A lot of people were shocked when they heard the reason behind the cancellation of the “big” Bon Jovi concert scheduled for July 14 at the Cleveland Browns’ massive FirstEnergy Stadium: The band reportedly had sold a mere 3,500 tickets.
Those 3,500 people are no doubt disappointed, but none of them is more disappointed than Sarah Harkness of Ellet.
Shortly before the cancellation, Harkness had hit the radio equivalent of the lottery.
A loyal listener to WHBC (94.1-FM) in Canton, known as “Mix 94.1,” she won the station’s biggest prize of the season:
• Two VIP passes to the Bon Jovi show.
• A limo ride to and from the stadium.
• Dinner for two.
• Hotel accommodations for two.
• A promise that she could “raid the Bon Jovi merchandise booth.”
• Two Cleveland Browns jerseys.
After the concert was canceled, her prize turned into this:
“They wouldn’t even give me a bumper sticker, dude!” she says.
Harkness had assumed she would get a decent alternate prize, given the contest rules posted on the station’s website, which say the station has the right to substitute prizes “of equal or greater value.”
But the best the station would do for her was to waive the normal requirement that contest winners have to wait 30 days to enter another contest. In other words, she would be thrown right back into the hopper with everyone else.
Are you kidding me?
Mind you, Harkness is not a casual listener. She has been riveted to WHBC since 1992. When asked how many times she called the station trying to win a prize, she replies: “Oh my God! At least a couple hundred, maybe more!
“I wake up early to listen to them every day.”
Or, rather, she did until she was stiffed on the contest. She says she hasn’t tuned in since.
This woman is a program director’s dream: loyal, active and, as a 37-year-old female, right in the heart of a cherished advertising demographic.
Is this any way to treat a superfan?
John Stewart, the station’s program director and operations manager, initially said the matter was completely out of his hands.
“How am I going to create a show?” he said Wednesday.
Obviously, it’s not your fault the show was canceled, but she was told she wasn’t going to get anything. Is that fair?
“Well, OK, then I have another 30 or 40 people I also gave tickets to,” he responded. “I can’t create something. It wasn’t any fault of my own.”
But it wasn’t Harkness’ fault, either, and the contest rules on your website say that WHBC reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value. Going back into the contest hopper doesn’t exactly match up.
At that point in the conversation, Stewart said he would take the matter under advisement and get back to me. As of Friday, he had not, despite a second call from me.
WHBC-FM, which programs a format known in the business as “hot adult contemporary,” is owned by NextMedia of Englewood, Colo. The company has 29 radio stations in eight states.
If Harkness was heartbroken, WHBC wasn’t exactly doing somersaults, either.
“We ran promos for better than two weeks, and we ran their advertising,” Stewart said.
Although ticket sales were downright pitiful, the show’s promoters should at least have foreseen major sluggishness. For starters, Bon Jovi had just packed Quicken Loans Arena in March. In addition, one of the band’s key members, Richie Sambora, is not part of this tour (because of unspecified “personal reasons”).
But Harkness has never seen Bon Jovi in any form, and she was pumped to accompany her husband and receive the royal treatment.
Oddly, as of Friday, her name was still posted on the station’s website as the “Have a Nice Day Grand Prize Winner.”
What would she settle for as a replacement?
“I’m not trying to be greedy,” she says. “I’m a giver, not a taker. I really don’t know. It was just so sad.
“I went from hero to zero.”
Other WHBC listeners were flummoxed as well. Although Harkness won the big prize, about three dozen others won regular Bon Jovi tickets. One of them, Vanessa Marie Wentzel, posted the following on the station’s Facebook page on Monday:
“I won tickets Friday to the Bon Jovi concert that has been canceled. Are you replacing prize winnings with anything else? What happens now?”
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.