Every small town has its pride. For many Wisconsin towns, a yearly summer gathering involving flowing beer and local food specialties is the tradition. Still others take pride in nationally ranked sports teams or locally grown superstars. Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is known worldwide for the craziest, most nerdy, unique, and challenging tradition there is: Trivia.
This Trivia event began in 1974 at 90FM. Since its start, the contest has expanded from a mere 8 hours to its current 3-day (54 hour) bender. Trivia co-author Jim Oliva (“The Oz” to anyone associated with the games) said that around 400 teams register every year.
“We’re talking 12,000 people,” he said. With a city population of a little over 25,000 that means nearly half the town participates in Trivia. While this does not account for all those trivia geeks returning from out of town, the number is still staggering. It’s so huge, in fact, that Alex Trebek spoke the words “Stevens Point, Wisconsin” in an episode of Jeopardy. The question referred to Trivia and was, ironically, left unanswered.
A Solid Tradition
Overall, Trivia is a well-rooted tradition in Stevens Point. You know there’s something special at play here when all 50 states have representatives in town for the weekend.
“People get excited about Trivia because it is like an extra holiday. It’s a time when people gather with their family and when they see old friends that they only get to meet up with once a year,” Scheffen said.
“I give boat tours in Wisconsin Dells and it’s amazing how many people know about the campus-run radio station in Stevens Point, and its usually because they have played the contest. It’s a good opportunity to be a part of something so massive,” Scheffen said.
So What is It?
According to the Oz himself, Trivia is “answering questions about useless stuff.” But don’t let the description fool you. Trivia is anything but tortuous, monotonous boredom.
“This one is different because it’s a media contest,” The Oz said. “We focus on books, records, TV, movies, that kind of thing.” Participants, especially those who are part of Trivia’s most successful teams, spend the entire year sifting through movies, books, and other pieces of media.
“Teams can involve as many people as you want,” The Oz said. When asked if teams rotate players often throughout the contest, he didn’t hesitate. “Well of course,” he said with a smirk. “It’s a 54-hour contest.”
For regular questions, teams with the correct answer receive their share of 2,000 points, but are limited to a minimum of 5 points and a maximum of 500. If only one team answers it correctly, a question is worth 500 points, two correct teams each get 400, and three get 335 each. For the Trivia Stone, players are issued stamps for finding stone clues. Three stamps are worth 300 points, two stamps are worth 150, and one is worth 50 points.
The team with the most points by the wee hours of Monday morning wins. Three large trophies are given out to the top three teams, and smaller trophies are awarded to the rest of the top ten. For 16 of the last 43 years, the team known as “Network” has won. Each year is a contest amongst all other teams, not only to win but also to beat Network.
With 430 questions to be asked over a 54-hour period, Oz and the gang have a lot of work to do to prepare for Trivia weekend. Everything from questions to news must be created and gathered, and people to answer phones must be scheduled.
Dana Scheffen, 90FM DJ and News Director, has been involved with Trivia for four years. Her job has her going crazy the week before the contest. “I have been looking for offbeat news stories all semester (that’s what we start almost every hour of the contest off with),” she said. “I have also been training my news team and they have all been preparing for reading live news all semester.”
Scheffen says maintaining 90FM staff and volunteer enthusiasm is key for Trivia’s success.
“One thing that we are sure to spread to the volunteers in the station while training is enthusiasm for the contest. The players have been awake for the entire weekend and we want to keep the contest as exciting and interesting to listen to as possible,” Scheffen said.
The questions aren’t just Googled, either. “John Eckendorf and I write the questions,” The Oz said. “Every Saturday and Sunday since January.” Movies are scanned for details, some as small as the particular brand of milk sitting at the table in a classic movie. Books, candy wrappers, old pieces of literature, and radio commentary are among the endless list of possible subjects for questions.
The Trivia Parade starts at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, snaking around the UWSP campus and distributing candy to onlookers. Soon after that, at 6 p.m. sharp, Trivia teams congregate in their workspaces for the start of Trivia. Registration is held at WWSP 90FM and goes until kickoff. Teams can be any number of people, and the same $30 registration fee applies to each team as a whole. 90FM staff members and volunteers sell merchandise, dj, and answer phones all weekend long.