Lawyers ruined the radio – Radio Ink

(By Mike McVay) Who hasn’t heard the expression “The lawyers ruined the radio? Usually it’s uttered after you’ve been turned down for a promotion you wanted to perform, rejection from a talent or salesperson you wanted to hire, or an appearance you wanted to perform was deemed unsuitable for the station. My joke with corporate lawyers was always “I think I can handle this. I watch Law & Order, LA Law, The Goodwife and Boston Legal. I have this. A pun was usually answered with a chuckle from the counselor I was meeting at that time.

The legal department is there to protect each of them. Protect the contestants, the winner, the radio company, station employees and participating advertisers. Given the contentious nature of our business, you need to think through every possible aspect of what could go wrong, and then report or prepare for it.

I’ve had my share of radio mishaps over the years. WAKY/Louisville has sponsored and presented the Wacky Ramblin’ Raft Race each spring. A homemade raft race on the Ohio River. We were surprised when someone drowned. We shouldn’t have been. People glued plastic milk jugs together and used them as rafts. A morning talent at KSFM/Sacramento decided to live on a billboard until a certain pro team won a game to break a losing streak. They fell off the billboard in the middle of the night and broke both legs.

Then there are the “contests gone wrong”. WMYI/Greenville, SC performed the tried and tested “Key Song Contest” to give a boat. They did not announce that the first key to start the boat won it. They just said “If your key starts the boat, you win it.” All keys have been cut to start the boat. They gave away more than one boat that day. Likewise, a station I checked once in Atlanta gave 6 Mazda Miatas. We now make sure that the rules say “The first key…”

“Events gone wild” is another favorite of mine. One station I looked at had a party to celebrate #1 ratings and #1 sales. A physical fistfight broke out between sales and programming. So much for the esprit de corps. Many remember the Who concert in Cincinnati where 11 people were trampled to death. It was a concert where many stations were giving away tickets to contest winners. It’s events like these where an ounce of preparation saves a pound of trouble.

Contests must be legal. Claims must be real. For most of the 90s, radio was like the AMC TV show Madmen. Saying the word “luck” seemed like icing on a burnt cake and emboldened the stations that offered odds of winning while making them sound like the prize was actually being awarded. Radio stations have been fined for false promotions and several have had their licenses revoked over the years. Not to mention class action lawsuits against major broadcasters for presenting group contests without checking the variance of state laws.

The earliest contest rules date back to the Communications Act of 1934. The Federal Communications Commission’s “contest rule” still applies to television and radio broadcasters and their sponsors. The contest rules state that it is illegal to “predetermine or prearrange” the outcome of a contest or broadcast a “predetermined or prearranged” contest. This is the easy part to understand. What follows can be difficult to follow and a real chore to explain to the public.

The rules of the contest must be detailed specifically. Should show odds of winning. Must be presented on air, online and have a copy available to air talent and reception…if you have a bricks and mortar location. Contests themselves cannot be a lottery. A lottery is when you have luck, consideration and prize. Consideration means someone pays or invests a payment or expense to play and potentially win.

The contest rules checklist contains the following; Eligibility. Period of contests or sweepstakes. How to enter. How to win, i.e. the selection of winners. Verification of potential winner. Price/sec. Conditions of entry and discharge of debts. Publicity and the right to use the name, image and voice of the winners. Taxes. Prize Giving/Prize Collection. Terms and conditions. Limitation of Liability. Disputes. Candidate’s personal information. Competition results. A safe release.

Think about what can go wrong and plan to prevent it. Once your promotion or event is set in stone, meet with your staff and share the details with them, so there’s no confusion. Make sure your team knows the do’s and don’ts for every contest, promotion, and event. Make sure your employees know that they and their families are not allowed to gamble.

The articles here are just the tip of the iceberg. We need lawyers, their experience and position, to watch over us and protect us. Their conservative nature is deliberate so that something that was meant to be fun doesn’t turn into something that’s quite the opposite. Know that I do not claim to be a lawyer. Although, as noted, I watch Law & Order, LA Law, The Goodwife, and Boston Legal.

Comments are closed.