How to win radio competitions
On-air radio competitions in the UK have always been a good source of high-value prizes. And although there are less competitions around compared to the 90s and 00s, you still have a decent chance of winning if you put the effort in!
There are lots of ways you can enter an on-air radio competition. In the past you would always have to call the studio, but now you can also enter by text, email, Twitter, website – even by sharing a photo on Instagram! – depending on the station. I’ve been entering radio comps since the early 2000s and I’ve won holidays to Florida, Spain and Iceland, a Champneys spa break, weekends in London, a Smeg fridge, a pair of bikes, loads of gig and festival tickets, and over £10,000 in cash prizes and vouchers. My latest radio win was a trip to Mexico on Capital Radio in April 2023!
Here are my top ten tips for winning on the radio…
1. Listen to different stations at different times
Regular radio winners aren’t loyal – they’ll tune in to lots of different stations (national, local, and even not-so-local!) for the best chance of getting on air. If you’ve tuned in and there’s no mention of an on-air competition, change to a new station!
Most competitions are on the Breakfast show (usually 6am – 10am) or the DriveTime show (4pm – 7pm) – and sometimes the weekend morning shows. You’ll have a better chance of winning on a local station, but the prizes won’t usually be as big as a national station. Tune in on a Friday afternoon, where you’ll often hear adverts and trailers for comps that start the following Monday. I switch stations quickly by talking to my Google Home device… ‘OK Google, stream Virgin Radio!’
2. Check radio station websites
Check the websites of your favourite radio stations weekly to see if they’ve added any new competitions or T&Cs (which can be a clue to an upcoming on-air promotion). Quite a few stations ask you to pre-register online for competitions, sometimes with a requirement to upload a photo or tell a story. Do this early – before the competition is mentioned on air – and you’ll have a better chance of being picked for the first day or two!
If a competition does require a bit of effort, that immediately reduces the entry numbers. Don’t rush to type up your funny story about your first day at a new job though – write it up in a Notes app or a notebook first, and check it’s perfect before you submit it! Applying online is great if you’re unable to listen to the radio, as the station will be calling YOU back – just make sure you answer the call!
Websites worth checking regularly are Absolute, Magic FM, Virgin, Heart FM, TalkSport, Hits Radio, Capital FM, Radio X and Kiss. Capital, Heart and Smooth also have regional stations with local presenters on the breakfast and drivetime shows – find a link to your local station website on this Wikipedia list.
Look for the terms and conditions pages too – you can find early information there, before the competitions are properly promoted online or on air. For some comps the T&Cs only appear hours before the on-air promotion! Links to Global T&Cs are: Capital, Capital XTRA, Heart, Radio X and Smooth.
3. Save numbers in your phone
Check online for studio and SMS numbers and save them all into your phone. Do a quick ‘test call’ and hang up before the comp starts to ensure you can just press redial when they ask people to call in. If you ever get a call back from a radio station, then make sure you also save that into your Contacts – call it ‘Heart FM Promo Team’ or similar. Oh, and if you’re a regular comper you’ll know this – but ALWAYS answer Witheld or Private numbers!
It’s worth texting in even if it’s not for a competition, so send in your music requests and funny stories when the DJ asks. Regular contributors might be favoured when it comes to competitions!
4. Get a portable radio
If you have access to an old fashioned, analogue radio that’s great – digital radios and apps have a delay, so you’ll be the first to hear when to call up if you listen on an analogue (or car) radio. Or listen to any radio station on your laptop or your phone by visiting their website or downloading their app.
5. Be prepared
If you know when a competition is on air, set a reminder on your phone 5 minutes beforehand – if it’s one you can enter every day, then set it as a repeat notification. I use Google Calendar to schedule my notifications!
It’s useful to have at least one friend who you can nominate for a radio competition – you’d be surprised how many stations still have comps where they call up your friend for them to answer questions about you. If you’ll be answering questions and you know the time you’ll be called, warn your friends that you might need their help in a Whatsapp or Facebook messenger chat – or ask a person in your office to be on standby!
If you’re going to be asked questions, make sure you can be sitting in front of a computer, tablet or laptop, with Google open ready for you to quickly search for an answer. Plug earphones in to your phone, or use earbuds, so you have free hands! If you know the theme of the question, do as much research as you can – even printing out fact sheets if necessary.
If you’re entering a ‘guess the celebrity voice’ or ‘what’s the secret noise’ type competition, always check the website before you call or text, to see what’s already been guessed. These comps get a huge number of repeat guesses!
If you’re entering Bauer Radio’s Cash Register, you’ll need to know the daily cash amount. Check my Facebook group Lucky Learners for this. If you’re entering Bauer’s Make Me a Winner, you’ll need to answer the phone by saying ‘Make me a winner’! Set an alarm on your phone called MMAW or Cash Register, to go off every day just before they call the winner – this will remind you to be ready if the phone rings with a ‘Witheld Number’!
Check out the target audience of UK radio stations, which gives you an idea of the kind of personalities they want to put on air, then tailor your answers and chat to match the station. Your personality might help the studio staff to decide whether they pick you as their winner or not!
6. Call at the right time
When you hear the presenter start talking about the competition, start calling straight away – for a lot of stations you’ll encounter an automated menu and will have to ‘press 1 for the studio’ so get ready to do this quickly! The phone will hopefully ring out, but if it’s engaged then hang up and try redialling straight away. If the phone does ring and isn’t answered, don’t hang up – sometimes they take 5 minutes to answer because they’ve picked up another line (this is especially important if it’s a head to head quiz as they’ll need two players). Don’t hang up your phone until they cut you off, or you hear the competition on air. Magic Radio play a message asking callers to ring back because lines are busy – but if the phone is ringing out you should stay on the line as they may still answer.
Sometimes the station might get three players lined up who ALL get the answer wrong, and will put a request out for new players to dial in – so listen in and keep your phone handy.
In America, radio stations often give the prize to the 10th or 20th caller, answering then immediately hanging up on the unlucky callers in the queue. This is rare in the UK – most stations will answer one line, and that person goes on air. Occasionally they will put you on hold and tell you which line you’re on incase you get chosen – but most of the time your line will get chosen because you’re the only caller on hold, it’s just to keep you nervous so you sound genuinely surprised on air if you win.
On-air competitions aren’t usually broadcast live – most are pre-recorded and edited, then broadcast within the hour (sometimes even the next day), which is why it can seem like a long time between the presenter asking for callers, and the competition being broadcast.
7. Be enthusiastic and excited
Occasionally radio stations will call a ‘shortlisted’ winner first, In most cases there is no shortlist – you’re the winner, but they don’t want you to know that. So they call you in advance, tell you you’re on a shortlist so you’ll be nervous and excited when they call you properly later on. They also call in advance because they want to be certain you’ll answer the phone. One of the reasons you might not get called back is if they ask ‘will you be available to go on air in 45 minutes?’ and you respond “Well, I might be on the school run so it really depends on the time…” – they’re likely NOT to call you back in this situation – there’s too much of a risk that you won’t pick up.
Make sure you sound excited on the phone – be chatty, but not crazy. If you get chosen, you’ll be nervous, but try to relax and imagine you’re chatting to a friend. If you get the answer wrong, or lose out to another contestant, it really doesn’t matter. There’s always next time!
8. Check the radio station’s rules
Every station has a different set of rules for their competitions – you might need to read a general set, plus a set of T&Cs for the specific competition you’re entering. They very rarely tell you full details on air – so if it’s a holiday prize, check the station’s website to see how many it’s for, when it can be taken, etc.
Local stations might ask where you’re calling from, but usually T&Cs won’t state any restrictions on entrant location. If you’re not local then have an excuse ready for why you’re listening! You could say your Alexa or Google Home misheard your request, or a friend in the area contacted you telling you to tune in for the competition.
Bauer and Global have restrictions on radio wins – if you win a high value (£1000+) prize on Global then they may email you and inform you that you won’t be allowed to enter/win again for six months – but usually, the ‘ban’ email will only be sent if you win a second prize within the next 6 months. T&Cs state Bauer only allow one £500 prize in a six month period and they are strict about this, occasionally even withdrawing prizes from winners who have breached this rule. Read more in my blog post Bauer and Global Prize Restrictions.
9. Watch your phone bill
Be careful with costs! Stations like Heart and Absolute Radio run generous text-in competitions that cost £1.50 a go – this can add up really quickly, especially if you fall for their ‘text another entry and you’ll get a third entry free!’ sales pitch. Several stations including Absolute and Kiss offer an alternative free online entry route for the big cash prizes like Cash Register or Make Me A Winner – it’s usually hidden right at the end of the Terms & Conditions.
Find current free to enter radio cash competitions such as Make Me A Winner and Cash Register listed at the end of my post Win cash prizes online in free competitions
Text promotions will always get a lot of entries as they’re so easy to enter – if you need to apply online or call up, even though it’s free or much cheaper, most people won’t bother.
Check the rate per minute before you call the studio too – some stations where you’ve been transferred to the studio charge a large fee per minute while the phone is just ringing out, unanswered.
10. Use two (or more!) phones
Have you got a spare mobile phone? Lots of people have a second PAYG phone to use for competitions, so they can keep track of what they spend and they don’t get scam calls on their main phone. If a radio station has a call-in competition, try calling on both phones at once to double your chance of getting through. Pop the phones onto Speaker mode so you can hear what’s happening. It goes without saying that if you have a willing partner or friend in the room you should encourage them to try calling or texting too – as long as they agree to share the prize if they win!
After the event…
Don’t feel too disappointed if you didn’t get through to the studio, didn’t get chosen to go on air – or if you did get on air but you didn’t win! I’ve lost out on a £10k kitchen, a spa break, £2000 and even a car in on-air competitions! But it’s all good experience to learn from next time round.
If you do win, the station will usually hang up and someone will call you back – this might be within the hour, or it might be the next week – but don’t panic, it will happen!
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Have you won a radio competition? How was the experience? Do you have any tips?