Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Radio contests I love

A popular topic on my blog seems to be radio.  So here's another post on the subject.  

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.

During one hot summer while a teenager I spent a few weeks at my grandparents house. They lived in Hemet, California, which is fifty miles from nowhere. But I was able to listen to KFXM out of San Bernardino. At the time there was a demented sicko terrorizing the community. I’m sitting at the breakfast table listening to the radio and my grandmother is cooking dinner in the kitchen. A newsman announces: “Help KXFM find the hooded rapist” and my grandmother says, “Such a contest!”

Ah, the halcyon days of radio...


Roger Owen Green said...

I won $48 in 1977 in NYC, being the 9th caller with the "phrase that pays," "99X is my radio station," and being able to name the last song, which was She's Gone by Hall and Oates. I wish I were older, because one got $2/year for each year on the planet.

rockgolf said...

Ah! Roger, these days you'd be rich. But no radio station would be going for your demo.

Oat Willie said...

I remember WKRP and the big contest where Hesseman gave away the contest money budget by mistake. "...and National Francis Scott Key."

Brule Eagan said...

I was stationed in San Diego when KCBQ was running The Last Contest. Biggest thing I ever heard. What a radio station that was.

SBell in San Mateo said...

I remember early '70s KYA /San Francisco playing Beatles tunes vs. current hits over a long weekend. The contest was to predict which Beatles song would get the most phoned-in votes. No one apparently expected "Here, There and Everywhere" to garner 21 wins, esp. as it was played late into the night, so no one won the contest. But listening to that beautiful song was enough prize for me.

Gary West said...

Ron Jacobs was amazing. Look at his radio history from early on - through it all. It seemed everything he touched moved the bar up. WhatAGuy! I remember listening to him (mornings) on radio KKUA: around 1979. He could do it all. The big competition was Ron at KKUA and KIKI (830).

"The Last Contest" - what can you say? What a concept! All it was - radio station trade. Brilliant.

Gary West -

Michael said...

We had a contest in Las Vegas to find the "Jingle Bell Rock," a rock with the radio station's call letters on it. The station would give clues as to its location and people would look for it in various spots around town. We have a state historic park where Mormon missionaries built a fort, and the clues led dozens of people there who apparently starting turning over and digging up archaeological artifacts looking for the rock, and the park ranger had to call the station to ask them to call off these people because they were destroying stuff. I guess it showed the station had some listeners.

cdonald said...

Looks like you inherited some of your comedy genes from your grandmother, Ken.

AAllen said...

Proving that contests don't always retain listeners, I can mark the end of my favorite station with a contest. The station I listened to right up to adolescence was KJR, Channel 95. In 1982 they had a contest that started out as the "Big Black Box" somewhere in Seattle. It turned up in the Seattle Center. Then they gave out clues like, "Don't get caught in the rain." Callers would answer, "Is it a convertible? It's a convertible." But it was right in the middle of this contest when MTV came on my cable system, and I left AM top-40 radio forever. I never found out how the contest ended. One day I walked past the site of the black box, and there was this large metal abstract sculpture of a thunderbolt. Was that the contest: you won public art? The plaque on the installation never mentioned the station, and no other information I read about it over the years mentioned its origins.

A few years later (2003) I showed up for the debut appearance of Pat Cashman on the new (oldies) KJR-FM. This took place at the base of the Space Needle, near the new location of the thunderbolt sculpture. I mentioned to a friend that that sculpture was part of a contest on KJR-AM, but I never knew how it turned out. Within earshot was program director Bob Case, who worked at KJR-AM at the time and confirmed that the sculpture was part of the contest. Small world.

John Hammes said...

Remember when we were kids and would be told " watch too much television..." ?
Nobody ever tells us " listen to too much radio..." .

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.


Actually, we probably DID watch too much television, and Newton Minow's point is hard to argue with especially today. Still, this blog allows for evidence that television can and will allow for a gold standard... some days just a bit of a challenge to find that gold standard.

Come to think of it, I'll just turn on the radio. Cousin Brucie must be up to something.

Igor said...

"... and my grandmother says, 'Such a contest!'"

So you're telling us she's Jewish?

benson said...

The only thing I've ever won in my life was a Linda Lovelace t-shirt from a small suburban Chicago radio station (WYEN) When I went to the t-shirt place, they let me pick out another, but thinking back, it would have been a collector's item, huh?

auragoneboy said...

Former radio station group owner here. We (and I think all the other stations) loved to run contests during sweeps weeks.

Norm! said...

Hemet, California....there was a demented sicko terrorizing the community

With a Scientology compound now in the area, there's dozens of demented sickos terrorizing the community.

YEKIMI said...

And if you've never heard The Last Contest promo:

Diane D. said...

Mike Murphy was a radio legend (1960-2004) in Kansas City, Mo where I lived for 5 years. He was always staging these huge events, but the most hilarious one was when he organized the the great Kansas City Cattle Drive. The first year, a small thing with 15 cows, a couple cowboys and though fun, there wasn't too much excitement. The second annual Kansas City cattle drive (1997) involved 103 Texas Longhorns with cowboy wranglers guiding them thru downtown KC, everything in control for 2 blocks, but that didn't last long.

A lone steer broke away and trotted into the crowd. Meanwhile the other 102 got ahead of all the wranglers. Five broke ranks and headed south to the glass doors of a department store. The rest picked up speed and headed east. The cowboys, some worried, some laughing uproariously, raced after the herd as it cut south toward the Jackson County courthouse. The downtown area went nuts after that. Texas Longhorns and wranglers were everywhere, running in all directions. Fifty wandered into a parking garage.

Not surprisingly, the Mayor discovered a 100 year old statute that forbade livestock on city streets, and prevented another Cattle Drive in downtown. The people of Kansas City LOVED it, however.

Cap'n Bob said...

I won a prize for answering a trivia question (What was the name of Marlon Brando's motorcycle gang in The Wild One?) but for the life of me I can't remember what. Possibly tickets to an event I didn't want to attend.

Anonymous said...

I was merchandising manager of KHJ before (and during) Boss Radio. Once, I had to come up with a car battery, on air, give-away. Robert Q. Lewis was the morning man (long before R.W.M) and he drove a Rolls Royce (part of his contract). My contests was to guess the milage of Robert Qs Rolls on a certain date and send it on a post card, the closest entry would win a new car battery. I anticipated a low response, so I entered my brother in laws name with a wild, off the wall number. I think we four post card entries, and guess who won. There were two format changes before Boss Radio. That's a whole 'nuther story.

Roseann said...

I was working on a movie with Robert DeNiro. The local radio station had a contest called "Dineros for DeNiro". They would pay a few bucks for someone who would call in with a location where he was that day. I thought that was so clever.

YEKIMI said...

Interestingly enough, KFXM is on the air at 96.7 FM. Since they're only pumping out 100 watts near the edge of Edwards Air Force base it's easier to listen to them online. Tremendous amounts of great oldies being played. said...


I recall the "Last Contest".

It was syndicated in several smaller markets.
That would been used for entertainment, since little operations weren't giving away diving excursions to exotic islands.

We once heard the last contest ended when it was determined that stations didn't have gifts they were offering.

Somewhere in my tape pile, I have the sales demo.

Anyone remember any of this?