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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, WJMP (Kent, Ohio) aired a stunt format for nine and a half weeks. 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.
As an alternative, 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.
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.
A seasonal Christmas music format can function as a stunt format. 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, when it flipped to an all-90s format as WQSH (105.7 Crush FM).
Parodying the trend of Christmas music starting long before the holiday itself (known as Christmas creep), some stations have also stunted a Christmas format at a time of year when it would be unexpected, such as the middle of the summer. 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. An exceptional case occurred in 2010 at WMVX (Cleveland, Ohio), which three days earlier had finished a temporary Christmas music stunt. Starting on December 29, 2010, the station dropped its long running Hot AC format by playing a deliberately wide selection of music. Music ranged from Destiny's Child to Merle Haggard, Beethoven, Alice in Chains, polka and TV and movie themes. The station emerged on January 3, 2011 as adult hits "106.5 The Lake."
Additional types and examples
In a typical stunt format, a station begins airing music outside of its normal (previous) 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 2006, for example, CHMT-FM in Timmins, Ontario ended its country music format with a 24-hour marathon of songs by Timmins native Shania Twain.
Some stations have stunted by using a format that repeats a single song for an entire day. 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. In August 2009, WOLF-FM (Syracuse, New York) changed to country music (as "The Wolf") by repeating Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf". Other stations have used a novelty song for this purpose. In 2013, CIND-FM (Toronto, Ontario), a new indie rock station, launched by playing a repeating loop of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" (a reference to the online practice of rickrolling.) After a somewhat controversial decision to change from alternative rock to hip-hop, In 1996, Cleveland, Ohio's WENZ "The End" (from the fact that their frequency is 107.9, the end of the FM dial) played R.E.M's "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" for twenty-four consecutive hours, until the official changeover to hip-hop. Incidentally, this stunt also occurred in 1992 when the station changed from its previous Top-40 format and branding of Power 108. 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; the song was played 57,161 times in total. The stunt earned WJMP an entry in the Guinness Book of Sports Records, even though WJMP only operates during the daytime hours.
Sometimes a series of audio clips and sound effects centered around a certain theme are played as well. Known as a sound collage, the unifying theme connecting these bits of audio may or may not have something to do with the previous and/or new formats. 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. WXKS was one of three stations (along with KCARn in Pittsburg, Kansas and KPMZ in 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. An announcement from the station's general manager about the upcoming changes may precede or follow the silence. A classic example 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."
Some stations have announced a format change that turns out to be fake, as a publicity stunt, before revealing the actual new format. 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, the station flipped back, though not without a new morning host.
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.
During Memorial Day weekend in 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. It would flip to Rhythmic Top 40 in 2012.
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