Radio Contests Used To Be a Real Challenge

Vintage radio


(50PlusWire) If there’s one thing I think this era of cell phones, computers and smartphones has destroyed, it’s the challenge of entering radio contests.

Back before the digital age, winning a radio contest took a lot of skill and brainwork because there was no convenient place to look up an answer to a contest question, unless you called the local library’s information desk, which wasn’t exactly a speedy process.

 I can’t count the number of times back in the 1970s when I would be listening to my car radio, and the DJ would ask a contest question that offered a great prize. Lo and behold, I’d know the answer. The problem was, by the time I found a pay phone, dug out some change, then listened to the phone company’s recorded “welcome” speech before getting connected to the radio station, the contest winner already would be boarding a plane for his all-expense paid trip to Hawaii.

I also remember sending postcards to win radio contests. The trick to winning one of those prizes, I learned, was to send a bunch of postcards right before the contest’s deadline, so they would end up on top in the mail sacks.

There also were the, “If you’re the first caller,” contests, for which I learned another trick. First of all, a phone with a dial (no push-buttons) was required. I would dial the station’s phone number, but hold the last digit of it in place and not let the dial go until the contest was announced. This often meant sitting with my finger stuck in the dial for an hour at a time because, back then, the phone company didn’t cut you off if you didn’t complete a call. So more often than not, I was the first caller and won some nice prizes.

I’ll never forget the time I was driving to the post office, and one of the radio stations played a lyric from Long Cool Woman by the Hollies. The lyric was difficult to understand and constantly was the subject of misinterpretation, so the disc jockey offered a prize (a generous gift certificate to a nice restaurant) to the first person who called with the correct wording.

Well, it just so happened I knew the lyric: “Just a five-nine beautiful tall.”

The calls poured in to the radio station, and I listened with amusement as one contestant after another murdered the lyric. 

“Such a fine, fine beautiful doll,” said one.

“Some wine in a beautiful mall,” guessed another.

By the time I arrived at the post office, the contest still had no winner.

“Mike!” I shouted at the postal clerk the minute I entered. “Call this number and say these exact words: ‘Just a five-nine beautiful tall!’”

Mike stared at me with an expression that told me he thought I either was speaking in Vulcan, or I was running some kind of illegal operation requiring a secret password.

No other customers were in the post office, so I urged him, “Go on, just DO it! Hurry!”

He dialed the number, and when the disc jockey answered, Mike repeated, just as I’d instructed, “Just a five-nine beautiful tall,” though he had absolutely no idea why.

“Congratulations!” the disc jockey shouted. “You’ve just won a gift certificate to Angelo’s Italian Restaurant! Now tell all our listeners, what is your favorite radio station for great music and great prizes?”

Panic swept over Mike’s face as he covered the phone and whispered to me, “What radio station is this?”

I shrugged. “I forgot!”

When Mike stammered and came up with no answer, the disc jockey said, “It’s a good thing I’m taping this— I can edit out that part before I air it!”

Mike hung up the phone and grinned at me. “Gee, thanks, Sally! My wife and I love Angelo’s, especially their lasagna! The guy said they’ll send out the certificate to me right away!”

Fifty years later, I’m still waiting for my invitation to join him and his wife for that dinner.

Yep, I sure do miss those old radio contests. ISI

Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science fiction. Contact her at: [email protected]

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