When I began my radio career, I lucked out because a lot of the KY Good Guys were Americans who generally they like to do things big and flashy. While they were in Winnipeg, they taught me many things that I still do today and one of them was how to do promotions that not only caused talk but also excited the air staff. Unfortunately, after they returned to America, most of what I learned after that was mainly from my mistakes.
A few years after the Yanks went home, I became the new Program Director of CKOM where I got to put my two-point promotion system into effect which caused quite a stir in Saskatoon. However, after learning that you’re only as good as your last book, I became very curious about how the diary system worked and by the time I worked my way to Ottawa, I’d figured it out. Not only did we produce huge numbers at CFRA but they were big enough to get me to Toronto.
It was while working at CFTR that I experienced what Jim Hilliard later taught me was element four. We’d put up a few billboards up and also hired a driver to drag one of them all over town. Unfortunately, the truck broke down leaving the billboard blocking Yonge street, the busiest street in Canada which got us on the TV news. (see photo below)It was while working at CFTR, that not only did I managed to create a whole new music system but I also got to meet the legendary Jack McCoy who taught me the art of adding visuals to my promos.
Now armed with my new found diary knowledge, a new music system, and the soon to be four-pointed promotion concept, I headed to Indianapolis to reunite with my old boss from CKY, Jim Hilliard. After my arrival, Jim brought me up to speed on how element number four really worked, getting free publicity from all your promotions. A short time later, Dick Yancey and Jerry Bobo added the fifth, how to make money from them.
For starters we did the “Great Race” at WIBC in Indy and KVIL in Dallas which pitted our morning men and afternoon guys racing each other around the world. All the newspapers and TV stations in town were kind enough to do updates on their progress as our guys circumnavigated the globe.
Meanwhile, in the back of the “two story brick,” Cris Conner was busy running the annual WNAP Raft Race which soon rivaled the Indy 500 attendance figures but had to be abandoned after nine years. In its final year, all the folks who were trying to get to the finish line as the TV cameras showed, had brought most of the roads and highways in Indianapolis to a standstill
When Jim Hilliard ran the “Big Sugar Daddy” contest at WIBC, it blew out the phones in Indy, which made the TV news and again when we caused a massive traffic Jam by putting up a billboard featuring pretty girls swinging on a giant swing high above the traffic in bikinis. When we did it again in Dallas, they got a court order forcing us to bring the girls down because they were so hot, they froze the freeway.
Back home in Indy, WNAP was running a make-believe live concert on the air called Fantasy Park. Buster Bodine, (see Buster above) along with the rest of the Buzzard boys, did it all so convincingly, they had people driving around aimlessly looking for the concert. Before long the TV reports said that the police were trying to put a stop to the make-believe concert, but they couldn’t find it.
When we did the 50% Off Free Fair in Dallas, it shut down every artery leading to the fairgrounds, which happened in Indy too. By then, though, the TV stations all had Helicopters, so they showed it live. Darn.
In Boston at F-105, Jay Williams was running a promotion called, “Show us a sign that you want to win free money.” I’ll never forget watching the game where Jim Plunkett’s tight end had to leap high in the air to catch the winning touch down, and he did in front of a huge F-105 sign, and they replayed that catch over and over again on TV.
When Ron Chapman decided to do his first parachute jump live on his morning show, all three TV stations showed him slowly floating down on their news. A few weeks later, we lost a tug a war contest with one of them across the Trinity River, which got us five minutes in both newscasts with some nice close-ups of the giant KVIL call letters on our brand new sweatshirts. Oh, and when we hired the Mayor to do sports, put up a billboard which the newspaper printed a color picture of on the front page with a headline that read, “Mayor Moonlights On KVIL.”
One of the billboards that should have embarrassed us was the one of Mike Seldon located across from a nunnery. The church complained, so of course, the media couldn’t help but report it. However, after we agreed to take it down, the church then blessed us, and as I recall, that was one of our better books.
Then there was the time in Dallas 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 with which we hired some actors and dressed them like Arabs. Then we sent them to KVIL studios where they handed out money to everyone.
On air, he claimed that the Saudi handing out the hundred dollar bills was a phony, and he was going to prove it by giving away more money than him. However, he needed our help, and of course, he picked Bill Gardner out of the crowd to join him in the limo. Bill’s job was to advise him where he should go to hand out the free money, and then call the station with their location.
Things were going well, and as Dave Spence and I watched it all unfold on TV, we celebrated with high fives. My favorite visual was the one showing a crumpled up hundred dollar bill going around and around on one of our turntables. Then when we heard that the trail of cars following the limo was over a mile long, I was ecstatic. However, when we got the call saying the FBI had shown up at the radio station, I immediately got a hold of Bill and said, “Send Ahab the Arab back to the desert, Bill.”
However, the most publicity we ever got didn’t cost us a dime. Ron Chapman went on air and said, “If you’ve got an extra 20, send it to me, and we’ll do something fun with it.” However, when over a quarter of a million dollars showed up, Ron was back on the air, begging them to stop. Not only was it all over the news, but it also went National.
When I left Fairbanks, I took the four-point promotion concept with me, and pretty soon, we were blowing out the phone systems all over America. We did this by giving away vast amounts of cash and exotic cars like BMWs and Mercedes. Hell, the cheapest car we ever gave away was a Trans Am when 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 8 was now just a parking lot but according to Don Walker, (pictured below) the TV shots were spectacular. However, I missed all the mayhem because I was smart enough to be out of town.
Just down the hall from KOGO was our sister station, KPRI who were shooting a TV commercial with a “looker” named Peggy who was wearing very tight shorts and a mid-drift KPRI T-shirt cut way up to here.
The shot opens up with Peggy staring into the camera when all of a sudden, the music starts and Peggy begins to dance very sensuously. Then it stops and she says, “When I hear the music on KPRI it makes me want to dance, and when I dance I get so hot I just wanna rip my shirt off” and with that, she starts pulling the shirt up. However, just before it reaches her nipples, the shot freezes on the call letters. Scrolling underneath it all was, “Next week Peggy takes it off.”
Unfortunately, at the last minute, all the TV stations canceled our schedule, saying that the commercial was too proactive. However, they did all ran 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 only quest that the city was in an uproar. Not only was the local media all over us, but it went national when People Magazine and entertainment shows like “ET” covered it too. Unfortunately, when the owners turned on their TVs and saw the Now organization marching on the station, they pulled the plug.Most of the promotions we ran on all our “Class/Classy” stations caused so much commotion that I’d immediately meet with the GM whenever a new client came on board. At that meeting, I’d present him with a “Get out of jail free card” which had the words, “We never dreamed, imagined, nor anticipated this kind of reaction to our promotion” on it. I would then suggest that he should memorize the words as quickly as possible so he could say them to the TV cameras that will be showing up. When they’d ask how I knew TV was going to show up, I’d reply, “Oh trust me, they always do.”
Do drug users know that the people who sell the drugs never use them?
In the beginning, the radio station is always a lot larger than the act.
I bet Ringo is pretty happy that he ended up with the Beatles and not the Eagles. John and Paul weren’t as greedy as Glenn and Don.
I may be prejudice, but I’m sure, not racist.
How come after World War II, I only remember a big surrender ceremony with the Japanese and not the Germans. Surely more than just Jews hated them?
I think that even with the problems we have, America is still a great place to live. Just ask all the Black people who are not moving to Africa, or the Jews who prefer America over Israel, and how about the folks from the Desert, you see any of them going back?
Why do women think that they have the right to say things to men, if said by a man to another man, would probably get him killed?
Speaking of women, why don’t men fess up that we’re not that attracted too many of them?
Sometimes not knowing what you’re doing leads to doing something fantastic.
Do you find it as strange as I do that payola isn’t illegal if you cut the owner in?
Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it ain’t there.
Geo’s Media Blog is an inside look at Radio, Music, Movies, and Life. For a sneak peek at some upcoming Blogs, or to see some that you may have missed, go to Geo’s Media Blog @ GeorgeJohns.com. On Twitter @GeoOfTheRadio. Sharing and commenting is appreciated.