There was once a time when a radio giveaway could shut down the entire phone system in the Hudson Valley.

Back in the 1970s, WPDH held a radio contest that was very popular with listeners but generated a not-so-happy response from the telephone company. The year was 1978. WPDH was just two years old, but the fledgling rock and roll radio station had already grown a loyal fan base.

On May 15 of that year, WPDH held a contest to give away a hi-fi radio. The system would allow the winner to hear their favorite radio station in state-of-the-art stereo sound. As it turned out, the contest was very popular. In fact, so many calls came flooding in from people hoping to win that it completely fried all of the phones in several Hudson Valley communities.

Back in those days, technology was very different. Antiquated, copper cables carried calls from home to home through the Bell Telephone system. Today we have fiber optics, computers and high technology that has no problem handling large volumes of phone calls. But in 1978, a flood of calls could literally shut down the entire network for hours.

Not amused, the New York Telephone company sent a letter to the WPDH engineers, chastising them for the contest. They wrote,

Contests can be fun - but the one that WPDH ran recently was almost disasterous for telephone users in our area. On the evening of May 15, between the hours of 6:00pm and 8:00pm the Central Offices in New Paltz, Fishkill and Beacon were jammed with calls to the 471 exchange in Poughkeepsie. This may have indicated a successful contest for you, but it was not fair to the telephone subscribers who wished to place other calls, perhaps even an emergency call.

The letter went on to request advance notice of future contests that might cause any issues. Unfortunately, incidents like this would continue to happen for several years until the Bell Telephone Company was finally broken up and networks in our area were improved and expanded. Former program director, Bill Palmeri, remembers another contest for Frank Sinatra tickets that knocked out even more phone exchanges throughout the entire listening area.

Facebook/Roy Rutanen
Facebook/Roy Rutanen

Today there are many more people living in the Hudson Valley and WPDH has gained tens of thousands of more listeners then they had four decades ago. But luckily, phone companies have figured out ways to keep your calls coming in. So the next time you hear a contest over the airwaves don't be afraid to pick up your phone and give your favorite radio station a call. The worst thing that can happen is that you'll get a busy signal.

Listen to the Boris & Robyn Show weekday mornings from 6AM to 10AM on 101.5 WPDH. Stream us live through the website, Alexa-enabled device, Google Home or the WPDH mobile app.

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