This time of year a video of the 70’s TV show WKRP in Cincinnati pops up on Facebook. It’s the infamous WKRP Turkey drop episode. I think it’s one of TV’s funniest shows and I’ve been told it’s based on a true story, although I’ve not verified that. Those of us in radio can identify with promotions gone wrong. I’ve been a part of a few. When I was program director of a certain radio station, which shall go unnamed to protect the innocent, a car giveaway went off the tracks.
It was part of our classic hits summer and we gave away a classic 1965 Corvette. During the week, our air personalities would drive “the rocket of death” to various retailers where listeners could come and “ooh and ahh” over the car, and then register to win it. Towards the end of the summer, we drew about 20 finalists. Each finalist was given a key. Only one key would start the car. To add to the drama, we staged the giveaway event at a prominent location.
The promotion director had the keys made. Only one key would actually work, the others would fit into the ignition, but they would fail to turn on. Now, for those of you who remember the old General Motors ignitions, you may recall they had 3 positions. Lock-Off-On. The ignition housing resembled a wing nut. You could remove the key in the off position and still be able to start the car. If you turned the ignition to the lock position and removed the key, the only way you could start the car is re-insert the key and turn clockwise to unlock.
And so, as the car was taken to the venue for the giveaway, one of our staffers parked the car, turned the car off, and removed the key. The finalists were assembled, 20 keys were placed in sealed numbered envelopes. The first contestant ripped open his envelope, took out the key, entered the car, inserted the ignition, and….VAROOM!
I looked at the promotions director. There was the obvious bewilderment. We knew something went awry but what??!! How??!! At this point the rest of the contestants, disappointed, had began to scatter. After the event, I realized that the car ignition was not locked and any of those keys would have started the car. What I didn’t know is if that first contestant actually had the correct key. And I didn’t want to know. So, I called a good mechanic friend of mine and had the ignition changed before we handed it over to the “winner”.
That was the day I swore off doing car giveaways. They always somehow get screwed up. Of course I didn’t stay on the wagon long. I ended up doing dozens more. Each with their own unique idiosyncrasies.