Production 212: Radio - The Ultimate Recycling Machine

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I always like to tell people who send audio for a critique that I love having more things to steal…er, borrow for my work. The truth of the matter is, I do “borrow” rather a lot of my stuff. I subscribe to RAP Magazine, Chase Cuts, FrostBytes and regularly cruise the Clear Channel Imaging site. (For those who are not fortunate enough to work for Clear Channel, it’s a closed website featuring production from all over the company. It’s like getting a fresh RAP CD every day.) If I don’t hear something I can use directly, because of copyright or some such thing, I almost always hear an idea I can improve on. But, even more than borrowing from other producers around the world, the place I borrow from the most is the past – the real advantage veterans have over newbies in this business. (There’s got to be some advantage to getting older!)

Case in point: Our recent Z100 $100,000 Match Game. I have no idea who came up with this idea the first time, but it’s brilliant. I was taking part in a Programming and Promotions meeting several weeks ago, in which we were brainstorming for a promotion to take the place of one that had fallen apart at the last minute. Our Music Director and Afternoon Drive jock, Paul “Cubby” Bryant recalled a promotion he’d been a part of in Houston several years ago, called the Match Game. The concept is similar to an old TV Game Show called Concentration in which contestants called out pairs of numbers on a grid of small panels. If the prizes behind both panels match, they add that prize to their side of the board and the panels turn one more time to reveal parts of a rebus, a picture puzzle. The first contestant to solve the rebus correctly wins all their prizes.

We were hooked. Skip the rebus for radio; give away the prizes as people guess what they are, and you’ve got the perfect radio contest. The audience can play along, you give away a ton of stuff that’s generally available for client mentions, and you can add an Internet side to the game that makes it really interactive.

The truly exciting part for me was being able to take an old idea and really improve on it with production. Instead of having panels, we made pneumatic doors. Instead of a simple announcement of what the prize behind the door is, we created special sounds for each prize. For example, we got a trip for two to Miami to see Britney Spears in concert from Jive Records. I produced a sounder that started with the door (common to all the prizes) followed by a jet flying by (an F-16 gets the job done quickly) and finally, Britney saying, “Hi…this is Britney Spears.” For a Staten Island Mall shopping spree with Eamon, I produced the door opening, Eamon saying, “What’s goin’ on, this is Eamon,” with the sound of an electronic cash register running in the background. After I built 25 different prize sounds, including a Wild Card, I built a 53-button cart wall in our Prophet system that the jock uses to play the game (two buttons for each prize, plus a bed for playback, a winner bed and a loser bed). When the contestant says a door number, the jock simply touches the screen for that number door and the sound plays. Then the jock explains exactly what the prize entails. Obviously, if the prizes match, pandemonium breaks loose. If they don’t match, two doors are exposed and the current contestant gets a consolation prize.

Well, I don’t mind telling you that this contest has created a stir in New York that we haven’t seen for a long, long time. Check out the Production 212 track on this month’s RAP CD to hear what I’m talking about. It’s just one of several dozen winner promos we’ve been running in support of this contest. The excitement is truly palpable and it’s really a simple concept that even your most jaded listeners can get into easily. We had people all over the Metropolitan area drawing their own grids and filling in prizes as they were revealed. Several offices and families pooled their resources, and the word of mouth generated was amazing.

Plus, I’m sure I don’t have to explain how awesome winner promos can sound. The raw energy from a truly excited listener can completely drive the promo and the entire contest. My advice has always been, “If you can get an excited listener on the air in a promo, you give your radio station the best of all possible endorsements.”

The Internet side of the promotion is equally brilliant. We post the 50-square grid, showing all the doors that have been won, which cuts down on the number of people guessing empty doors. (When they do, we have a quick double buzzer; similar to one you’ll hear on Wheel of Fortune when someone guesses a letter that’s already been guessed.) We also used the contest to get people to sign up as a Z-VIP. If you’re a Z-VIP, you get an email that actually tells you what two different doors are hiding, so that when someone guesses one of the matching doors, you can play and know which door hides the match.

The part your GM and PD will like the most is the bottom line, both in listener involvement and overall cost. Even though some of the prizes were cash, $1000, $2500 and $5000, we actually ended up spending less on this promotion than the one we originally had planned for this period because most of the prizes were traded for “name only” mention. As I produced winner promo after winner promo, I simply replaced the client mention. Programming made sure that clients got the number of mentions they were promised by running the correct promos as needed. We also managed costs by having one-of-a-kind prizes like autographed guitars from Fuel, Bon Jovi and Jessica Simpson, having dinner with one of our jocks, guest-hosting the morning show for a day and having your picture posted on our website’s main page for a week. We were able to get trips: to San Francisco to see Blink 182 and No Doubt, to Las Vegas to see Clay Aiken and Kelly Clarkson, to Las Vegas to see Ludacris, to Los Angeles to see Linkin Park and a number of trips to Jamaica, the Bahamas, Ireland and even Portugal, all for mention.

Okay, maybe some of these prizes would be tough for you to get, but I’d guess your station could get a lot of really cool prizes. Season passes to a local ski resort or theme–park, movie passes good for a year, electronic gear like i-Pods and computers from local merchants, or maybe a year’s lease on a new car from a local dealer. The possibilities are endless and the overhead is really generally low.

The big upside for you is the production possibilities. It sounds huge, but is actually pretty simple to pull off. Once again, you end up the hero and isn’t that what this column is really for?

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