Exploding Maple Trees? Aw, What Saps We Are.
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