What’s the Point of On-Air Contests? (Part 1)

It’s rare for me to not have an answer to your question, whatever it might be. I’m not saying it’ll be the RIGHT answer, but I often have attempts! At my first Christian radio job, I wanted to amp up our station’s contesting efforts. My GM asked why, and for the first of many times since then, I didn’t have a great answer. I bumbled out something like “to get more listeners and such?” ¯\_(?)_/¯ Honestly, contesting was everyday life in the Top 40 format I’d left behind. I wanted them because, in my mind, that would make our puny Christian station somehow more “legit.” And if we were lucky, someday we might have been too legit to quit! (Please Hammer don’t hurt me.) A few stations later, and I finally have good reasons for why contests can add value to your station.

  1. As much as we’d love to tangibly thank every devoted listener we have, or bribe the ones on the fence to come on in, none of us have those kinds of budgets. Contests are fun ways to involve fans in your brand and thank/reward them for their loyalty.
  2. Certain contests and prizes help you roll out the welcome mat to potential new listeners, your P2’s, etc.
  3. If ratings are part of how you measure success, there are ways to execute contests that can give you a boost. (No subliminal pun about one of my stations intended.) (It was liminal. Listen to BOOST RADIO. It will bring us great JOY.) (As in 99.1 JOY FM. Listen to that as well.)
  4. Contests can help grow your database. A robust database can lead to increased giving and more listeners for your research pool, just to name a couple of perks.
  5. Done right, they’re fun for your whole audience to hear, even if only a fraction participate.
  6. Insert whatever solid reasons I missed here.

There are also BAD reasons to do contests. Like, trying to please advertisers/underwriters. Or, because you have nothing better to do on-air. Because somebody gave you something to give away. And so on and so forth and such as.

In the future, we’ll get into HOW to execute contests so you can be effective at accomplishing one or more of those items above. Some tactics are great for building cume and/or TSL, others are awesome for database building. Sometimes you have to pick one over the other.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this when it comes to On-Air contesting. Keep it simple. Make it fun to hear and to play along with for the 98% of your audience who will never opt in. (As in, don’t give away CD’s to the 10thcaller ever again.) If you can consistently keep your contesting simple and fun to hear, you’ll be ahead of almost every other station in your market. Your competitors (maybe even MC Hammer himself) will be like “we can’t touch this!”

Mike Couchman
Program Director, KLJY & KPVR/St. Louis

Unless you count pirate radio stations with transmitters I built as a kid and teen, my official resume begins with a mainstream Hip Hop station, Power 96.5 in Lansing, MI, where I grew up. You name the Michigan market or format, and I probably worked it. Top 40 in Lansing and Detroit. Smooth Jazz. Country a few times. In CCM, I’m grateful to have worked with the WAY-FM network, SOS Radio in Vegas, among others. I currently program KLJY and BOOST Radio in St. Louis, MO. And I’m out of the pirate radio business!

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