a sign that says Enter to Win with a radio and FAKE graphic

Are Radio Giveaways Real or Fake: Inside Info from a Host

Tickets. Money, Vacations. A new car. Radio stations promise it all. But do they deliver?

Giveaways are part of the lifeblood of radio promotions. Some are as simple as being the right caller. Others require a little work on the part of listener like answering a trivia question correctly.

It’s easy to doubt the legitimacy of radio contests, especially if a large sum of cash in involved.

I have been on both sides of radio giveaways. I’ve worked as a promotions director and created contests and secured prizes. I’ve been the on-air personality asking for the eighth caller.

Some radio contests have gone too far in determining a winner. Some contests are so convoluted, the audience may wonder if anyone wins at all.

And what about those 1-800 numbers to win a million dollars?

Let’s look into how radio stations select winners for their giveaways.

Are Giveaways Legit?

The answer — they should be.

Contests are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and, for broadcast stations, the Federal Communications Commission.

There are very specific rules involved in carrying out a contest.

  • The station must provide the rules of the contest to the audience in the form of recorded or live announcements or post the rules in full on a public forum like a website.
  • Stations can only give away the prize(s) that are promised in the giveaway.
  • Contests should serve the public interests and not knowingly produce harm to the contestants.

Breaking the rules can have dire consequences such as fines, staff terminations, and lawsuits.

How Do Radio Giveaways Work?

The answer depends on whether it’s a local or national contest.

Local contests are planned and executed by the local radio station or station group, also known as a cluster. The prizes are picked up locally.

National contests are conducted by radio industry conglomerates that have dozens to thousands of stations nationwide. Local stations may be constrained by budget or connections and can’t offer the grander prizes, whereas, radio conglomerates may offer large money prizes.

The chances of winning a local radio giveaway is greater than winning a national giveaway in terms of the sheer number of entrants.

Let’s look at how each type of contest works.

Local Contests

Most stations have a promotions director who handles all the contests and prizes. This person creates the contest rules, secures prizes, and handles the winners’ or participants’ information.

Either the station purchases the prizes, or the promotions director works with a retailer or vendor to supply giveaways, often called a trade. A trade is an agreement to supply advertising in exchange for the monetary value of the prizes.

Contests may be as simple as naming a song, being a specific caller, answering a trivia question, or attending an event. For more worthwhile prizes like concert tickets and backstage passes, the contest may have more complex rules.

National Contests

If you hear “the cue to call” a toll-free number, you can bet the contest is part of a national giveaway.

The prizes are bigger — one million dollars, a new car, a European trip. It’s also harder to win.

The correct caller is entered into the contest. The contest may be located in another city. The participant(s) usually go through a series of hoops to win the prize.

Think about it. A company won’t easily part with one million dollars. The contest may be difficult but still theoretically winnable.

Recorded announcements will instruct the audience to go to a specific website to read the contest rules and fine print.

Wording is important. Someone may win up to one million dollars. Pay attention to the fine print.

What About Scams?

I mentioned before that radio giveaways should be legit. Of course, this requires all parties to act ethically.

All contests should have official rules. If a staton cannot provide the rules or deviates from the official rules, beware.

Stations must deliver the prizes advertised in the contest.

One final thought. On occasion, a station may run a contest that endangers the contestants despite signing of a waiver.

A Sacramento station held “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” contest in 2007, during the great Wii launch when Nintendo ran out of their latest gaming system.

Contestants drank as much water as they could stomach until they needed to use the restroom. They signed waivers despite the risk of water intoxication, a dangerous life-threatening condition.

A woman opted to continue with the contest despite feeling ill. She died hours later.

If a giveaway requires dangerous means to win, it’s not worth it.

Overall, radio contests are legit and are governed by federal organizations. May the odds be in your favor.

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