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