how to win radio contests

I got a call this week from a listener trying to play XL 103’s Song Of The Day contest.  It’s a simple contest, each day at 7:05am we announce a “Song of the Day.”  Caller 9 when we play it later that day, wins $250.  Easy.

The caller wanted to know why she and her friends can never get through.  “We start calling 30 minutes before the song is scheduled, and it’s always busy,” she said.

Ah, yes.  The age old “When do I start calling to get in?” question.


I blame concert on-sale times for the ‘calling early’ phenomenon. When tickets for a show go on sale at 10am Saturday, we don’t “really” know when the Ticketmaster clock turns to 10am.  If you were to look at the clocks around you right now, you’d see as much as a 10 minute swing.  So to get those awesome tickets, we start calling (or clicking if you’re online) a few minutes before 10am.

Things don’t work like that on a radio contest. When we give something away, there will always be a “GO!” on the radio.  It will be laser sounds, a song, a dj saying “call now” – any number of things – but there will always be some sort of audible cue-to-call that everyone will know and hear at the same time. Think of it as the gun in an Olympic race – if you start before the gun, you get a false start and maybe disqualified. Go when they say go, and everyone has a shot at winning.

So you want to know how to win radio contests? It’s simple, really. Call when we tell you to call. You can stop when you hear a winner on the radio. Actually, you could probably even stop sooner than that. If you haven’t gotten through in about 90 seconds, chances are we’ve already grabbed a winner.


The big stuff, like the cash and trips that you see awarded during the big spring and fall ratings periods are used as bait for listeners. We want you to like our contest best and tune in to our radio station more often. A big prize is our lure.

We’re hoping that many people will try to win the prize and our listenership will increase. The other side is that we hope the winner will become an evangelist for our station. When they win that prize, we hope they’ll tell all their friends “I just won a big prize on XL103! I love them! you should love them too!”

Other prizes, like gift certificates, are being used by businesses to attract new customers. They want a new person to try their service for free, enjoy it, and then become a customer.


This is something that baffles me.  I don’t understand how people do it, I really don’t.  After 23 years in radio, I’ve gotten to know people’s names by the sound of their voice.  I could say “Hello?”, they could just say “Hi” back and I would know the person’s first name, last name, address, and phone number – I had filled it in on winners’ sheets so many times.

The people who win a lot of radio contests, play a lot of radio contests. They’ll have multiple phones going, they’ll work speed dial, they’ll listen to multiple radio stations.  For most of us, the radio is background and if we happen to be paying attention when the contest happens, we’ll call. For the frequent winner, playing contests is  a hobby? a job?  an addiction? They do it a lot and they feel entitled to win.


You’d have to ask a receptionist that question. While I talk to the people on the phone, it’s the receptionist that really gets to know the people who come in and pick up the prizes. Our receptionist is new to media, and she tried to hold our winners to the “One Prize Every 30 Days Rule”. She told the person who won twice in 3 days that they would have to choose between their prizes. The winner lost their mind. They actually yelled at her in the lobby of the radio station.

So there’s that.

Then you have Brad Williams. Brad was handed a lifetime ban on playing contests by a few Vancouver radio stations after he was caught selling tickets he had won. Brad denies it, but when you look at his self-calculated resume of more than 500 wins, you can see why the radio stations became frustrated.

“I don’t really do it for financial gain,” said Williams, who works at home for his wife’s legal research firm. “I do it because I like to go to the concerts, the nice restaurants. I’ve won some trips. I’ve won some cash. I’ve won just about everything short of a house.”

The best part about radio contests, though, is giving prizes to people who are genuinely excited about winning. A few years back we had a ZFX contest on Z95.3 FM. We had a silly sound effect people would try to identify and win the growing jackpot. This group of guys sharing a house phoned in and shot a video of themselves when they won $9500.

That makes all the BS winners worth it right there. That’s why we do this. To have fun, change lives, and create excitement.

Good luck playing your next radio contest. You can’t win if you don’t enter, and if you do win, be excited, and grateful!

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  1. Tomarra March 22, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Wow! I thought I did well on Radio Contests, (2 trips, numerous concert tickets, cash and gift cards), but I’ve got noting on the “Dialing for Dollars” winners. I listen to the radio in the background at work and I call in when I get the chance. Sometimes I win, and sometimes I don’t… Would never make a career out of it though.

  2. JT March 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    Is it a pogo stick??? A pogo stick? Is it a pogo stick? Is it, is it?!?

  3. Michael Kwan March 26, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    I’ve never been able to get through on a radio contest, but I’ve won a few things through blog giveaways, newspaper contest and that sort of thing. Far more passive, I suppose.

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