Hodge: Fun times when papers played April Fools pranks

Don’t look now, but here comes Wednesday, when delivering the proverbial leg-pull is better fun than receiving one.

Don’t look now, but here comes Wednesday.

While some folks become somewhat preoccupied or fixated with calendar dates such as Friday the 13th or the Ides of March—my attention is always somewhat stirred by April 1.

It’s an affliction from my earlier days as a carefree chaotic reporter and then later (with slightly more trepidation yet professional giddiness) as an editor.

Newspaper issues produced on April Fools allow media hacks the rare opportunity to totally create and exaggerate supposed news stories with absolutely no regard for facts or details—and to do so largely with a sense of impunity and full permission.

In fact, it is the one time when absolute absurdity and frivolity are encouraged.

Despite the ongoing (and sometimes understandable) perception that most media have no use for facts and simply make up the news—such is most often not the case.

Perhaps in today’s high speed competitive world of instant info and equally instant news coverage there is more pressure than ever before to get the story first and the facts later.

However, the prime goal of most legitimate media outlets is to get it right.

Many moons ago media types would humorously suggest that one should, “never let the facts stand in a way of a good story.

Clearly the term was coined with the fullest amount of sarcasm and irony.

On April 1 though, all the rules are tossed aside.

Every city and newspaper or radio station in the nation likely has an April Fools bluff or two in the archives of legendary proportion.

After more than four decades in the industry, I can recall a few gems  I was involved with.

My fondest (and one of the two more infamous spoofs) was an article penned in this newspaper sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s (fading memories of an old guy).

The saga was actually penned by three of us at the Capital News: Glen Schaeffer, Rainer Zigenhagen, and me.

The bold headline across the top of the page read. FISH MAY FROLIC IN CITY PARK, with the kicker (sub-head) stating. Downtown Kelowna to sink into Okanagan Lake.

With the fake byline of Shafe Zign’spitz and a cartoon-like drawing by friend Jim Krahn, readers should have already known that the full page story was a farce.

But most did not.

The absurd story started off sounding slightly plausible and quickly deteriorated into total foolishness, but it was a classic example of how people read what they want, skim most stories, and are willing to believe just about anything if it is printed in the paper.

The story perpetuated a myth that downtown Kelowna is built on a thin shelf of land that stretches as far as Rutland and that if a significant tremor hit the valley the entire downtown could easily slip into Okanagan Lake.

We quoted all kinds of fictitious experts such as the Minister of Bridges and other Large Concrete Objects, the chairperson of the Kelowna Poop-Deck Society (Yacht Club), and the spokesperson Peter Blabalot of the Save the Itsy Bitsy Creature Foundation.

Yet people still believed it.

To this day, many locals and newcomers alike will lament how Kelowna is built on a huge very thin shelf of land, which is simply urban legend.

Despite having helped pen the myth I still have folks adamantly argue with me and insist that they know, “it is true cause, well, everyone knows that.”

While the article caused huge reaction and chuckles, my favourite was the next morning when we all arrived at work. Vern Boehlke, president of the original downtown business association, had somehow hung a huge canoe from his building’s two-storey roof, just above our newspaper office (then) on Bernard Avenue.

A number of years later, while running a paper in Parksville, we ran an April Fool’s article which said the province was building a bridge from either Parksville or Nanaimo to the mainland.

We received more than a half-dozen phone calls from readers wanting to know where they could apply for jobs working on the bridge.

Of course one of the best Kelowna spoofs was by a Kelowna radio station several moons ago informing folks that the government had decided the country was going to change to ‘metric time.’

The station was flooded with phone calls from listeners commenting on the concept, the majority of them outraged by the change.

So remember, come Wednesday it is ‘reader beware’ time.

Bring it on boys and girls.

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