8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

by Tracy Johnson

Radio contests are popular with broadcasters and with listeners. But you can bulletproof radio contests by observing some basic must-follow guidelines for successful contests.

Some of them seem like common sense. But most station aren’t exactly nailing it with most of their campaigns.

Ignore these guidelines at your peril.

Bulletproof Radio Contests: #1: Keep it Simple

Every game you play and every contest you create must be easy to understand and play. And it has to be simple even for those casual listeners who are barely paying attention.

How complicated is your contest? Here’s a good way to judge: If you can’t explain it to a third-grader in 10 seconds or less, it’s too complicated.

#2: Design For The Listener, Not The Player

Most of your audience won’t play the game or enter the contest. Those that do play are important listeners. But they’re going to play any game you create because they’re contest players.

So design each contest with listening in mind. Don’t get caught up in the mechanics of the game. Focus on the entertainment value. That means you probably won’t want to use those low-hanging-fruit tactics like call in to win because it’s not fun to listen to. Or play along with.

#3: Protect Your Air!

How you sound is far more important than simply airing a contestant or winner.

Many times, stations (and personalities) are excited to put a winner on the air. They’re waiting for that great sound bite and the caller is boring. Or has nothing to say. However, it is important to celebrate the winner and close the feedback loop. But you don’t have to put them on! You can simply announce their name to congratulate them.

When playing a game with a contestant, hope for likable, upbeat contestants that sound great on the air. Screen contestants the way you’d screen callers. You don’t have to make it a random player. Just invite the audience to call if they’d like to play your game.

NOTE: Don’t do this with giveaways. That’s illegal!

When listeners call, evaluate if they are the type of player your audience will identify with and cheer for! Screen them the way a television game show would cast a contestant.

You might also like:  Why Do Radio Contests Work? Because Ratings Respondents Play

#4: Prepare the Contestant

The fourth way to bulletproof radio contests is to insure the player is ready to perform on the air. They should know how to play the game and what to expect when they go on. Explain to them that you’ll introduce them and what you want them to do.

It’s also up to you (or your phone screener) to get them excited about being on. Being upbeat and high energy is contagious, and they’ll sound better if you sound excited. That’s one of the basics of call screening, and it applies to contests and games as much as talk shows and segments.

#5 Shine a Spotlight on the Listener

Remember that you’re not the star of the game. The listener is. But you are the star of the show, and all of the positive feelings reflect back on you if you make the listener a star.

While you should avoid upstaging the contestant, you also have to be focused and guide the break. If the contest drifts off topic, it’ll destroy your forward momentum.

#6: It’s the Game, Not the Prize

The prize is important, of course. It adds drama and gives listeners a stake in the contest. But the game is more important, because that’s where the entertainment is (see Point #1). This is where the play-along factor comes in.

Play the game with excitement and make it fun, and you may not even need a prize to make it work! But, of course, it’s always better with one!

#7: Start Quickly

Just as every break has to have a fast hook to lead the audience into the break, your game should never take more than a few seconds to get started.That’s another reason the game should be simple and easy to explain.

When it takes too long to introduce the contestant and explain it, you lose attention because it’s probably confusing.

You might also like:  How to Use Text To Win as a Trigger For Contesting

#8: Play Up The Drama

The final must-follow principle for radio contests is to add suspense! This may be the most important element. Each game is a story, and stories are more exciting with drama.

KCBQ/San Diego’s Last Contest may have been the most dramatic and most interesting contest of all time. Drama is also the secret ingredient in the classic Who Wants to Be a Millionaire show. Both offered great prizes, but the appeal was in how the contest was staged.


Radio contests are content first, then promotion. They also have aspects of marketing. If you observe these guidelines, you’ll have a much better chance of entertaining contestants and non-players alike. And if it doesn’t bulletproof radio contests, it at least makes it much more likely to avoid problems.

What are your must-follow principles for radio contests? Share them with me. I’d love to add them to the list.

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8 Ways to Bulletproof Radio Contests

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