The Radio Years – Prizes

The year after I left the local radio stations, there was several scandals involving competitions on the BBC. The most notable when Blue Peter ran a competition to name a cat and then changed the results. Many others then followed and choice details from the ensuing enquiry included:

  • A competition was announced that appeared to feature genuine listeners phoning in to take part, one of whom would win a prize on air. In fact, in recorded programmes, there were no competitions or prizes and all of the callers were actually members of the production team and their friends.
  • Viewers were led to believe that a phone-in competition, open to the audience, had been won by a viewer. Due to a technical mistake, calls from the public did not get through and the name of a fictitious winner was read out on air.
  • A group had been interviewed on-air and unexpectedly offered listeners a pair of tickets to a gig. Nobody phoned in and “in order to spare the band, the programme and the presenter any embarrassment, the producer invented a winning name, which was broadcast”.
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That last one is particularly heart breaking. They were often caused by technical errors or people trying to make the best of bad situations. My confession is, this kind of thing was rife everywhere. It was commonplace for competitions to run which nobody would enter (so we made up winners) or where the prize did not exist (so we made up entire competitions) for which we never answered the phone. It really never occurred to us that we were doing anything wrong.

When we did have real prizes, we ran real competitions. However, these prizes were generally terrible. Every week, we would get a list of items from a PR company who would give us stuff in return for an on-air promotion (anyone who listens to the radio, knows this still happens). I would always send off for everything but since we were a small station all the good stuff would be snapped up by the big stations with the famous presenters, so we got the leftovers.

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I remember giving away:

  • A ‘years supply of crisps’ which translated to 26 packets, presumably calculated for somebody who doesn’t eat that many crisps.
  • A voucher for ‘a leading supermarket’, even though the nearest branch was 46 miles away
  • A ‘dog care package’ which contained 4 tins of dog food and a brush
  • A ‘cholesterol testing kit’ (goodness knows why), the winner for this was so excited she got in a taxi to pick it up from the station straight away.

It never seemed to matter how terrible the prizes were, people were always really excited to win them. I would call them, and they would scream with joy at the thought of a free bottle of sun cream or some orange squash. It all seems so innocent now.

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