Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The great turkey drop and other memorable radio contests

Back in the heyday of radio, contests were a major part of a station’s programming. Especially when there were two competing rock stations (back in the days when the same company didn’t own every station in town). Some of these contests would wreak havoc in the community. Case in point: Treasure hunts.

The station would announce they’ve hidden a key that opens a vault containing a fortune somewhere in town. Listen to the station for clues. First person to find the key wins. The station would give clues to help you zero in on it.  So people were glued to their radios. 

What would happen unfortunately is that listeners in their zeal would literally dig up the town looking for that damn key. They’d dig up peoples’ backyards, government lawns, private property, public parks.  They'd bust sewer lines, gas lines, would dig up cemeteries.  A few even took jackhammers to streets. These treasure hunters would tear up their cities to win that key. Eventually, the government had to step in and ban these contests.

But there were others. You know the famous WKRP Thanksgiving turkey drop?  (You probably saw it last week during Thanksgiving.)   It was based on a true incident that happened to WQXI in Atlanta.

Many radio contests have gone awry. Back in the ‘60s, KFRC San Francisco was giving away a shiny new car. Their jocks were driving it around town. I think you had to guess the exact mileage, something like that. Anyway, KFRC jock Howard Clark totaled the car at Fisherman's Wharf. Oops.

Also, KFRC: They once had a “Location X” contest. They chose some super obscure town somewhere in the world, had a ten second sound byte of it, and listeners had to identify the town. The winner would receive a trip there. Clues would be given to narrow down the location. This was a fairly standard contest of the time. And by controlling how difficult or easy the clues were, the station could keep the contest going for several weeks.

So KFRC begins this contest at 6:00 one morning. They took contestants once an hour. The person on line either the second or third hour guessed it correctly. She had been to that town, and in the sound byte recognized a certain distinctive church bell. Oops again.

My favorite story involves my grandmother. She and my grandfather were living in Hemet, California, which is out the desert in Southern California. I was staying with them one time in the mid ‘60s, sitting at the kitchen table, listening to KFXM from San Bernardino. Meanwhile, my grandmother was in the kitchen making dinner.

At the time there was a hooded rapist who was terrorizing the “Inland Empire.” The station ran a public address announcement asking people to “help find the hooded rapist.”

My grandmother shook her head and said, “Such a contest!”

I so miss radio. And my grandmother.


Mike Barer said...

Seatt'e's Pat O'Day has a story about KJR giving a Motorcycle away for the best news tip of the month. Pat was coming home from work when he heard on his station that a local high school library was on fire. When he passed the high school which was near his house. The firetrucks had just started arriving. A little investigation showed that the fire was started by the folks who tipped the radio station. The video of Pat explaining the incident is on you tube somewhere.

Michael said...

A radio station had a contest in Las Vegas for the "Jingle Bell Rock." Find the rock with the call letters on it and win a thousand dollars. They would give clues about where it was. One year, that led maybe a hundred people to a state park, the Old Mormon Fort, where they were tearing up archaeological digs to look for the rock. Finally, the rangers called the station and asked if they would please tell these people to leave. They did.

Stoney said...

"Somewhere, roaming this city of ours is Zork; the rabid dog. Taped to the belly of that dog is a crisp, new One Thousand Dollar bill."

Later, with the format changed to Punk-Country;

"Somewhere in this city of ours tonight roams Zork; the K-Nine greased pig. Stuffed into the orifice of that pig is a not-so clean, not-so crisp One Thousand Dollar bill."

From TM Productions "Tomorrow Radio" (1978)

Still remember that from my first radio job Christmas party!

Stoney said...

The year was 1974. The city; Syracuse, New York. The station; 62 WHEN.

Anonymous said...

Here in Duluth, MN some Classic Rock Station hides a medallion in the snow and provides clues..My co-workers last year were obsessed with it..Haven't heard much about it this year..Of Course, the lack of snow might have something to do with it...

In the '80's KS95, out of Minneapolis used to do their Cash Call contest...they'd call phone numbers and ask what the jackpot was...and one lady guessed it right...around $4k..and they doubled it...I taped it only because I liked the music bed they used...John Denver's "Life is So Good" hearing the woman breathlessly weep over $8k was a lot of fun...

Keep up the great work Ken...just watched one of your episodes of MASH last night....all the jokes hit...and all the jokes mattered..perfect..perfect...

BTW-Rolling Stone ranked 100 TV shows of all time..MASH came in at #15(should have been higher)..Cheers made the list but Frasier did not..and that's a crime.

Do writers use those kinda of lists to boost their profile or payday?

Astroboy said...

Ken, I was just reading over the last couple of your blogs that I missed and I have to thank you for turning my on to Linda Eder. Good God what a voice and talent! I don't know how I missed knowing about her till now. I just finished listening to her version of Bridge Over Troubled Water, just wonderful. Thanks again.

5w30 said...

The greatest music radio station of all time WABC-AM 770 on your New York dial was famed for its contests. Here's a link to a later contest ...

DBenson said...

Back in early 80s the newspaper I worked for did circulation contests. Typical was a bingo game where readers would get bingo cards in the Sunday edition and a bingo numbers would appear in the weekday editions. If you got a bingo, you mailed it in for a weekly drawing. The biggest weekly prize was, I think, $3,000. We'd get several cartloads of entries every week, and a special contest entry box in front of the plant would be filled. Early lesson: We started by randomly inserting a dozen or so different bingo cards each week, then drawing numbers with a toy-store bingo set. Readers got furious if they weren't able to enter the drawing in a given week, so we had to work it so EVERY card got a bingo by Friday. Pure cash contests like this died abruptly with the launch of the California Lottery. $3,000 was suddenly not worth the effort.

There was a subculture of contest junkies always seeking ways to flood contests with entries (law required a no-purchase-necessary option, so the best we could do was make mass production difficult.) We had one contest that required entrants to take a test drive at a participating auto dealer. While the rules stated one entry per household per week, there was one couple that evidently badgered the dealers to the point where they were allowed to enter multiple times at every location as John Doe, J. Doe, J. P. Doe, Mr. & Mrs. J. Doe, Jane Doe., Mrs. J. Doe, etc. -- all with the same phone number. Since the total entries were only in the hundreds each week, I was assigned to go through and weed out duplicate entries.

Likewise we had children's contests that drew obvious adult entries. The most effective solution was to offer prizes only little kids would get excited about, such as getting to ride a fire engine in a holiday parade. We also learned to include very emphatic "prizes are non-transferrable with no substitutions" rules to foil out-of-area people who'd enter to win tickets and such they couldn't use and/or simply wanted to cash out (not an option when advertisers were providing the prizes). Also rules stating that any taxes, costs or risks connected with a prize were the winners's own responsibilities. This began when a lady won a cruise and her husband demanded we pay for a babysitter to watch their kid; then demanded we facilitate selling the cruise to somebody else. Henceforth new rules, including a clause to let us draw a new winner.

One promotion before my time involved a helicopter dropping ping pong balls over a downtown street with some of the balls being redeemable for prizes. I saw a photo of a street packed with people, with a few dozen atop theater marquees and such. It was never repeated, and I assumed for good reason.

Andy Rose said...

Phone companies in larger cities used to have special exchanges specifically for radio stations. So that way if so many people called at the same time for a contest that the lines got jammed, it wouldn't kill phone service to the entire neighborhood.

You had to be creative to grab people's attention. I once worked with a talk show host who had previously been a morning zoo Rock DJ. One of his more memorable contests had a grand prize of a boob job for the winner's girlfriend. (Or the winner herself if she were a woman.) Dave explained to me that the budget they were given for that contest was only $3,000, and they couldn't figure out a way to make that sound incredibly exciting. So they looked for anything bizarre they could offer that would cost about $3,000, and breast augmentation surgery was the most attention-grabbing thing they could find. (Of course they didn't require the winner to actually get a boob job... once the contest was over they just handed her a check and sent her on her way.)