A STORY TODAY IN THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE about my twin brother and I "somehow" winning all these radio contests when we were young.
Column: A serial winner of radio call-in contests reveals his secret. Eliot Stein, with his dog, Ringo, now lives in Oregon. As a teen in Coronado, he was a frequent radio contest winner.
Eliot Stein confesses that luck wasn’t the only reason he and his brother, Neil, won prize after prize on KGB, KCBQ and other Top 40 radio phone sweepstakes 50 years ago.
BY DIANE BELL COLUMNIST
MAY 13, 2023 5:39 AM PT
For decades, Eliot Stein has kept mum about something that bewildered San Diego fans of Top 40 radio music in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
He and his twin brother, Neil, had the uncanny “luck” of winning call-in radio contests, primarily on KGB and KCBQ AM stations and KSEA FM from 1967 to 1976.
The names Eliot and Neil Stein, of Coronado, came up so frequently on the airwaves that their friends teased them about it.
Eliot, now 70, says his brother, who died in 2016, had kept track of their contest wins and logged more than 500 entries during that decade.
They won a motorcycle, a 10-speed Schwinn bicycle, scuba diving gear, clothing, concert tickets to the Beach Boys, Doors, Elvis, Fleetwood Mac, Grateful Dead, Moody Blues and Rolling Stones, to mention a few.
Neil won $1,000 and they raked in multiple smaller cash awards. They also won hundreds of albums, records, free dinners at restaurants, tickets to attractions such as SeaWorld, Belmont Park and the Zoo, gift certificates and a truckload of merchandise.
Each station had a dedicated contest phone line, and Eliot remembers deejays directing callers to the contest hotline number, often instructing: “The first caller wins.”
The boys had moved to Coronado in 1967. Their dad was a civilian working for the Navy. It was two years before the Coronado bridge was built, and they took the ferry back and forth from San Diego. “We were really poor back then,” Eliot recalls.
“My brother and I had no money, so the contests were our chance to win albums and tickets and see major performers.”
Neil Stein, l, and his twin brother Eliot, r, graduated from Coronado High School in 1970. They had a reputation for winning.
How could these same two guys be winning time and time again? The radio folks were perplexed. In fact, Eliot recalls Charlie Van Dyke, then KGB program director and deejay, questioning him when Eliot arrived at the station to collect the motorcycle he had won.
“There is something fishy about you and your brother always getting through during these contests,” Van Dyke told him.
Eliot gave his stock answer: “I guess we’re just lucky.”
But they weren’t just lucky. The boys had a secret. It was something the 14-year-old twins stumbled upon by accident shortly after their family moved to Coronado.
Like hundreds of others, they had phoned in to claim the giveaway deals that deejays offered to keep listeners tuned in. Initially, they were greeted by a persistent busy signal.
Purely by luck, Eliot stumbled on a way to manipulate the system. “I haven’t told anybody about this for all these years,” he told me.
Eliot turned 70 in January, and he decided it was time to spill the beans. “This will resonate with every Baby Boomer who grew up in San Diego.”
Their secret was simple and didn’t involve tampering or illegal activity.
The boys merely stopped mid-call — not dialing the final two digits of the contest phone number.
For some strange reason, the way the phone system operated in Coronado back then, an incomplete call tied up the line so others couldn’t get through.
Instead of hearing a recording: “Your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check your number and dial again,” their telephone line simply went silent. “It was just suspended in time waiting for the last two numbers. It did not hang up on me,” Eliot says.
When he dialed the final two numbers, the call went through.
“At first I thought it was a fluke,” he says. But he and his brother did it again and the same thing happened. “We essentially were tying up the whole phone system for that number by not dialing those last two numbers.”
So, when a deejay announced that a giveaway was imminent, they dialed the first five numbers (no area code was needed back then) and waited for the contest to start, then finished dialing. They did this on both phone lines in their house so they had two chances.
Eliot later learned that Coronado’s phone system used outdated technology. Their scheme succeeded until 1976 when the phone service there was modernized. By then, though, the Stein brothers had their college degrees and were on to other things.
Eliot moved to Los Angeles and created “showbiz going online.” It was a Hollywood reporting service with celebrity interviews and reviews for use by CompuServe, the first major commercial online provider. The showbiz service was later offered by AOL, which teamed up with CompuServe.
Neil went on to become an IRS agent.
“I can confirm that Eliot and his brother, Neil, won a lot of stuff from us,” says Gene Knight, who was a deejay at KSEA-FM, KCBQ and B 100 in the early ‘70s. “They were regular contest winners.”
“For some reason, Coronado phone numbers got into our contest easier,” Knight explained, adding that callers from Alpine also were frequent winners.
Shotgun Tom Kelly, who deejayed at KGB, then moved to KCBQ years ago, likewise, remembers the Stein brothers as frequent contest winners. “They were smart kids and knew how to game the system. It was just amazing how they used to win.
“Another regular winner back then was Joe Renzi,” recalls Kelly, who now broadcasts on Sirius XM from 4-9 p.m. (PT) weekdays. Renzi was blind and didn’t call in on a rotary dial. Instead, he tapped on a receiver Morse Code-style that seemed to transmit the signal faster, Kelly notes.
Eliot says he is sharing his secret now because he thinks it’s of interest to aging Baby Boomers who have memories of listening to the local Top 40 stations and participating in many of those phone contests. The contest mystery is solved.