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Winning Radio Contests: Seven Insider Tips for Frequent Winning

Before I became a travel writer, I worked in the radio industry as a digital managing editor for a local cluster of stations. It was one of my all-time favorite career moves, and while I ultimately moved on, I’ll never forget what I learned from working there. Here’s my insider knowledge on how you can win radio contests all the time. 

Growing up, I used to enter radio contests all the time. As soon as I was legally allowed to, I’d binge listen to Radio Disney in hopes of being the lucky caller. It’s not that I wanted to be a prize pig (a term radio DJs use to describe frequent winners), but it was hard to stop when I just kept winning. From my first ever prize of a Kim Possible headset to concert tickets and cash, I became hooked on scoring free swag simply by calling in at the right time.

As I matured, I began listening to different radio stations, but I’d continue to call in for contests just in case. Getting busy signals became more frequent, and the prizes started becoming fewer and farther between. I didn’t know it then, but it wasn’t that radio contests were suddenly becoming harder to win, it’s simply that I didn’t understand how radio contests worked. 

Once I started working in the radio industry, everything made sense. As it turns out, radio contests are SO much more than just being the correct caller. Because of this, there are solid ways you can better your chances of winning radio contests.

Here are my seven insider tips on how you can frequently win radio contests.

Learn Your Radio Odds

Just as you’d consider your odds for gambling, it’s important to learn your radio odds for contesting. While there’s no set way to know how many people you’re “competing” against to win a prize, there are a few ways you can better increase your odds.

The first step is to become familiar with your favorite stations, as well as their lesser listened to sister stations. Believe it or not, your favorite radio stations often are located in a building together, owned by the same company. For example, in Los Angeles, the highly rated 102.7 KIIS FM has 52 sister stations that are all owned by iHeart. There’s still competition, (here’s looking at you, Entercom), but in general, radio stations that are owned by the same company work together to gain as broad of an audience as possible. The more people that listen to iHeart stations, the more iHeart can charge for advertising.

What this means, is that often, a prize that 102.7 KISS FM might be giving away, is also being given away on their lesser listened to sister stations Power 106 or 104.3 My FM. While some prizes are station-specific (tickets to a rock festival might be given away on the rock and pop stations, but not a country station), most prizes are distributed across all stations owned by the same company in the area.

If you hear a DJ promoting a contest that you really want to win, start scanning that station’s sister stations as well. Try calling in a few times on the sister stations and keep track of which stations are easier, or harder to get through on. There will always be stations that have more people listening, and more people entering than others. By finding the stations that fewer people listen to, you increase your chances of winning the same prize.

Listen from the Radio Instead of an App or Online Stream

Many stations have begun promoting their app and/or online streaming service where you can tune in when you’re not by a radio. While convenient for listening pleasure, these are extremely harmful to your chances of winning a prize.

Both apps and online streaming services have a three to thirty-second delay of the live feed that you hear in real-time on the radio. This means, when a DJ announces they’re opening up the lines and looking for caller number eight, they most likely have already picked their winner by the time you’re hearing about the contest on your app or streaming service.

When it comes to winning radio contests, always listen to the radio directly.

Call Early Morning or Late at Night

Most people listen to the radio on their way to and from work. Occasionally, some people listen to the radio at work as well. Very few people listen to the radio when the morning shows begin at 5 a.m. and an equally as small number listen in after 7 p.m. on weeknights.

For those willing to put in the extra effort, consider listening to the radio from 6-7:30 a.m. as well as after 7 p.m. at night on weekdays. The 6 a.m. hour is when most morning shows begin their first daily giveaways, yet most people aren’t awake or in a mood to call in. By tuning in early, you’re more likely to make it through the phone lines as you’re competing against fewer people. The same goes for the evenings. While people may be listening on the way to a late-night grocery store run, very few feel like calling in for a contest.

Utilize these off times to your advantage and see just how easy it is to get through, and win contests during these off hours.

Be an Enthusiastic Female

This was hands down the most shocking revelation to me. Imagine my shock, when I was in-studio with one of our morning shows, and after opening up the phone lines looking for caller number nine, they allowed caller number six to win. I couldn’t believe I just found out that being caller number nine, doesn’t actually mean be caller number nine. It means we’re looking for an enthusiastic female that will scream when we tell them they won because it’s good radio.

I was so in shock, that throughout the day, I asked other DJs in the halls if they’ve ever done something like that. To my disbelief, every single DJ I asked said they have done this at least once, with some doing it more frequently than others. Our afternoon guy at the time said it best, “radio is the theater of the mind. No one wants to hear boring Joe win a prize. They want to hear screams because it makes them excited about the prize.”

From that point forward, when I happened to be in-studio with a DJ when they were running a contest, I’d pay close attention. For my radio cluster at least, male DJs were more likely to pick a female that was the wrong caller than a female DJ. They also give clues that they’re willing to bend the rules.

For example, one of our morning show hosts would open a call and say “Hello ___ FM, who’s this?” If the caller’s response was flat he’d say “You’re caller number six, alright? Keep trying!” However, when he’d say, “Hello ____ FM, who’s this?” and the person on the other end of the phone would start screaming in the excitement that they got through and eagerly asking if they’re caller number nine, he’d start playing off of that and often, tell them that they were the correct caller.

Morally, it’s not the right thing to do. In fact, I’m not sure if they’re legally allowed to do this. However, it happens. A lot.

If you happen to get through during a contest, start acting as excited as possible. Chances are, even if you’re not caller number nine, you just might be in luck!

Focus on “Local” Prizes

When it comes to prizes, there are two kinds. Local prizes, and national prizes. Local prizes are giveaways to local restaurants, concerts, amusement parks etc. National prizes are contests like flyaways to see Taylor Swift in Nashville or those $5,000 cash giveaway prizes. Always, always, always, focus on local prizes over national ones.

While local prizes might not sound as exciting, these are the contests you’re more likely to win. When it comes to a $50 gift card to that new restaurant that just opened downtown, or tickets to see Katy Perry when she comes to town, these prizes are reserved for the local audience. This means, you’re only competing against listeners in your area for the same prize.

When it comes to national prizes, you’re almost always competing against all radio stations owned by the same company across the country.

For example, twice a year, radio stations owned by the company I worked for would do a “Win up to $5,000 giveaway every day” contest. You simply listened to the radio at set times throughout the day for a keyword, which you’d then call in and repeat. The thing was, we’d change the name of the contest for each station to make it sound like each station was giving away up to $5,000. So while our country station called it the Cash Code contest, other’s would call it their Tax Refund giveaway etc. Listeners had no way of knowing they were competing to win against listeners of all 335+ radio stations unless they paid attention to the fine print. Worst of all, because we said we were giving away up to $5,000 every day, most of the national winners only won $100. It was really misleading.

Focus on the local prizes first if you really want to win, and keep in mind that your chances of winning are extremely low if you opt-in to participate for national contests.

Go Online to their Station Site

If radio stations have too many prizes to give away that they can’t fit them all on-air, they’ll often rely on a digital manager like myself to get the contest live on the station website. These often are where prizes that stations receive in bulk will go, whether it be C.D.’s, concert tickets, or low-value gift cards. Alternatively, if a prize wouldn’t make people excited enough to call in, they often become online prizes.

Lucky for you, almost NOONE enters online contests. I can’t tell you how many times we’d have some awesome prizes like front row seats to Carrie Underwood, or season passes to a local water park on our website, and we’d only have 6-10 people enter. Quite frankly, it’s because most people think to tune in to a radio station, not look up the station website.

Use this to your advantage and start looking up your favorite radio station websites. All major stations will have a ‘Contest’ tab where you can enter contests directly on their site. The lower the value of the prize, the more likely you are to win that prize, as there’s less competition.

This is one aspect to radio winning that most people forget about, but the prizes can be awesome. Check them out at least once every two weeks to stay up-to-date on the latest giveaways.

Call During Slow Times & Offer to Do Something for Tickets

Just because your station isn’t currently looking for caller number nine, doesn’t mean you can’t call in and try to win. Many DJs try to find ways to interact with the audience to keep listeners tuned in. When you call in and offer to do something unique, it just might be the radio gold the DJs are looking for.

Radio stations often have an allotted amount of prizes to giveaway and it’s up to them how they want to do so. As long as you don’t wait and try for the very last pair of Taylor Swift tickets that they already said they’re giving away at 5:10 p.m. you should be in luck.

At my station, we’d frequently have people call in willing to blast the radio station at their work all day or hang posters promoting a station on competition’s windows. Come up with a creative idea, and call in. You’d be surprised at just how often this works.

Figure Out when “The Book” is Happening – And Get Ready to Call Like Crazy

The best time to win prizes is when your local radio stations are in something called the book. Twice a year, Neilson sends local community members at random an invitation to write down who they listen to over a period of time in exchange for cash. Their goal is to get an honest representation of what community members of all demographics are listening to, and for how long.

All radio stations go into hyperdrive during the book, and this is when the great prizes start rolling out. Chances are, if you’ve seen multiple flyaways, backstage meet and greet access to A-list stars, car giveaways or overall better-than-average prizes, it’s because your station is in the book.

Not only are the prizes typically better, but they’re given out more frequently. Instead of contests happening three times per show, it’s now six times per show. When you notice an uptick in prize giveaways, start calling in more frequently. This is a golden period of time where most stations have multiple people win crazy amounts of prizes each. Dates change, but typically the book happens in all small to mid-markets late April to mid-June and then again in late September to early November.

Good luck and if you have any questions or success stories, feel free to drop a comment below!

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