News Flash! Be on the Alert! In­cred­i­ble Tales Spike in (Very) Early April!

The Washington Post Sunday - - Arts -

hav­ing been dam­aged a year ear­lier was too fresh: Pan­icked res­i­dents were al­ready get­ting ready to take flight when the sta­tion ad­mit­ted its re­port was a joke. K Fake deaths: In 1998, ra­dio bad boys Opie and An­thony — now heard on XM Satel­lite Ra­dio and on WJFK here — were based in Bos­ton, where they an­nounced that Mayor Thomas Menino had died in a car crash. Even some mem­bers of the mayor’s fam­ily be­lieved the story. The ra­dio duo were sus­pended with­out pay af­ter that one. K Curious crops and other agri­cul­tural odd­i­ties: Re­cently, Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio, which has de­vel­oped a con­sis­tently in­ven­tive tra­di­tion of April Fools’ sto­ries, pro­duced a per­sua­sive piece por­tray­ing the pas­sions and predilec­tions of pickle farm­ers. NPR also re­lied on na­ture’s bounty for a re­port by Robert Siegel on Ver­mont maple trees that were ex­plod­ing be­cause farm­ers didn’t re­lieve them of their syrup con­tent af­ter low-carb di­ets sup­pressed cus­tomer de­mand for the sweet stuff.

NPR pro­duc­ers have a knack for find­ing phony sto­ries that sneak right up to the edge of cred­i­bil­ity. In 1994, “All Things Con­sid­ered” re­ported on teenagers who agreed to tat­too their ears with cor­po­rate ad­ver­tis­ing in ex­change for a life­long 10 per­cent dis­count on the com­pany’s prod­ucts. NPR has pre­sented April 1 re­ports on dog-bark trans­la­tion soft­ware, the abuse of per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing steroids by classical vi­o­lin­ists and a U.S. Postal Ser­vice pro­gram that would al­low Amer­i­cans to take their Zip code with them when they moved. K Pre­pos­ter­ous gov­ern­ment edicts: In 1987, Los An­ge­les dee­jay Steve Mor­ris went on KRTH and de­liv­ered word that all of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s ma­jor in­ter­state high­ways would close en­tirely for a month for non­stop re­pairs. The state trans­porta­tion de­part­ment, un­a­mused by the storm of calls from wor­ried cit­i­zens, de­manded that the sta­tion pull the bo­gus story, which it did af­ter a few hours.

The BBC gave April 1 air­time to a postal work­ers union leader, who was riled about a pro­posal that Bri­tain adopt Ger­many’s way of ad­dress­ing en­velopes — putting the house num­ber af­ter the street name in­stead of be­fore. The more the union man went on about this ap­palling al­ter­ation and the mess it would cause as postal work­ers tried to re­learn their jobs, the more lis­ten­ers called the sta­tion to ex­press out­rage over the im­po­si­tion of for­eign and in­fe­rior meth­ods.

In 1993, Ger­man ra­dio re­ported on a new reg­u­la­tion in Cologne, where jog­gers in city parks hence­forth would be lim­ited to a speed of 6 mph. The rule was passed on be­half of the park’s squir­rels, whose mat­ing might oth­er­wise be dis­turbed.

NPR’s gags tend to take lis­ten­ers to re­mote cor­ners to visit un­usual char­ac­ters. But in 1992, “Talk of the Na­tion” host John Hock­en­berry re­ported that Richard Nixon was com­ing out of re­tire­ment to run for pres­i­dent. The re­port in­cluded au­dio of Nixon de­fi­antly aver­ring that “I didn’t do any­thing wrong, and I won’t do it again.” NPR in­cluded com­ments on the sur­prise an­nounce­ment by Har­vard law pro­fes­sor Lau­rence Tribe and Newsweek re­porter Howard Fine­man. Call­ers jammed the show’s phone lines to de­liver them­selves of their out­rage that the dis­graced ex-pres­i­dent would con­sider such a come­back. Hock­en­berry waited un­til the show’s sec­ond hour to re­veal that what the Nixon lis­ten­ers had heard was ac­tu­ally im­pres­sion­ist Rich Lit­tle.

Only rarely have ra­dio April Fools’ gags turned the ta­bles on the medium it­self. In 2001, on the Cana­dian Broad­cast­ing Corp. morn­ing news­cast, an­chor Michael En­right asked for­mer pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter about Canada’s lum­ber in­dus­try. But as Carter tried to re­spond, the an­chor­man rudely in­ter­rupted with en­treaties for the pres­i­dent to speed up his an­swers. En­right broke in again to ask: “How did a washed-up peanut farmer from Hicksville such as your­self get in­volved in such a so­phis­ti­cated bi­lat­eral trade ar­gu­ment?” Carter and En­right ex­changed un­seemly in­sults be­fore the pres­i­dent fi­nally hung up on the in­ter­viewer.

Al­though En­right quickly re­vealed that a co­me­dian had been im­per­son­at­ing Carter, the seg­ment sparked calls from more than 600 lis­ten­ers ap­palled that the in­ter­viewer would be so rude. And Toronto’s Globe and Mail re­ported the in­ter­view on its front page in all se­ri­ous­ness, demon­strat­ing once again why news­pa­pers should prob­a­bly stay out of the April Fools’ busi­ness.


Greg “Opie” Hughes, left, and An­thony Cu­mia, were sus­pended with­out pay in 1998 af­ter their fake an­nounce­ment that Bos­ton’s mayor had died.

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