Royal Radio Pranks Gone Wrong

10 Dec

Royal Radio Pranks Gone Wrong by Abby Hagelage at The Daily Beast

Dec 9, 2012 4:45 AM EST

Following the recent stunt turned tragedy at Kate Middleton’s hospital, a look back at some shock-jock antics that ended very badly.

As the recent royal hoax that led to the death of young nurse proved, the line between juvenile joke and dangerous prank is thin when it comes to mass media. But Sydney’s 2Day FM wasn’t the first radio station to take a prank too far, and it likely won’t be the last. From the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast to the faked death of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, some radio pranks that generated more outrage than laughs.

Radio Prank
Rhys Holleran, CEO of the company that owns Sydney’s 2Day FM radio station, answers questions about the royal radio prank gone bad. (William West / AFP-Getty Images)

London’s Imaginary Revolution (1926)


Advertisement<During the golden age of radio, the BBC learned the hard way that some jokes just aren’t funny. On Jan. 20, 1926, announcer Ronald Knox, during his regular radio program, announced that a violent revolution was sweeping through London. In his “special announcement,” Knox described an angry mob of unemployed workers storming the city’s major buildings, looting and destroying everything in sight. Worried listeners scrambled around their radios to listen, terrified they were next. Knox even went so far as to claim Big Ben had fallen. The broadcast caused widespread panic across Great Britain until the radio station confirmed to listeners that the segment was “imaginary,” all part of Father Ronald Knox’s satirical skit. “London is safe. Big Ben is still chiming, and all is well,” read the BBC’s statement.

War of the Worlds (1938)


On Oct. 30, 1938, radio listeners across the United States were stunned to hear that America was being invaded by aliens from Mars. A dramatization of H.G. Wells’s fantasy science-fiction novel The War of the Worlds, the adaptation was designed to sound like a news broadcast—and it succeeded. Starting with a “flaming object” that fell from the sky, the report included a “field newscaster” with an eyewitness account of the aliens. “That face,” he said, “It…it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent.” The broadcast sent the nation into chaos, and—with the help of the actual news—led to a national scandal. The cycle of confusion was ultimately broken when the media learned it was a farce. “Note to Editors: Queries to newspapers from radio listeners throughout the United States tonight, regarding a reported meteor fall which killed a number of New Jerseyites, are the result of a studio dramatization. The A.P.,” read the statement.

Mayor Menino’s Death (1998)


April Fools lived up to its name on April 1, 1998, when popular shock jocks Opie and Anthony announced on WAAF-FM that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had died in a car crash in Florida. Due to Menino’s packed schedule, City Hall was unable to reach him for several hours, leading even the mayor’s family members to question whether or not he was alive. Opie (Greg Hughes) and Anthony (Anthony Cumia) were immediately fired from the station. The pair eventually landed in New York, where they staged a “Sex for Sam” contest (where couples were awarded points for having sex in public) that eventually led to the arrest of a couple having sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Infinity Broadcasting Operations was fined a total of $357,500 by the FCC, the maximum allowable amount. Opie and Anthony now host their own channel on XM Radio.


The Ochoco Dam Incident (1999)


In 1999, two DJs at KSJJ in Bend, Ore., announced that the Ochoco Dam had burst, sending millions of gallons of water downstream. The prank, meant to be a sly quip on April Fool’s Day, caused the town to spiral into chaos. With the memory still fresh of the hundreds of houses damaged a year earlier when the Ochoco Creek flooded, residents scrambled to pack their things and get out. The prank lasted until the two DJs came forward and announced that they had simply made it up for fun.

Methane Gas in Virginia Beach (1992)


In an earlier feigned natural disaster, two DJs at F99 WNOR, a radio station in Hampton Roads, Va., convinced their listeners that a massive buildup of methane gas was about to produce a deadly explosion at “Mount Trashmore,” a landfill near Virginia Beach. The DJs claimed an evacuation was necessary, causing the local 911 dispatchers to be inundated with anxious phone calls. As word spread that an explosion was imminent, panicked residents began fleeing the area. The radio station eventually announced that the news was fake, but the listeners of Hampton Roads weren’t amused, and neither was the FCC. The DJs responsible were suspended without pay for two weeks.


I’ve Been Screwing Your Sister for the Last Year” (2008)



Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Royal Radio Pranks Gone Wrong

  1. traveler012

    December 11, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    As funny as all of these are today, I’m sure at the time they were anything but funny. It’s one of those things where you say “we’ll look back on this and laugh but right now it’s definitely not ok.” I’ve actually heard the war of the worlds broadcast and I can only imagine sitting in my living room listening to that. It was so real I can only imagine the panic that ensued along with that broadcast. Radio broadcasters have a way with words kind of like car salesmen; they don’t really have to do much in order for us to believe them. The last one mentioned was far from funny though! That ruined that couple’s lives, and their child’s as well. Not funny whatsoever.

  2. joylanadventurer01

    December 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Hmmm, I believe most of these are pretty funny. I agree that these are moments that someone would look back on and laugh, but some did go terribly wrong. We cannot blame the people that caused the problem though. The DJ’s and such of the shows, I mean it is ourselves who put so much trust in them that we either do whatever they say or believe whatever they say, or both. They are out to get a little fun, as we might take offense to it, we probably do the same thing or have at least done the same thing before. It’s pure entertainment, but either way people are getting way too worked up about all this, if people don’t want this to happen, stop putting so much trust into what you don’t know for sure.

  3. maverick41

    December 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with joylanadventurer01. Yes, some of these situations are pretty horrible and gone a little bit too far. However, who are we to blame for that? It seems as though people are getting all worked up at the radio stations for pulling these stunts in the first place. But the people put themselves in those vulnerable situations in the first place! In my opinion, (in some of the situations) this is no different than someone telling you to jump off a cliff, I mean really would you actually listen and do it? People need to realize there is a fine line between obedience and choice. Yes, the radio stations and people who worked for them may not have been the nicest for pulling the pranks and doing what they did. But that doesn’t make them any more guilty than the people who were pranked.

  4. baconftwlolz

    December 14, 2012 at 2:37 am

    Well for sure there is something to be said here for personal responsibility. People need to take what they here in the media with a grain of salt sometimes because things like these pranks can happen. At the same time we would not even need to be having this conversation if those at the stations were mature enough to not pull stunts like these. If you have a job spreading your voice to the people you should use it to better the world somehow be it through laughter, music or simply telling the people the news. What shouldn’t be done is abusing that power by screwing with people who listen to your show and TRUST that you are giving them the truth. The reason people cannot and should not put their whole trust into someone is due to stupid people like some of these media figures.


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