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How To Win a Radio Contest

Updated on October 15, 2013

Your Step By Step Guide to Winning Your Next Radio Contest

Learn the two foremost reasons behind radio contests, why radio stations give things away and how you can use this to your advantage, and how you can call in and win a radio contest on your own. This lens is written from an insider's perspective by a 7-year veteran in radio: A disc jockey who handled one of the top radio shows in two Arbitron ratings markets, and who regularly handled contests and giveaways.

Every year thousands of dollars worth of great stuff is given away over the airwaves - concert tickets, toys, raffles, cars, cash, and so much more. But it's not just chance they happen to pick someone! Yes, the disc jockey is looking for a fun personality, but there's also some tricks you can use - perfectly legally, of course - to increase your chances of winning those tickets to Pearl Jam or that Little Tykes truck for your nephew.

In this lens you'll learn what DJs across America are looking for when they host a radio giveaway and it will give you a leg up and better odds on playing the game to win.

Why Do They Give Stuff Away? - 2 Reasons Why It's Really Smart Marketing - And Great for You

why radio contests work so well
why radio contests work so well

Radio stations give things away for two reasons. Those are

1. To advertise a product for their advertisers

2. To increase word of mouth for their own channel

Now consider why this works.

Giving away a product to promote a product is incredibly smart marketing, and radio stations are in the business of marketing. When a business gives something away, they automatically get A TON of positive buzz around their name, because the people that are trying to win that product tell their friends (either to get those friends to try to win as well or to get them to call in on their behalf). After winning, the lucky person (or people... a fair amount of stations give away more than one of something) talks about what they won. This adds up to an increased audience for the radio station, which means higher cost for radio advertisements (called "spots"), and a healthier bottom line for the station owner.

You CANNOT replace the impact of great buzz around a business name. Businesses large and small have been known to live or die based on word of mouth.

This is win-win for the radio station because in almost every single case, the product is given away as part of a promotion, so the overhead cost is just about zero. The business they partner with, who sells or makes the product, gives it to the radio station to give away in exchange for some airtime. The cost of a giveaway is nothing more than paying the disc jockey in the studio, who they're *already* paying to sit there and talk. So, in exchange for a little airtime, which (trust me) they can sell at a nice premium, the radio station is able to potentially get the benefit of a huge amount of word of mouth.

What this means for you is that you have the opportunity to win something you otherwise would never have bought, all for a minute or less of your time.

The Top Ways You Can Start Winning Radio Contests

These are tips I've gathered and tracked over the course of my radio career. Now, please in mind using these tips is not a guarantee that you'll win - but it is a guarantee you will drastically increase your odds of winning.

Please bookmark this page and come back to it for reference so you can be ready.

  • As soon as you hear the giveaway being announced, get your phone prepped and ready to call. If you're calling from a cellphone, remember some cell carriers can take up to five seconds (!!!) to even start your call going through. So factor this in when you're getting ready to call.

    If you can, either (a) have the radio station's number on speed dial, or (b) enter everything but the last digit, then press that last digit as soon the DJ tells you to start calling. ...and don't forget about that five second delay on most cellphones.

  • Use redial on your phone. It's okay to hit redial a couple or a few times for each giveaway, whether you talked to the DJ or got the busy signal. BUT! Don't do what we call 'line hogging' - the DJ will remember you if you do this too often. So use redial, but don't overkill it.

    Using redial sounds like a no-brainer once you hear, but you would actually be surprised how often callers don't seem to grasp this simple idea. I've had callers try dialing in sometimes five minutes later, which is waaay too late, and still ask if they won.

  • Don't jump the gun. Don't send your call through if the DJ hasn't yet told you to call. Most radio stations, even the small rural ones, have multiple phone lines and it's a piece of cake to see who's jumping the gun, then answer another line.

    One thing to remember, while we're talking about multiple phone lines: Hang up and hit redial if you don't get answered in three or four rings. After that it's a waste of time, time you could be using to call in once more.

  • Be Succinct. If you get on the line with the DJ, don't think of it as a chance to impress him with your wit and humor. True, he wants a winner that's outgoing but he also has a job to do. He knows within the two seconds if he's going to pick you. Anything over this isn't doing any good for either of you. So be short, and always remember to be polite. In fact, more on this below...
  • Be polite! The reason? Disc Jockeys are more likely to give the prize to someone who's friendly. Being polite goes a long way in this day and age, and just because his show might sound fun doesn't mean he can't appreciate someone who's friendly.

    He has something you want - he's not going to give it to someone who sounds like they should be entitled to have it.

  • Keep you voice in check once you have him on the line. It might be tempting to woo-hoo, but every DJ wears something called "headphones" and a big part of his job is keeping volume in check so the radio signal doesn't distort (which it will if you get too loud). In the radio business when this happens the sound is too "hot", meaning it's really hitting the red line hard on his dial.

    Keeping your voice in check means he can put that extra ounce of attention on you, instead of being distracted with a 'hot' phone call. He's likely recording every caller as a potential winner so he can play it back in between the next song (few DJs are actually, truly live these days). Keeping volume in check also means he doesn't have to fiddle with any post production.

  • Don't be afraid to use his name when you get him on the line. Use it as soon as you can, in fact. He gets a million calls a day, and it's a proven fact that using someone's name is one of the key ways we can gain his or her attention - which in this case is the exact purpose of calling in to win something on the radio.

    So use his name, or nickname if he has one.

  • Be excited that you're on the air. The whole goal of a radio contest, like was explained above, is to grab attention. Don't be afraid, if he asks, to briefly tell him what you'll do with the prize. If the DJ feels you're calling in just for the thrill of winning, he'll move on to someone else. Most DJs want to give the item to someone who will appreciate it.

Caller #5? Don't Kid Yourself

We've all heard those radio contests where the DJ is giving away tickets to that show we really want to go see, to win a bundle of sweet cash, or just to get a free sandwich for lunch.

More often than not, the DJ is going to say something like "Be my FIFTH CALLER and you'll win whatever..." right? You think he's really going to give those tickets or that prize to the fifth caller?

Ever wonder why every time someone wins, the lucky man (or woman) is always excitable and friendly? Trust me, that's not chance. The simple fact is that the DJ wants people to get hyped up about winning - if you sound like Winston Churchill your chances of winning are much slimmer. Excitable sells tickets, excitable gets attention, and attention means more money for a radio station whose revenue comes from their advertisers.

The simple fact to keep in mind is that in most of the cases it doesn't matter what caller number you are, the Disc Jockey is simply looking for a memorable and friendly voice. So if the DJ says he wants the winner to be Caller Number Five - don't bet on it. He probably doesn't care whether you're caller 2, 3 or 4. He wants you to be excited about winning, friendly, and ear-catching for his audience. Think of calling in to win as kind of like a little ten-second job interview: You Won't Win If You're Not What He's Looking For.

Also Remember: The Disc Jockey wants everyone to hear who won - he wants his audience to get excited about the winner as well. As you call in, keep in mind he's going to record your call and, if it's a winner, play it back on-air. He wants that winning call to sound great. Your job is to be his ideal winner. Make him want to use your call. Just keep in mind the type of station you're calling, the type of show the DJ's got, and make your voice complement it.

Here's a Vital Point to Remember...

Keep in mind as well that if you can grab the DJ's attention as soon as you call, you've already won half the contest.

radio contests are fun and exciting
radio contests are fun and exciting

One Last Word

A few final things to keep in mind when you call in

I can tell you from experience that DJs hear a million voices that sound the same - if you can succeed in grabbing my attention within the first five words, you're half-way there already. In fact, that's so important, I'll give you an extra bonus tip: As soon as the disc jockey answers the phone, use his name. Say something that's 99% of his other callers don't, like "Hey Miiiiiiiiister D! I'm calling for those U2 tickets!" No, that's not tacky - you just used his name, you've shown excitement, and you've done something out of the ordinary.

As a final word of advice, let me just give you a run down of how most giveaway callers sound from my five years of on-air experience. They usually go something like this:

DJ: "Be my ninth caller right now and win a pair of Police tickets on K-102: Glam Rock Greats!"

Caller: "Hello? Am I caller nine?"

or, equally common:

Caller: "Hi. Did I win?"

See the problem? Would you give two seconds to either of those two callers? Didn't think so. More often than not, the DJ'll respond "You're caller 4. Try again." and that's that. So keep in mind that if you get his attention, you're halfway there.

REMEMBER: It's not a game of chance. DJs are people too; they have families and loved ones and a life outside of the radio station. Once again, this article might not guarantee you'll win, but following these tips will guarantee you much better odds of taking home those prized Motley Cre tickets.

Guestbook Comments

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    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      5 years ago from New Jersey

      Lots of good information here!

    • ChuckDickens profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: Thanks for the feedback Susan! Some Disc Jockeys may put more importance on caller numbers than others, but personality and engagement is the biggest thing.

      ..holy moly 277 lenses? 0_o Good for you; I'll check them out :)

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Aha! I wondered about that "caller number five" stuff. Great tips!


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