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Puget Sound Radio    ON THE AIR    Street Talk/Shop Talk/let's Talk  ›  April Fools Gags are Soooo 2007

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CWL
March 25, 2008, 1:25am Report to Moderator
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http://www.radio-info.com/content/column.php/rcID/146

The Jokes on You: When April Fool's Day goes wrong on radio
By Dana Hall


In less than two weeks, radio stations across the country will be swapping air talent shifts, flipping imaginary format wheels, and giving away “100 Grand” (candy bars) all in the name of April Fool’s Day. It’s an annual custom that quite honestly, I don’t understand. Does an April Fool’s Day prank on the air really have any positive impact for your station? Do listeners really care? In most cases, they figure it out long before the punch line, because of the very fact that you’re perpetrating the event on April 1. With these questions in mind, I went to several respected programming consultants to ask if April Fool’s Day pranks are really worth all the effort.

Maybe my aversion to April Fool’s Day on the radio stems from a personal experience I refer to as the April Fool’s Day fiasco of 1987. I was fresh out of college and working as a promotions director for a small music station in Boston. My then-PD—who has become one of the most successful and respected programmers in the biz today—was also young and not-so experienced. We decided to do an April Fools Day prank on our listeners and give away a “Porsche.” Of course, it was going to end up being a toy matchbox Porsche. We didn’t just talk about it on air; we rented a Porsche 911 and parked it in front of the station. We invited listeners to come down to register—but more so to see it, feel it, sit in it, smeeeeeellllll it. We had thousands show up.

Well, as you might expect, when the punch line was aired, we had some very upset listeners. I think we were even sued by one. But I recap my first major fas paux in radio so that you can learn from our mistakes--that there are bad April Fool’s Day pranks, and then there are really bad April Fool’s Day pranks. And occasionally, from what consultants tell me, there are a few worthwhile ones.

The Worst, the Bad, and the Ugly:

“The worst-- and possibly among-the-more-common -- gags radio stations do on April Fool's Day is swapping formats or personalities with cross-town stations,” says consultant Holland Cooke. “It's all-we-can-do to get diary keepers to get-it-RIGHT.”

Dallas-based consultant Dean James recalls one of the worst pranks, in his opinion. “When [Opie & Anthony] in Boston said the mayor {Thomas Menino] of Boston had died n a car crash.”

Consultant Tracy Johnson explains that, “Any joke that causes damage or harms the public is a bad idea. Unfortunately, these are usually the easiest pranks to pull, and it does nothing to help a station or personality's image or credibility. There are dozens of examples, from making up fake news stories to announcing that a sports team has traded a popular player. These are not funny; they only serve to cause the public to lose trust in their favorite stations.”

So lesson one—if you’re planning on any of these potential pranks for April 1, 2008, Please change your plans now!

The second major problem with April Fool’s Day pranks, is in most cases, the listeners have already figured it out, long before the punch line.

Johnson says, “Listeners figure them out because they are not though through well enough. A great April Fool's joke takes as much planning and preparation and attention to detail as a great bit or promotion, and too many personalities and programmers are not spending the time or creative attention anymore. Just changing format for a day is lame, confuses casual listeners and makes active listeners roll their eyes.”

James adds, “An April Fool’s joke needs to be like a great prank call. Everybody but the person(s) involved knows it’s a prank, but how the material is written (the story or circumstances) and the how well the prank is executed leaves folks thinking it was amazing theater.” Which brings us to …


The Good, the Better, the Great:

What’s the best April Fool’s Day prank you’ve heard on the radio? James recalls “A Rock Radio station in South Florida (no longer there) did a broadcast of a fictitious superstar concert with the staff on stage, back stage interviews, the full boat. It sounded awesome … When done correctly it creates great theater of the mind. Not everybody has to fall for it to work, but it has to create a great moment. If’ it’s a great prank and if we (the listeners) are in on the joke, we all get a great reaction from who the prank was pulled on.”

Johnson remembers “Many years ago, Dave Shelley & Chainsaw at KGB in San Diego set up an elaborate prank that the stealth bomber was landing at a very small airfield in San Diego. The bit lasted through their own show and well into middays as well. Thousands of people showed up to see it, with the joke being that it's, of course, stealth. Some listeners were ticked, of course, but it caused no damage. It was all in good fun.

He continues, “Another one that comes to mind is when PD Shawn Phillips announced that the Russian Cat Circus was coming to Tulsa. He produced a great commercial that aired every hour for several days that promoted the circus acts, such as ‘cat juggling’. It created a huge reaction from the public and of course, PETA.”

“And, when I was programming Star 100.7 a few years ago, we announced for several days that the Water Dept. was conducting a test of the new water salinization plant (which of course doesn't exist) and to test the lines, it was necessary to send a red gas through the city pipes...a gas that ‘we believe to be harmless’ but just in case, listeners were instructed to cover all water outlets with plastic (we recommended using a condom). There was a huge buzz, good press coverage, and most of those who were ‘victims’ called and admitted it in good fun.”

Cooke says, “The most-durable bit is "The [name of state] Hazard Act of 2008." The morning host offers something-along-the-lines-of: ‘I'll admit it. This show is often critical of Governor [name]. But he/she deserves applause for the [name of state] Hazard Act of 2008, which went into effect yesterday, March 31. Because winter weather takes its toll on holiday decorations, they can pose electrical and fire hazards, and contribute to the litter problem, if they remain displayed too long. So among-the-provisions-of this new law which Governor [name] has signed, cash fines will be imposed beginning today, on homes that have not taken down outdoor holiday decorations.’”

He says, this “prank” will cause “In-car listeners to U-turn and go home to take down decorations—so this hoax isn’t entirely a bad thing” and could even be considered a public service.

Think About This:

If you must do an April Fool’s Day event on air, think about this advice from our consultants:

“The key is to generate talk, buzz, and press,” says Johnson “The station has to insure that the joke is in synch with its image and reputation for it to be effective. The best April Fool's jokes are the ones that include the core listener...get them IN on the joke and make your tertiary listeners and non-listeners the victims.”

He continues, “Plan, prepare, and promote, the same as any promotion, contest, or other programming strategy. And to be effective, you can't just do it on April 1. Set it up and pre-sell your idea so the payoff happens on 4/1.”

James suggests that you “Look at all the TV shows that have come out like ‘Punked’ on MTV and the one about the comedian that went through this whole process to get married and near the end he was going to tell the bride and her family it was all a joke (on Fox 3-4 years ago), or the show that ABC ran last summer that set up prank hidden camera situations and pieced together all the reactions. Radio is supposed to be fun. If the prank/situation is well thought out and well executed and we get a great reaction from the ‘prankee’ it makes great entertainment.”

He adds, please “Stay away from ‘changing format,’ playing music backwards and having jocks changes shifts. Been there, done that. It doesn’t have to take up the whole show. It can be a vertical bit that works throughout the show (many reactions to the same prank). Consider something that folks do not have to listen for 3 hours to get the prank. Remember, it’s now beginning to be about the number of occasions—not how long. Keep them happy every time they listen.”

Dana Hall
Executive Editor
Radio-Info.com
Dana Hall can be reached at DanaHall@in3media.com
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briancanada3
March 25, 2008, 3:28am Report to Moderator
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i remember years ago waking up and listening to Janice Ungaro and i think it was Clay St Thomas on the Fox and Larry and Willy were on Zed. I have heard other april fools jokes too but that one really got me
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wistowe
March 25, 2008, 4:17am Report to Moderator
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I was just going to mention the same thing...I'm still pretty young but in terms of growing up that is one radio moment that really stands out.  I just remember being blown away when I was getting driven to school.
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GS850
March 25, 2008, 5:46am Report to Moderator
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C'mon people! It's one day out of every other day where you can play with your listeners minds...... Oh wait, isn't that what presenters are supposed to do everyday? I hope your brain isn't hurting from reading the above mumbo-jumbo.

Consultants are no fun. Neither is Corporate radio.... :P

If I ever owned a radio station, I'd flip the format to all-polka for 24 hours on April Fools day. Fun Fun!
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newsman
March 25, 2008, 4:13pm Report to Moderator

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I think everyone knows of a great radio April Fools gag, but the problem is that most things have been done and are "played out" now.  There isn't really anything original, and that's the bigger problem.  It's maybe best to just let the whole thing die unless you come up with something REALLY creative.
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CWL
March 25, 2008, 5:51pm Report to Moderator
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the "mumbo-jumbo" says they are better ways to have an awesome April Fools prank than going "All-Polka" for 24 hours...
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treenie
March 25, 2008, 7:34pm Report to Moderator
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i like it when April Fools day falls on the weekend...so i don't have to try to come up with some brilliant and groundbreaking idea for my morning show!  LOL!

That being said, i WILL come up with something brilliant and groundbreaking this year...i hope.

AM


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edmontonradiodude
March 25, 2008, 9:08pm Report to Moderator
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I've always been told that you should never do the format change/jock change thing...in case your listeners like the new format/new jocks BETTER!
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stevopalooza
March 26, 2008, 8:03am Report to Moderator

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Quoted from newsman
I think everyone knows of a great radio April Fools gag, but the problem is that most things have been done and are "played out" now.  There isn't really anything original, and that's the bigger problem.  It's maybe best to just let the whole thing die unless you come up with something REALLY creative.


Creativity in radio...YES there needs to be more of that. So April Fools is one day out the year when people expect to get their leg pulled, why not play into it, even if it's nothing new. It's still entertaining either way. To not do anything at all might even be worse, because people expect to hear something crazy that morning. If they hear nothing at all, it's likely a disappointment. I know it would be for me.

I also remember listening to Zed that morning in the mid-90's wondering what the hell was going on, only later realizing what day it was. Another good one Janice, and I believe Darren B. Lamb pulled was the space shuttle landing at the airport. They attracted what apparently was dozens of people to stand out in front of the runway waiting for the shuttle to come in on an emergency landing only to find out it was all a hoax. 95 Crave should switch back to Zed for the morning, just confuse the hell outta their already confused audience.
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CRS
March 26, 2008, 9:28pm Report to Moderator
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The wildest April Fool's gag I've heard of occurred back in the mid-80s at CHWK.  The station's news director used to do live "breaking news" cut-ins that were sponsored by a local car dealership, so the average listener came to expect them.  Well during the morning show, he reported that a semi truck filled with cans of beer had overturned at a major freeway interchange in Chilliwack.  The response was "abit" more than our intrepid ND (or PD for that matter) expected.  People were driving onto the freeway on the "offramps" to get first dibs on all those cans of brewskies that, obviously, didn't exist.

Our station had a major dressing down from the local constabulary who were not amused at the antics.  

I can, without a doubt, say I've never heard ANY radio station try that gag since!  :P
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Oleg
March 26, 2008, 9:43pm Report to Moderator
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If that was a Bryan Laver instituted gag, it must have been fun.

I did pm drive at WK" one afterrnoon..when on the spur of the moment..he and I decided to have a pool party outside on the lawn. I went on the air..plugged the thing...he ran downstairs,grabbed a kids inflatable blowup backyard pool from somewhere..and set up a couple of tables with lemondade and loungers while I was spewing off about it..and twenty minutes later there were two dozen listeners in bathing suits hanging out catching rays! We had a blast...and thats what that city needs again..local live radio !.
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yathink
March 27, 2008, 8:37am Report to Moderator
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Does anyone remember the details of Rob Christie (and the old CHED gang) staging a guy with a gun shooting everyone in the booth?
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SexPanther
March 27, 2008, 6:37pm Report to Moderator
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My favourite... when the new $5 bills came out, this particular morning show told their listeners that if they put them into a change machine they would get change for a $10 bill.  Funny, harmless and topical bit.  The new Fives had just been released a few days prior.
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TommyD
March 27, 2008, 7:40pm Report to Moderator

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Quoted from 1555
The wildest April Fool's gag I've heard of occurred back in the mid-80s at CHWK.  The station's news director used to do live "breaking news" cut-ins that were sponsored by a local car dealership, so the average listener came to expect them.  Well during the morning show, he reported that a semi truck filled with cans of beer had overturned at a major freeway interchange in Chilliwack.  The response was "abit" more than our intrepid ND (or PD for that matter) expected.  People were driving onto the freeway on the "offramps" to get first dibs on all those cans of brewskies that, obviously, didn't exist.

Our station had a major dressing down from the local constabulary who were not amused at the antics.  

I can, without a doubt, say I've never heard ANY radio station try that gag since!  :P


I remember that.  What got me was when Grant Ullyott said on the air "c'mon down and get some".



"always leave them wanting more"
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CRS
March 30, 2008, 7:24pm Report to Moderator
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hey we already HAVE an April Fools thread going here gang.  attach the Red prank to it....
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