Radio execs don’t stand for dangerous contests




By: Mike Austerman

On The RadioEver since it was revealed that a radio station contest in Sacramento, Calif., resulted in the death of one participant from water intoxication, the radio industry has been buzzing about the incident and its aftermath.

Jennifer Strange, a 28-year old mother of three young children, died after consuming what’s estimated as nearly 2 gallons of water in an attempt to win a video game console for her kids. The idea was for contestants to hold out on visiting the restroom for as long as possible and the last one to “go wee” would claim a Nintendo Wii.

Many portions of the contest that day have been rebroadcast on the Internet, and it’s clear that the employees of the station involved, KDND-FM, received warnings about the possibility of such a tragedy from listeners but did little to either halt the competition or provide Strange with medical attention.

Ten KDND employees involved in the stunt were fired and, not surprisingly, lawsuits are being filed, along with a criminal investigation.

Fortunately, these kinds of radio-assisted tragedies are few and far between, and it’s apparent that managers of our local radio stations have a good understanding that protecting listeners from this kind of harm is in everyone’s best interest.


Dom Theodore, regional vice president of programming for Clear Channel, said, “We have numerous checks and balances built into the system. Our promotions management team includes myself and Rebecca Falk, who is our director of promotions and marketing. The programming staff understands that any on-air contest is to be approved by us in advance. “Personally, I’ve never believed that ‘endurance’-type contests were very entertaining; most of the time they do not make for compelling radio, and they’re certainly not worth the potential risks. We have a lot more fun smashing cars and egos.”

Bill Stedman, operations manager for classic rock WCSX-FM (94.7) spoke at length about how Greater Media Detroit takes numerous steps to protect listeners.

“During the World Series,” he said, “I stood next to contest participants that were using a wiffle bat attempting to win game tickets — just for safety reasons. If you came out to Oakland Mall for JJ & Lynne’s radiothon this week, you’d have noticed that we even try to escort everyone up and down the stairs.

“When it comes to doing any kind of promotion, you just don’t do it without a lot of planning. That includes involving any number of resources, from consulting with lawyers to just using the Internet to research potential problems. We always try to think of all the issues we might encounter and address them up front.

“For us,” he added, “if there is any kind of risk that is involved, even if it was unanticipated, we must address it. For example, if someone’s health appears compromised, call for medical assistance. Sometimes common sense is all that is needed — but it must be used to balance the fun against the safety of our listeners.”

Both men expressed shock and sorrow about the incident in Sacramento, and I believe each is strongly committed to not letting something similar happen here. They both love radio and want nothing more than to offer listeners safe fun with their station promotions.

 • • • • • • • • 

Getting back to WCSX, the station has been quite busy this week. Morning hosts Jim “JJ” Johnson and Lynne Woodison put the wraps on their annual radiothon to benefi t the Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan on Friday, helping to raise a tidy $154,000. They’ve now tallied more than $3 million in the 16 years the event has been held.

And listeners to 94.7 this weekend have enjoyed a commercial-free preview of the station’s high-definition station “Deep Trax.” In my listening to their HD channel, the station sounds almost like WCSX did when it first took on the classic rock format back in the spring of 1987.

 • • • • • • • • 

Last week, fellow columnist Art Vuolo mentioned that several automakers are now including auxiliary inputs in many of their new car audio systems, making it easier to directly plug in devices such as MP3 players and satellite radios.
Several astute readers have pointed out that in addition to that ever-increasing capability across nearly all the automakers, there also are several aftermarket adapter kits available for radios without those inputs built in. For the online folks, check out places like, and, among others.

There also are more and more interfaces available for Apple’s highly popular iPod that can interface with older car radios. It’s interesting, and probably scary to broadcast radio folks, that this topic has generated this high amount of interest.

 • • • • • • • • 

Quick hits: Classical/jazz WRCJ-FM (90.9) has a Valentine’s Day special. For a $150 donation, a special message (maybe to your sweetheart) will be announced twice during that day along with a gift certificate to Nick’s 22nd Street Steakhouse. Contact Sheree Askew at (248) 305-3742 ... One analyst comments that any merger between satellite competitors XM and Sirius might be more likely to happen soon so it could be completed before the political climate changes prior to the 2008 presidential election season. Rumors of a merger between the two satcasters just won’t go away … Adult urban WGPR-FM (107.5) is promoting a new morning show starting Feb. 1. Look for John Mason to reintroduce himself to local listeners then.

 • • • • • • • • 

Hal Youngblood, producer and host at news-talk WJR-AM (760) from the 1960s through ’80s, has passed away at the age of 77 in Tennessee after fighting multiple myeloma for a number of years. He was perhaps best known locally as the producer for J.P. McCarthy’s morning and “Focus” programs as well as hosting an evening program titled “Nighttime Detroit.”

 • • • • • • • • 

Set your dial: “Some where in Time’s” Tom Wilson profiles 1940s hitmakers the Pied Pipers at 6 p.m. today on WMUZ-FM (103.5) ... Adam Helfman’s “Hire It Done” home improvement show on WXYT-AM (1270) adds a simulcast 9-11 a.m. Sundays on WOMC-FM (104.3), bumping the “Beatle Brunch” to 11 a.m.

 • • • • • • • • 

Mike Austerman is the founder of and has covered radio for The Oakland Press since 2001.

Reprinted from the Sunday Oakland Press, January 28, 2007







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This page contains a single entry by Mike Austerman published on January 28, 2007 8:05 AM.

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