At the recent KVIL reunion in Dallas, when a few of us reminisced about a few of the great promotions we use to do at Fairbanks Broadcasting, it caused a bunch more to pop into my head while flying back home to West Palm the next day. (Me above at the reunion with Ron Chapman, Bill Gardner, and Jerry Bobo)
When I began my radio career, I lucked out because many of the KY Good Guys in Winnipeg were Americans. Now the thing about the Yanks is that they liked to do stuff big and flashy and of the many things that I learned from them one was how to do promotions that not only caused talk but also excited the air staff. Unfortunately, when they left, I was left with my mistakes being my only teacher.
Armed with my two-point promotion system, when I became the Program Director of CKOM in Saskatoon, we caused quite a stir but knowing that a PD is only as good as his last book, I studied how the diary system worked. Thankfully, by the time I got to CFRA in Ottawa, I’d figured it out which got us some great ratings and me a new job in Toronto.
After putting up a few CFTR billboards around town, was when I accidentally discovered that promotion had more than two elements and number three was how to get some publicity while you were doing your promotions. As our billboards were going up, we hired a truck driver to drag one of our billboards all over town which unfortunately broke down on Yonge Street right in the middle of downtown. (oh darn) The breakdown, of course, caused a horrendous traffic jam on Canada’s busiest street so consequently, it made the TV news. (see below)I loved working at CFTR because not only did I get to create a whole new music system, I not only got to work for the legendary Ted Rogers, but I also got to hook up with another legend, Jack McCoy. Jack was the one who taught me the fourth element of promotions, the art of adding visuals to all the produced promos.
Now armed with my new music system, my new-found knowledge diaries, and the four-pronged promotion concept, it was time to take on America.
My first stop was Indianapolis where I became the National PD of Fairbanks Broadcasting and reunited with my old boss from CKY, Jim Hilliard plus Chuck Riley and Gary Todd. I also met Dick Yancey and Jerry Bobo who taught me the all-important fifth element, how to make money with the promotions.
For starters, we did a fun promotion called the “Great Race” both at WIBC in Indy and KVIL in Dallas. The concept featured our morning and afternoon guys racing each other around the world and all the TV stations in town were kind enough to do updates on how they were doing. Their clothes and travel bags were of course sponsored by the local department stores, the airline tickets came with a promotional plan we sold to the airlines they were traveling on and the start/finish line was sold to a local hotel.
Meanwhile, way in the back of the “two-story brick,” Cris Conner was busy running the annual WNAP Raft Race which was rivaling the Indy 500 for attendance figures. (see event above) Unfortunately, after nine years it had to be abandoned because too many folks who had no chance of getting to the finish line, had brought the traffic in Indianapolis to a standstill.
When we ran the “Big Sugar Daddy” contest at WIBC, it blew out most of the phones in Indy which put us on TV news again like it did when we caused a massive traffic jam when we put up a billboard on the busiest street corner in town featuring pretty girls in Bikinis swinging on a swing high above the morning traffic. (see the swing above) When we did it in Dallas, they got a court order forcing us to bring the girls down ’cause they were so hot, they froze the freeway.
Back home again in Indy, WNAP ran a make-believe concert on the air called Fantasy Park. Buster Bodine, (see Buster above) along with the rest of the Buzzard boys did it so convincingly that people were driving around aimlessly looking for the concert. Before long the TV reports claimed that the police were trying to put a stop to the make-believe concert but they couldn’t find it.(Buater and I later did it again at KPRI in San Diego)
When we did the 50% Off Free Fair in Dallas on KVIL and in Indianapolis on WNAP, it shut down every road and highway that led to the fairgrounds. By then though, the TV stations all had their own Helicopters, so now they showed it live. (darn)
Up in Boston at F-105, Jay Williams was running a great promotion called, “Show us a sign that you want to win free money.” I’ll never forget watching the New England Patriots on TV and as Jim Plunkett threw the winning touchdown pass, his tight end had to leap high in the air in front of a huge F-105 sign in order to grab it. My favorite part though was watching the instant replay, over and over again.
When Ron Chapman, (shown above with me after been inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame) decided to do his first-ever parachute jump live on the air, all three networks in Dallas were kind enough to show him slowly floating down on all their newscasts that evening.
A few weeks later, losing a tug a war contest to one of the local TV stations, got us five minutes in both of their newscasts with some nice close-ups of the giant KVIL call letters on our brand new sweatshirts which proved that sometimes ya gotta lose to win.
Oh, and when we hired the Mayor to do sports, we also put a billboard up to promote it, the Dallas Morning News showed a picture of it on the front page in color and above the fold. The headline read, “Mayor Moonlights On KVIL.”
I guess we should have been embarrassed when one of our billboards featuring Mike Selden ended up across from a nunnery in Dallas. When the church complained the media couldn’t help but rag on us but after we agreed to take it down, the church then blessed us and as I recall, that was one of our better books. (see Michael’s billboard above)
Then there was the time when a Saudi was reported tipping lady bartenders all over Dallas with hundred dollar bills. Taking advantage of the situation, Bill Gardner (shown above) withdrew a few thousand dollars from his account so it couldn’t be traced back to KVIL and we hired some Arab looking actors. Next, we sent them to the KVIL studios where they started handing out money to the staff.
When Larry Dixon invited the leader to explain on-air what was going on, he claimed that the other Arab was a phony which he was going to prove by giving away much more money than he did but he needed our help. He then, of course, picked Bill Gardner out of the crowd to join him in the limo and show him some good locations. Once there Bill would call the station to tell the listeners where they were.
Things were going well, and as GM Dave Spence and I watched it all unfold on TV, we celebrated with high fives as the camera showed a crumpled up hundred dollar bill going around and around on one of the turntables back at the station. Then when we heard that the trail of cars following the limo was over a mile long, I knew we had a hit on our hands but when we got the call saying that the FBI had shown up at the radio station, I got a hold of Bill and said, “Send Ahab the Arab back to the desert, Bill.”
Surprisigly though, the most publicity we ever got didn’t cost us a dime. Ron Chapman simply went on air and said, “If you’ve got an extra 20 bucks in your wallet, send it to me, and we’ll figure out something fun to do with it.” However, when over a quarter of a million dollars showed up in just a couple of days, Ron had to go back on the air and beg them to stop.
Not only was it all over the loca news, but it also went National.
When I left Fairbanks to start my own company, I of course took the four-point promotion concept with me. Pretty soon we were blowing out the phone systems all over America by giving away vast amounts of cash and expensive cars. Hell, the cheapest car we ever gave away was a Trans Am and that was only because the Smokey and the Bandit movies were hot. (see newspaper article)
At KOGO in San Diego, where we did the first-ever prize catalog and wrapped it all up with, “For one last shot at a big prize, scratch your name and phone number on your catalog and drop it off at the Doubletree on Hotel Circle. I wish you could have seen the mess, Interstate turned into a parking lot, but according to Don Walker, (pictured below) the TV shots were spectacular.
I unfortunately missed all the mayhem because I was smart enough to be out of town when it went down.
Just down the hall from KOGO, our sister station, KPRI was busy shooting a TV commercial that caused quite a stir. It starred a “looker” named Peggy who was dressed in tight shorts and a mid-drift KPRI T-shirt cut way up to here.
The shot opened with a pouting Peggy who is just staring into the camera. However, when the music starts, she breaks into a big smile and begins to dance but then all of a sudden the music stops and Peggy says, “When I hear the music on KPRI, it makes me so hot that I just wanna rip my shirt off.” With that, she begins pulling the shirt up and as it almost reaches her nipples, the shot freezes on the call letters printed on the shirt and scrolling underneath was some text that read, “Next week Peggy takes the shirt off.”
Unfortunately, at the last minute, the TV stations all canceled our schedule because the commercial was too provocative. They did though run it in their newscasts as being the first TV commercial ever banned in San Diego.
One of the saddest things that I was ever involved in got so much publicity that it had to be killed before it had hardly even started. Reid Reker (Pictured above) and I had created a brand new format for his radio station in Phoenix called “Radio For Men.” We went as far as to say that women were not allowed to listen to it and had a billboard showing the symbol from the women’s restroom with the ghostbuster line drawn through it.
We sounded so sincere about our Radio For Men that it drove the city crazy. Not only was the local media all over us, but it went national when People Magazine and entertainment shows like “ET” showed up to cover it. Unfortunately, when the owners turned on the TV and saw the Now organization marching on the station, they pulled the plug. Most of the promotions on our “Class/Classy” stations caused so much commotion that whenever we got a new client, I’d immediately meet with the GM and present him with a “Get out of jail free card.” On that card were the words, “We never dreamed, imagined, nor anticipated this kind of reaction to our promotion which I suggested the GM should memorize. He would need to say those words, I advised, to the TV cameras which will be showing up soon. When they’d ask how I knew the TV people were going to show up, I said, “Oh trust me, they always do.”