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Monday, July 23, 2018

Turkey Promotions

There are not a lot of television shows about radio. One very memorable one (and the only one I can recall) was “WKRP in Cincinnati.” During the first season of that show, one of the more hilarious moments involved a “killer” radio promotion. And it could have been a real killer!

For those too young to recall the show, or for those who have never seen this episode, the station manager, Arthur Carlson, had the brilliant idea to drop turkeys from a helicopter over a mall as a Thanksgiving promotion. Here is the show transcript as newsman Les Nessman describes the action:

Les Nessman: “Something just came out of the back of the helicopter. It's a dark object. Perhaps a skydiver. A second. A parachute yet. ...Oh my God, they're turkeys!…They’re crashing to the earth right in front of our eyes!…One just went through the windshield of a parked car! This is terrible!...Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! The crowd is running for their lives!”

Arthur Carlson later said, “I thought it would work. I planned it right down to the last detail. It was perfect! ...As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”


Over the course of my radio career, I’ve developed several successful promotions. But I’ve had a couple that need more than a little help.

During the run of the television show, “The Love Boat,” a few friends and I thought it would be terribly fun to organize a radio promotion we called, “The Penn Valley Cruise.” It was unique because there was no water involved. We set up three flat bed trucks (with guard rails), which would board passengers outside of the hotel where our radio station was located. There would be three “classes” of passengers. Three price levels. It would be about an 8 mile ride—one way only—to a pizza restaurant for “all the pizza you could eat.” How you got home was your problem. Note: no matter whether you paid more or less, you still got the same bumpy ride and the same amount of pizza. The first class truck sold out first. It was huge success.

So we tried it again. Only this time, one day before the “cruise”was to sail, the sheriff showed up at the radio station to attempt to impound the ticket money! Apparently, the pizza restaurant in Penn Valley was about to go belly up. Aauugh!

Quick thinking saved the day. We had to call all 80 “passengers” and tell them NOT to arrange for transportation back to the station. We would get them back. Then, I had another local pizza company set up to deliver food to the hotel.

And we created an elaborate scheme with our office admin to sneak baggies of oregano and sugar into the pocket of a passenger she knew. As our trucks went half way to Penn Valley, a “customs officer” stopped us to do a random drug search. He picked the right passenger and much to the shock of this poor man, the “goods” were found in his pocket. Mr. Customs made us turn around and we headed back to the hotel for the party. People LOVED this whole ruse. I was sweating bullets.

I’ve had a couple of other promotions that didn’t work out quite so well as I’d planned. One involved a fake kidnapping. Bad idea.

Generally speaking, it is wise not to deceive people. The Bible records a story in Genesis 27 where Jacob tricks his father to get the family blessing that his brother Esau rightfully should have received. And it was Jacob’s mother who came up with the scheme!

And Jesus told a parable that leaves many people puzzled today. It’s called the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. You can read that story in Luke 16. Interesting lesson.

This week’s blog is a follow up on the promotional goof by Build-A-Bear. A promotion that drew so many customers, they shut it down and made for a lot of unhappy people. It was, to say the least, embarrassing.

But better than dropping turkeys out of helicopters.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.

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