Part of the fun of being a Top 40 fan in the ’70s and ’80s was taking part in radio station contests.
“Be caller seven at 867-5309, and win two tickets to see Tommy Tutone!“
That phone number example might be a bit extreme.
But we can talk some other time about the childhood joy of making crank calls.
…when you wanted that station giveaway so badly …
You felt the endorphin rush as you ran to the family phone. It was best if your parent wasn’t around so you didn’t have to waste time explaining why and asking permission to hog the line for a few minutes.
You pressed the keys (or even rotated the dial) as fast as possible, hung up when the busy signal started, and tried again until you heard the DJ announce a winner. Or – if you were really lucky – you got a ringtone indicating you connected. Your heart really beat then.
six. Try again.” A quick disconnect.
But several times, I was lucky to be the right one at the right time.
I had my first taste of success in 1977, winning tickets to the Old Chicago Amusement Park, on Chicago’s Top 40 WMET-FM.
Honestly, that prize was… so-so.
Old Chicago – an odd mall/amusement park combo with a retro theme – was in Bolingbrook, a suburb 30 to 45 minutes from where I lived.
I was a high school freshman, so using those tickets wasn’t easy.
Our family went once with a few friends, and I still had at least one unused to put in a scrapbook.
Two years later, Heartache Tonight blared from stereo speakers all over South Bend, Indiana, where my family recently relocated. WRBR-FM offered two tickets to see the Eagles at the University of Notre Dame.
My successful call was Topic “A” the next day in the cafeteria among the guys whose friendship I’d made in the past few months.
The real challenge was asking someone out.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have understood what, other than adolescent insecurity, underlay the angst.
I went with a girl who also was new to the school. What I remember from that night?
Hearing Timothy B. Schmit singing on I Can’t Tell You Why, and thinking:
“I’ve got to get that song.”
Other scrapbook remnants bring back stories of similar victories…
Seeing Genesis in Indianapolis on their “Invisible Touch” tour with a friend and colleague from the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette…
…Winning a party for 20 (really: first round and snacks for everyone) at a local bar in the summer of 1985 from Bloomington’s WBWB-FM.
But my favorite radio station contest story was nailing two tickets to see Bruce Springsteen.
It was at Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley in 1984 from Chicago’s WLS.
I’ve told this story on the mothership
But for those who weren’t around for virtual 1984:
My best friend Janice is a Springsteen fan from way back. When I met her in the fall of my senior year of high school, she was extolling his virtues even before The River was released that winter. (My Top 40 self was fairly clueless at that point, only knowing Born to Run, Prove It All Night and Badlands, the latter on some Chicago FM station.)
Everyone from Janice’s mother to my father to various friends wondered how Janice and I could spend hours on the phone and not be dating.
I had no straight answer.
Both of us somehow understood what our friendship was – and was not. By the end of senior year, she was dating one of my closest friends, Chip. I couldn’t have been happier for both of them.
As a college freshman, I came out to myself. I knew I would tell Janice as soon as possible. We went to rival schools, hours apart (go, Hoosiers!), so the conversation would wait until vacation. I’ve always remembered how accepting she was and how our friendship grew from that talk.
WLS was such an AM juggernaut that its signal carried 90 miles to South Bend.
As I heard its disk jockeys promote the opportunity every hour all weekend to snatch two tickets to see “the Boss,” I thought about how Janice’s 21st birthday was coming up. Chip was overseas with the Navy.
It seemed to me that seeing Springsteen together would be just the ticket for each of us.
Dialing in meant adding the area code (highly unusual then). I was glad the station offered so many chances.
On Sunday afternoon, I won!
(Pretty sure I squee-ed a bit – good thing there’s no aural evidence.) I immediately called Janice and said: “You will not believe where we’re going Thursday night!”
Springsteen performed for more than three hours, and it took another hour to get out of the parking lot.
We crossed three states in three and a half hours – just enough time for me to arrive home, change clothes and head into my 7 a.m. newspaper copy desk internship.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve called in to a radio station contest.
In the age of corporate ownership of radio stations and high-end concert ticket prices, I don’t know, if they even exist anymore.
I’m glad to have the memories.
Let the author know that you liked their article with a “heart” upvote!”