Country Radio Shares 'Killer' Halloween Promotions

Courtesy Photo
WQDR Raleigh station manager Lisa McKay dressed as Honey Boo Boo, surrounded by the members of Parmalee all as Elvis Presley.

With just days to go until Halloween, radio stations nationwide are gearing up for the fun promotions and events that go along with the haunted holiday. We reached out to some prominent country radio broadcasters to hear ghostly tales of some of the best—and worst—promotions they’ve been involved with this time of year. Still looking for an idea for your own station? Some of these are ready to steal. And some you just won’t want to!

Calling stray animals “the scariest thing” WQDR Raleigh, N.C., station manager/PD Lisa McKay says her station does a fun Halloween concert every year “to help homeless animals find forever homes.” Listeners, artists and station staffers all dress in costumes for the QDR Howloween Harvest Ball, as evidenced by the photo on this page of McKay as Honey Boo Boo surrounded by the members of Parmalee all dressed as Elvis Presley.

“We put $1,000 up in the costume contest and everyone, including the bands, get in the spirit,” says McKay. “This is the 14th year. We’ve raised well over $100,000 for our three adoption charities. The SPCA was even able to open a low cost spay/neuter clinic” with the money raised.

At Entercom’s Rochester, N.Y., cluster, operations manager Bob Barnett says they take Halloween “a few steps further than pulling out ‘Monster Mash’ every year.” For the past 15 years, the stations have run “Haunted Hayrides” and a Haunted House every weekend in October. As a source of nontraditional revenue, Barnett calls it “the single best event I’ve ever been a part of in my career: huge moneymaker, tremendous branding opportunity and a great way to ‘own’ October/Halloween in greater Rochester. The event draws approximately 30,000 [people] annually and requires an invested team to manage and execute.

“While I’ve heard of other radio stations partnering with other Halloween-themed events, I don’t know of anyone else who does it soup to nuts,” he says. “Obviously, the goal is to scare the ‘yell’ out of patrons and make it a night to ‘dismember!’” Check out more details here.

WCOS Columbia, S.C., morning host Kelly Nash recalls a surprisingly effective promotion from his days at WBLI Long Island, N.Y., in the mid-’90s. The station ended up with a last-minute pair of concert backstage passes to give away. “So I invited anyone who was interested in competing for them to come to the station at 6 a.m. and we would have pumpkins there from some local pumpkin seller. Pick the pumpkin of your choice and then balance it on your head. Whoever balanced it the longest wins,” he recalls. “We thought it might go a few minutes to an hour. There were a dozen or so people, and half were out within seconds. The next 10 to 20 minutes saw almost everyone else lose their pumpkin. But there were two people with really flat heads who really wanted those passes.” As the day wore on, the contest continued. “Other local media started calling us to see if we were making it up. … Friends came by to feed them, and we had to create a rule of a five-minute bathroom break. We started asking them if they would be willing to go [to the show] together and end it, but they were adamant that the other would fail first. We were starting to panic over the idea that neither would lose the pumpkin before the concert.”

As 5 p.m. approached, says Nash, “We finally were able to secure two more passes and make them both winners so they could get going to the show. I remember being on the 6 o’clock news that night smiling between two people with pumpkins on their heads. It was an extremely goofy bit, born on the fly, that worked out great.”

But not every Halloween promotion is a winner. Patrick Thomas, executive producer of the syndicated Big D and Bubba show, recalls being pranked by the hosts during a “trunk or treat” event at a Nashville car dealership. The winner was supposed to choose from among five car trunks, one of which contained $1,000. But, Thomas says, “unbeknownst to me, a couple of fat idiots I know had paid one of the people at the car dealership to hide in one of the trunks and tipped [off] the winner to pick that trunk. It was my job to open the trunk with a key so it was more dramatic, and this guy jumps out and grabs me. I’m live on the air screaming and freaking out.”

WUBB Savannah, Ga., morning host Tim Leary says, “I thought it'd be a cool idea one time to have a ‘Guess the weight of the giant pumpkin’ contest. We bought this enormous pumpkin and took it to different appearances where listeners would register, guess its weight, and the person who came closest won concert tickets, and a wonderful promotion would be had by all. That is, unless your promotion guy drops the pumpkin on the second appearance out, and you still have two weeks of the promotion to go. By the time it ended, we had a giant, rotted gourd that smelled like road kill. It was the saddest looking thing you’ve ever seen. It was like we were all Linus and someone had murdered the Great Pumpkin.”

Recalling an event from when he worked at WFSH Fort Walton Beach, Fla., current KEEY Minneapolis morning man Chris Carr says, “We’ll never do a promotion involving large quantities of the inner guts of a zillion pumpkins thrown into a large plastic pool for people to wrestle in ever again. It’s not pretty for a million different reasons, and people were picking pumpkin seeds out of places on or in their bodies for weeks!”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.