tip off

Radio DJ: prank calls, stunts the bread and butter of FM

Gotcha calls aren’t funny, says former FM radio DJ Christopher Welldon, who’s sat in on a few. But management demands them because they make a splash. The intent is to shock.

I refused to do “gotcha” calls during my time on air. I hate them. I see no entertainment value in foisting unnecessary angst on unwitting telephone owners. It’s not funny.

I did sit in on one or two — my co-host did them — and we got to the magic part where the “victim” started swearing his head off. Much laughter; mission accomplished.

(The calls were always pre-recorded, and permission was always sought. We would never put anything to air without it.)

I’ve never understood the joke. Prank calls seem like more effort than they’re worth.

What the 2Day Hot 30 presenters pulled was a different beast. Not so much a “prank call” as it was a big stunt. And that’s what program directors are constantly driving their radio kids to do — especially the unknown newbies or the fill-in hosts (of which these guys were both). Big stunts win big ratings.

I’ve done those: we called the White House, we called a hotel where Jennifer Lopez was staying, we got hung up on by more than half a dozen receptionists who had no time for our ridiculous shit. Whether they succeed or fail doesn’t matter if it makes “good radio”.

Indeed, they’re supposed to fail. You never expect to get through. You make the call, you get hung up on, the listeners admire your moxie and laugh at the “what-if” value. The stunt is simply placing the call, not getting anywhere. If anyone actually talks to you there’s that pesky commercial radio code of practice to deal with, requiring you to seek permission to put someone to air. If you’re doing the call live you REALLY want them to hang up because you’ve skipped all that stuff.

I feel terrible for the two hosts in the eye of this storm. I think we’re to used to being mad at Kyle and Jackie O. These guys were summer fill-in hosts for a show that isn’t prime-time; not scandal-chasing masterminds. My first time being a summer fill-in host (admittedly only in Brisbane, not syndicated nationwide, but still) was at the age of 22, after less than a year of on-air experience. I can’t imagine how I’d feel in their position at that stage of greenery.

Management demands shock value. I live with a tattoo courtesy of an on-air stunt —  which I happen to love — but how did we get to the point where permanently marking someone’s body is entertaining radio? You can’t even see it happening! It’s that sort of culture that pushes the boundaries to dangerous places.

And I don’t accept it’s driven by listener demands. I don’t think people listen to the Hot 30  — or any show — because of the prank calls or dumb stunts. They listen because of the songs and the prizes and the celebrity interviews (in that order, in my opinion).

But they remember the prank calls and dumb stunts — and that’s gold to radio management because of the way ratings are determined.

2
  • 1
    phil morris
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    I know the Chaser played a very brief prank on Max Moore Wilton by parking a truck with blaring loudpeakers outside his home , but the Chaser didn’t hang around for long for maximum effect.

    But to anyone’s knowledge has anyone from today fm tried to prank call CEO Holleran or its Chairman of the board? Or is there an instinct for self preservation ?

  • 2
    Catherine Ganley
    Posted Tuesday, 11 December 2012 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think prank calls are funny either….

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