What’s the Point of On-Air Contests? (Part 2)

Wayyyyyyyyy back in the winter of 2020, we talked about how on-air contesting is still valuable and relevant. The TLDR version: they reward loyal P1’s and may help convert P2’s. Contests can boost ratings when executed strategically. They grow your database, and entertain the 98% of your audience who may never participate.

As promised, here are a few ideas to help you accomplish some of those things. Like almost anything in radio, adapt the concepts to fit your station’s unique DNA, or use them to inspire totally new approaches.



Power 96 in Miami used to create what they called “Cume Cards.” (That was the name in the building, not to their audience.) They’d hand these Cume Cards out at station events. Imagine For King & Country opening for Pitbull (or the other way around)? The Cume Card would have an attractive prize on it. To win, you’d need to call Power 96 when certain Pitbull or For King & Country songs played on the radio the next day. The Cume Card told you when to listen. Super easy way to introduce new listeners to your station, or increase loyalty from current ones. (You could use texting, QR codes, etc. for a 2020 approach to this concept.)



The Irish Dave & Christine Show on U-93 in South Bend had a twist on the “Secret Sound” concept; they called it “Can’t Beat Christine.” Each morning at 7:10, they’d play the mysterious sound. First three callers guessed. The stakes built each day the sound wasn’t guessed correctly. (In U-93’s case, the pile of money grew.) Christine conjured up some smugness to add entertainment value; the satisfaction of beating her ended up being as big of a deal as whatever the prize was. The show also set up a text feature where you could get an auto reply of all the wrong guesses from previous days. LOTS of wins with this promotion: 1. Appointment listening. (Creating daily habits and getting people to return is how you increase TSL.) 2. Character development. 3. Database building via the texting feature.



For Father’s Day 2020 at our stations (99.1 JOY FM and BOOST 101.9), our marketing team put together “Dad-Cations” at Lake of the Ozarks. (Hotel stay, free dining, free tourist attraction tickets, etc.) Each station had a different way to enter & win: JOY FM collected Dad’s best advice (“Dad-vice”). BOOST did “Props To Your Pops” (say something nice about Dad). Entries came in through our websites and went directly into our Constant Contact databases. Quoting listeners in their words was fun and meaningful. Adding hundreds of new people into our databases was a big win too.



There’s no point in going to all this effort if you aren’t going to make it matter. So….

  1. Pre-promote at least a week in advance. For stuff that’s a HUGE deal, you may even want to map out a tease-then-pre-promote plan. (If you’re giving away a mint condition Ford Pinto, for example…..or…how about a Tesla?)
  2. I.S.S. Keep It Stupidly Simple. Don’t make your listeners jump through hoops. Keep whittling down the “how this works” verbiage until your receptionist could explain it in one sentence. (Yellow flag: if your air talent has trouble grasping it, so will your listeners.)
  3. Tell your listener what to do and when, as specific and exact as possible. The days of “listen all day for the cue to call” are gone (or should be).
  4. Make it worth hearing for all the listeners who will never try winning. Gameify when possible. I’ll likely never be on The Price Is Right, but they make it worth watching.
  5. Use technology to help get your message out. Creative posts on social media, text & email blasts, etc.
  6. Post-promote for things that are a big deal. Take credit for your hard work! Done right, it’ll endear your brand to your listeners.

Us radio folk tend to think of our P1’s as always loyal. Truth be told, even our most loyal listeners are on a cycle (see the above graph from our friends at DMR). On Air contesting done right is one way to cycle listeners back to your station faster. Talent coaches like Tracy Johnson and Randy Lane have noted in recent months that games on the radio have become MORE valuable since Corona began; listeners find them fun and comforting.

If you ever want to bounce a contest idea around, shoot me a note. mikec@boost1019.com. Also, join the CMB Promotions Forum if you haven’t already. Have fun!

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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Wise, Weird & Welcome: Learning and Leading with the Lepers and the Locust Eaters

We’ve all read the same books about teamwork, leadership, communication, and culture that everybody reads. We’ve mastered Maxwell, studied Sanborn, Sinek, and Sun Tzu, and liberally cribbed Collins in aborted attempts to go from good to great, but…

How’s that working out for you? 

What if you left St. Louis with an entirely new lens through which to view and act upon improvements in:

Let’s examine how this all connects together, but approach it from an entirely different angle. Don’t just think outside the box. Kick the box to the curb and start at zero.