Wednesday, July 08, 2015
One of the great features of local radio back in the days when people actually CARED about local radio was the contests. Especially on Top 40 stations. Contests were a sure fire way of attracting and keeping listeners. Greed is a great incentive.
A lot of these contests were very pedestrian. “Name it and claim it.” “Be the first caller when you hear the nuclear bomb explode,” etc. And some didn’t make sense to me. Like “Cash Call.”
Every hour the disc jockey would call some home at random and if you answered your phone with a specific phrase like “WDRQ plays all the hits” or “KFRC, the great sound of San Francisco and Oakland and the South Bay that extends to San Jose and maybe even Santa Cruz, especially at night when our signal increases.” The trouble is, hour after hour people would answer their phones "Hello?" And the message that sent was nobody listened to your station. After the person said "Hello?" the DJ would explain that they would have won lots of money if they had answered with the phrase that pays and half the time the homeowner had never even heard of the station. Great P.R. there.
Some stations got creative. In the late ‘50s a few stations staged treasure hunts. They’d hide a key somewhere in town and if you found it you won an insanely large sum of money (probably $1000 in those days). You had to listen to the station for clues to narrow down your search. The trouble is fortune frenzy listeners literally dug up the entire city. The FCC eventually had to outlaw these treasure hunts.
Here are my favorite two radio promotions. KHJ, Los Angeles in its Boss Radio heyday did a summer splash by introducing the Big Kahuna. The brainchild of radio genius Ron Jacobs, an entire “legend” was created for this mythical character. A gentleman adorned all in furs, feathers, beads, tusks, and shells was supposedly in the Southland in search of a Hawaiian princess’ precious stone. It apparently had been stolen and I guess native intell narrowed its whereabouts down to KHJ’s coverage area. In actuality, the Big Kahuna was this big German dude whose dad built Hitler’s bunker.
But he would make personal appearances all over LA, giving away money and prizes. Forget that he was also selling dope out of the back of the KHJ prize van. The Summer of the Big Kahuna included a big listener luau and a new custom car. It was fun theater and very interactive.
My other fave is “The Last Contest” conceived by Jack MCoy for KCBQ San Diego in the early ‘70s. This was ingenious. Every hour the station announced another prize package. And each was unbelievable. “KCBQ Prize Package #261: Your own Pacific Island, a ninety-foot yacht to get you there, twelve Polynesian girls to attend to your every sexual need, and 12,000,000 tiny umbrellas for tropical drinks.” That sort of thing.
At some point they would give out a phone number. The first person who called it got to choose any prize package he wanted. So you listened every minute to hear all the different prize packages and also to be there when they gave out the number.
Well needless to say, when they did announce the number they blew out the entire San Diego phone system.
But what was so brilliant about the contest was this: It sounded like they were giving away trillions of dollars. Every conceivable item you wanted – fancy cars, trips, one of the packages included a new house. Yes, the winning package had to cost a bundle, but not the $7,000,000,000,000,000 it appeared they were giving away. Meanwhile, the competing station was giving away movie tickets.
And now my favorite related story.
Ah, the halcyon days of radio...
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM