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Monday, October 14, 2002


B. C. Stangl


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 tie-dyed brood.

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.