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“You’re Lucky Caller Seven!”

The Thrill Of Radio Station Contests

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​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.

It was fun while it lasted.

​Still…

…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. 

​“You’re caller…

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.

To say nothing of the Lunch Ladies’ fascination with the whole thing.
I got free dessert for the rest of the week.

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.

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Chuck Small

Journalist-turned-high school counselor. Happily ensconced in Raleigh, N.C., with hubby of 30 years (8 legal).

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Phylum of Alexandria
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January 18, 2023 7:50 am

I am not quite sure why, but my family and I never thought to try to call into a favorite radio station. It seems like something I would have done, but it was not.

The only time I did so came a good deal later, when I was first getting into college radio. I called into Drexel’s student station and requested “Human Fly” by the The Cramps. There was no thrill from the luck of the draw, but I did revel in the power to cater to my own niche preferences.

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Cramps recently enjoyed some buzz on Spotify thanks to a song of theirs being featured on Wednesday on Netflix. In this age of tailored preferences guiding everything, sometimes the niche acts can have their moment in the spotlight.

JJ Live At Leeds
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January 18, 2023 8:02 am

That seems like a pretty good win rate, persistence pays off. I never tried calling into a radio station competition but I did win some lego writing into a newspaper competition, must have been around 12 year old. Think I just had to answer one extremely easy question and then luck of the draw for my entry to be pulled out.

cuzittt
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January 18, 2023 8:34 am

I personally have never called into a radio station contest… but my wife did while we were driving around and we won some Gift Cards to a local Supermarket.

Free food is always a good prize.

lovethisconcept
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January 18, 2023 10:47 am

One of our local radio stations (WKDF when it was still rock for VirginDog) used to do a contest every day where the deejay would give a lyric and you had to call in with the song name and the artist. You could win once every thirty days, and I won a bunch of times. I won concert tickets, flower delivery, restaurant gift cards, a lot of station promotional items, and more that I can’t remember. I really missed that contest when it ended. The station went country, and things in Nashville were never quite the same.

LinkCrawford
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January 18, 2023 11:25 am

Hey! You and I went to the same Genesis concert in Indy! I was sitting *behind* the stage. But I still totally enjoyed it.

I once won a t-shirt by correctly answering a music trivia question on a radio station. I think it was 1995. Woo-hoo!

Virgindog
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January 18, 2023 1:12 pm

I think I’ve won twice. Once was from WBLM to see Chuck Berry at the fairgrounds in Lewiston, ME. The other was from WBCN in Boston when I won the first five Elvis Costello albums on vinyl and a book of the sheet music for all those albums. I’m not sure what happened to the book but the albums were lost in the Great CD Trade of 1988.

LinkCrawford
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January 18, 2023 10:30 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

Exactly. An article waiting to happen!

Of course, I worked in a record store in 1988. We bought and sold used LP’s. It was a perfect time to work there. Folks would bring in 40 old albums for us to buy and they would walk out with about 4 or 5 CDs. And then we employees could cherry pick the used albums before putting them on the floor for sale. My album collection ballooned at that job.

cappiethedog
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January 18, 2023 11:11 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I’m having a High Fidelity moment. I remember seeing “Everyday I Write the Book” on MTV at my cousin’s house. (I didn’t have cable because my mom thought it was nothing but 24/7 boobies.) I didn’t buy Punch the Clock, though. My allowance wouldn’t cover it. Instead, I bought, Armed Forces for $3.99(?). I remember mishearing the lyrics for “Green Shirt”. I got most of the first line correct, but the second line, what I heard on the back-end was “…who comes into my ass every night.”

I hadn’t seen Fantastic Voyage, but I knew the plot synopsis, so it kind of made sense.

Aaron3000
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January 19, 2023 9:48 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

Hmmm… “24/7 Boobies” might be another one for Vdog’s band name list…

mt58
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January 18, 2023 6:56 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

I do like being a little mischievous sometimes, and cook up some things for fun. But in this case: the Bruce ad is 100% real!

Pauly Steyreen
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January 18, 2023 6:49 pm

My only win was super random. The summer before junior year in high school (1990), I was visiting a friend who lived in New Jersey. We were up all night listening to the local classic rock / hair metal station. They announced a call-in giveaway for Pittsburgh Pirates game tickets at like 3 am, which we gave no special attention to. About an hour later I called to make a request… I figured the DJ HAD to play my song at 4 am.

Well I found out I was 7th caller and won the Pirates tickets. Whoopty-do! I gave them to my friend’s parents, and I don’t think they could even give them away.

Worse yet, the DJ didn’t even play my request (“Stairway to Heaven”). I’m the only one listening to your damn show, c’mon!

Of course when I went on to be a college radio DJ in the early morning hours, I got 4 total requests, and I only honored 2 of them. This is a college radio station, I’m not playing a Nirvana song you can hear every hour on MTV.

Pauly Steyreen
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January 18, 2023 9:39 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

For sure! I always found an excuse to worm a 10 minute song into my set so I could either use the bathroom and go nuts scouring for more music choices.

Aaron3000
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January 18, 2023 9:22 pm

Three-time winner here in the late ’80s… although they were all small stakes. One was a voucher for a free CD at Spec’s Music (I loved that place), which I redeemed for Tiffany’s debut album (don’t judge). The other two were free pizzas from Gumby’s Pizza.

My then-14-year-old sister won tickets from Q-105 to see The Cannonball Run while we were visiting my mom and stepdad near Tampa during summer vacation in 1981. The DJ had a good laugh when he asked where she was calling from and she mispronounced “Lutz”. “Oh, you’re a local, huh?”

dutchg8r
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January 19, 2023 12:15 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

Ok, mispronouncing Thonotosassa, I’d understand. How in the world does one mispronounce Lutz?! 😄

(MrDutch used to live in St Pete, and every time we’d drive past the Thonotosassa exit on I-4 he’d get a kick out of having me try to pronounce it.)

Aaron3000
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January 19, 2023 9:46 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

The proper way in this case is like “Loots”, but she pronounced it to rhyme with “nuts” (which to be fair is the way the family in the Amityville Horror pronounced their last name).

Florida has several cities like that… I’ve heard Micanopy and Kissimmee mangled as well.

cappiethedog
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January 18, 2023 10:57 pm

Young me had the radio on AM. “Hungry Heart” is my Springsteen starter song. No way, in my neck of the woods, would “Badlands” be on AM. And then Bruce went off my radar. Nebraska is great, but nothing slaps(“Reason to Believe”, almost.) Remember the discounted Columbia cassettes? It had that “Nice Price” label. I guess Columbia had a hard time moving Greeting from Asbury Park, N.J.” I played that cassette to death.

“Growing Up” is not his best song by a longshot, but it made me a fan for life.

dutchg8r
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January 19, 2023 12:02 am

I applaud your persistence Chuck to be as successful as you were winning stuff from the radio! I was terribly self defeatist as a kid – ‘oh, the concerts in Philly, I’d have to talk my parents into taking me to get the tickets all the way down there, we have a rotary phone, I’ll never get through’ blah blah blah. But, then in ’89 I actually made the effort to win tix for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour. I was caller 10 the only time I got through- winner was caller 11. Aragh! But the whole sweaty palms, heart stopping sensation when you actually got a ring tone??!! I remember that like it was 10 minutes ago!

Only once did I ever win anything from a radio station, but it probably was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. 2008, the economy has gone to pot. Both MrDutch and I had been laid off from our jobs, and it was some really, really, really dark times financially for us. That’s when George Michael decides to tour the US for the first time in nearly 20 years, and I never got to see him on Faith or his Cover to Cover Tour. Just lousy timing.

Then one day I hear them announce on an Orlando radio station they’re giving away tix to his Tampa show all week during their morning show. Every morning I’m sitting at my desk doing furious redialing on my office phone and cell phone. I was like – ya never know, gotta try at least. Got through on Thursday I think, and was the correct caller. I nearly crapped myself when the dj’s answered the phone, and when they told me I’d won, I just let loose with this ecstatic “oh thank God!”.

Only time I ever got to see George in concert. Soooo grateful I had that opportunity. Wound up getting a hotel room 2 blocks from the arena to make it a nice overnight trip for us. Lone bright spot in an otherwise lousy year. Still the only thing I’ve ever won from a station!

Aaron3000
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January 19, 2023 10:01 am
Reply to  dutchg8r

See? You had faith you could win so you gave it one more try and it paid off!

mt58
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January 19, 2023 10:41 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

^
This is why A-3K is our guy.

Aaron3000
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January 19, 2023 3:25 pm
Reply to  mt58

Well, I can’t give her everything she wants, but a few puns I can do.

dutchg8r
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January 19, 2023 10:50 am
Reply to  Aaron3000

Aww, Aaron with the GM punnies for me, that’s so nice of you…. 😊

irishbeartx
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January 20, 2023 12:17 am

Entering radio station contests undoubtedly was thrilling.

Running them was not. I dreaded subbing on a shift where a contest is being run. I didn’t do so well with them.

mt58
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January 20, 2023 5:45 am
Reply to  irishbeartx

Speaking of “thrilling…” Glad to see you!

Ozmoe
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January 23, 2023 8:18 pm

Tried doing a radio call-in contest twice in the 1990s, didn’t win, so I took that as an omen and stopped doing it. But those are the sort of things that make listening to terrestrial radio all worthwhile.

TLeo
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January 24, 2023 4:18 pm

I once won a Coca-Cola Can Radio in a radio call-in contest. It had very poor reception. I still wish I’d kept it, because I WON IT.

I never did win WTIX’s Cash Call Jackpot, though.

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