Cashing in on radio contests
The secrets of how to win a radio contest are finally
Free cash and prizes can make people do strange things.
Just look at radio contestants who put their careers at risk by
speed dialing DJ's on the job. And sometimes radio fans get too
enthusiastic about winning a contest. Mark Dewitt, DJ/owner
of WTRK-FM, a Christian rock station in Bay City, Mich., had a winning
caller get so excited that she dropped her car phone out the window
"I heard it go clunk, clunk, clunk as it bounced
down the road," says Dewitt.
Nashville's WGFX-FM once held a "sticker hit" in which
employees would drive around in a van and award prizes to drivers
whose cars showed off the station's bumper sticker. Nothing wrong
with that, except that some listeners would "stalk" the station's
parking lot in order to follow the van and win the goods. The chases
eventually resulted in a car accident, and now rumor has it that
the station will only hire former NASCAR and Domino's Pizza drivers
to handle such promotions. The WGFX listeners could have avoided
that fender bender if they'd only known that you can better your
odds just by understanding how most contests really work.
The majority of radio contests are of the call-in
variety. (Be caller number 10 and you win...) Enter a contest like
that and you'll likely be battling a few dozen callers for the prize.
But if it's a contest that carries over from week to week, then
a station might have thousands of listeners who are trying to win,
says Mark Randall, promotions director for alternative station KCXX-FM
in San Bernardino, Calif. However, even with such lousy odds against
you, radio stations set rules to keep the same people from winning
Radio stations are also required to report prizes
valued at more than $600 to the IRS, according to Faye Wilson, a
promotions coordinator for WGFX-FM. So winning a car would mean
that you'd be handed a W-9 tax form along with your car keys.
The unlucky winners
Still, winning a contest isn't always good news. The
problem is that many of those contestants are playing when they're
supposed to be working. For example, fifteen 911 operators in Montgomery,
Ala., were disciplined for using their city phones to enter a contest
sponsored by WMXS-FM. One operator lost her job but won $10,000
from the station. I can just picture a desperate 911 caller being
told, "Sorry honey, but you're going to have to call back -- I'm
trying to win some money."
A WMYX-FM listener in Hales Corners, Wis., was fired
from his credit union job because of the commotion he caused after
finding out he'd won a $1,000. The man had been reprimanded before
for other outbursts lest we think that the credit union was just
Randall says that many radio contestants will call
even though they know that winning the contest might cost them their
job. "They whisper on the air, 'Please don't say where I work or
I'll get in trouble,' "says Randall.
Tips for winning
There are several things that you can do to improve
your odds of winning radio contests other than harassing station
employees. Visiting a radio station's Web site can boost your chances.
Some sites feature contests that aren't broadcast on air, so there
are less people to compete against. It doesn't hurt to keep a list
of station names, call letters and phone numbers handy either. And,
of course, get a phone with speed dial.
Technology Arts (TA), a telephone accessory products
company based in Watertown, Mass., developed a gadget called the
PowerDialer, which can redial a telephone number automatically once
every 2.6 seconds. TA's Dave Hoch says that customers use the device
to beat busy lines and get event tickets, win radio contests and
schedule golf tee times. The PowerDialer also connects to multiple
phone lines. It sells for $249.
"The PowerDialer doesn't guarantee that you'll win,"
says Hoch. "It just increases the chance that you'll get through."
editor of Rags-To-Riches, a sweepstakes newsletter in Derry, N.H.,
and winner of thousands of dollars, cars and trips, says she's used
the PowerDialer to win a Bahamas trip and to qualify for two car
drawings over the past three months. Hodgkins offers radio heads
some more ideas on how to beat the competition.
Wait for the good stuff.
"You can only win every 30 days so I'm not going to try to win
something crappy like tickets," says Hodgkins. "When the Arbitron
ratings come out in the fall and the spring then every major
radio station is going to give away the big stuff like cars
and trips. You want to hold off 'til then."
Know when to listen. "Most
of the giveaways are going to take place during the morning
drive time and afternoon drive time hours. The contest will
probably happen during the second part of the hour, usually
near the end of the DJ's 4-hour shift because they're trying
to get you to listen longer."
Have a backup ready. "Many
radio stations have contests where you need to know the song
of the day. You should have cassette tapes ready to record the
song in case you're not around to hear it. You can have several
radios on hand, that way you can tape one that's playing in
another room. It's also good to have a radio partner listening
so that you can call them if you missed a song."
-- Posted: Oct. 8, 1998