I’ve been involved in many great radio promotions over the years. One of the best was The Ticket Upgrade.
In the early 1980s, when I was the morning man at WHCN/Hartford, we had a deal with promoters Jim Koplik and Shelly Finkel for the concerts they brought to the Hartford Civic Center. The radio station gave the shows a ton of promotion, and in return we got a bunch of free tickets for staff and giveaways, and the right to say “WHCN Presents…”
In 1985, when the deal was up for renewal, our main competitor WCCC somehow made the promoters a better offer and became the official presenting station for the next year. Dan Hayden, our brilliant program director, decided he wasn’t going to take this lying down. His idea was to undermine WCCC by making it seems like WHCN still owned the events. Thus was born the Ticket Upgrade concept, which he first put into action at a Phil Collins concert.
It worked like this. On the air, we told our listeners to bring to the concert a sign or a banner containing Collins’ name, our call letters, and whatever other artwork they thought would get our attention. Then, WHCN staffers — in our green satin jackets with the logo of our mascot, a walrus, on the back — would roam through the Civic Center and reward people with the best signs by moving them to better seats. Since we didn’t have the official deal with the promoters any longer, we had to go out and buy them, but our GM okayed the money, and Dan sent promotions director Teri Milling out to purchase five pairs of floor seats as close to the stage as possible.
On the night of the show, each member of the air staff was given a pair of tickets, and we were instructed to use them not for one upgrade, but two — surprising someone in mediocre seats with a pair closer to the stage, then taking that person’s tickets to move someone down from way upstairs at the far end. Thus, we’d have double the impact.
When my colleagues and I got inside the Civic Center, I was thrilled to see fans holding up hundreds of signs with our call letters on them. We split off and set out to find super-fans with fantastic banners (some on bed sheets!) and use my assigned tickets to do a double upgrade. As I walked around with listeners shouting out our call letters to get my attention, I could also see packs of people swarming around the other jocks in their bright green jackets as they moved through the arena. It was a sheer display of the dominance of WHCN in that market.
But that wasn’t the best part.
When Phil Collins hit the stage — at the height of his solo career, with both the single “Sussudio” and the album “No Jacket Required” at #1 on the Billboard charts — he did a few songs, then asked for the house lights to be turned up so he could see the crowd, which proudly showed off a sea of banners and signs welcoming him to Hartford. Collins thanked everyone for coming and, glancing at some fans we had upgraded to the section closest to the stage, looked at the sign they were holding high and said, “And I’d like to thank WHCN for playing my music and presenting the show!”
I looked over at Dan, who had the widest grin I’ve ever seen on a man’s face. Meanwhile, two rows ahead of us, the PD of WCCC was bent over with his head in his hands.