Cabbage Patch dolls and Compact Discs were introduced in 1983, the year Magic 98 in Madison, Wisconsin debuted with morning man, Pat O’Neill. He’s still on the air at Magic and during that more than thirty year span he has said an estimated 12,600 times, “Be the ninth caller.” Contests are an important part of any successful station’s format, and Pat has run a lot of them. What triggers listeners to dive for their phone and call? It could be a trivia question, or as simple as a snippet from a song, or a three-second clarinet riff. The dilemma for the listener is how to dodge the insidious busy signal, and get through without hearing the dreaded, “sorry, you’re the eighth caller.” In today’s world of cell phones and speed dial, it is seems nearly impossible to get through, or be able to trick the system.
But, back in the day of dial phones there was one listener who figured out how to get a jump on the others. Paul the Baker, a jovial, raspy voiced kibitzer who operated a bakery in Cross Plains, Wisconsin, a small town near of Madison, drove Pat O’Neill crazy, winning contest after contest. Finally, upon meeting Paul at a station event, Pat asked Paul how he managed to win so often. It seems Paul kept his telephone placed conveniently next to his rolling-pin, and would dial all but the last digit of the station’s contest number and then stick a piece of chalk in the dial to hold it in place. As soon as he wanted to call, he would reach over with powdery fingers and deftly remove the chalk allowing the dial to finish its spin. This did not work every time, because it did not insure him being the ninth caller. But, it did insure him getting through far more times than other listeners. After Paul had won a baker’s dozen trips, about a hundred record albums, and front row seats to sixteen concerts, Pat installed a rule that a listener could only win one time per month. That’s when the members of Paul’s family and his friends started calling in and winning. I wonder what their secret was?
Originally published 12/4/2015 as “Secret to Being the Ninth Caller.”