Stunting is a type of publicity stunt in radio broadcasting, where a station—abruptly and often without advance announcement—begins to air content that is seemingly uncharacteristic compared to what is normally played.

Stunting is typically used to generate publicity and audience attention for upcoming changes to a station's programming, such as new branding, format, or as a soft launch for a newly-established station. Occasionally, a stunt may be purely intended as publicity or a protest, and not actually result in a major programming change. Stunts often involve a loop of a single song, or an interim format (such as the discography of a specific artist, Christmas music, a specific theme, or novelty songs), which may sometimes include hints towards the station's new format or branding.

To a lesser extent, stunting has also been seen on television, most commonly in conjunction with April Fool's Day, or to emphasize a major programming event being held by a channel.

Types of radio stunting and noted examples

Continuous loop

A station may stunt by repeating the same song, playlist, or other content on a continuous loop:[1]

Temporary formats

Occasionally a station dropping an old format will stunt with a transitional format, either containing clues and previews relating to the new format (such as songs referencing its new branding, and artists who may be included in the eventual format), or having little to do with it. This can include songs based on specific themes (such as a single musician), or novelties that would not be viable as a permanent format. In some cases (sometimes referred to as a "wheel of formats"), a station may cycle between multiple formats during the stunt until the new, permanent format launches.[20][21]

Christmas music and other holiday formats

The popular practice of radio stations playing all-Christmas music during the lead-up to (and occasionally the week after) Christmas Day has sometimes been used as a transitional period between formats. Sometimes, Christmas music is used as a more blatant stunt format outside of the holiday season, in a similar spirit to ironic "Christmas in July" promotions.[38][39]

Other

On television

Cartoon Network has broadcast its share of stunts over the years, many on April Fools' Day. On April 1, 1997, the network aired a stunt where it had purportedly been taken over by Screwy Squirrel, and subsequently broadcast the Screwy Squirrel cartoon "Happy-Go-Nutty" for 12 hours straight.[58] Numerous complaints were received about this particular event, generally fielded by Cartoon Network's cable providers, who had been left in the dark about the stunt.[58] Later April Fools' Day stunts on Cartoon Network have included an 11 hour Cow and Chicken marathon in place of a scheduled Chowder marathon on April 1, 2009, and 14 hours of programming edited to have googly eyes on April 1, 2017.[59]

Cartoon Network's late-night block Adult Swim has held a number of their own April Fools' programming stunts, such as promoting a television premiere of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters before its theatrical release (but displaying it in a comically-small window over regularly-scheduled programming), airings of the Tommy Wiseau film The Room, episodes of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Rick and Morty redubbed by children ("Adult Swim Junior"),[60][61] and an airing of its anime block Toonami with programs in their original Japanese audio with subtitles (including an airing of Masaaki Yuasa's 2004 experimental film Mind Game).[62] The stunts have sometimes included unannounced previews and premieres of new and existing series, such as additional episodes of Perfect Hair Forever after its supposed series finale, the third season premiere of Rick and Morty, and an unannounced world premiere of the first episode of FLCL's third season before its second season had even premiered in the U.S. yet.[63][60][64][65]

For 35 days in early-1998, Birmingham, Alabama's CBS affiliate WBMG—which had recently been acquired by Media General—stunted during the usual timeslots of its local newscasts with a clock counting down to a major relaunch of the station (and its fledgling news department) on February 5.[66][67]

Nick Jr. Too, a sister to the British Nick Jr. channel, has occasionally aired long-term marathons of Peppa Pig, during which it has branded as "Nick Jr. Peppa".[68] In a similar manner, Sky Sports has also temporarily rebranded some of its channels to devote them specifically to certain major events, such as The Ashes series in cricket (Sky Sports Ashes),[69] the PDC World Darts Championship (Sky Sports Darts; in 2015, this used the Sky Sports F1 channel, since Formula One was in its off-season),[70][71] and golf's Open Championship (Sky Sports The Open).[72] In January 2019, Sky Sports Action was temporarily renamed "Sky Sports USA", with programming focusing on the National Basketball Association (coinciding with the playing of the NBA Global Games series in London), and the National Football League playoffs and Super Bowl LIII.[73][74]

At least three networks have used stunting-type events prior to their formal launches: G4, for example, aired a 7 day long game of Pong before its formal debut on April 24, 2002.[75] This stunt would later be referenced by the network in its final minute on air on December 31, 2014, as well as in the video announcing its 2021 return.[76][77] MLB Network aired a continuous loop of baseball highlights and promos as a "soft launch" in the weeks before its formal debut on January 1, 2009. Canada's Sun News Network employed an on-screen countdown clock graphic in the hours before its April 18, 2011, launch.[78]

Since 2017, one of ESPN's networks has stunted as "ESPN8" on or near August 8 (8/8), carrying a marathon of programming featuring obscure and unconventional sporting events and competitions, such as chess boxing, disc golf, dodgeball, esports, Highland games, kabaddi, lawn mower racing, mini-golf, and roller derby. The stunt pays tribute to a fictitious eighth ESPN network of the same name portrayed in the 2004 sports comedy film DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story (nicknamed "The Ocho", in reference to ESPN2 being nicknamed "The Deuce" on launch), which carries coverage of competitions that are "almost a sport". The stunt was originally held on ESPNU—a channel that normally carries college sports events during the academic year, but moved to ESPN2 beginning in 2018. DodgeBall has also been screened as part of this lineup since 2018.[79][80][81][82][83]

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