Imagine the scenario: You’re driving down Central Expressway, late for work. For once, traffic is moving smoothly, and you think that just may be-without any hitches-you’ll get to work on time. Then you hear a loud thud in your engine, and your car just stops-right there in the center southbound lane of one of the busiest thorough-fares in Texas. The cars behind you screech to a halt. In your rear-view mirror, you see a large traffic jam forming behind you. People begin to honk their horns-at you.
But then, seemingly from heaven, a van appears on the shoulder of the road beside your car. The driver jumps out, helps you maneuver your car to the shoulder and looks under the hood. He discovers the problem, drives you to the nearest service station, and within minutes your car is back on the road.
Sounds like the work of an Auto Angel.
No, it’s not a dream. Auto Angels are real-or at least they will be as of this month. Two local radio stations and several local car dealers (rumored to be the Ford dealers of Dallas and Tarrant Counties) are teaming up to provide about 20 vans that will cruise major thoroughfares in the Metroplex during peak traffic hours to help people who have car trouble. Each van will be equipped with two-way radios and an array of auto parts.
The idea for Auto Angels was conceived in Seattle when William Steding, now chief executive officer of Dallas’ KAAM and KAFM radio stations, was working at radio station KIRO there. He and two co-workers came up with the idea, but they never worked out the details because traffic isn’t a critical problem in Seattle. But when Steding moved to Dallas, the idea became feasible. Very feasible.
To make the public aware of the project, the sponsoring radio stations are offering $150,000 in cash prizes during the first 10 weeks that the Auto Angels are on the road. Bumper stickers distributed by two area newspapers will be the key to winning: Auto Angel drivers will look for cars with the stickers, and the winning license numbers will be announced on the radio stations.
Besides being a welcome community service, Auto Angels is also an ingenious marketing scheme. Other radio stations in the city have sponsored trip, cash and other prize give-aways, but Steding, the young-est station manager in the coun-try (he’s 26), says that this give-away is different. He believes that the combination of community service and prizes is a winner, and he’s taken steps to make sure that Auto Angels won’t become just another gimmick: Each sponsoring partner must pledge to stay with the project for at least three years so no organization can take the publicity and run.