“Well, I knew him when he was about 17,” says Wendy Threatt on being on a first-name basis with Ryan Seacrest, Dunwoody native and television icon. “I was working at Star 94, which was 94Q at the time. He was at Dunwoody High School, and he called the station up and said he wanted to learn how to get into radio.”
Threatt says Seacrest learned the ropes working behind the controls with an overnight DJ, and then submitted an aircheck, or example recording, to the program director. He got hired to work his own shifts on the strength of that recording.
It’s easy to hear the pride in Threatt’s voice when she talks about Seacrest’s history. “And then he moved out to L.A. and his little star just took off,” she says, smiling.
Seacrest’s star has certainly taken off, but it’s clear he hasn’t forgotten where he came from in the process. Threatt is the program coordinator for The Voice at Secrest Studios, a broadcast media center at the Emory location of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta—yes, funded by The Ryan Seacrest Foundation. The studio is built in the lobby of the hospital building, and patients in any of the three Children’s Hospitals—Egleston, Scottish Rite and Hughes Spalding—can tune their hospital room televisions to channel 12 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2-6 p.m. and see what’s going on in the studio.
On a typical day, patients can request songs, participate in games or learn tips on how to convince their parents that a trampoline is a good idea (they make a soft landing should one have to jump out of a burning building).
On special days, an impressive array of celebrities stop by to meet and entertain the kids. There are photos of the Zac Brown Band, The Fray and Alton Brown posing in the studio on The Voice’s Flickr page. There’s even a video of Selena Gomez not only meeting patients, but singing a song accompanied by a patient on guitar.
“That’s typical for a visit,” Threatt confirms. “We just had a band out of Nashville in here last week who brought along extra instruments with the kids in mind. They asked everyone to grab an instrument and play along. You could just see how much that meant.”
Over the three hospitals, The Voice at Secrest Studios reaches about 500 hospital beds, which are usually almost all full. The patients are young, and the decor is bright and cheerful, but the illnesses are serious. We visited a nine-year-old who is recovering from a heart transplant. His mom was overjoyed that he was feeling good enough to request a Gatorade.
Help is needed to keep doing good for kids. Normal wear and tear on equipment, as well as logistical costs associated with any celebrity appearance, are ongoing needs. Interested parties can follow a donation link from The Voice’s home page.
“When kids get involved, they can forget, for a moment, why they’re here,” Threatt says of The Voice’s impact she’s seen with kids and their parents. “You can really see the transformation in them.”