Radio Station Burns $5,000 Cash in Publicity Stunt

Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff

A popular radio station in Canada is under fire — pun intended — for reducing $5,000 in cash to a pile of ashes on Friday as part of a publicity stunt. The contest, “Bank It or Burn It,” run by 90.3 AMP Radio in Calgary, asked listeners to weigh in through social media on whether the stacks of bills should go to a lucky listener or be set on fire. Morning cohosts Katie Summers and Ryan Lindsay say they were left with no choice but to follow through when 54 percent responded with the hashtag “#BURN” via text.

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“This city made a conscious decision, and we had to stick with what they said because that's what we said we were going to do,” Lindsay tells CTV News. On the air Monday morning, he scoffed at critics who say the money should have been donated to a charity, saying they wouldn’t have donated the cash anyway had they won it. “So many spend so much time b----ing and complaining, instead of voting,” he said, “that this is the outcome.”

The contest continues this week for a second and final round, this time with $10,000 on the line. But if the outcry so far is any indication, this vote to be announced on Friday could go much differently.

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“I just wanted to let you know that you guys make me sick,” one call-in listener declared on Monday, echoing the sentiment that had been building throughout the weekend. On Facebook, hundreds of commenters have weighed in, many expressing anger. “Disgrace. Absolute…disgrace, this makes me embarrassed to live in this city,” wrote one critic. “I hope AMP literally burns for this. Words can't explain my disgust.” Another took Lindsay’s explanation to task, noting, “Calgary voted?? Sorry that’s not an argument considering the contest shouldn't have existed in the first place. AMP's fault.” A slew of tweets say the burning of the bucks was “stupid,” “dumb” and “selfish,” with some calling for station boycotts and attempting to divert public focus to various charities that are hard up for donations right now.

Still, Lindsay notes that the outcome here — publicity — has been achieved, and that the station-provided $5,000 was a drop in the bucket compared with what other stations spend on marketing. It’s a sentiment that at least one commenter on the AMP website agrees with. “People who don't understand marketing are who is upset here,” he writes. “This was brilliant, and look at the NATIONAL coverage they are getting. You'd never be able to get this kind of coverage for $5,000. It's Marketing 101, folks.”

As for those who have called the station out for breaking the law, a spokesperson from the nation’s central bank, the Bank of Canada, tells Yahoo Shine that the DJs are in the clear. “It is not illegal to write or make other markings on bank notes because neither the Bank of Canada Act nor the Criminal Code deals with mutilation or defacement of bank notes,” he says in an email. He adds, though, that the bank discourages such activities, as banknotes “are a symbol of our country and a source of national pride.”

This is not the first time AMP has pushed the envelope, Summers tells Yahoo Shine, explaining, “We want to appeal to a young, fun Calgary and entice them to be a part of something.” Recent controversial stunts have included one in which five couples temporarily swapped wives in exchange for prize money, awarded only after they met with divorce attorneys and agreed to split the winnings with their soon-to-be-exes. More recently, the station raised hackles by rounding up pairs of strangers on the street, marrying them on the air and sending them off to a Miley Cyrus concert.

But even Summers was “blindsided” when the “Bank It or Burn It” votes were tallied on Friday. “It was so depressing,” she says. “I’m not a robot. I mean, I have a mortgage and two rescue dogs who need dog food.” But Summers believes the stunt has had the positive effect of forcing people to talk and think about helping those in need when it might not have crossed their minds before. And she surmises that the “burn it” motivation for the 54 percent may have been to simply call the station’s bluff. “I think people didn’t think that we would really do it,” she says. Stay tuned to see what happens with the next round.

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