $353,361 last year and donating nearly $2 million over 10 years.
“The generosity of the community blows my mind,” Bailey said. “People would so often come to the broadcast and hand me $10, knowing it’s the last $10 they have, but also believing that someone else needs it more. There’s no shortage of Christmas spirit at the Children’s Auction.”
The Children’s Auction runs from Dec. 3-7 at the Belknap Mall. Bring an item to donate, or come watch the fun and bid!
Visit www.ChildrensAuction.com to learn more.
If you know a Children’s Auction Champion, send suggestions to Jennifer Kelley at Jenn@ChildrensAuction.com.