by Sean Ross, VP of Music and Programming
It has become, easily, the cliche of midday radio:
Jock: “You’re caller No. 93, you’re getting a pair of tickets to our spring concert.”
Winner: “Wow, that’s great.”
Jock: “Gee, you don’t sound very excited. Can I get you to scream for me?”
Winner: “I can’t scream. I’m at the office.”
The winner isn’t giving us the scream–the thing that jocks and programmers have come to regard as the unit of currency of good contest winner promos for the last 30 years.
It’s not always that the winner doesn’t sound in any way appreciative. They often sound friendly enough. It’s just that the winner isn’t giving us the scream–the thing that jocks and programmers have come to regard as the unit of currency of good contest winner promos for the last 30 years. Listeners might not even interpret the caller as a “bad winner.” But jocks do.
At that point, the battle of wills usually continues for another two or three exchanges, which usually end with the jock sounding disappointed. Occasionally, however, wheedling is not enough, and the on-air personality tries something else–abuse. And at that point, the caller really shuts down.
The contest winner who will not scream is a deadly moment not because of what it is, but because of how it’s handled. Usually, the at-work winner call turns into a minute’s worth of the jock driving home just how unexcited the listener is about the radio station. And if you listen to more than one station in middays, you will encounter it over and over.
The reluctant workplace screamer can be handled creatively on occasion. I heard one middayer running what sounded like a loop of other screaming winners that ran under a typically reserved caller. You also notice a lot of those promos that start off sounding like a live winner and don’t immediately reveal themselves as pre-recorded. While the initial intent of those promos may have been to make it sound like a station had even more winners, now they’re doubling as a way to get some screaming on the air during the workday.
Workplace callers are not necessarily unenthusiastic or recalcitrant callers. They call talk shows or foreground personality shows from the office every day and say surprisingly personal things. A few months ago, I heard an early afternoon caller on an Urban AC cheerfully discuss the physical discomfort of wearing a thong–and then it got explicit. And this was the station that was competing with the relationship talk show “Love Lust & Lies” by playing music. Somehow giveaways just don’t spur that kind of openness.
So how else can jocks get around the midday caller who will not scream without it turning into a confrontation?
1) Look for another story: Asking a caller, “What are you going to do with all that money?” had gotten to be a cliche;, too, particularly as Powerball jackpots dwarfed whatever radio could give away. But maybe we need to start finding our drama somewhere other than the scream–the winner really needed that money, the winner missed seeing the spring concert act two years ago, it’s going to be the winner’s first night out since a breakup. The questions that elicit these responses don’t get asked if the jock is badgering the winner about not screaming for another 20 seconds. When a station is paying winners’ bills, the jock usually has an opening to find out the listener’s story. But, by and large, there’s a lot more potential entertainment than just the scream.
2) Accept that the jock is going to have to create the excitement: Classic Rock’s “work force” contests do a pretty good job of generating drama from listeners who don’t even call in on time. And if there’s anything that ought to be worse than drawing attention to bored sounding callers, it’s pointing out how many people aren’t listening. I recently heard KHKS (Kiss 106.1) Dallas p.m. driver J.J. Kincaid do a teaser for the station’s “Big Money” contest that began by talking for no apparent reason about seeing somebody sitting in the “personal shopper” section at Nordstroms before pointing out that with the help of the radio station, that could be you. That sort of sell-through is a much more precious commodity on radio these days than an excited sounding workplace winner.
3) There is no law that every winner has to be on the air. For many years, caller No. 9 wasn’t always on-air. Then again, a lot of the calls that go on the air today wouldn’t have been deemed worth airing. If a caller is really unappreciative sounding–as opposed to merely unable to scream–why not deal with it over an intro, let the jock be entertaining for 20 seconds (if the caller isn’t), and move on?
4) Finally, maybe it’s time for some stations to cede the screaming winner to another era of radio. Most programmers wouldn’t hire a jock that screamed like it was 1973. So why hasn’t the jock/caller dynamic changed in all those years? Even those PDs who grew up with some Super-Q in the early ’70s or “Hot Hits” in the early ’80s think listeners are too sophisticated to be screamed at now. So maybe we can’t realistically expect them to holler back. And in some situations, screaming winners may not be helping your efforts to establish yourself as the at-work station. And beating up listeners for not screaming is not helping either.
Got a better way to deal with overly restrained midday winners? I’m looking forward to your posts.