In radio broadcasting, stunting occurs when a station abruptly airs programming that is seemingly uncharacteristic compared to what they normally play. Commonly used as a sort of publicity stunt 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 new program — the tactic is intended to generate a greater amount of media and audience attention, by virtue of its shock value, than a straightforward format change.
Depending on the station, stunt formats can last anywhere from a few minutes to a week or more before the permanent change is launched; in one noted case, a station in Ohio aired a stunt format for eight full months. On occasion, a station may also stunt for a few hours as a prank, especially in connection with April Fool's Day, and then return to its previous format later in the same day.
One of the earliest known radio stunts occurred on March 15, 1975, when WCFL in Chicago aired two hours of ocean wave sounds between 5pm and 7pm local time, and then switched from rock music to beautiful music. An even earlier stunt was when XEAK (later XETRA-AM, now XEWW) played the same song, "Mope-itty Mope" by The Bosstones, for 72 hours straight in 1961 before unveiling an all-news format, one of the first in North America.
Types and examples
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- A station begins airing music outside of its normal format, but which is also not consistent with the planned permanent format. For example, a soft adult contemporary station which is planning to shift to a contemporary hit radio format might suddenly play nothing but novelty songs, television theme songs or country music for 24 to 48 hours before its relaunch.
- In 2009, WVHT (Hampton Roads, Virginia) and CIGM (Greater Sudbury, Ontario) both stunted a Chinese pop music format branded as "Kung Pao".
- Madison, Wisconsin country music station WWQM-FM stunted with various formats during a 3-1/2 day period in July 2009, only to emerge post-stunting with an adjusted country format.
- On December 29, 2010, WMVX (Cleveland, Ohio), which three days earlier finished a Christmas music stunt that began on November 12, dropped their long running Hot AC format by playing a deliberate wide selection of music. The artists ranged from Destiny's Child, Merle Haggard, Beethoven, Alice in Chains, polkas and TV and movie themes. The station emerged on January 3, 2011 as adult hits "106.5 The Lake."
- Parodying the trend, common in the 2000s, of radio stations temporarily shifting to an all-Christmas music format as much as six to eight weeks before Christmas, some stations have also stunted a Christmas format at a time of year when it was unexpected, such as the middle of the summer.
- Starting on October 8, 2007, WNOU (Indianapolis, Indiana) started airing Christmas music (under the temporary callsign WEXM) before parent company Emmis Communications moved sister station WIBC to WNOU's position on the FM dial; that move took place on December 26. WIBC's owner, in turn, sold the intellectual property of WNAP to Radio One, which relaunched the format on one of their existing signals.
- In May 2008, WSMJ (Baltimore, Maryland) dropped their smooth jazz format to play all-Christmas music before relaunching as WCHH, with a modern rock format.
- In August 2008, CHAM in Hamilton, Ontario stunted a Christmas format from August 29 to September 2, when it debuted a new talk radio format.
- Alternatively, a few stations have shifted to an all-Christmas format at the same time of year as other stations, kept playing Christmas music for at least a week after Christmas, and then relaunched in the first week of January with a different format than they held before flipping to Christmas music. In Charlotte, North Carolina, WSSS (classic hits-formatted "Star 104.7") did this in 2003, before its eventual flip to Soft AC as WKQC ("K104.7") the next year. In Albany, New York, adult contemporary-formatted WBZZ (Buzz 105.7) began playing Christmas music on November 1, 2010 and continued until January 3, 2011, flipping to an all-90s format as WQSH (105.7 Crush FM).
- Other stations have also abruptly ended their Christmas music before Christmas Day to launch a new format, such as WUBL (Atlanta, Georgia) which flipped from AC to country.
- A station may mix musical selections from both its old and new formats for a period of time. This 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.
- Repeating the same song over and over again; two variations of this theme exist:
- The first is to play a song that somehow relates to the new format.
- WBUF (Buffalo, New York) changed from disco to active rock in 2001 by playing "We Will Rock You" by Queen repeatedly for an entire day.
- WOLF-FM (Syracuse, New York) changed to country music as "The Wolf" in August 2009 by playing "Hungry Like the Wolf" by Duran Duran for a full day.
- WPHR-FM (Cleveland, Ohio) changed from CHR to modern rock as WENZ "The END" in May 1992 by playing "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" by R.E.M. for a full day. This was repeated in May 1999 when the station changed to mainstream urban.
- The other is to use a completely oddball novelty song.
- In 2007, KBVB (Fargo, North Dakota) and KXLP (Mankato, Minnesota) both repeated the song "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" by Rolf Harris for multiple days.
- From 1994 until 1995, WJMP (Kent, Ohio) played a continuous loop of "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" for the entire duration of the 1994–95 Major League Baseball strike in a protest move - 57,161 times in total. The stunt earned WJMP an entry in the Guinness Book of Sports Records, despite the fact that WJMP only operates during the daytime hours.
- In 2013, CIND-FM, a new indie rock station in Toronto, Ontario, combined stunting with Rickrolling, launching on July 25 with a repeating loop of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" for the entire week leading up to its official broadcast launch on July 31.
- The first is to play a song that somehow relates to the new format.
- Playing a variety of songs by the same artist for at least 24 hours straight. In this case, the chosen artist may serve as either a clue to the new format or a tribute to the departing format.
- From October 20–22, 1986, CHR-formatted WGCL-FM (Cleveland, Ohio) played 72 straight hours of music selections from The Beatles before relaunching as WNCX, with a rock/CHR format.
- In 2006, CHMT-FM in Timmins, Ontario ended its country music format with a 24-hour marathon of songs by Timmins native Shania Twain.
- Previously brokered station WHLD (Niagara Falls) played exclusively Frank Sinatra songs for several days leading up to its change to adult standards in August 2010.
- Using a limited playlist featuring only a selected number of songs, usually a preview of what to expect with the station's new format.
- Sometimes a series of audio clips and sound effects centered around a certain theme are played as well. 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.
- WCBS-FM in New York City played a sound collage featuring sound effects, audio clips from movies, and songs with the word "Jack" removed. This went on for half an hour before the station flipped to Jack FM at 5:00 PM on June 3, 2005. It has since dropped the format in favor of its current oldies/classic hits offering.
- In March 2010, WXKS (AM) in Boston, upon changing formats to conservative talk radio, played a sound collage featuring highlights of the shows they were going to play along with patriotic speeches from American history.
- That same month, WXKS was one of three stations (the others were KCAR/Pittsburg, Kansas and KPMZ/Dallas-Ft. Worth) that used clips and speeches by former President of the United States Ronald Reagan as part of their stunts.
- A moment of silence (more commonly known as "dead air") may occur before a station changes formats, and can last from a few seconds to several minutes. This brief period of silence may or may not be preceded or followed by sound effects signaling a change in format, such as a test pattern, 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). An announcement from the station's general manager about the upcoming changes may also precede or follow the silence.
- A classic example of this (minus the general manager announcement) occurred when KLSX (Los Angeles, California) changed from hot talk to CHR as KAMP "AMP Radio" on February 20, 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!"). The top-of-the-hour station ID was wrapped around a flat-lining and beating, then followed by a three-minute montage of Top 40 acts and LA-centric soundbites, leading up into the launch of "AMP."
- An extreme example of this (again, without the general manager announcement) occurred when WCTZ (Stamford, Connecticut based AC station "96.7 the Coast") was planning to both change call letters/format to WKLV, a K-LOVE contemporary Christian station and move 20 miles away to New Rochelle, New York. To coordinate the physical move, the frequency went completely silent at midnight on May 19, 2011 and did not come back on the air until 11 days later, on May 30, 2011.
- After acquiring rights to The Rush Limbaugh Show from a rival station in early 2008, WRNO-FM in 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. WPTI in Greensboro, North Carolina repeated this stunt in January 2010. Both stations have since kept the "Rush Radio" slogan.
- Announcing a fake format change.
- On October 2, 2009, WVMV (Detroit, Michigan) 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 Kayne 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").
- In May 2009, WSKS (Utica, New York) announced it would change its format from CHR to beautiful music, similar to the one heard on sister station WUTQ. Within two and a half hours of the supposed change, most of that time including kayfabe complaining from the morning show about the change (such complaints would normally get a person fired from the station), the station flipped back, though not without a new morning host. Within a month, the new morning host was fired.
- In July 2008, WRKA (Louisville, Kentucky) 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 in Atlanta, Georgia. (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.
- Temporarily changing formats, after another station changes to the same format, to gain publicity.
- In response to WOLF-FM's change to country music (that also included stunting with a novelty format), WPHR-FM (Syracuse, New York) temporarily changed its usual urban adult contemporary format to country as "Young Country 106.9." The station changed back at the end of the weekend. Usually, this type of stunt happens as part of a hedging effort: a dominant station in the market, who is being threatened by an upstart, will use a sister station to change to a similar format to sap away listeners; in the case of WPHR (now operating at 620-AM), it is the sister station of market leader WBBS.
- On July 15, 2011, WEMP-FM in New York City changed from alternative rock station WRXP into an AC format called "New FM". What made the change unusual is that while it was complete with news, traffic, weather, on-air personnel, and even a Facebook page ; it was simply an unusual form of "stunting" as the station gradually went to an all news format (called 101.9 FM News) on August 12.  
- During Memorial Day weekend 2010, Milwaukee, Wisconsin smooth jazz station WJZX-FM stunted as "Tiger FM", playing songs about forms of adultery in reference to the alleged extramarital affairs of Tiger Woods. The station was expected to change to a Top 40 format with the "Now" branding after Memorial Day (and petitioned for a related call sign change to WNQW). A competing station, WQBW, beat them to the punch and abruptly adopted their own "Radio Now" radio format while WNQW was still stunting. As a result, WNQW stunted for over a week, morphing from "Tiger FM" to patriotic and American-themed music (for Memorial Day) and to an all-Beatles format, until eventually settling on a permanent classic country format. WQBW changed their calls to WRNW as of June 10; WJZX is now WZBK.
- On October 5, 2010, WHGO in Gulfport, Mississippi began playing a computer-esque voice, where every 5 times it stated the time left, it quoted a movie, book, song, or other form of media, in preparation for the launch of an adult hits format as Bob FM.
- "Demise of Mighty 690". AskTog. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
- "Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 26, 1995". Jhu.edu. 1995-06-26. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
- "A new Toronto radio station is Rickrolling for a week". canada.com, July 25, 2013.
- "KLSX Format Switch". YouTube. 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
- "WVMV Format Change". YouTube. 2009-10-05. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
- Fybush, Scott. End Of The Line at WAMO. Retrieved 2009-05-19.
- "Just a publicity stunt - KISS FM remains on air despite weekend claims". NBC-WKTV News Channel 2. 2009-05-18. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
- "WRKA Radio, Louisville changes format 7-18-2008". YouTube. 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
- "Ratings games spur radio identity crisis", from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 2, 2010