Red Trans Am, Part 2
What if you staged an elaborate, over-the-top, gala
radio promotion to give away a brand new customized sports car and
nobody came? What if you staged an elaborate, over-the-top, gala radio
promotion to give away that red Pontiac Trans Am and it seemed as
though damned near everybody came?
It was the summer of 1978, back when a car give-away
on a rock station was about as likely as say, a president of the USA
whipping an entire country into a frenzy to avenge his daddy.
But we at KMEL Radio had a genuine frenzy on our hands
at Troncatty Pontiac in Corte Madera. Another sparkling,
only-in-Marin-County Saturday, and we were rubbing shoulders with
socialites, sipping Chardonnay, and nibbling Brie. Well, almost. We
deejays were face to face with a roaring throng of beer-guzzling,
whooping, excited young rock listeners.
It seemed to us that those in the crowd who had won
one of the 106 keys we had given away - KMEL 106 FM, pretty catchy,
huh? - had brought along their entire, extended, Sanford-and-Son
families to witness one of them drive away in style. The air also
smelled as if Cheech and Chong had arrived early with all their
I have never been in the midst of a celebration filled
with such anticipation. Someone was finally going to win that frigginí
car that I felt I could easily embellish for a listener in my sleep.
"IEATZ28." That license tag had been seen at so many Bay Area
promotions and been the subject of so much press and so many ads that
I felt I had regularly changed its oil and lubed its zerks.
"Trans Am" was local rocker Sammy Hagarís current
national hit, and he had graciously jumped behind the wheel of our
promotion and steered it full throttle. In fact, he was about to
helicopter in to the dealership to give the car away personally.
There was a sea of balloons among the loudspeakers.
There was plenty to eat and drink, and the crowd evidenced it. The
whole extravaganza was broadcast live. The giant inflatable Kamel
smiled down on all the festivities like some contented Buddha.
Mary Hollaway, Paul Vincent, Bobby Cole, Kenny Wardell,
Tawn Mastery, Tony Kilbert, and everyoneís favorite, Casey
Whatshisname, were joined on stage by a score of other stragglers and
car salesmen. Handlers were gathering the 106 winners together to come
to the mic one by one. Next to the mic stand sat a giant fishbowl
filled with 106 keys. Each winner would reach in, grab a key, then
slide into the sleek red driverís seat, insert his or her key, and
pray that the key would turn over the Trans Amís engine.
We deejays had performed admirably and the excitement
was sizzling when clop, clop clop! I think we all instinctively ducked
when Sammy'ís ride roared in and plopped gingerly onto the grass about
a hundred feet away. To wild applause, he strode up to the stage. Who
else could arrive with long, blond locks flowing wildly in the
backdraft? Well, probably most any rocker, but not too many wore a red
leather jacket and matching, skin-tight pants.
So here we were. The time had finally come. Hagar
would be the flashpoint for our dramatic promotion that could only
build and build in excitement and anticipation as each key was shakily
inserted. The line of winners wound long like a caterpillar on
steroids. Their pals roared and it smelled like Tommy Chongís
entourage had cocooned tenfold. Sammy was beaming, music blared, and
it was going to be some on-air event.
Nope. It was all about to evaporate as quickly as the
Oakland Aís in the playoffs.
The sixth winner! The sixth damn key was turned, the
red beast roared to life, the guy as white as a Mormon in his blue
overalls clutched the wheel as a crowd of hundreds suddenly went
silent. Ever stood before a mad throng that had to quell their first
thoughts about murdering the deejays?
That was not a lesson one would forget. Years later,
when I owned a station that gave away a car, whether or not it was
kosher, we divided the 93 keys into four piles. We knew which pile
harbored the winning key. (Who says radio guys arenít slick?) Then we
made certain that the group who selected a key from that pile was
lined up last. Then we had each winner try his key.