Why You Should Stop Call In to Win Contests Forever

Why You Should Stop Call In to Win Contests Forever

by Tracy Johnson

Radio contests are effective in reaching high value respondents: Those who participate with ratings services! But not all contests work, because contests are not created equal.  What does not work, you wonder? Call in to win is a waste of time and every radio station should stop them. Yesterday.

The question isn’t whether radio stations should conduct contests. Rather, it’s a matter of how.

For decades, radio stations have relied on “call in to win.” It replaced mail-in-to-win sweepstakes about 50 years ago. Programmers and air personalities love it because the phone lines light up, it’s fast and easy and there’s a sound bite from a winner to put on the air.

Plus it makes the DJ feel like someone’s out there, actually listening. And they like us!

But these contests stopped working long ago.

Stop Call In To Win – Just Stop

Real listeners aren’t all that happy. In fact, over time, you’ve made a lot of them angry. Basically, they don’t think they have a chance to win a call in to win contest. And many think the contests aren’t even real.

Think about the user experience:

  • The first 8 callers are told, “You’re a loser.” Then we hang up on them. Rude.
  • Lucky caller #9 wins a prize they may not even want. They just heard “call now”. That’s one reason many prizes go unclaimed.
  • When a winner is found, all lines go on hold. No air personality keeps answering the phones. That means everyone else gets a busy signal.

The result? Real listeners don’t think they have a chance to win. They gave up on playing years ago.

Call in to win doesn’t even impact contest players (Contest Pigs). Sure, the phone lights up, but almost exclusively from those already tuned in.

Programmers Have Added to The Problem

Air personalities and programmers have contributed to the issue. It’s frustrating that listeners think the contests are rigged. And when they call stations out on it, they usually get defensive.

Some personalities even argue with listeners. Here’s an actual exchange between an air personality and listener via text:

Texter: You guys rigged the giveaway! You only give the key to the hot girls.

Personality: The phone line is just flashing squares. Fair as it gets.

Texter: I have been to radio studios before. I know you have caller ID.

Air Personality Even if we had caller ID, I wouldn’t know if they are hot.

How is this good customer service or public relations? If you were treated like this at a restaurant or retail store, what would you do? How would you feel? What would you think? Would it make you feel connected to that brand?

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Guess who wins an argument with listeners?

The result: Over time, the positive benefits of call in to win contests has eroded to the point that the only impact these contests have is on those listeners who happen to already be listening right now. Stations are not generating new quarter hours.

A better option is text to win. This eliminates many of the problems of call in to win. Many stations are having great success with this tactic. However, there are some important legal considerations to observe.

So if data proves that contests are effective but call in contests don’t work, what’s the solution?

A Better Alternative: Take It Online

Interactive digital promotions, such as user-generated contests and online giveaways have exploded in popularity.

Studies show up to 47% of all consumers have played an online contest in the past 30 day. It’s fast, easy and doesn’t ask for much commitment from the listener.

Best of all: when they participate, they become an asset forever as they are added to a marketing database. Each point of contact adds a direct one-to-one relationship with a listener. By collecting relevant profile data on each entrant, and asking questions in embedded surveys, a wealth of knowledge about each individual is gathered.

In addition, stations can learn entertainment habits, music preferences and much more. Find out about their lifestyle, behavior, perceptions and what they value. Then, use that information to lead them to appointment tune in moments over and over.

Sorting the data allows marketers to deliver relevant, useful invitations to tune in at specific times. When a new Katy Perry song comes out, wouldn’t it be nice to send an alert to 10,000 listeners who entered to win tickets to her concert with specific times to hear the song in the next couple of days?

And if they are Katy Perry fans, that’s a good indication they might also be interested in similar artists. This type of marketing and advertising is efficient, powerful and yields ongoing benefits.

In spite of the compelling case for driving engagement online, there is a good argument for promotions that drive active listening, and having an excited winner on the air has some value.

Good news: You can have it both ways: drive listening and build your database.

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Merge Online and On-Air

Several clients have had tremendous success asking listeners to enter an online contest, then listen for their name at specific times on. One station offered a cash prize for calling.

The results:

  • Database increased by 300% (over 25,000 new unique entries)
  • AQH share increased by 26%
  • Cume grew by 15% (there was an incentive to share via social media)
  • 72% of names announced called in!

It was easy to play, provided winner audio on the air, set appointment tune in occasions, drove traffic online and built a database that continues to pay dividends.

The station now has over 20% of their total weekly cume in the database. And the three station cluster has gathered more than 15% of the market’s entire population.

They continue to harvest these contacts to drive response that impacts ratings.


If ratings are important, contests should be as well. However, radio stations must innovate and grow beyond tired call in to win contests. They are no longer effective.

In the face of declining budgets and fewer resources, how can stations take advantage? Since consumers are not only willing, but enthusiastic to enter (as long as it’s easy and on their terms), a smart broadcaster can turn interest into ratings.

If you want to do it for your station, cluster or company, contact me. I’ll show you how to generate unprecedented response from those most likely to drive ratings… and how to grow digital revenue along with it.

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