Stunting is a type of publicity stunt in radio broadcasting, where a station—abruptly and often without advance announcement—begins to air content that is seemingly uncharacteristic compared to what they normally play.
Stunting is typically used to generate publicity and audience attention for upcoming changes to a station's programming, such as a new branding or format. Occasionally, a stunt may be purely intended as publicity or a protest, and not actually result in a major programming change. Stunts often involve a loop of a single song, or an interim format (such as the discography of a specific artist, Christmas music, a specific theme, or novelty songs), which may sometimes include hints towards the station's new format or branding.
To a lesser extent, stunting has also been seen on television, most commonly in conjunction with April Fool's Day, or to emphasize a major programming event being held by a channel.
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:
- The earliest example is WNOE-AM, New Orleans, which in one of the oldest radio stunts recorded when it launched its Top 40 format in early 1955, it stunted by playing the record "Shtiggy Boom" by The Nuggets nonstop for 58 hours and 45 minutes. The more prime example came in 1961, the record amount of stunting broke WNOE's record when XEAK, San Diego/Tijuana, played "Mope-itty Mope" by The Bosstones for 72 hours straight before unveiling an all-news format, one of the first such radio formats in North America.
- In late-April 1994, WMGV/Winneconne stunted with a loop of 21 different versions of the song "Louie Louie" as Louie 103.9, before launching a new oldies format on May 3.
- 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.
- Linder Radio Group is known for routinely using "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" by Rolf Harris as a filler stunt when changing a format on one of its stations.
- For four days before the July 8, 2012, relaunch of KOKE-FM/Austin — a station which 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 May 1990, the staff of Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio station Triple J staged an industrial action , after its news director was suspended 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 before 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, digital radio station ABC Dig Music stunted with a loop of "Express Yourself" (including the original recording, and covers of the song by Australian musicians) to lead into its relaunch as the Triple J spin-off 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.
- In honor of the alleged Mayan apocalypse, 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)" on December 21, 2012, accompanied by "Apocalypse Survival Tips" and "Get to Know a Mayan" segments.
- Prior to its August 26, 2019 flip to a sports talk format affiliated with Fox Sports Radio, WDAS/Philadelphia stunted with a loop of the NFL on Fox theme music over the preceding weekend. The change in format was announced in advance of the flip.
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 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 stunt led into its relaunch as rhythmic adult contemporary Sexy 106.3.
- 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.
- As part of promotions for the series by local broadcaster Global, Toronto radio station CIRR-FM (which usually broadcasts a CHR format targeting the LGBT community) held a Glee FM stunt on April 12, 2010, devoting a larger amount of its playlist to music from the U.S. musical comedy-drama series Glee (accompanied by other pop songs of Canadian origin to satisfy Canadian content regulations). On August 16, 2010, British radio station Oxford's FM 107.9 held its own Glee FM stunt, leading into its August 18 relaunch as Glide FM.
- 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).
- 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.
- On October 8, 2014, KROI/Houston ended its all-news format and began stunting as B92, playing only music by Houston-native Beyoncé. The stunt led into its relaunch as classic hip-hop Boom 92.
- KEGY/San Diego used an unbranded mainstream rock format as part of its transition from CHR to a new hot talk-oriented format in 2018. 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.
- Multiple stations in the United States and Canada have stunted with Chinese music under the branding Kung Pao, such as KDOG (which led into a flip to classic hits), WVHT (which led into its re-launch as CHR Hot 100), and CIGM (which led into its flip to a CHR format as Hot 93.5)
- Multiple stations have stunted with a "wheel of formats", running different format blocks that change with every few songs. Notable examples include WJJS (which led into a flip to Hot Adult Contemporary), WZRH (which led into a flip to country), KLTA-FM (which led into a flip to Top 40/CHR as Big 98.7), and KFMB-FM (which led into its re-launch as mainstream rock 100.7 KFM-BFM).
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.
- The earliest example comes with following minutes to CFFR in Calgary's launch on January 10, 1984, sounds of a clock ticking along with various announcements and jingles were played minutes prior to CFFR's launch as an oldies station.
- Some other common stunting collages 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).
- Multiple stations contain collages of nature sounds, such as WHTI in Lakeside, Virginia for example, which switched from Mainstream Top-40 to Soft Adult Contemporary in May 2014; and other stations contain collages with the sound of a heartbeat, such as KTMT-FM in Medford, Oregon in March 2011 which flipped from Adult Top-40 to a CHR format, and Seattle's KMBX which led into a switch to rhythmic oldies in October 2000.
- 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).
Christmas music and other holiday formats
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, in a similar spirit to ironic "Christmas in July" promotions.
- 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 officially 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 @ 98.7, before becoming The Breeze three days later.
- On October 2, 2009, following a half-hour retrospective marking the end of its smooth jazz format, WVMV/Detroit purportedly revived its previous Detroit's Wheels WLLZ branding as a classic rock station. However, in the midst of playing "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses, the song was interrupted by a sequence (referencing Kanye West's interruption of a Taylor Swift acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards), which led into a soft launch of its new CHR format under the branding 98.7 Takeover. After a publicity campaign over the weekend (including listeners being asked to guess the station's new branding), WVMV officially launched its new format as 98.7 Amp Radio the following Monday.
- On January 7, 2019, country station KSED/Sedona began stunting with a speaking clock counting down to 6:00 a.m. on January 14, 2019. The stunt—which led into a rebranding with no change in format—prompted the Flagstaff Police Department to issue a statement clarifying that, despite concerns from residents, this was a promotional event with no harm intended.
- From March 27 to late-May 2020, CHR station WFLC/Miami, Hits 97.3, rebranded as Quarantine Radio. In adherence to the stay-at-home order issued by Florida due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all on-air personalities worked from home, and the station also broadcast commercial-free workout mixes at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, hosted by the station's nighttime host. In late-May, the branding was dropped and the station promoted itself as being "under construction", before re-launching the Hits format on June 3 with a new on-air lineup.
Cartoon Network has broadcast its share of stunts over the years, many on April Fools' Day. In 1997, it showed the Screwy Squirrel short "Happy-Go-Nutty" for 12 hours, repeated in a loop, with the tongue-in-cheek claim that Screwy had taken over the programming studio and would show nothing else. Numerous complaints were received about this particular event, generally fielded by Cartoon Network's cable providers, who had been left in the dark about the stunt.
Adult Swim has held a number of their own April Fools' programming stunts, such as promoting a television premiere of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters before its theatrical release (but showing it in a comically-small picture-in-picture display over regularly-scheduled programming instead), airings of the Tommy Wiseau film The Room, pre-empting an airing of The Room in favor of a one-off revival of Cartoon Network's former anime block Toonami (which was later re-launched within Adult Swim), and an airing of Toonami with all programming presented in subtitled Japanese rather than an English dub. The stunts have sometimes included unannounced previews and premieres of new and existing series, such as additional episodes of Perfect Hair Forever after its supposed series finale, the third season premiere of Rick and Morty, bumpers featuring various previews hosted by rapper Post Malone in 2020, and during the aforementioned Toonami in Japanese stunt, an unannounced world premiere of the first episode of FLCL's third season FLCL Alternative before its second season Progressive had even premiered in the U.S. yet.
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; in 2015, this used the Sky Sports F1 channel, since Formula One was in 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 and competitions, such as chess boxing, disc golf, dodgeball, esports, Highland games, kabaddi, lawn mower racing, mini-golf, and roller derby. The stunt pays tribute to the fictitious portrayal of an eighth ESPN network in the 2004 sports comedy film DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, 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. DodgeBall has also been screened as part of this lineup since 2018.
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