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WIU Turns to Alexa to Raise Money


Western Illinois University is trying something new Wednesday during the 4th annual Western Challenge, a 24-hour fund-raising event. And it's only the 4th university nationwide to try it, and the first in Illinois. 

"Alexa, make a gift to the Western Challenge."

"How much do you want to donate ? Please choose a donation amount between 5 and 5,000 dollars."

Surely you're not surprised that there's yet another use for Amazon's smart speaker, Alexa, in this case raising money.

Western's Director of Annual Giving, Tim Hallinan, says it took about two months to set up with Amazon, including choosing the right - here's a new word for all of us - choosing the right "utterances."

"An utterance being what you say to your Alexa-enabled device in order to initiate the gift. In this case, "Alexa, make a gift to the Western Challenge," and also "Alexa, make a gift to Western Illinois University."

Hallinan says they couldn't use "WIU" in their utterance because Alexa is not able to differentiate between "wiu" and "wyu."

The goal for this year's Western Challenge is 150,000 dollars, and donors can specify an academic department, a favorite sport, or scholarship program. 

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.