Bonus Rodeo: Old Time Radio

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

October 21, 2018

Waves surged relentlessly against the craggy rocks of Eagle Harbor where I went to write for a few days as a guest of Keweenaw historian, Barb Koski. It was mid-October, and the gales of November had come even earlier than when the Edmond’s Fitzgerald went down. Barb’s expertise in maritime history focuses on the heroics of the surfmen — those who went out into the wind-driven swells in small boats to rescue the crews of large ships.

Like Barb, many who live, work or attend secondary education on the Keweenaw Peninsula fall in love with the area’s natural beauty and endless outdoor activities. Barb showed me many natural wonders and historic structures during our getaway. If you spend any time outdoors on the Keweenaw, you can’t escape the area’s bold history of industrial copper mining.

In 1885, Michigan Tech University founded Michigan Mining School. From 1886 to 1889 the Houghton Firehall shared space with the new school and its four instructors tasked with training future mining engineers. The firehall, formally known as the Continental Fire Company, operated from 1883 to 1974 in a stately brick building of three floors plus bell tower. The company kept its horses in the basement, its engines on the main floor, and offices (and hayloft) on the third floor, which it shared with Michigan Mining School for a time.

The current owners of the Continental Fire Company embrace the civic history of the building while operating a bar, lounge, and event venue. The interior design includes original brick and beam structure with nods to mining and firefighting. Larger-than-life historic photographs include hard-rock miners and snippets from documents that once governed the firehall (such as the admonishment that there shall be no spirituous liquors in the hall). Funnily enough, the modern CFCo serves plenty of fine spirituous liquors and caters to the entertainment of university students.

What would a 1880s fireman think of the food and excellent local brew served where he once parked fire engines?

What if one of the earliest professors met for lunch with a modern professor, what would they discuss?

From firehoses hung to dry in the bell-tower to horses kept in the basement, how does a past perspective color a present one?

In the Keweenaw, Houghton, Michigan is our center of livelihood, home, and culture. We are never too distant from our history and geology. We can always go hear the waves of Superior surge, then go clubbing later at the Continental. We are made up of many threads that weave the tapestry of our region built on copper, colleges, and curiosity.

Let’s go back to sound and talk old time radio for a moment. When I stayed in the lightkeeper’s cottage with Barb, we fiddled with the old radio and tried to get the phonograph to work (alas, its needle went missing). We listened to the radio which never covered the sound of surf. I imagined the lightkeeper’s family or that of a surfman on blustery fall nights. Did they listen to the radio? Did they listen to music, talk shows, and old-time advertising?

That’s what this Bonus Rodeo event is all about — imagining the confluence of history and today through the sounds of a radio spot. It all focuses on the current Continental Fire Company with playful connections to its past.

An important note before we continue: this contest is sponsored by the Continental Fire Company to develop three radio ad spots. The stories (and their reductions) will belong to the Continental Fire Company. If you do not like the idea of giving copyright to your creative work to a business for them to use in development of advertising, then please do not enter this contest.

All three winners will be awarded a $25 cash prize. Winners can post their stories on their blog, in a book of their own writing, and here in the published compilation with copyright acknowledgment (include the statement, “Winning entry belongs to the Continental Fire Company for development of advertising”). Local producers will further develop winning entries into radio spots, and winning authors will be included in the creative acknowledgments.


  1. Each entry will include three scripts: 99 words, 59 words, and 9 words (all untitled).
  2. Each script includes dialog. Use [brackets] to denote any character speaking (such as narrator, professor, miner, fireman, man, woman, dog, horse, boy, girl, etc.).
  3. Also place in [brackets] any additional sounds (such as clanging of firebell, fiddle music, crackling fire, professor’s cough, etc.).
  4. Combine the history of the Continental with what it offers today. (Remember, it’s a radio spot to advertise the modern Continental Fire Company).
  5. Use for accurate word count but remember to SUBTRACT any words in [brackets].
  6. Be creative, but also be clear. See examples of radio ads and scripts here and here.
  7. Entries are due by 11:59 p.m. (EST) on November 7, 2018. Winners & radio spots announced Dec. 21, 2018.

Do you recognize elements of TUFF (The Ultimate Flash Fiction)? That’s because TUFF works in many ways. For radio, a 99-word script plus intro and ending that relates to the advertiser is a one-minute spot. A 59-word script is a 30-second spot, and a 9-word script is a 15-second spot. In advertising, these are typical lengths that the advertiser purchases. They should all be about one story, not three separate stories. TUFF reduces a single story. Radio spots do the same thing from a story to a snippet to a memorable tagline.

The Continental Fire Company and their radio representative will judge the contest. They are looking for fun spots to playfully capture the historical spirit of their gastropub. Winning entries become their creative property to develop into a professional ad campaign over the local radio waves. Winning authors receive $25 cash and creative acknowledgment.

Be sure to check out the Continental Fire Company and get a feel for their business and include what they offer. For historical facts and story ideas, here are some resources:

Thank you for entering! The contest is now closed. Winners announced November 23, 2018, at Carrot Ranch.

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  1. Peregrine Arc

    What a neat idea, Charli!

    • Charli Mills

      It was fun to work out with the Continental and show how TUFF has many applications for writing!

  2. Becky Ross Michael

    I’m green with envy; love the Eagle Harbor area!

    • Charli Mills

      It was blustery! Such a beautiful area and I bought treats from the Jam Pot before the monks closed for winter. Pretty much the Keweenaw has rolled up the sidewalks until next spring. We await the snow.

      • Becky Ross Michael

        Oh, my gosh! I LOVE the muffins from the Jam Pot. We used to stop there on our way to the beach at Sand Bay. The very last time that I was out that way was about this time of the year, and it did snow a bit:)

      • Charli Mills

        Their muffins are heavenly! I brought one home, and it is gone. So much to explore and savor on the Keweenaw.

  3. Norah

    What a fun contest, and how generous of the Continental Fire Company. I hope they get lots of entries that set them on fire!

    • Charli Mills

      Ha, ha! Yes, let’s set them on fire! Bring on the entries!

      • Norah

        Yay! I hope they get some good ones.

  4. Norah

    Reblogged this on Norah Colvin and commented:
    Fancy yourself as an advertiser? Now’s your chance to try it out for free with a Bonus Contest at the Carrot Ranch for the Continental Fire Company. There are prizes for the three best entries. Time to get those fires lit!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, Norah!

      • Norah

        My pleasure, Charli.

  5. calmkate

    Great idea Charli am sure many will join in but I wont be part of promoting alcohol, causes too much damage 🙁

    • Charli Mills

      Kate, I appreciate that you stick to your principles.

      • calmkate

        lol not got many but I know how many hundreds of thousands they pay for advertising so $25 is a pittance … the history of the building is impressive but they can afford a lot more than that …

      • Charli Mills

        They are sponsors of the entire Rodeo, not just the three prizes offered in this one event. Their generosity helps keep the contests and activities here free to all writers.

  6. Jules

    We’ll see if I can’t get into the ‘spirit’ of this contest 🙂

    • Charli Mills

      I’m hoping you will, Jules!

  7. Colleen Chesebro

    WOW! I’ll have to give this a go. Talk about stretching your wings! 😀

    • Charli Mills

      Stretch your wings and fly, Colleen!

  8. dgkaye

    Wow, sounds like fun! I’m just amazed that I hopped on to 2 Rodeo challenges so far and looking forward to Norah’s Fairytale one. Hey, I can only stretch myself so far, lol. 🙂 x

    • Charli Mills

      I was amazed, too, Debby! I know how busy you are and I’m so glad you’ve taken time to play. 🙂

      • dgkaye

        I’m thrilled to be part Charli. 😉

      • Charli Mills

        It’s fun having you ride/write along! <3

  9. Ritu

    Sounds like such fun! Though I may have to sit this one out… feel a bit unprepared!

    • Charli Mills

      This one offers extra time…and you’ve had lots of TUFF practice! 😉

      • Ritu

        I’m still thinking!!

      • Charli Mills

        It’ll come to you!

  10. robbiesinspiration

    This is a great idea, Charli

    • Charli Mills

      I hope you’ll enter, Robbie. After all, you are now a published author of creative historical writing!

  11. Sherri Matthews

    What a great sponsor, historical building and fantastic contest. Sadly, I won’t be able to swing this one…but good luck to all who do, and I love your example, Charli! <3

  12. denmaniacs4

    Hi Charli, Even though I have never eaten there and figure I’ll be an advertising bust, I am going to give this one a shot. I wanted to double check what qualifies as 99 words , 59 words etc. So, my principal question is…are the words in brackets part of the word total?

    • denmaniacs4

      Hi Charli…By the process of elimination…that is, eliminating the words you put in brackets in your take…I got smart…

    • Charli Mills

      It’s a bit tricky, Bill but you figured it correctly. The dialog counts for words, the direction or speaker does not. Hope you give it a shot!

  13. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:
    From rodeo to to radio, for a good olde tyme go to Carrot Ranch. The contests are never easy but always free.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for sharing, D.!

      • NativeGifts

        I have gratefully seen the challenge and wanted to accept, however till i get caught up on my works, including new employment issues, i have to wait. Till then , your challenges are worth the work.

  14. robertawrites235681907

    Hi Charli, I have squeaked in with this one. I wasn’t to sure about writing this and have done my best. Please confirm you have received it as for one of my entries I never go an email.

    • Charli Mills

      You squeaked in a good one, Robbie! Thank you!


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