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) by masters of ceremonies or hosts, who are often local celebrities or media personalities combined with variety show style entertainment such as singers, bands and instrumentalists. In some cases, telethons feature content related to the cause being supported, such as interviews with charitable beneficiaries, tours of charity-supported projects, or pre-taped sequences. The equivalent term for a radio broadcast is a radiothon; most radiothons do not include the live entertainment.
In the United States, the first used for political outreach occurred in 1960.
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.
Close behind the Green Bay telethon in longevity is the WHAS Crusade for Children in Louisville, Kentucky, which began in October 1954 on WHAS-TV (channel 11) and WHAS radio (840 AM). It is still broadcast on the two WHAS stations despite their being owned by different entities for three decades, and has expanded to radio and TV stations in other parts of Kentucky and Indiana, as well as a live stream on the internet. The Crusade is famous for the legions of firefighters who collect money at road blocks at intersections throughout the area each May and June.
The most-broadcast telethon to date was the January 22, 2010 Hope for Haiti Now telethon, to aid the victims of the January 10th earthquake. It offered the possibility for viewers to text donations on cell phones, and raised a reported $58 million by the next day. It was designed to show viewers a stark divide between them and the people surviving this catastrophic event.
The longest-running national telethon in the United States was the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, which was staged for over 21 hours each Labor Day to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association between 1966 and 2010. From 2011 to 2013 it was trimmed down to six hours, then to three, and then to two hours. From 2012 it no longer served as a telethon in the traditional sense. It was discontinued 2014. Other prior charities such as the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Easter Seals, Arthritis Foundation, and the Children's Miracle Network had produced telethons on a nationwide or regional basis.
Some radio stations produce annual pledge drives which are similar in format to telethons, but instead use brief breaks between regular programs to appeal for funds.
Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), a religious television network, hosts non-stop, week-long, semi-annual telethons called "Praise-a-Thons". The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN; producers of the long-running syndicated program The 700 Club) stages a modified form of a telethon thrice yearly, which runs for approximately one week, but is shown for only an hour or so each day. In its early days, CBN's telethons were of the more traditional round-the-clock form; this format ended when the Pat Robertson-founded ministry sold The Family Channel (now Freeform), which no longer gave it access to a round-the-clock outlet for such telethons. However, on the Sunday before the Super Bowl, CBN continues to produce a 12-hour telethon which airs on Freeform and is syndicated to various television stations; the broadcast of the program on the cable channel was a condition inserted in a 1998 deal by International Family Entertainment (which acquired the channel from CBN in 1990) to sell The Family Channel to News Corporation, and remained in place after the channel's 2001 sale to The Walt Disney Company. Other religious stations and networks hold telethons as well, including West Coast Chabad Lubavitch since 1980.
For a brief time in the early 1970s, beginning in 1972, the Democratic Party even held annual telethons (two were called "America Goes Public" and "Answer, America!") to help it erase a multi-million dollar debt (this may have provided the inspiration for the 1979 film comedy Americathon, where a telethon is held to prevent national bankruptcy). The telethon idea was created and promoted by John Y. Brown, Jr., the businessman who built Kentucky Fried Chicken into a worldwide chain and later became Governor of Kentucky.
Local telethons, once a common fixture in nearly every major city in the United States, are now rare but still found in a handful of cities, including Louisville, Kentucky (WHAS Crusade for Children), Buffalo, New York (the Variety Club Telethon, held each winter for Variety, the Children's Charity; it began on what is now WGRZ in 1962 before spending most of its run on WKBW-TV from 1963-2019 and then moving back to WGRZ in 2020, with WBBZ-TV added as a broadcast partner that year); Green Bay, Wisconsin (WBAY-TV's annual March telethon for the locally based Cerebral Palsy Center); and Erie, Pennsylvania (the Community for Kanzius Telethon on WICU and WSEE for the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation). New York City also features a telethon of sorts; the WFAN Radiothon, by virtue of its two drive time shows being simulcast on cable television, has portions covered on television. Since 2010, this has included the portion covering Boomer and Carton in the Morning on CBS Sports Network and Mike's On on Fox Sports 1/2. From 2002 to 2007, the shows in question were Imus in the Morning on MSNBC and Mike and the Mad Dog on YES; Imus revived the practice of hosting radiothons on his most recent radio broadcast homes, WABC and Fox Business Network.
On December 14, 2012, Univision introduced the first ever Spanish-language telethon in the United States, Teletón USA, which is hosted by longtime Sábado Gigante host Mario Kreutzberger, known by his stage name Don Francisco. The total donation in the first edition was $8,150,625, 16.44% more than the intended goal of $7,000,000. For its 2013 edition, the goal went up to $15,215,029 and the total donation is now $15,313,525, a $98,496 increase.
There are no annual national telethons in Canada, although as in the U.S., many local children's hospitals operate regional telethons in collaboration with Children's Miracle Network in early June. In addition, due to the proliferation of cable television piping in signals from the United States, a number of American telethons, such as the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon, attracted donations from Canada due to being broadcast there.
Notable regional telethons (outside of those produced by Children's Miracle Network) include:
Since 1978, the major Chilean television networks hold an annual telethon called Teletón to raise funds to help children with developmental disabilities (most commonly cerebral palsy) in Instituto de Rehabilitación Infantil ("Infant Rehabilitation Institute") centers. Mario Kreutzberger, who is the symbol of "La Teletón" in Chile, has served as the telethon's host since its inception. The telethon is an event of national unity and is proportionally, the most widely watched telethon in the world.
There is also a local telethon running, the Days for the Disabled Magellanic Children (Jornadas por el Niño Impedido Magallánico), to raise funds to help disabled children of the Magallanes and Última Esperanza provinces, in an effort led by the local Lions Club. The 2006 Days broadcast raised US$515,000.  
During March 2010, a special telethon called Chile ayuda a Chile (Chile helps Chile) was broadcast to raise money to help those affected by a devastating earthquake that struck the southern part of central Chile on February 27 of that year. The aim was to raise $15,000,000,000 Chilean Pesos for the construction of 30 thousand emergency homes in the disaster area. In the end, that amount tripled, having been gathered over 46 billion Chilean pesos ($90 million).
Since 1987, all television networks in Honduras hold a 27-hour telethon every December to raise funds to help children with disabilities in support of "Fundación Teleton" (Telethon Foundation), a charity under the leadership of businessman Rafael Ferrari. Many international artists, television presenters and journalists participate in the event. TACA Airlines provides free transportation for international invitees. Local banks are open around-the-clock during the Telethon, to enable viewers to donate through their local banks.
Like Chile and Honduras in December of every year since 1997 the Mexican television network Televisa, in conjunction with other networks, both public and private (except rivals Azteca and Imagen, the latter since 2016), hold a 24-hour telethon with the purpose to raise funds to help children with disabilities. The event is organized by the "Fundación Teletón".
During the transmission of the event especially in the television broadcasting many Mexican media personalities shows testimonies of children and their families who overcame their disabilities. The final act with the Telethon is a concert in the Estadio Azteca with the performance of many national and international artists and singers. Because Televisa programming also airs in the United States on Univision and border city Televisa stations, some additional contributions and pledges come from American viewers.
The marathon broadcast under the name Teleton by SBT was conceived by Décio Goldfarb, Clovis Scripilliti and Hebe Camargo who asked the owner of SBT, Silvio Santos, to broadcast the program. The collections are passed on to "Associação de Assistência à Criança Deficiente" (AACD) - Portuguese for Association for Assistance to Disabled Children.
The first edition was held in 17th an 18 May 1998, and since then, 14 rehabilitation centers, a home school and a hospital for rehabilitation operations and exams are created. Another rehabilitation center was in construction but the same was canceled due to the financial crisis Brazil had been suffering since 2015, also two rehabilitation centers have closed and another three were municipalized, making the total of centers down to nine.
The edition of 2019 was held on 25 and 26 October. It had a goal of R$30 million, and raised R$32 450 054 (US$8,106,231) after almost 26 hours of broadcast, making a new record total. In 2018, AACD helped over 8,000 people with physical disabilities.
"Hope for Haiti Now" was the most widely viewed telethon event in history. Though the telethon was based in the United States, it was organized as a humanitarian relief effort in response to the 2010 Haiti Earthquake.
Licht ins Dunkel (literally: "light in the dark") is an annual telethon held in Austria to help disabled persons.
In Catalonia, public television broadcaster Televisió de Catalunya broadcasts an annual telethon (La Marató de TV3)(in Catalan) for several diseases. In 2018, it raised EUR15,068,252 for cancer research. EUR197,340,632 have been collected since the first edition in 1992.
In France, since 1987, an annual Téléthon, for the muscular dystrophy charity in France (see also Decrypthon), L'Association française contre les myopathies, is held by France 2 on the first or second weekend in December, with the support of France 3 and France 5, and the public radio networks (France Inter, France Info, France Bleu). Several events are organized all around France. Donations are made by telephone or at the Téléthon's website, or on mobile web portals, as well as through SMS messaging (and also Minitel in the past). The 2007 edition earned EUR96,228,136 (US$141,089,693) during the program and EUR102.3 million after final collection.
In Ireland, the RTÉ People in Need Telethon was held roughly every two years in May, from 1989 to 2007, although there was no Telethon in 2003 due to Special Olympics and the sponsorship/volunteering needed, and it was moved to October 26 in 2007. During the 2004 telethon, over 4,000 fundraising events were organised by people nationwide, and proceeds were subsequently distributed to almost 760 projects in the 26 counties. Since its inception, over EUR35 million has been raised by the People in Need through the RTÉ People in Need Telethon, supporting a wide variety of charitable organizations nationwide. Eight telethons have been held to date and over EUR35 million has been distributed in grants, ranging from EUR150 to EUR50,000, to thousands of organisations throughout Ireland. Grant applications are assessed by advisory committees in each region before final approval by the Board of Directors of the Trust. Money raised in each county stays in each county.
In Italy, since 1990, Telethon is also held by RAI in December, and in 2006 (when the event was held from December 15-17) donors had raised EUR30,740,000 for research into cures for genetic diseases. By 2009, a total of EUR284,000,000 have been collected since 1990.
The first nationwide telethon in the Netherlands was Open Het Dorp ("Open The Village"), which was classic in format, broadcasting for 23 hours on television and radio from 26 to 27 November 1962. Funds were raised to build and open a special village/community for disabled people.
In 1984 for the first time a number of Dutch humanitarian aid organisations collaborated with a combination of broadcasters, to raise funds through a unified effort: "Eén voor Afrika" (One for Africa). With a combination of 10 hours of television and 18 hours of radio broadcast, EUR44 million was raised. After another such action in 1987, the organisations decided to sign a permanent cooperation agreement as the Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties (or SHO, meaning Cooperating Aid Organizations). Although the campaigns gradually moved away from classic telethons over the years, the SHO raised some EUR700 million in forty nationwide efforts since it started.
Starting in 2004 an annual multi-day radiothon called Serious Request is hosted by national pop music station 3FM in the week before Christmas. Three popular radio DJs are locked up for six days in a small temporary radio studio (the "Glass House"), placed in a main square of a Dutch city. Living on a juice-only fast, the DJs make an interactive, themed broadcast around the clock, to raise funds and awareness for International Red Cross initiatives. Regular programming on the station is suspended -- instead 3FM and its website are completely dedicated to the event, which is also transmitted as a continuous audio and video live-stream. Additionally there is television coverage, integration with social media, and a dedicated mobile app. All totalled the eleven editions have raised EUR76.8 million.
In the United Kingdom, The ITV Telethons were three charity telethons organised and televised in the UK by the ITV network. The broadcasts took place in 1988, 1990 and 1992. Each lasted for 27 hours and all were hosted by Michael Aspel.
Regular telethons are held for charitable groups such as Comic Relief's Red Nose Day and Sport Relief, and the BBC's Children in Need. Some of these occur every year, with millions of pounds raised to support various charities. These usually include music artists, sketches, and other various sections, usually with videos in between each section or song to promote the charity that money is being raised for - usually children in either Africa or the United Kingdom. In 2012/2013 Children in Need raised £26 million and Comic relief £75 million; a combined total of £101 million ($151 million). This is the equivalent of £1.60 ($2.40) per head of population.
Since 2011, ITV have held their Text Santa telethon in the buildup to Christmas. The telethon lasts for three hours and is hosted by three popular ITV presenting duos, Ant & Dec, Phillip Schofield and Christine Bleakley, and Paddy McGuinness and Alesha Dixon. Each duo hosting an hour each. Text Santa supports six UK charities; these are Alzheimer's Society, The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Teenage Cancer Trust, Together for Short Lives and WellChild.
In 2012 and 2014 Channel 4 hosted Stand Up to Cancer. Both telethons were presented by Channel 4 faces Davina, Alan Carr and Dr. Christian Jessen. The latter telethon also had segments hosted by The Last Leg presenters Adam Hills, Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker. The 2014 telethon came live from Westminster's Methodist Central Hall.
In Japan, Nippon Television hosts its annual telethon titled 24 Hour Television: "Love Saves the Earth" (24 ,(in Japanese) Niju-yojikan Terebi: "Ai wa Chikyuu wo Sukuu") during the final weekend of August, broadcast live from the Nippon Budokan arena. Started in 1978, its objective is to raise funds for various charities that aid the sick, the handicapped, victims of war and natural disasters around the world and environmental programmes. Every year, during the live broadcast, a popular television personality attempts to run a 100 km marathon for this worthy cause. Despite its title, the telethon runs for approximately 27 hours.
The 2011 telethon's funds were donated to organizations which will help rebuild the prefectures that were damaged in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.
A telethon is called "teletrom" in Hebrew (Hebrew ), "trom" meaning donate.
Telethons have also been held for endangered children on Israeli channel 2, the broadcast is called "Yom Tov" (Hebrew " "), meaning "Good Day" in English. Telethons in Israel usually earn high ratings, but have come under criticism for over perceived commercialism.
In Singapore, Ren Ci Charity Show is an annual telethon (known locally as "charity show") organised by Mediacorp. Other charity shows in Singapore include NKF Charity Show.
The annual Channel Seven Perth Telethon is run by the Channel 7 Telethon Trust, out of Channel 7 Perth, Western Australia and broadcast statewide through TVW7 in Perth and GWN7. Most of the major media are involved in Telethon including W.A.'s two major newspapers The Sunday Times and The West Australian as well as radio stations Mix 94.5 and 6PR. The two major beneficiaries of Telethon have always been Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and the Telethon Kids Institute. However, each year there are numerous other beneficiaries (in 2016, there were 41 beneficiaries).
During the weekend of October 20 and 21, 2017, Channel 7 celebrated its 50th Telethon in Perth, raising a record A$36.4 million ($10m more than the previous year), which amounts to $13.94 per head of population in WA. This makes Perth's Telethon the highest fundraising Telethon (per capita) in the world. Since 1968, Perth's telethon has raised over A$A$268.4 million (to the end of 2017). The annual 26 hour continuous broadcast runs on a weekend, usually in October commencing at 6.30pm Saturday until 8.30pm Sunday.
A number of international celebrities have visited Perth to appear on the Telethon, such as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, Harry Connick, Jr., Stevie Wonder, Phyllis Diller, Bea Arthur, Sammy Davis Jr., Tina Turner, Julian Lennon, Whitney Houston, Def Leppard, Elton John (who performed live from the opening night of Perth Arena in 2012) and Hugh Jackman. A number of Australian television personalities and actors also fly across the country for the weekend including stars from programmes such as Sunrise, The Morning Show, 800 Words, Home and Away, The Chase Australia, House Rules and My Kitchen Rules.
HSV7 in Melbourne holds the Good Friday Appeal telethon, which benefits the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne on Good Friday every year. It airs across Victoria all day on Seven Network station HSV and Prime Television. It also has a print and radio component via Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper as well as radio station Mix 101.1. In 2007, the radio partner was Southern Cross Broadcasting. The event has become an annual part of Melbourne culture, and continues to bring in record fundraising efforts across the entire state. In 2015, the appeal raised A$17.1 million.
NWS9 in Adelaide aired Telethon broadcasts throughout the 1960s and 1970s including raising money for "The House Of Hope" a home that would be built each year for Telethon. Local television stars from all channels would visit channel 9 across the live broadcast weekend to participate in the Telethon. Musicians from interstate would also travel to Adelaide for the round-the-clock marathon broadcast. It was the only time of the year that an Adelaide television station continued to broadcast during the overnight hours.
In the 1970s, SAS10 created the Children's Medical Research Foundation and the "Channel 10 Christmas Appeal" with stars from the network flying into Adelaide for the weekend live broadcast from SAS10 studios in Gilberton. Stars participating in the broadcast included actors from the popular SAS10 programmes Number 96 and The Box. Game show host Garry Meadows was the anchor for most years. It is this event where the tune "Thank You Very Much for Your Kind Donation" originated, which would be played whenever a major donation was announced during the broadcast with members of the cast forming a conga line and dancing around the studio.
NBN Television in Newcastle, New South Wales regularly held telethons every two years throughout the 1970s and 1980s for local charities such as children's hospitals and cancer units. However, with aggregation and the station being affiliated in the early 1990s, these went by the wayside but a few have still been held since, the last occurring in 2002.
In Sydney, Nine Network station TCN broadcasts the Gold Week Telethon on the second Monday of June (the Queen's Birthday), in benefit for the Sydney Children's Hospital. Established in 2010, the telethon serves as a finale for a week of fundraising for the hospital, known as "Gold Week", which generally runs the first week of June.
Award-winning auctioneer James Pratt from McGrath Estate Agents on Sydney's Eastern suburbs was an auctioneer with the 2012 and 2013 Channel Nine Sydney Children's Hospital Gold Week telethon. The most recent 6th telethon in 2015, is hosted by presenters of the Nine network Today show, with various network celebrities including Darryl Brohman and Miranda Tapsell manning the phone lines, the telethon also features various music performers. A total of $5.2mn was raised for the hospital, breaking expectations and creating a new record.
Throughout Australia, there have been several national telethons during the 2000s. One was held to aid victims of the 2004 tsunami that hit parts of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India, which killed over 200,000 people. This telethon was simulcast by all three commercial networks, Seven, Nine and Ten. There were other telethons around the world raising money for that event.
On February 12, 2009, the Nine Network held a special telethon to benefit the victims of the 2009 Victorian bushfires, through the Australian Red Cross. Titled Australia Unites - The Victorian Bushfire Appeal, the event was hosted by Nine Network personality Eddie McGuire, and accompanied by many celebrities, athletes and entertainers. Some of the celebrities to have appeared included Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban, Orlando Bloom, Hugh Jackman, Anthony La Paglia, Rachel Griffiths and Simon Baker.Rove McManus from rival Ten Network made a special guest appearance. The telethon raised about A$20.5 million from pledges.
On January 9, 2011, the Flood Relief Appeal: Australia Unites telethon, in response to the 2010-2011 Queensland floods, was broadcast by the Nine Network from Brisbane's Suncorp Piazza raised more than A$10 million in pledged aid.
Telethons were run nationwide in New Zealand from 1975 to 1979, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1990 and 1991 by TVNZ and later, TV3 in 1993 and 2009. As with the Australian telethons, the theme song, "Thank You Very Much for Your Kind Donation", was played whenever a large donation was announced.
The 24-hour fundraiser would take place in regions around New Zealand with TVNZ coverage being shown on TV1 (although 1975-1979, 1990 and 1991 were hosted by TV2). Viewers would be shown coverage of the telethon nearest to their location. Smaller regions would typically see coverage of the telethon in one of the main centres (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin). The 1975 telethon was hosted by the then NZBC studios of the four main centres, though only broadcast in Auckland and Christchurch as TV2 was yet to be transmitted in other centers. But after the first telethon, the rest were hosted in large exhibition halls and indoor stadiums as the public soon arrived by the thousands to be seen on television and to watch the entertainment live. International guests from TV shows popular in New Zealand at the time made appearances, including Basil Brush, Bill Oddie, Kamahl and Kenny Everett in 1981;Sorrell Booke, Bruce Weitz, Victoria Nichols, Alan Dale, and Michael Bentine in 1985; and Leeza Gibbons and Christopher Quinten in 1988.
After the first telethon in 1975, broadcast within a week of new channel TV2's launch, and which raised over $585,000 for St. John Ambulance, each telethon outdid the previous total for several years, peaking in 1985 with over $6 million, and a mere one month later TVNZ participated in the LiveAid global telethon bringing in $1.8 million for New Zealand's contribution. The largest undertaking including smaller regional centres with host locations was 1988. However the economic climate at the time saw money raised drop in 1988 ($5 million) and 1990 ($4 million) while hosting costs soared.
In 1991, an emergency fundraising 16-hour telethon was hurriedly arranged after a devastating cyclone flattened most of Western Samoa. The total raised was just over $1.5 million with the Government of New Zealand matching the dollar amount, bringing the total to just over $3 million.
The last nationwide event was to raise funds for the Starship Children's Hospital in 1993, TV 3 being the host. Events focussed on the main venue at TV3's Auckland studios, with roving crews reporting from around the country. The event raised just over $3.5 million.
Since Telethon ceased on nationwide New Zealand Television, some regional stations have operated their own local telethons to fund local facilities and other organizations.
For nine years, Armenia Fund held an annual international telethon that was broadcast to all major U.S. cities and across the globe. The 12-hour live program is able to raise millions for humanitarian and infrastructure development programs in Armenia and Karabakh. The annual telethon is held on Thanksgiving every year. During Armenia Fund's 10th International Telethon, held on November 22, 2007, the event raised a record-breaking $15.3 million. The program aired from the Hollywood studios of Los Angeles television station KCET and was broadcast in the United States, as well as internationally.
The 2004 Asian tsunami also led to telethons being held in countries such as Canada (CTV and Omni Television), United States (NBC) and Australia (a joint telecast between the Seven Network, Nine Network and Network Ten).
In 2014, TWiT.tv held an online telethon entitled "24 Hours of 2015" celebrating New Year in every time zone to raise money for UNICEF. Founder and host Leo Laporte streamed live for much of the 24 hours, raising over $58,000.
Similar to telethons, but considerably shorter, are nationally televised benefit concerts following major disasters such as the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. These are generally three-time broadcasts meant to spur immediate humanitarian contributions, not part of the annual donation drives of the charities involved. Typically a phone number or website will appear on screen during the entire concert for donors to make pledges, though there may not necessarily be a live host announcing.
for the first time in the history of American politics
The nation's longest-running local telethon continues its tradition