Some phrases that seem synonymous are annoying because there are often distinct differences that can profoundly impact radio stations. For example, some broadcasters use terms like features and benchmark interchangeably, but they are different. Benchmarks are better than features. Teases share some traits with hooks, but they are different. You may think it’s splitting hairs, but successfully executing these principles relies on fully understanding them. The same is true of contests and games. Contests are not games, and games are not contests.

Contests are designed to manipulate ratings. The prize is the thing. Games are designed to entertain listeners. Playing the game is the “thing.” Why is this important? Read on.

Contests Are Not Games


The goal is to manipulate ratings respondents to take action and drive a quarter-hour of listening.

Contests require active audience participation to be successful.

The emphasis is on the incentive or reward. Take an action to get a prize.

There is a limited appeal (contest players), a small but critical percentage of the audience.

contests are tactical and transactional, not necessarily brand-building.

If executed well, contests can impact ratings, at least in the short term.


The goal is to entertain and engage listeners to play along without regard to the prize.

If there is a prize, it’s secondary to the fun of playing.

Games can be played with listeners, but it’s not necessary. You can also play between cast members. Some games don’t need contestants. Contestants are props to help you play the game.

Over time, games are more likely to build fans if they are designed with a strategy in mind.

Some games can also be contests, and some contests can be games.

What’s The Point?

This isn’t just about semantics. It’s about clearly understanding the difference when building a strategy. In games, prizes can raise the stakes and add suspense. But it’s not about the prizes.

TV game shows have figured this out. Can you remember how much money (or prizes) a game-show contestant won? Likely not because the audience doesn’t care if the contestant wins it all or busts. But you probably remember if you outperformed the contestant. That’s because both games and contests appeal to the emotion of greed, but it’s a different type of greed.

Greed is more than the desire to win cash or prizes. We fill out Sudoku puzzles, play trivia games, watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and compete for bragging rights earned from the outcome of a Pictionary battle. Games are addicting because conquering a level on a handheld game makes you feel good. It makes you want to play the next level. That can be a powerful attraction. Being more brilliant than the contestant makes listeners feel good! That is powerful, and it’s why games work so well on the radio.

Key Takeaways

When designing and executing a game (or a contest that is also a game), here are three things to remember:

Contestants Are Props: The audience doesn’t care if the contestant wins. They are surrogates for the listener, adding energy, personality, and fun to make the game more interesting.

Solving The Puzzle: Make sure the game doesn’t answer questions too quickly, which often happens when playing with cast members. When listeners can’t keep up with the game, it becomes hard to listen. Let the audience think they are as smart as the contestants. Play to their greed.

Design Contests To Include Game Mechanics: If possible, try to “gamify” contests to get the benefits of attracting ratings responders and listener participation (play along). That isn’t always possible, but many giveaways are enhanced by making the contest more engaging.



Okay, the English class is over. Contests are not games, and games are not contests. Now that you know the proper definitions of contests and games, how will you redesign your tactics to make your station or radio show attract more ratings responders and build a larger fanbase?

Subscribe to Receive the Latest Radio and Personality News