Paige Nienaber’s top 10 selection of greatest radio promotions of all time

Paige Nienaber's top 10 selection of greatest radio promotions of all time
Paige Nienaber is recognized as the world’s foremost authority on broadcast promotions and marketing.

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Iremember sitting through corporate meetings in LA when I worked for United Broadcasting. This was a company so mired in forms and Legal that even by today’s eff’ed up standards, they were freaking nuts.

As we broke out into meetings, and I was with all of the Promotion Directors and Marketing Directors, I suggested that really nothing great has ever been achieved in a conference room and since it was the middle of Winter and we were at the Ritz in LA, why not take it to the pool and do it in the sun.

You would have thought that I’d suggesting putting puppies in a blender.

The majority of our promo meeting, after we labored through some lame mission statement, was to try and create a form (they so loved their forms) that we could use to grade our promotions and events.

My thought, which was totally lost on the sheep, was that Promotions serves so many masters and that “success” or “failure” is really subjective based on what department you come from, that this seemed like kind of a waste. They looked at me like I had eels crawling from my ears.

I get that a lot.

A couple of years ago Mauler with Hot 89.9 in Ottawa asked me to put together a Top Ten List of what I considered the greatest promotions of all time to be. Wow. Think about it. What would that list be for you?

You could probably have 100 people do this exercise and get 900 different promotion mentioned. So I told Mauler that this was just me. My opinion. So to take it with the consideration that that requires.

This morning I was again tasked with doing that by a guy who’s working on a project . What’s interesting is that since 2012, there’s been some movement on the charts as Casey would have said. So here ya go.

It Had To Happen…A ‘Best Of List’

The Last Contest

As done by Jack McCoy at KCBQ in San Diego, it was the Art of taking $10,000 and making it sound as if they were giving away millions of dollars in prizes. And the presentation of the prizes available wasn’t some sanitized 8 second crap like “Prize Pack #328: A $10,000 gift card from IKEA.” It was a 30 second audio masterpiece that made you want to smoke a cigarette when it was done. And the play, when they finally got around to doing the contest part of the promotion, shut down phone service in 1/3 of that market.

Tragedy Relief

We are so obsessed with giving crap to people so they’ll like us. After 9/11 94.9 in SFO went and put 3214 lit luminaries on the beach in San Francisco and the audience kept them burning for days. Kiss in Salt Lake City created a field of flags for people to walk through. After Katrina my clients sent 118 trucks filled with water to Texas and Louisiana. Newcap in Edmonton drove something like 700,000 teddy bears to shelters in Texas. After the LA Earthquake, Wild flew a 737 there-and-back to LA filled with water 48 hours after the disaster. The Boxx in Houston drove 18 semis with the airstaff to LA, filled with water. KDWB in Minny got something like 20 minutes of TV coverage for their water drive to Moore, Oklahoma after the 2013 tornado.

Texting codes to the Red Cross kind of feels lame after all that doesn’t it?

KDWB in the Twin Cities does H2OK for Oklahoma KDWB in the Twin Cities does H2OK for Oklahoma

The Xtreme Radio Beach House

You havemany stations that without some kind of legal ID are so generic as to be impossible to name where they are. When I arrived in the Bay Area, KMEL was a monster. I remember considering turning around and fleeing east. “Bay Area” poured from the speakers. They had nailed every nuance of Lifestyle in that market. Absolutely the hardest battle I’ve ever been in. So, any promotion that “sounds” like your market is going to be a homerun. Oake On The Water at Cities 97 in Minneapolis? Could not be anywhere other than here.

Before Cox destroyed the #1 out of 4 CHR’s in Honolulu, KXME did a shift a day, every day, for the month of June, from a beach house they had on the North Shore of Oahu. 300 listeners were invited every day, it was catered by clients and it’s literally impossible to describe how cool it was. And when you listened? You heard “Hawaii”.

Win A Baby

Hot 89.9 win a baby ad
Hot 89.9 in Ottawa does more, better, than pretty much any other CHR that I can think of. In 2012 they found five couples who were having trouble getting pregnant and offered up a $17,000 invitro fertilization to the couple that got the most audience votes. Knowing that we’re in the Communications Biz and that our strength is semantics, they promoted that someone was going to win a baby. The surprise was that the final day, with all five couples in the studio and with cameras on all of them, it was announced that they were all getting the prize. This promotion was brought up at a C Company and it was shot down in flames so fast it’s no wonder that American Radio is fucked.


Hot ended up getting more press than just about any station I’ve ever seen except….

The Presidents On The Phone

In 2012 the Dems in battleground states offered up the President to do morning show calls with CHR’s and Rhythm stations. They didn’t give the selected stations any questions to ask or directions other than “Have fun”. They wanted to have their candidate come off as real and folksy. The stations that stayed inside-the-box and played it straight got nothing, no buzz, or anything from their call. KOB-FM in Albuquerque took the “have fun” directive and asked about music tastes, super powers and other not-normally-heard-on-CSPAN questions. What followed was the biggest orgy of press I’ve ever seen. I was in a hotel fielding emails from their GM and PD as they updated me by the minute on people who were calling for interviews. The Daily Mail in the UK. Fox. The Today Show. Anderson Cooper, UPI, the daily paper in Mumbai…it was nuts. When Glenn Beck does 13 minutes devoted to ripping you apart, you done good. Oh, and they were called out by name at the Republican National Convention.

Conversely in the middle of this late night press frenzy, a morning show consultant emailed me and proceeded to use KOB-FM as an example of all that is wrong with Radio. Yes: because having a Morning Zoo ask the leader of the free world about Gaza is why people tune in to CHR.

A Mess ‘O Tickets

When Janet Jackson was out on her first big concert tour, the Rhythm Nation tour, Charlotte was the second stop and to say that there was “heightened anticipation” would be an understatement. Sitting at Bojangles I had a weird thought, did the math and called Mark Shands the PD at Kiss 102. 32 hours before showtime we launched into 1814 minutes of nothing-but-Janet music, and tickets at the top of every hour. The phones MELTED, the artist loved it and it got four TV stories, print, a story in Rolling Stone and a HUMONGOUS monthly from the folks in Maryland.

Come For The Music, Stay For The Corn

In1991 KGGI in Riverside announced that they’d been told by corporate that they were moving to Iowa. For a week they played this out, had tearful calls and goodbyes from listeners and artists and at 5 pm on a Friday, signed off. All weekend the only thing heard on the signal was a live mike on the roof of the building and Jerry Clifton doing the TOH ID: “KGGI/Riverside has moved to Iowa…” On Monday the music, spots and talent all returned from their new studio on Iowa Avenue. That weekend it would have been hard to go anywhere in So Cal without hearing about the station that moved to Iowa.

Risk + Consequence

Nothing says “Show Biz” like a DJ sitting at a table in a mall begging for cash. The three biggest marathons that come to mind would have to start with Mark S. Allen at KSFM where, every August, he would live on a billboard or hang in a shark cage for a week to raise funds for MDA. Chet Buchanan’s scaffold sit at KLUC in Las Vegas is the biggest drive in Radio, and Keke Luv’s “Live For 175” campaign in Boise is a huge part of 103.5 Kiss-FM’s #1 success. Miguel at Island 106 in Panama City just wrapped up a coasterthon with his co-host Holly to raise money for school lunches for kids from low income families.

There & Back

As a Promotion Director, it was not unusual for winners to have trouble being able to take the trip they won. Getting time off or pet sitting for a week were just some of the obstacles. In 1984 WLOL in Minneapolis put 100 pairs of winners on a 747 and flew them to Chicago to see a movie and have lunch on a Sunday afternoon. V-103 in Atlanta and Wild in SFO have both done planeloads of winners to Disney. Fly at 7 am. Back by 11 pm. In Saskatoon, the station did Girls Night Out and took 10 pairs of women to Vegas for the night. They left at 5 pm and were back by 9 am, sweating alcohol and ready for work.

Risten Ronger 

I’ve seen so many stations that have been in and out of a format in 18 months, and often because they launched soft. They sent out a press release, debuted the station, didn’t have any announcers and focused on establishing their music position. Very exciting stuff. I’ve always believed the first five hours are the most crucial in the lifespan of a station. When we launched Wild in SFO I was at an ATM in Burlingame several hours after we started stunting and people in line were talking about us. 20 hours into Wild in Tampa me and the street teamers were accosted by a mob of people at a McDonalds in St. Petersburg, demanding to know if we were ever going to play more than “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc.

In Norfolk, we launched Hot 100.5 at “Kung Pao 100.5”. All of the Chinese hits of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s without the rap. “Finally a Chinese station I can listen to at work!” The owner of Max Media went into a Starbucks and they were playing the Chinese station. That’s a win.



I would absolutely love to know what your Top Ten are! Please make sure to list them by commenting below.

Post by

Paige Nienaber
Radio Promotions Consultant

Paige is electronic media’s premiere promotions and marketing guru and creator of consumer experiences. He is an author of two books dedicated to his trade, and he was the wizard behind the world’s most popular cross-platform multimedia contest, “The Fugitive.”

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