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1965 radio gag causes “excitement and confusion”

September 21, 2017 07:15 AM

UPDATED September 21, 2017 09:57 AM

A silly prank in 1965 by WIST disc jockey Rick Fight had Charlotteans in a panic. Mothers phoned the Nature Museum, asking if they should keep their children indoors. The health department (and Charlotte News switchboard) was inundated with phone calls. Here’s a report from the August 5, 1965 Charlotte News:

Callers Jam Police Phone Lines

Radio ‘Gag’ Causes Scare Here

By Hugh Fullerton, News Staff Writer

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Hundreds of Charlotteans heard a series of reports broadcast as a joke by radio station WIST yesterday and began calling city and county police, the county health department, the radio station, newspapers and even the Nature Museum.

Rick Fight, WIST disk (sic) jockey, started the story early in the afternoon that an “amoeba” was loose in Charlotte. He broke into his own program at frequent intervals to report the movements of the mysterious “animal.”

Many listeners, apparently ignorant of the fact that the amoeba is a harmless, microscopic, one-celled speck of animal life, called local authorities asking what they should do about the menace.

After letting the gag run about 55 minutes, station officials stopped it at the request of Assistant Police Chief Ernest Selvey.

Chief Selvey reported this morning that the eight incoming lines on the police department switchboard had been tied up for about an hour with the calls.

“We were afraid some emergency would arise” and an important phone call would be delayed, Chief Selvey said. No emergency situation occurred during that hour, he reported.

Douglas G. Bell, station manager for WIST, said that a statement was being prepared and broadcast telling listeners that the amoeba scare was a joke and there was no cause for alarm. “This reaction was totally unexpected,” Mr. Bell said.

The Nature Museum reported that at least 45 persons called there about the amoeba. Many were mothers asking if they should keep their children indoors.

The Charlotte News switchboard was jammed with caller wanting news of the amoeba threat. The health department received similar calls.

Federal Communications Commission offices in Norfolk, Va., and Washington, D.C. each reported receiving a complaint call from Charlotte residents. No official word was available on whether the FCC would take action against WIST.

Mr. Bell said that he was at lunch when Mr. Fight started the gag.

It appeared to be similar to many other comedy routines put on the air by Mr. Fight, he said.

Mr. Fight told The News that he has used the “amoeba” routine on other radio stations, but it never drew the tremendous reaction it did in Charlotte.

Ed Dean, program director for WIST, took Mr. Fight’s place on the air when the gag was halted. WIST officials emphasized that the action was taken to clear up the public misunderstanding, not to punish Mr. Fight.

Mr. Dean also warned other WIST announcers against starting similar jokes which could disturb the public.