Ex­plod­ing Maple Trees? Aw, What Saps We Are.

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts - Marc Fisher

I n 1940, in Philadel­phia, a PR man at the Franklin In­sti­tute put out a press re­lease an­nounc­ing that the world would end the next day, April 1. When ra­dio sta­tion KYW re­ported the news, help­fully in­clud­ing the ex­act time at which all life would cease — 3 p.m. — the au­thor­i­ties were be­sieged with calls from pan­icked lis­ten­ers.

The panic didn’t ease un­til the in­sti­tute an­nounced that its press agent had put out the re­lease in a mis­guided ef­fort to pub­li­cize a lec­ture ti­tled “How Will the World End?” The in­sti­tute sacked its PR man, but the tra­di­tion of April Fools’ pranks on the ra­dio was just start­ing.

News­pa­pers and television tend to steer clear of April Fools’ sto­ries, fear­ful of un­der­min­ing their cred­i­bil­ity or cre­at­ing mass alarm. But ra­dio sta­tions have long charged ahead with pranks de­light­ful and dan­ger­ous.

Ra­dio pranks, many of which are cat­a­logued at the on­line Mu­seum of Hoaxes ( www.mu­se­u­mofhoaxes.com), fall into a hand­ful of cat­e­gories. K Im­pend­ing dis­as­ter: In 1949, in New Zealand, a dee­jay for sta­tion 1ZB an­nounced that a mile-wide swarm of wasps was headed to­ward Auck­land, but said lis­ten­ers could pro­tect them­selves by putting their socks over their pants and plac­ing honey-smeared traps out­side their front doors. Hun­dreds of lis­ten­ers fol­lowed the di­rec­tions be­fore dis­cov­er­ing they’d been punk’d.

Sim­i­larly, in 1986, a dee­jay at WHJY in Prov­i­dence, R.I., told lis­ten­ers that the city’s La­bor Ac­tion Re­la­tions Board Com­mit­tee had de­cided to close the city for the day. For more in­for­ma­tion, the dee­jay said, lis­ten­ers could call a num­ber, which just hap­pened to be that of a ri­val sta­tion, which was swamped.

But when dee­jays at KSJJ in Bend, Ore., an­nounced in 1999 that the Ochoco Dam had burst, the me­mory of hun­dreds of houses

PHOTO IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY THE WASH­ING­TON POST

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