8 Must-Follow Principles for Radio Contests

Radio contests are popular with broadcasters and with listeners. But your contest has a much better chance of becoming successful if you observe some basic must-follow principles for radio contests.

Some of them seem like common sense. But most station aren’t exactly nailing it with most of their campaigns.

Ignore these guidelines at your peril.

Must-Follow Principles For Radio Contests:

#1: Keep it Simple

Every game you play and every contest you create must be made easy to participate and understand. And it has to be simple even for those casual listeners who are barely paying attention.

How complicated is your contest? Here’s a good way to judge: If you can’t explain it to a third-grader in 10 seconds or less, it’s too complicated.

#2: Design For The Listener, Not The Player

Most of your audience won’t play the game or enter the contest. Those that do play are important listeners. But they’re going to play any game you create because they’re contest players. So design each contest with your listener in mind. Don’t get caught up in the mechanics of the game. Focus on the entertainment value.

#3: Protect Your Air!

How you sound is far more important than simply airing a contestant or winner. Many times, stations (and personalities) are excited to put a winner on the air. They’re waiting for that great sound bite and the caller is boring. Or has nothing to say. Don’t put them on! You can simply announce their name to congratulate them.

When playing a game with a contestant, look for likable, upbeat contestants that sound great on the air. Screen contestants the way you’d screen callers. You don’t have to make it a random player. Just invite the audience to call if they’d like to play your game.

NOTE: Don’t do this with giveaways to the xxth caller. That’s illegal! But then, you shouldn’t be doing call in to win contests anyway.

When listeners call, evaluate if they are the type of player your audience will identify with and cheer for! Screen them the way a television game show would cast a contestant.

#4: Prepare the Contestant

The fourth of our must-follow principles for radio contests is to insure that you player is ready to perform on the air. They should know how to play the game and what to expect when they go on. Explain to them that you’ll introduce them and what you want them to do.

It’s also up to you (or your phone screener) to get them excited about being on. Being upbeat and high energy is contagious, and they’ll sound better if you sound excited. That’s one of the basics of call screening, and it applies to contests and games as much as talk shows and segments.

#5 Shine a Spotlight on the Listener

Remember that you’re not the star of the game. The listener is. But you are the star of the show, and all of the positive feelings will reflect back on you if you make the listener a star.

Kidd Kraddick was a master of this technique.

While you should avoid upstaging the contestant, you also have to be focused and guide the break. If the contest drifts off topic, it’ll destroy your forward momentum.

#6: It’s the Game, Not the Prize

The prize is important, of course. It adds drama and a stake in the contest. But the game is more important, because that’s where the entertainment is (see Point #1). This is where the play-along comes from.

Play the game with excitement and make it fun, and you may not even need a prize to make it work! But, of course, it’s always better with one!

#7: Start Quickly

Just as every break has to have a fast hook to lead the audience into the break, your game should never take more than a few seconds to get started. That’s another reason the game should be simple and easy to explain. When it takes too long to introduce the contestant and explain it, you lose attention.

#8: Play Up The Drama

The final must-follow principle for radio contests is to add suspense! This may be the most important element. Each game is a story, and stories are more exciting with drama.

KCBQ/San Diego’s Last Contest may have been the most dramatic and most interesting contest of all time. Drama is also the secret ingredient in the classic Who Wants to Be a Millionaire show. Both offered great prizes, but the appeal was in how the contest was staged.


Radio contests are content first, then promotion. They also have aspects of marketing. If you observe these guidelines, you’ll have a much better chance of entertaining contestants and non-players alike.

What are your must-follow principles for radio contests? Share them with me. I’d love to add them to the list.



Tracy Johnson is President and CEO of the Tracy Johnson Media Group, offering programming & promotion consultation, talent coaching & development and digital strategy consulting. Get more information at www.tjohnsonmediagroup.com or email tracy@tjohnsonmediagroup.com.


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