When Contestants Leave You High And DryPosted: May 17, 2011
Driving across Dublin yesterday afternoon, I caught the tail end of Derek Mooney’s afternoon show on RTE Radio 1, and I listened with a mixture of sympathy and admiration as he coped gamely with the situation that all broadcasters encounter sooner or later – the unresponsive winner.
Derek had some big competition running for listeners with a fairly substantial prize, and he and a co-host made much of how they had put all the correct entries into a spreadsheet, and were now picking the winner using a random number generator.
Poor Derek’s heart though must have sank when he started talking to the winner. My recall of the conversation is not word-perfect, but it went a little like this:
“Congratulations on being our winner, now, could you give the listeners the correct answer to the question we asked?”
“Er . . I can’t remember the question. What was it?”
“In which year did Abba win the Eurovision Song Contest?”
“Oh . . . I don’t know, I can’t remember what I said, I’d have to look it up”
“Well, you got the answer right, so make a guess”
“er . . 1972?”
“No, it was 1974, but you got the answer right in your entry, so congratulations . . “
Derek handled it well, and kept upbeat, but he must have been talking through gritted teeth. I know I was gritting mine just listening.
It’s a dilemma we all face in radio – how to deal with the person who’s won the big prize, but turns out not to be ideal when put on air. Some stations get around this by pre-recording the winners, calling different people and choosing the most excitabble sounding ones as winners. I don’t believe in doing that myself, the picking and putting on air of a winner should be as “live” and as “real” as possible, even if it does occasionally produce a damp squib.
I had this myself a couple of years ago, when giving out a set of weekend tickets with camping rights for a large music festival in Ireland (package worth at least a couple of hundred euro, and tickets were already sold out, so a great prize to win).
I had done this the year before, to great excitement from a winner , so I was looking forward to putting this one on air. We had hundreds of text entries, and the winner was one who was texter no 105, so no need to choose who was winner.
I put the guy on air and told him he had won. He sounded mildly interested.
So I asked my followup question, designed to get him talking:
So, which band are you most looking forward to seeing?
I’m not sure. I don’t really like seeing bands live.
Gritting my teeth and wondering why he had entered a competition for music festival tickets if he didn’t like seeing bands live, I thought of another angle.
Your prize is a pair of tickets for the full weekend – have you decided who you’d like to take with you?
My wife doesn’t like going to see bands either.
Well, I guess you’ll be popular at work in that case! Is there anyone at work you’d like to bring?
I don’t really like hanging out with the people I work with . . .
All you can do as a broadcaster at that stage is cut it short,congratulate the winner again, remind the audience excitedly that there is another pair of tickets still to be given out later in the weekend and kick into a bloody strong song . . .
The next year I was apprehensive when my turn came round again, but I had no need to worry. My winner squealed with delight, and you could almost see her jumping up and down.