In radio broadcasting, stunting occurs when a station abruptly airs content that is seemingly uncharacteristic compared to what they normally play. The tactic is commonly used when a station is about to undergo a major change (such as a change in format, branding, frequency, ownership or management, or even the acquisition of a high-profile program or personality), or simply as a prank on listeners and rival broadcasters. Either way, stunting is intended as a way to generate a greater amount of media publicity and audience attention to the station, by virtue of its shock value, than a straightforward format change could provide. Depending on the station's situation and its management's preference, stunt formats can last anywhere from a few minutes to several weeks before the permanent change is launched.
Types of radio stunting and noted examples
A station may stunt by repeating the same song or songs over and over on a continuous loop, sometimes hinting towards the new format.
- The song(s) in question are commonly in relation to the coming format or branding; in March 2014, San Francisco's KVVF and KVVZ stunted for 3 days with a loop of "Hot in Herre" by Nelly, which led into their impending flip from a Spanish format to rhythmic contemporary Hot 105.7. The stunt notably attracted mainstream media attention, with the hashtag "#nelly1057" being used to discuss the event on Twitter.
- Oftentimes the song chosen for the loop does not pertain to either the old or new format. A prime example is XEAK, San Diego/Tijuana, which in one of the earliest radio stunts recorded played "Mope-itty Mope" by The Bosstones for 72 hours straight in 1961 before unveiling an all-news format, one of the first such radio formats in North America.
- In May 1990, the staff of Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio station Triple J engaged in an industrial action, protesting the suspension of its news director for playing a clip of the N.W.A. song "Fuck tha Police" in a segment discussing its subject matter (despite the full song having been played by the station without incident). During the action, Triple J played another N.W.A. song, "Express Yourself", 82 times in a row. On April 28, 2014, in an homage to the event, ABC Dig Music began stunting with a loop of "Express Yourself" (including covers of the song by Australian musicians) to lead into its flip to Triple J's new sister station Double J on April 30.
- For four days before the July 8, 2012 relaunch of KOKE-FM, a radio station in Austin, Texas that popularized progressive country in the early 1970s, a live recording of Dale Watson's "Country My Ass" played in a continuous loop. This example of stunting is notable for the station-specific nature of the song's lyrics. Watson re-recorded the song for the occasion, adding a new coda in which he sings, "Now Austin's on track, 'cause KOKE-FM's back."
In a prelude to a format flip, a series of audio clips and sound effects centered around a certain theme may be played. Known as a sound collage, the theme under which these bits of audio fall may or may not have something to do with the previous and/or new format.
- A common stunting collage consists of construction site noises (sawing, hammering, etc.), signaling the building of a new station; two examples are this are WZNN/Green Bay, WI (which transitioned to alternative rock in March 2007) and KROI/Houston (which transitioned from gospel music to all-news radio in November 2011).
- The collage may include sounds of a test pattern tone, an explosion (to "blow up" the previous format), or the sound of a flat-lining and/or beating heart rate monitor (signifying the death of one format and the birth of another). A classic example of this occurred when KLSX/Los Angeles transitioned from hot talk to CHR in February 2009. The "explosion" was provided by The Tom Leykis Show upon its conclusion and cancellation (fittingly, the show's slogan was "Blow me up, Tom!"), followed by the sound of a flatlining and beating monitor, with a 3-minute montage of Top 40 acts and LA-centric soundbites leading up into the launch of the new Top 40 format (as KAMP-FM).
- Often the collage will give a hint at the new format, as happened when WCFL/Chicago aired 2 hours of ocean wave sounds in its switch to the equally-soothing beautiful music in March 1975, and when WCBS-FM/New York played a half-hour of audio clips and songs with the word "Jack" excised as a lead-up to its new Jack FM format in June 2005. In July 2006, Statesville, North Carolina heritage country station 105.7 WFMX signed off from its longtime home in Statesville and moved to Clemmons, a suburb of Winston-Salem, in order to move the station from the Charlotte market, where owner Clear Channel (now iHeart Media) was one station over the market cap, to the Greensboro market, where they only had four FM stations and had room for one more. When the new transmitter was turned on, WFMX began stunting with a 12-minute loop of audio clips centered around the word "Kiss" before flipping to soft R&B as "105.7 Kiss-FM." This station is now rock-flavored WVBZ "105.7 Man Up." The WFMX stunt loop, meanwhile, would later be incorporated into a longer stunt loop in Raleigh, North Carolina, when soft rocker WRSN "Sunny 93.9" flipped to rhythmic AC as "93.9 Kiss-FM" in December 2006. This station has since changed formats again, to its current country-flavored WNCB "B93.9" in November 2013.
When changing formats, a station may be upfront about the nature of the new format by using a limited playlist of songs or highlights of the new format, an approach intended to preview what to expect after the format change takes place.
- WJJZ/Philadelphia, PA, in a transition from smooth jazz, played the same 15 Hot AC songs over and over again, prior to permanently establishing a new Hot AC format as WNUW ("Now 97.5").
- After acquiring rights to The Rush Limbaugh Show from a rival station in April 2008, talk station WRNO-FM/New Orleans stunted under the brand "Rush Radio", airing exclusively repeats of the show for a full week before returning to a schedule which integrated a single daily broadcast of Limbaugh's show into the station's normal program lineup. WRNO's Greensboro, NC sister station, WPTI, repeated this stunt the first week of January 2010. (Both stations would permanently adopt the "Rush Radio" branding.)
- The aforementioned WWIQ/Camden, NJ used a similar stunt in 2012, except with The Sean Hannity Show as the show of choice under the "Hannity @ 106.9" branding.
- Clear Channel introduced Progressive Talk on WXKS 1430 and WKOX 1200 in Boston with a loop featuring Neil Young's "Rockin in a Free World" and an audiobook snippet from Al Franken's "Lies" book ("Chapter 37. What is a Liar?") Franken's show was to be carried on the stations.
- When WXKS (AM), formerly WKOX, went to conservative talk in 2010, it took a similar approach to the above "Rush Radio" stations in March 2010, previewing its own "Rush Radio" format with a collage of the shows they would present (including Limbaugh) along with patriotic speeches from American history. KPMZ/Dallas took a similar route that same month, exclusively airing speeches by President Ronald Reagan before installing a simulcast of sister talk station WBAP. This was also done on WJKR (now WTOH) when flipping from adult hits to conservative talk as "98.9 The Answer".
- On August 7, 2014, Clear Channel sold off the entire intellectual property unit of conservative talker WPGB-FM/Pittsburgh to Frank Iorio, who was taking over operations of WJAS. WJAS dropped their longtime adult standards format at noon that day and began a three-hour simulcast of WPGB-FM (the duration of The Rush Limbaugh Show). Both stations replaced all local commercial breaks with sweepers prompting listeners to move to WJAS, interspersed with a heart monitor sound effect. At 3 p.m., WPGB abruptly cut away from the top-of-the-hour newscast (fed from the Total Traffic Network facilities in Cleveland) and, after playing a few song snippets poking fun at the format change - notably No More Words by Berlin - debuted a country music format as "Big 104.7."
Occasionally a station dropping an old format will stunt with a temporary transitional format, one intended to tease not so much the listener but competing stations who are not privy to the station's new plans. The fake format, more often than not, is only intended as a transition to a new format or existing format adjustment. A similar, but smaller, effect can be produced by registering numerous domain names suggesting various formats, in an effort to throw off "net gnomes" and generate buzz.
- The "Wheel of Formats" (a play on the game show Wheel of Fortune) is one variation of this, in which several short-lived formats are aired for a short time (between an hour and a day), then replaced by another equally short-lived format, then another, etc. until finally the new permanent format is revealed. These formats can range from legitimate mainstream formats to novelties that would never be seriously considered as a full-time format.
- On January 17, 1991, after 35 years as a full service top 40/adult contemporary station, WBZ-AM/Boston used Operation Desert Storm to subtly end their former format and transition to a mixed format of all news radio and talk radio, pre-empting the format with continuing coverage of news from the Persian Gulf. By the declaration of 'end of combat' on February 28, the transition to News-Talk as "NewsRadio 1030" had been complete.
- In response to the aforementioned 2009 change of WOLF-FM/Syracuse, NY to country music, competitor WPHR-FM temporarily changed its usual urban adult contemporary format to country as "Young Country 106.9," with WPHR changing back at the end of the weekend. Usually, this type of stunt happens as part of a hedging effort—a station threatened by an upstart using a sister station to draw listeners away from the upstart (in this case, WPHR's sister station, WBBS, using WPHR to fend off WOLF).
- In summer 2011, two stations who had recently been sold to the same new owner transitioned from alternative rock to all-news radio by using the same adult contemporary music transition branded as "FM New." The stations, WWWN/Chicago and WEMP/New York, interspersed the music with news, traffic, and weather updates from personalities who would serve under the new "FM News" formats.
- In July 2008, WRKA/Louisville, KY dropped their long-running oldies format with a long farewell montage. After some fake static (in which the conclusion of "Beginnings" by Chicago could faintly be heard), the station was "relaunched" as "News Talk 103.1 WRKA," with a fake newscast similar in tone to sister station WSB/Atlanta, GA. (WSB's imaging voice, Jeff Davis, even voiced the station ID and a promo for "Louisville's Morning News.") Three minutes later, the "newscast" slowly became interference-ridden while airing a "Breaking Fox News Alert" of power failures around Louisville before fading into fake static again, to be followed by the unveiling of a country music format as WQNU.
- In July 2009, WWQM-FM/Madison, WI stunted with various formats during a 3-1/2 day period (including smooth jazz and novelty songs), only to emerge post-stunting with an adjusted version of its previous country music format.
- In October 2, 2009, WVMV/Detroit dropped their long-running smooth jazz format by playing a montage of jingles and airchecks from a prior format on the station, album-oriented rock WLLZ "Detroit's Wheels." However, the first song played ("Welcome To The Jungle" by Guns 'n Roses) abruptly cut out with Kanye West's 2009 MTV Video Music Awards outburst, segueing into "Sweet Dreams" by Beyoncé. The station immediately switched to a CHR format initially dubbed "98.7 Takeover" (eventually titled "98.7 AMP Radio").
- On separate occasions in 2009, WVHT/Hampton Roads, VA and CIGM.Sudbury, ON both stunted a Chinese pop music format branded as "Kung Pao".
- In May 2009, WSKS/Utica, NY announced that, due to "financial constraints," its CHR format would be replaced by the beautiful music format similar to what was broadcast on sister station WUTQ. The "change" came complete with on-air kayfabe-style complaining from the station's staff. The "new format," however, lasted for only 2 hours before WSKS management came clean, restored the CHR format, and confirmed the stunt was a way to promote a new disc jockey lineup on the WSKS.
- During Memorial Day weekend 2010, WJZX-FM/Milwaukee, Wisconsin stunted with songs about adultery as "Tiger FM." The station was expected to change to a Top 40 format with the new call sign WNQW, but was beaten to the punch by a competitor. With that avenue blocked, WNQW reverted to temporary formats with all-patriotic music and all-Beatles music before settling on a permanent format in June 2010 (as classic country station WZBK-FM).
- As had occurred in the above all-Beatles stunt, a station may stunt temporarily with consecutive songs by the same artist, either as a tribute to the departing format or a clue to the new one. The former occurred when CHMT-FM/Timmins, ON played songs by Timmins native Shania Twain before changing from country to adult hits in March 2006; the latter occurred when WHLD/Niagara Falls, NY transitioned from brokered programming to adult standards by playing Frank Sinatra songs exclusively in August 2010.
- In October 2014, after dropping a failing news radio format, KROI stunted as "B92", playing only songs by Houston native Beyoncé, until switching to a classic hip-hop format known as "Boom 92".
- In June 29, 2016, WMGC-FM stopped broadcasting its sports format and started simulcasting sister station WCSX-FM HD-2, with an oldies format. On July 1st, the format was revealed to be Throwback R&B, as 105.1 The Bounce.
- For a week in September 2013, WYDL stunted by playing Nothing but Elvis Presley after WYDL played Daylight by Maroon 5. CHR Format returned to WYDL in 2017.
A station may stunt by temporarily formatting a series of novelty songs, a song style that usually wouldn't support itself as a stand-alone commercial radio format.
- On separate occasions in 2007, KBVB/Fargo, ND and KXLP/Mankato, MN repeated the song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" by Rolf Harris for multiple days.
- WJMP/Kent, OH, in a protest over the 1994 strike that affected Major League Baseball, played 2 versions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" continuously, sunrise-to-sunset (the station operates only during daytime hours), for 2 months (and 57,161 total plays) from August to October 1994. The stunt merited WJMP an entry in the Guinness Book of Sports Records.
Overlap in music formats
A station may mix musical selections from both its old and new formats for a period of time. This smooth transition works best if the formats have little to no normal overlap in their playlists, such as a shift from country music to rhythmic contemporary or alternative rock; it may not be as effective or obvious if the transition is from, for example, modern rock to alternative rock. This type of stunting does not occur as often as other forms, as the approach does not increase the shock and anticipation value as much as with the other forms.
The popular practice of radio stations playing Christmas music in the days and weeks before (and occasionally the week after) the holiday has also been used as a means of transitioning to a new format after its conclusion. However, in a similar spirit to ironic "Christmas in July" promotions, such a stunt can also occur more blatantly outside of the holiday season.
- Prior to the new station's official launch in April 2008, Saskatoon's CFWD-FM briefly stunted with Christmas music as Santa FM, accompanied by a promotional campaign in which publicists in Santa costumes paraded through the city. The station defended the switch to its actual format, CHR Wired 96.3, by joking that its staff would eventually grow tired of listening to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". In November 2012, the station laid off its airstaff and switched to Christmas music again (this time, over the holiday season), emerging with a new variety hits format, Cruz FM, on December 26, 2012.
- In late-September 2015, Duluth's WEBC dropped its sports radio format in favor of Ho Ho 106.5, before emerging in early-October as classic rock Sasquatch 106.5.
- In November 2017, CBS Radio and Entercom merged, bringing Seattle's two country music stations—KMPS and KKWF, under common ownership. On the day the merger was completed, KMPS switched to Christmas music, ostensibly for the holiday season. However, on the morning of December 4, 2017, KMPS abruptly ended the all-Christmas programming and flipped to soft adult contemporary as 94.1 The Sound.
Radio-like stunts on television are not as commonplace as they are on radio, usually due to iron-clad programming commitments, a general lack of concrete formats in television (especially among local television stations, which still mostly use a homogenized and daypart-driven block programming strategy), and a lower level of shock value in a multichannel universe. In contrast, because there are fewer radio stations available and most are local, a format change at a local radio station is likely to draw the attention of a significant number of listeners in the station's broadcast area. Instead, a TV station or network may stunt in the form of a heavily-promoted event, as in the case of promoting new on-air branding, station affiliation change, or acquisition of programming or personnel; an increase in publicity (and with it, the station hopes, viewer anticipation) will increase as the changeover date nears. A prime example of this promo-type stunting involved British cable channel Bravo, which in January 1997 used a series of eerily-produced promos to herald a change in programming tone (including mutations of the network's old and new visual presentations). Marathons, the sequential broadcast of several episodes of the same series, are quite common during network transitions.
At least two networks have used stunting-type events prior to their formal launches. MLB Network, for example, aired a continuous loop of baseball highlights and promos as a "soft launch" in the weeks before its formal debut on January 1, 2009, while Canada's Sun News Network employed an on-screen countdown clock graphic in the hours before its April 18, 2011 launch.
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