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Stunting is a practice in radio broadcasting, which occurs when a station begins, abruptly and without advance announcement, to air content that is seemingly uncharacteristic compared to what they normally play. The tactic is most commonly used when a station is about to undergo a major change, such as a change in format, branding, frequency, ownership or management, or occasionally as a simple prank on listeners and rival broadcasters. Either way, stunting is intended as a publicity stunt to generate a greater amount of media publicity and audience attention, 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.
To a lesser extent, stunting has also been seen on television, most commonly in conjunction with April Fool's Day.
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:
- 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 three 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 a reference to the Rickroll meme, the new Toronto radio station CIND-FM played a loop of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up" prior to its official launch as Indie 88.
- 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 A**" 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 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.
- WJMP/Kent, OH, in a protest over the Major League Baseball players' strike, 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.
- On December 21, 2012, modern rock station CFEX-FM/Calgary stunted with a loop of R.E.M.'s song "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", along with "Apocalypse Survival Tips" and "Get to Know a Mayan" segments, in honor of the alleged Mayan apocalypse.
Occasionally a station dropping an old format will stunt with a transitional format, either containing clues and previews relating to the new format (such as songs referencing its new branding, and artists who may be included in the eventual format), or having little to do with it. This can include songs based on specific themes (such as a single musician), or novelties that would not be viable as a permanent format.
- In 2006, after its sale to new owners, KFYE in Kingsburg, California, dropped its contemporary Christian music programming for a stunt format it dubbed "Porn Radio", featuring songs with sexually-suggestive lyrics (such as "I'm Too Sexy", "Sexual Healing", and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"), and songs overlaid with moaning sound effects. The station ultimately launched a rhythmic adult contemporary format branded as Sexy 106.3.
- In 2011, WWWN/Chicago and WEMP/New York—which had recently been sold to Merlin Media—transitioned from alternative rock to all-news radio as FM News. As a transitional format, both stations aired a format branded as FM New, which featured adult contemporary music interspersed with news, traffic, and weather updates from personalities who would serve under the new FM News formats.
- Over Memorial Day weekend in 2010, WJZX-FM/Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stunted as Tiger 106.9, featuring songs about cheating (in reference to an infidelity scandal involving golfer Tiger Woods). The station was expected to change to a top 40 format with the new call letters WNQW—with the new calls implying use of the brand Now. However, competing station WQBW abruptly flipped to the same format as 97.3 Now, preventing WJZX from using the name. The station continued airing temporary formats, such as patriotic music and The Beatles' discography in alphabetical order, before settling on a permanent format in June 2010, as classic country station WZBK-FM).
- Multiple stations have stunted with Chinese music under the branding Kung Pao, such as KDOG (which led into a flip to classic hits) and WVHT (which led into its re-launch as CHR Hot 100).
- 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 the station's new lineup.
- KEGY/San Diego used an unbranded rock format as part of its transition from CHR to a new hot talk-oriented format. The stunt's playlist featured Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine" at the top of each hour, which teased its eventual branding as The Machine.
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 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).
The popular practice of radio stations playing all-Christmas music during the lead-up to (and occasionally the week after) Christmas Day has sometimes been used as a transitional period between formats. Sometimes, Christmas music is used as a more blatant stunt format outside of the holiday season.
- As a soft launch in April 2008, Saskatoon's new radio station CFWD-FM briefly stunted with Christmas music as Santa FM, accompanied by a promotional campaign in which publicists in Santa Claus costumes paraded through the city. The station later launched as CHR Wired 96.3. In November 2012, the station laid off its airstaff and flipped to Christmas music for the season, emerging as adult hits 96.3 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. The following year, Entercom's Detroit station WDZH flipped from CHR to the same format in an identical manner (with the station dropping its Amp Radio CHR format for The Rudolph Network, before becoming The Breeze three days later).
The most prominent example of stunting on television is the annual April Fools' Day programming on Adult Swim; a false schedule grid is given to guide providers for that night, which has obscured a number of programming stunts over the years, including unannounced previews and premieres (such as the third season premiere of Rick and Morty, and additional episodes of Perfect Hair Forever after its supposed series finale), promising a television premiere of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters before its theatrical release (but only airing the first two minutes, already circulating online, before minimizing it into a comically-small picture-in-picture display over regularly-scheduled programming), the Tommy Wiseau film The Room, and an airing of the anime sub-block Toonami with all programming presented in subtitled Japanese rather than an English dub (including an unannounced preview of FLCL's third season FLCL Alternative, before its second season Progressive had even aired yet, and an airing of the cult film Mind Game).
Nick Jr. Too, a sister to the British Nick Jr. channel, has occasionally aired long-term marathons of Peppa Pig, during which it has branded as "Nick Jr. Peppa". In a similar manner, Sky Sports has also temporarily rebranded some of its channels to devote them specifically to certain major events, such as The Ashes series in cricket (Sky Sports Ashes), the PDC World Darts Championship (Sky Sports Darts, which in 2015 used its Formula One-specific channel due to its off-season), and golf's Open Championship (Sky Sports The Open). In January 2019, Sky Sports Action was temporarily renamed "Sky Sports USA", with programming focusing on the National Basketball Association for the NBA Global Games series in London, and the National Football League playoffs and Super Bowl LIII.
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.
Since 2017, one of ESPN's networks has stunted as "ESPN8" on or near August 8 (8/8), carrying a marathon of programming featuring obscure and unconventional sporting events such as chess boxing, disc golf, dodgeball, eSports, Highland games, kabaddi, lawn mower racing, mini-golf, and roller derby. The stunt homages the fictitious portrayal of an eighth ESPN channel in the 2004 sports comedy film DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (a film which, since 2018, has also been featured as part of the lineup), nicknamed "The Ocho" (in reference to ESPN2 being nicknamed "The Deuce" on launch), which carried coverage of events that were "almost a sport". The stunt was originally held on ESPNU—a channel that normally carries college sports events during the academic year, but moved to ESPN2 beginning in 2018.
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