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HOW TO COMPETE AGAINST A BIG, CHEATING STATION

QUESTION:

Recently a "local" (owned by the largest broadcast conglomeration in the world) station began a contest called "Big Money Birthday Guarantee" in which they award $5,000 a day.

They announce a birth date and the 100th person (or whatever number) born on that date to call in wins the $5,000.

In actuality this "local" contest isn't local at all. It's a part of a nationwide collective contest run simultaneously on stations all over the country. Okay, not a big deal right? It gets tricky from here.

Another station (totally locally owned) runs a promo regarding a $94-a-day contest they conduct, informing the public that the $5,000 contest isn't being conducted by the other station but by a corporate conglomeration of stations nationally.

No call letters were mentioned, just a little promo to inform local listeners that every one of their winners would be from a local community.

The $5,000 station retaliated thusly:

The morning guy took one of the daily national winners' phone calls and edited it to make it sound like he was actually the one giving the money away. No mention of community or location. (The winner was from the New York area. Hard to imagine she was listening to a station in Jackson, Mississippi).

Granted, it was "creative" on his part, but the bottom line is he's deceiving his listening audience. Am I the only one who has a problem with this?

ANSWER:

If I were the smaller, local competitor, I would hit them hard.

I would "estimate" the odds of winning either contest:

"According to the latest census, there are 115,243 people living here in Jackson, and each of them has an equal chance of winning $94 tomorrow morning on WXXX.

"Meanwhile, according to a pretty good guess made by one of the guys in our engineering department, the number of people living in cities where the national contest being heard on another station in town is being aired is approximately 153,789,425.

"Which contest do you think has the better chance of putting real money in your pocket?

"When WXXX says we'll give away cash every morning to a Jackson area listener, we mean it. When that other station says they'll give away cash every morning, they're lying. Strong words, we know.

"But true. Because they don't give away any money...and despite what they want you to believe, so far no one who lives in or anywhere near Jackson has won a penny from that other station's 'contest.' They won't tell you the truth, so we will:

"That other station is owned by a huge conglomerate of radio stations. We've got no problem with that. WXXX happens be a real, 100% Jackson owned-and-operated radio station. Some people like bland, corporate radio stations; our listeners happen to like local radio.

"But this huge conglomerate - they own hundreds of cookie-cutter-like radio stations around the country - tells all of its stations what to do, what to play, and what to say. And they have told those stations that they must participate in this big scam that they call a contest.

"Every one of their stations is told to lie to their listeners, to pretend that each station is conducting a contest in which it gives away $5,000 a day.

"But here's the really dishonest part: Of all those stations, of all those tens of millions of listeners, only one listener each day wins. And guess how many winners their poor station here in Jackson has had since the beginning of this contest? Zero. None. Zip. Nada."

And I would do the same for the faked winner phone call: Just explain, truthfully, what the other station did.

In fact, I'd go one better. I'd call the "winner" from the national contest. First, I'd get permission to record the call; I wouldn't want this to backfire on me. And I'd end up airing a call like this:

ME: Hello, is this Edwina Richter?

WINNER: Yes, it is.

ME: I'm calling from WXXX radio, and I understand you're a big fan of WZZZ.

WINNER: Who?

ME: WZZZ.

WINNER: I'm sorry, but I've never heard of WZZZ.

ME: But... Didn't you win their big contest?

WINNER: On WZZZ? No...

ME: But they played your voice on WZZZ in Jackson, Mississippi, and you were talking about how excited you were to have won!

WINNER: Well, I did win $5,000 on WAAA in New York City, but I've never heard of WZZZ in Jackson, Mississippi.

ME: You're kidding!

WINNER: No....

ME: Well, let me ask you something, Edwina. If I told you that WZZZ Radio in Jackson, Mississippi, has been playing your voice on the air and telling everyone in Jackson that you won their contest, would you be surprised?

WINNER: I sure would!

ME: And if you found out that WZZZ Radio in Jackson, Mississippi, has been trying to make it sound like you live in Jackson and listen to WZZZ, what would you think of them?

WINNER: I'd think they're liars.

Things You Should Not Do:

1. Record even a single word of such a call before first receiving permission to do so. (You can always coach the winner, if necessary, after you get permission to record.)

2. Air the call without first getting the winner's permission (on tape) to do so.

3. Air the winning call that you taped from the competing radio station, to illustrate their duplicity. This would constitute an illegal rebroadcast of another station's signal, and if that station files a complaint then you'll end paying a fine.

Here is what else I'd do....

I'd get a list of all the markets served by the competing group owner. And then I'd create a promo in which I slowly read the names of all of those markets. Something like this:

"Another radio station wants you think they're a Jackson radio station and that their big, fake $5,000 contest is for people who live in Jackson. But as you've probably heard by now, that other station is owned by a huge conglomerate with hundreds and hundreds of radio stations across the country.

"And each day, this huge, multi-billion dollar conglomerate gives $5,000 to one audience member among their millions of audience members. If you're thinking those are pretty lousy odds, we agree.

"So the next time that other station pretends they've got $5,000 to give away to you or someone you know, keep in mind that this fake, cheesy contest isn't just for people who live in Jackson. It's also for people who live in...
      Albuquerque, New Mexico
      Boston, Massachusetts
      Caribou, Maine (etc.)

"(TAG WITH:) If you don't want to be manipulated by a huge conglomerate that thinks you're stupid enough to fall for such a scam, WXXX offers an alternative. Listen tomorrow morning a little after 7 o'clock, and you or one of your friends, neighbors or colleagues will win 94 bucks.

"(DISCLAIMER, read quickly to FADE): Contest not good in Albuquerque, New Mexico... Boston, Massachusetts... Caribou, Maine (etc.)."

I also would print up bumper stickers and t-shirts with the words "CONGLOMERATE RADIO" X'd out. (I might enlist - on-air - locally owned printers and t-shirt shops to contribute their efforts.)

If the competing station's disclaimer is not aired in the same time frame as the contest is promoted and played or if they bury the details in a heavily produced, time-compressed spot that clearly is designed to keep listeners ignorant, then I would tape it off-the-air and send it to the F.C.C. as part of a formal complaint.

If the promo really does say every one of their winners will be from the "local community" without defining the term (but instead leaving that explanation for the rules blurb), I'd probably file a complaint with the F.C.C. over that, too.

If the promo says, "One local community member will win $5,000," then clearly it's a lie. To explain elsewhere that "local community" means "within any one of the local communities in which this is broadcast" just doesn't cut it. Every winner of every contest everywhere is a member of some local community.

If I lived in a "single consent" state - one in which it is legal to tape record a conversation if at least one of the parties knows it's being recorded, then I would have an innocent-sounding person call the jock at WZZZ and ask, "Is it true what WXXX is saying? Does that woman who won $5,000 this morning really live in some other state?"

I would do this with every jock on every air shift... and the odds are I'd come up with at least one who would insist that WXXX is lying, that the winner does indeed live in Jackson. And I'd send a copy of that tape to the F.C.C. to help document the complaint's charges that WZZZ is lying to its listeners.

And I would be sure to keep the local newspapers informed on any F.C.C. actions, sanctions, fines, or reprimands that result from the other station's contest.

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