An on-air radio stunt may cost Cumulus Media Inc. over $100,000 after a Kentucky woman recently sued the company when she was given a "100 Grand" candy bar instead of $100,000 for winning a radio station contest. In her complaint, Norreasha Gill claims that DJ Slick on WLTO-FM (Hot 102) (owned by Cumulus) announced a contest in which the station would give "100 Grand" to the tenth caller. Gill was the tenth caller, but was later informed that the contest was a joke and that a "100 Grand" candy bar, not cash, was the prize. Gill subsequently filed suit alleging breach of contract, and is seeking the $100,000 prize and punitive damages.
Gill v. Cumulus Media, Inc. underscores the need for broadcasters to use care and discretion when promoting radio contests. FCC regulations prohibit false, misleading or deceptive descriptions of contests. Broadcasters are required to explain the extent, nature and value of prizes offered, and it is the duty of the licensee to ensure that a radio contest description does not mislead the average listener. A broadcaster's failure to perform its duties may result in liability.
"Joke" prizes, similar to that in the Gill case, are a form of misleading contest promotion. In promoting contests, a broadcaster must consider what is implied by the promotional language it uses; it cannot mislead potential contest participants. For example: if a radio station promotes a contest in which the winner will receive "the keys to a new car," the promotion implies that a new car will be part of the prize. If the winner received only the set of keys, the description of the contest would be misleading because the station failed to completely disclose the terms of the contest.
Cumulus is not the only company that has encountered legal troubles because of the language it used in contest promotion. A former employee of Hooters recently settled a lawsuit against the restaurant chain, after the restaurant gave her a "toy Yoda" doll (from the Star Wars films) instead of a "Toyota" she thought she had won after selling the most beer in an employee contest. After Jodee Berry won the regional promotion, she was blindfolded and taken to the restaurant's parking lot to receive her prize. When the blindfold was removed, she was face-to-face with a toy Yoda Star Wars doll instead of a Toyota automobile. She filed a lawsuit alleging breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation after she was told that the entire contest was a joke. Hooters ultimately agreed to pay for any Toyota Berry chose from a local dealership.
The broadcast of misleading or deceptive contest descriptions can subject a licensee to harsh penalties. The FCC has imposed hefty fines, and even revoked station licenses, after finding that stations had conducted misleading or deceptive contests. With a little care, however, these problems can be easily avoided.