by Dale Yelich
Back in 1965 Milwaukee, the radio stations were mostly AM pop stations, certainly before FM became the norm, and these AM stations all had their own variation of a radio instant jackpot contest.
You all remember those, don't you? A Disc Jockey, or DJ as they were known, would call up a house or any home at random, then they would ask if the person who answered the phone knew the correct amount of the jackpot. The only way to find out the right figure was to have been listening to that particular radio station, since every 10 minutes or so, the DJ would broadcast the figure on the air.
If they called and you knew the correct amount, you would win! And although generally the dollars won would be considered paltry by todays standards, winning a few hundred bucks was still a nice little gimmick to make sure everyone listened to a particular radio station.
Virtually every AM radio station jumped on the instant jackpot contest bandwagon, each featuring one of their own. Although, there were several different types of instant winner contests out there, the bottom line was that if you didn't listen, you weren't going to win. In my family, there were two distinct listening preferences going on. My parents liked a little bit more of the easy listening type of music, and my sisters and I liked the pop rock and roll stuff. So, almost always, there were two different radio stations going at once, one for the kids and one for the adults.
One day my buddy, Ed, and I were playing Monopoly in my bedroom, laying on the floor, and of course, we had the radio blasting more for noise than anything else. As the hits kept spinning on the radio, we kept right on playing, throwing the dice, shooting the breeze and singing to the good songs that came on the air.
As usual and something like once per hour, the station went into their canned announcement of the instant jackpot game, how much money was in the 'pot' and what you had to do to win. This particular station that we were listening too had a gimmick that was a bit different from the rest, and it made for an interesting time ahead.
They would literally send along a remote transmitter in a car, park in front of someone's house, and give them the amount of time, in minutes, that their call sign frequency was, to come out and collect the jackpot.
If their frequency was 92.3 on the radio dial, then someone would have 9 minutes and 23 seconds to come out of their house and claim the jackpot. The DJ's in the car would present you with a check for that amount, you would have your picture taken for the paper, and then say, I listen to radio station 92.3, and I'm an INSTANT WINNER! In your neighborhood, you would become an instant celebrity!
So, as my buddy and I are playing Monopoly, the standard message for the jackpot comes over the airwaves, and, of course, being kids and all that, we pay it virtually no mind at all. The main transmitter switches over to the remote broadcast and the DJ says, "We are sitting here out in front of 4922 West Howard Avenue, and if anyone is listening inside, you now have 9 minutes and 23 seconds to come out and be an instant winner."
Ed and I both hear this, but we aren't really listening, so we keep playing, as the station plays another song during the interim. After that next song has been played, once again the remote broadcaster says, "We are still sitting here outside of 4922 West Howard Avenue waiting for anyone inside to come out and be an instant winner. There are about 4 minutes left to go, our jackpot is up to $498.00, and it can be all yours if you come out and claim it, right now!"
I roll the dice once again and suddenly my buddy says, "Hey, what street do you live on?" because it's one of those things that you know where all your buddies live, but you don't know any of the names of their streets.
I look at him and say, "I live on Howard Avenue, why?" and he responds, "I think I just heard something about that on the radio" but I look at him and shrug my shoulders and say, "Why would anyone on the radio be interested in Howard Avenue?"
At that exact moment, someone starts banging, HARD, on the back door, and my mom, who is in the kitchen with a radio turned on but tuned to a different station than I have on, goes to answer the door. From my bedroom I hear one of my friends yelling, "They're out there, they're out there!" and an instant later my mom yells my name.
"Dale" she yells loudly "Donny is at the door and something is wrong!" but I have already heard him yelling from my room about someone being 'out there' so I come running in a flash. No sooner do I get into the kitchen where Donny is, Ed, starts yelling from my bedroom.
"They're out there!! They're out there!" Ed is hollering, repeating Donny's exact words, as he comes running down the hallway into the kitchen. "It's the instant winner jackpot, I just heard it in the radio" he screams, "And they're out there right in front of your house!"
A look of horror crosses my face as I haul butt through our home to the front door, with my mom, Ed, and Donny all following along. And just as I open up the door, I see the car, it's the instant winning jackpot car, and it's LEAVING!!! I take off sprinting down the road screaming 'WAIT, WAIT!!" but to no avail, as my 9 minutes and 23 seconds of time to claim the prize had expired, and I watch helplessly as the car fades off into the distance while my heart sinks, knowing that the fame and fortune of being the next instant winner, is not going to be me.
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