05 May 2009

Radio Daze - True Story

Real-life sample of the strangest job you've never heard (until now)

Back in the early 90's, I was supposed to be writing screenplays but stumbled upon a stranger world and devoted 110% of my time to WINNING RADIO CONTESTS.

I discovered persistence, dialing strategies and creativity were ingredients that catapulted me to the top of my new and bizarre profession. I put all my energies into this endeavor and was able to win over $140,000 in cash and prizes over a 14 month period.

In between contests, to keep sharp, I would call in and "bother" the DJs. Here are just a few of the highlights from my radio daze.

The funny thing is that I discovered a group of around 10 other contest obsessed folks who became my competition. We developed fraternity-type rivalries as we were all vying for the same cash & prizes, and would compare notes as we enjoyed our spoils all seated on the floor of a Lakers game, same row at a movie premiere or new restaurant opening and would swap stories, strategies and tactics.

Click the Arrow for Radio Contest Clips:

The clips you can hear from this page are one hour of over 20 hours of tape. My conversion rate in terms of winning was 1% so it wasn't as exciting as it plays.

We developed friendly rivalries, for example if Rick Dees was giving away a crappy prize (like a dozen roses), I would call up and win the contest using one of the other professional contestant's names, thus making him ineligible to claim a prize under his own name for 30 days. Crazy/fun stuff like that to alleviate the slow times and brush up on my techniques.

In the News:
My Approach:
Winning radio contests was extremely hard work. I recently read the book and did the “Discover Your Inner Strengths” exercise, and it’s fascinating how my top 5 strengths (Achiever, Competition, Focus, Self Confidence and Learner) provided me with the foundation and approach to deal with this challenge.

To be successful at winning radio contests required all five of my inner strengths, which manifested into key strategies:
1. Wall chart with radio station down the left side and time of day across the top. Consistent documentation of when contests would be conducted.
2. Visiting and taking tours of the stations and soaking in everything from which trivia books are on the shelf (I would immediately go to Borders and buy the same material), to requesting play lists with commercial breaks to learn various patterns by station.
3. Perfecting a method to improve my chances of getting through at the right time. While each of my competitors had their own "superpowers", i.e. one was a writer on Jeopardy, another used technology called a "demon dialer", others had 10 phone lines or more, I realized I was more effective with two phone lines and manually dialing in using Pac Bell's speed dial feature. If I had a phone ringing into a station before the contest started (because I knew when the contests would be played), I was almost always the wrong caller (too early). If they were looking for caller 102 and I was caller 5, they would hang up on me (line one). I would NOT hang up line one, and had 30 seconds of "controlling" the dead line before it was released to all the other callers. Simultaneously, I would pick up my second phone line and dial the station and right before it was going to result in a busy signal, I would quickly hang up line one, thus releasing that dead line and reclaiming it on line two. A voice would pick up and say "You're caller 16, hang up and try again". I would simply repeat the process until I was one of the final flashing lights on the phone board, with a real chance to be the actual caller.

How I got started:
I was a literary agent representing writers and directors and selling their screenplays for a LOT of money. I decided to stop being an agent and join my clients in playing the literary "lotto" game of writing spec scripts. Procrastinating (or what writer's call "brainstorming") is a routine part of the creative process. I remember during one of my brainstorming sessions I had the radio on and KROQ was giving away front row tickets to Oingo Boingo (Danny Elfman's old band). They were looking for the 36th caller. I had no clue what I was doing but picked up the phone and tried to win tickets. To my amazement I was the right caller and won. I remember being more interested in talking to the intern about "How" did I win then the actual prize. She told me they had 6 phone lines, two in 213 area code, two in 714 and two in 818. I was caller 36 which meant I was on "Valley Two". I realized I could divide the winning caller number by six and focus on the line they would probably pick up to increase my odds. This was just the start of a 14 month run and much bigger prizes like a Mazda Media, $10k cash, numerous trips around the world etc...

Why I stopped:
Winning radio contests is not an annuity. Like a home run hitter, you get no credit for your past achievements. In the mid-90's a friend of mine who ran marketing for Daily Variety's variety.com was hiring a search engine optimization company. This was the early days and there wasn't anyone with direct experience. SEO company Word of Net was looking for their first employee to get their clients ranked in the Top 5 in search results in Hotbot, Lycos, AltaVista etc. When they explained the perfect type of person to be successful in this new service, attributes included "loves cat & mouse type games", "persistent", "thrives in challenging and competitive environments." Over lunch my friend at Variety told them, "My friend Seth Greenberg is at home winning radio contests right now as we speak. You need to get him on board immediately." That was my foray into Internet Marketing.

My Present and Future - Interactive Marketing:
I've found a dynamic medium that I am passionate about, keeps me challenged, and loving my job. I realize how fortunate I am to have a day job that allows me to be immersed in new media marketing, especially when I find myself up late at night continuously learning about this great channel...with no desire to listen to the radio while I work :)

1 comment:

  1. Always loved this story Seth. It's such a great testament for how something you are interested in can lead to a career that you are passionate about.