Radio Contesting

Some company named NuVooDoo Media did a survey about radio contesting. With an in-tab of 3500, it’s a sizable sample and should have good reliability. The take-way was over a third said they’d not go to a station to get a prize worth under a hundred bucks if they won. That’s nothing particularly new, any of us who’ve run radio contests know plenty of winners never come for the prize. The disturbing thing is almost half of respondents believe “most radio station contests are rigged.” Why? Perhaps because they “don’t see or hear the prize drawings” and suspect “most of the prizes aren’t actually given away.”

So, thanks again Clear Channel and Wall Street controlled cohorts for yet another contribution to the demise. Look, radio contests were not put on the air to give stuff away, never were. Prizes aren’t the main point. Radio contests are put on the air in the attempt to keep people listening a little longer, sure. But the payoff is the Winner Promo’s that follow. People love to hear winners winning. A well-produced Winner Promo is golden. Loretta and Larry Listener love to hear happiness. The prize itself isn’t all that important. Contest participation has always been minimal. But everybody loves hearing the expressions of joy from the winners. That’s always been the thing.

I’m talking as something of a ‘deaf’ person now because I seldom listen to major market radio anymore because it is so utterly bland and wrong-headed on so many levels. It’s kinda like you don’t much want to spend time with somebody who’s made so very many wrong-headed choices in their life and now their health is shot. And you’re thinking, sadly to yourself, “Well, yeah, you dumb shit. Life choices make a difference, don’t they!?” So as a seldom-listener, I’ll say what I have heard of contesting in recent years brings no surprise now with these research findings. The production is generic and there are no local touch-stones. Somebody somewhere in this nation is going to win a new car? So what? There are 319 million people in this country. If I’m in Jackson, I couldn’t care less that someone in Chula Vista won something. Now, should I hear somebody from Jackson winning, that means something. This is neighbors winning. Maybe somebody I know knows somebody who knows that winner; maybe goes to the same church or has kids in the same school. National contests mean nothing to radio because we are a LOCAL medium. Done often and done well, they build a station’s brand as one where “something’s always happening.”

You want to know what the best prize to offer on the radio is? Or was? I’ll tell you in a moment. Back in the mid-70’s, radio went into it’s Big Prize phase. The first one that impressed me was a $10,000 cash prize being offered by my mentor Buzz Bennett at 13Q in Pittsburg. Early 70’s. Then came the copyrighted: The Last Contest created by a west coast PD named Jack McCoy. In San Diego, as I recall. That one was all about the production, the imagery. The promotion had many, many promos, each offering some big, unique prize. Car, Cruise, Vacation in Spain, Cash, etc. In the end, only one of the prizes was given away. The winner and the final prize had to match up in some way or another. I never figured out exactly how it worked, it was copyrighted, remember, and stations had to license it to run it. But it was very impressive to hear.

Across the nation, big market stations started giving away big prizes. I got to give away trips to London and a Corvette and an MGB and that was in a medium market. All the smart operators and most of the dumb ones were making money then, you see. So, one day Radio and Records published the results of a survey asking questions about radio contesting. Guess what it reported as the Number One most-desired contest prize. Pizza. Home-delivered pizza. Stands to reason. First, everybody loves pizza. Second, the prize comes to the door. Third, everybody figures they got an even chance at winning a pizza if they tried. Forth, all they had to do was dial the phone or write their name on a slip of paper. Fifth, they heard the winners name announced, maybe heard the winner’s recorded voice saying “thanks, I love your station.”

That kind of thing is still valuable. If you’re running a radio station and you’re not contesting regularly, you’re missing an element that can directly contribute to listener growth.