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Cashing in on radio contests

The secrets of how to win a radio contest are finally revealed!

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 while driving.

"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 rules

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 too often.

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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 being heartless.

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."

Anita Hodgkins, 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


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