Dom Theodore has a great term: “wallpaper”. When he was in New York at CBS, one of the other stations in the company was doing something called, wait for it, “The Payroll Payoff”. Based on their history of doing easily forgettable contesting, he sighed and said “Ugh. Wallpaper.”
Great stations usually have the intestinal fortitude to just throw caution to the wind and do something a little off-center.
Why? Because that’s the best part of being huge and successful: doing stuff that breaks the mold. It’s a freedom to have fun.
Hot 89.9 in Ottawa is a great example. For them to have more listeners, they’d have to wait for their current audience to breed. That’s how many they have. So a few years ago when female air talent were submitting tapes to fill in for Kelly on Regis & Kelly, they did the opposite. Mauler from the morning show was transformed into “Molly” and “her” tape was “her” at events and on the air, dubbed by Jenni his co-host. He was an actual runner-up. And because God has a sense of humor, he actually made it as a Regis replacement.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came through Minneapolis/St. Paul after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, the market shut down. Huge parades and celebrations. And WLOL pulled off maybe the biggest weekend contest in the history of the Twin Cities with “Gorby Grab Bags”. Blue jeans, toilet paper and a potato which were all things that you would have had to stand in line for prior to his breaking up the USSR.
When New Planet Radio launched 103.9 in Phoenix, the day of the debut the GM was in a frenzy. What was he going to tell the clients? What was the format? He had to tell them what the format was! Was it CHR? Or Churban (?). Or Dance? Or Rhythm? “I need a name”. Since the PD across the street was named “Steve” I said “Steve”. That’s the format. Songs That Everyone Voraciously Enjoys. Boom.
“Steve” was an alien broadcaster living in the desert and provided the “voice” of the station as it was slowly constructed and talent were hired. Rick Thomas and I were having lunch and heard the people at the counter talking about UFO’s and a guy named Steve. The day after the stunt started.
Aliens are great. So WPGC in DC had them take over the station for a weekend and do SPAM: Spectacular Prizes And More. They had come to earth in search of Spam.
Welch and Woody at 102 Jamz in Orlando once fell asleep on the air. Why? Why not. They’d talked about their really jam packed schedule on Friday morning and predicted that they’d be exhausted. And yep, on Monday morning, they sounded beat. At about 7:30 they sent it to traffic, she wrapped up and sent it back to them with “And now back to Welch and Woody at 102 Jamz….hello?….back to Welch and Woody…guys?…hello?…screw it” and she was gone. And for about 30 minutes you heard gentle snoring until the GM came in and started yelling at them.
Kind of like when Dave Morales at the brand brand brand new Wild 107 in San Francisco went into a song and maybe 45 seconds into it, it skipped. You heard the sound of the needle drag across the vinyl, recue and start again. And it skipped at the same point. And over and over and over as the phones exploded and staff (and emergency crews summoned by 911) rushed to the station. When they got there they found Dave outside, trying to break in the door to the office complex: he’d “gone outside to get something from his car and got locked out.” And it got a story in the Chronicle.
Dave also stumbled on a girl named Gracie, a 17 year-old crack mom in Oakland who called his show every freaking night. She was amazing. So he sent her to cover the Grammys. Why? Because no one cares that talent get to go to an award show. Gracie? Gracie was Gold.
I’ve always wanted to do the Free Money Gerbil. It’s not the $1000 Song Of The Day but then, what is? However Kiss in Charlotte did The Free Money Monkey who went out to LA after the contest was done, and dated a lot of stars, blew all his money and came back with his tail between his legs to beg for his gig back. Much like KTFM in San Antonio with The Free Money Dog who pooped cash.
Dogs are great. So we launched a Townsquare station with Music For Dogs: 101.9 The Bone.
Now that Arbitron was surveying dogs, it was possible to grow the audience by an estimated 300%. And between songs you’d occasionally hear a soothing “Good boy, yes you are!”
Peculiar doesn’t have to be bad. Promotions is about getting noticed and being a little weird never hurt.