by Rick Belcher
Steve Kelly might say “yes”. Rewind 28 years ago when he was the morning show DJ on WIOG. This station had massive ratings in Saginaw, Bay City, Midland and Flint. The reasons for its dominance included excellent DJs, the best top 40 music, and promotional prowess rarely matched anywhere.
As program director, it was up to me to help keep the ratings up. So, to have big promotional budgets felt great. For the fall 1990 sweep, we continued our Free Money giveaway and chose TV commercials to support it—the Free Money Birthday game. Each week for four weeks, WIOG gave away increasingly large amounts of cash on Thursday mornings at 7:15, starting at $5000 and finishing up with $10,000.
For just the right look, we produced the commercials in Nashville at Filmhouse. If you want an ad that will get noticed and also reflects your fun image, what do you do? Bring in a chimp. The chimp performed as the perfect co-host at first, as you’ll see in the $6000 week. Then, during a break in the filming, its trainer decided to reward it with a Coke. Big mistake.
As filming began for the next commercial, I watched with shock as the chimp turned on Steve and attacked him. The trainer subdued the overly-caffeinated chimp, and hauled him off the set. Steve was a bit shaken, but okay. No angry chimp would deflate Steve’s enthusiasm for the project. But would the next commercial be as much fun without Mr. Chimp? There was a solution, and maybe Steve saw it as a hazardous-duty reward. Hint—it wasn’t a can of Coke.
The third commercial also posed a potential hazard, too, but luckily there were no paper cuts.
Hope you enjoy!
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That promotion was costly but more than came back to us in revenue. The prize money expense (about $40,000) was overshadowed by the cost of producing the commercials and prime TV time.
Today, Steve Kelly is host on his highly rated news-talk morning show on WOOD, Grand Rapids. Thanks, Steve, for your dedication to take on DJ hazards, and the fun you brought to WIOG.