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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Dialed in to win: Area DJs says it’s quite the job to win call-in radio contests

By Cynthia Reugh For The Spokesman-Review

Deep within the realms of radio music, news and DJ chatter lies a surreal universe known as the game zone. A spirited arena characterized by quick dialing, bizarre trivia and lively callers drawn in by the lure of fabulous prizes.

Over the years, I’ve won countless freebies from Spokane radio stations. That haul has included cash, gift cards and scores of concert tickets to see legendary rock groups, such as the Doobie Brothers, Styx and Duran Duran. My long and winding road to Paul McCartney stubs was a three-day, “Know The Show” quest that required meticulous notes documenting the favorite music videos, ice cream flavors and driving routes of 92.9 KZZU-FM morning show hosts Dave, Ken and Molly.

Radio contesting is no trivial matter.

While callers with nimble dialing fingers bask in that plethora of free goodies, local DJs handing out prizes say these types of events are sweet music to the ears of everybody involved in that giveaway mix.

“It gives people opportunities to do things they may not be able to afford,” said Victoria Frederick, a local DJ with stations, 95.3 KPND-FM and Rock 103. “A lot of times people wouldn’t even know about these events unless they were listening to the radio. Even if they don’t win, it makes them want to go.

“It gets people out of their homes and enjoying the community. It’s good for the radio station, because a lot of people will listen just to win contests.”

DJs refer to this as “appointment listening,” a tune-in-to-win phenomenon that is enhanced by the incentive of amazing prizes. Those radio station T-shirts and coffee mugs of past contest days have long since been replaced by expensive concert tickets and extravagant flyaway adventures.

“Back in the day, when I went to high school at West Valley, I called in and won a Heart album, I think it was from 97-KREM … it was just albums and CDs mostly,” said KPND midday host, Marie McCallister.

As program director, McCallister oversees contesting for all five radio stations owned and operated by Blue Sky Broadcasting of Sandpoint, Idaho.

“It’s a lot of work to keep up, because we do so many of them (contests) that we’re always sending prizes out,” said McCallister, who recently awarded lucky listeners tickets to see the Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Def Leppard.

Win or lose, participating in these contests delivers a thrill. My playlist is loaded chock-full of stunning victories and hilarious on-air moments. I’ve unscrambled song lyrics played backwards, identified celebrities as dead or alive and once even belted out “Juke Box Hero” for a pair of Foreigner tickets. For others, the shock of busting past those busy signals results in a paralyzing, tongue-tied situation.

“For the most part, they can’t believe that they made it, that they got through … they have it (the answer) in their head and they can’t say it,” said KPND morning show host Paul Meyers, who works hard to keep that contest playing field equal. “You can’t just ask questions, because of the internet. Everybody has a computer in their back pocket.”

His morning Hat Trick game challenges contestants to identify the common theme between a trio of songs.

“You have to be listening. When we were giving away Rolling Stones (tickets) we were making the common theme pretty hairy,” added Meyers, who entertains many repeat winners.

While email and texting contests have gained momentum, call-in competitions remain extremely popular and offer listeners the increasingly rare opportunity to chat in person with live and local DJs.

“I like to get to know the people a little bit when I talk to them. I’ll ask them what they’re doing or where they’re working,” McCallister said. “A lot of times we’ll have meet and greets and we get to actually meet and hang out with the winners. It’s nice to actually see people who call in regularly and win prizes.”

If you want in on that winning, expect to work for it. Most radio contest victories are achieved through fast dialing, persistence and a hefty dose of luck. If you do happen to snag a big prize, don’t be afraid to celebrate that remarkable triumph with the on-air host. Everybody loves a winner.

“Tickets are like really expensive these days,” Frederick said. “I really like being able to give people a chance to catch live music especially, because live music is awesome! It’s just hearing the excitement of people that are winning, that’s pretty cool.”

While many listeners dial in to win, others simply reach out to visit and that’s just fine with Frederick.

“If they feel comfortable calling us, then we’ve kind of done our job,” she said.