Though less dramatic than the infamous panic incited by the 1938 “War of the Worlds” broadcast, quite a few people fell for an April Fool’s Day hoax broadcast by Laguna Beach FM radio station KX 93.5.
In a morning broadcast by station manager Tyler Russell, he claimed City Hall was in cahoots with the Festival of Arts in pushing ahead a $60 million “festival” parking garage of 45 spaces in a back door arrangement that didn’t require public approval.
Announcer Jason Feddy added fuel to the fire, feigning shock at the proposal and asking for listener comments.
Despite outrageously spurious details that might have tipped listeners off, phones at the radio station and City Hall lit up with calls from angry listeners and constituents. One man even took his beef to the city clerk’s office, fired up by the apparent chicanery since months of vehement public backlash quashed a similarly pricey parking structure last year.
The flurry of complaints also elicited a call to Russell from City Manager John Pietig, who was trying to figure out the origin of the inaccurate protests.
“I knew a prank about parking would get Lagunans riled up … and it did,” said Russell, who estimated the phony news item prompted at least 30 calls to the station. Some people got the joke, but others called to seriously express their disdain for such a plan, he said. Pietig chuckled when Russell divulged the prank.
Broadcasts of false information about crimes or catastrophes are prohibited by Federal Communications Commission rules. But the low-power station’s hoax hews closer to satire than causing “public harm.”
The station caused a similar April 1 uproar last year by broadcasting reports about sea lions escaping from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. The center pleaded for a halt to the prank newscast due to a flood of calls.
This year, the station also fessed up to the fictitious breaking news on its broadcast by late morning. And no one showed up at that evening’s City Council meeting specifically to protest a festival parking structure.
“It shows how many people are listening to our little radio station,” said Russell, who apologized for any disruption to city staff. “But hopefully we can all laugh at how ridiculous it was … Festival of Parking! Really?”