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WTVP's Annual Auction: The Beat Goes Online

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This year's Channel 47 auction, held for the 47th consecutive year by WTVP, the Peoria public television station, is a quieter affair than in the past. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, this year's auction, which runs through Sunday, April 26, is an online-only affair. That means that, instead of some 500 volunteers toting displays, answering phones, and clambering for bids over the four nights of the auction, instead of cowbells, whistles, applause and gushing guest auctioneers, there's only silence broken by the click of your mouse should you happen to take part in this year's festivities. Luann Claudin, who's directed the TV auction for the last 26 years, is one of six people being used to handle the proceedings this year. "We are coming in and working. We have an evening host, one camera operator, one director, one audio technician and one volunteer to work on statistics," she said, pointing out that social distancing is practiced at WTVP's Downtown studios. While PBS programming continues uninterrupted through the weekend, Channel 47 is offering live updates between shows to remind viewers the auction is available on their website. The six-person crew is a far cry from the 150 to 200 volunteers that usually worked each night of the auction in the past. "Some folks were here every night; others just for a single two-hour shift," said Claudin. Along with fewer volunteers, this year's auction features fewer items to bid on. In the past, some 1,500 items might go up for bid over the four days. So far this year the station has 236 items available. Claudin said that's because efforts to secure items from local merchants, calls that are traditionally made in March, were impacted by the outbreak. "We were just ramping up when the pandemic happened," she said. Nevertheless, this year's auction still features overbids, the result of public bidding that exceeds an item's listed price, acts that, in the past, never failed to excite auction volunteers. Claudin pointed out that those that want to make a donation of an Item can still do so on the station website. That's still not likely to help the public TV station raise as much money as past auctions. "For the last couple of years, we've had a goal of $90,000 for the four-day auction," said Claudin, unsure if the station will attempt to hold the live auction--with tuxedo-clad emcees--later in the year. "We're trying to make that decision. We want to do what's best for the volunteers and the community," she said. While she's not directing the traffic she has in the past, Claudin remains focused on the people that usually give of their time at auction time. "Volunteers are the lifeblood of WTVP," she said.

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