5 Lessons Radio Can Learn From Game Shows [video]

5 Lessons Radio Can Learn From Game Shows [video]

by Tracy Johnson

If radio created on-air contests that like TV game shows, there would be greater results from games, contests and promotions. Producers of game shows invest a lot of time and money researching what works to attract viewers, not just pay off the contestants.

Radio has a lot to learn.

The most important thing to take from game shows is importance of the play-along factor. Humans love to play games. It’s how we’re wired. We fill out Sudoku puzzles, play trivia games, watch game shows and compete for Pictionary bragging rights. And don’t get me started on the popularity of video games.

Why? Games appeal to the emotion of Greed.

It’s not greed to win cash or prizes, though those incentives can be a powerful attraction, too. This type of greed appeals to our sense of superiority, of feeling good about ourselves.

Lessons From Game Shows: The Prize?

Prizes are important for on-air games, but only to raise the stakes and add drama to a story created in playing of the game. It’s important that the contestant is playing for something, but don’t get hung up on building a promotion or game around prizes alone.

TV game shows figured this out. Can you remember how much money (or prizes) a game-show contestant won? Likely not, because the audience doesn’t really care.

But you probably recall the game, and maybe some of the questions and answers. And especially if you would have won the game had you been a contestant.

Contestants Add to Entertainment Value

Producers for successful shows like Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right screen contestants to add to the show’s story.

They’re looking for individuals that fit a specific criteria:

  • They are enthusiastic and can  add energy, personality and fun.
  • Contestants should be attractive or interesting-looking, but not beautiful. The goal is to be relatable to the audience so each viewer can relate to the contestant.
  • And, they should be a little less intelligent than the viewer. Producers want the viewer at home to solve the puzzle before the contestant.

That third point is key. The goal is to cause the viewer, to think,

I’m a lot smarter than those people who made it on the show.

If you don’t believe that contestants are, well, interesting…watch this:

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Making the viewer feel good is far more valuable than making the contestant feel great. The show isn’t for the contestant! It’s to appeal to the viewer’s ego. Greed is good!

Try to find contestants that fill that role for games. Make sure they sound good, but remember they’re just an on-air surrogate for the real participant: The listener.

Design For Play Along

Mechanics may be different, but the concept is the same on radio and television. It’s not about the prize or even the contestant. It’s about playing along. Listeners are guessing the answers, competing with the actual contestants.

On the radio, play the game for a listener in the car, at home or at work. Don’t play for the caller or winner.

By the way, that’s why it’s so important to explain the game clearly and simply every time it’s played. The contestant may know how it works, but smart personalities are concerned about the listener in the car getting it. And they don’t listen that much.

If they are confused about how it works, they can’t play along.

Play Along Trivia

Many TV game shows are based on trivia. One of the best of all time was Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

Asking imaginative, challenging questions and revealing the answer a few minutes later can keep listeners glued to a radio show. And sometimes, you don’t even need a prize-or a contestant.

The challenge is framing the game in a creative environment.

Many shows use Impossible Trivia to get the phone ringing. Here’s an example of a question:

80% of us do this every morning before leaving for work.

This challenges listeners and appeals to curiosity. It may not be the most creative game, but it’s simple, and usually gets response.

Putting callers on with guesses can infuriate and oddly attract listeners to play vicariously through those active participants. Just like Wheel of Fortune!

That simple idea works, but doesn’t engage as well as it could. Another technique that lures more participation is introducing multiple choice options.

The TV series Dateline did this for years. Going into a commercial break, they present three events that took place in the same year. Four possible answers were provided to make it easy for everyone to guess (have a stake), even if they didn’t know. After the commercials, they reveal the answer.

You might also like:  Millionaire Is a Model For Radio Contests

The brilliance of a simple game like this is that everyone can play because it’s multiple choice. Even if they don’t know the answer, they can still guess.

Building Suspense

Games like Millionaire and Deal or No Deal add drama to their offering. They build anticipation by getting the audience invested in the outcome of a game or contestant they don’t really care about. It’s amazing.

Jeopardy is another great example. They play two rounds of the game. In the second round, they raise the stakes by doubling the prize values. Then, they build more drama to Final Jeopardy where anything could happen.

The outcome often changes dramatically. The producers add another layer of interest by luring the viewer into considering how much they would risk.


There are many ways to gamify content on the air. Mastering just a couple of techniques will increase tune-in opportunities.

Games are fun to play, and can be great fun on the air, if they are played properly. Build game theory into your show, contests and promotions.

How To Build In More Play-Along On Your Show

Try These Teases that Play Like a Game

How To Get Listeners to Play Along on Monday Morning

Multiple Choice Teases to Get More Play Along

4 Things Regis Philbin Can Teach You About Personality Radio

Library of Radio Games

The Play Along Factor

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