Sometimes taking a joke too far can cause harm.
Just ask disc jockeys Kramer and Twitch of the Dallas hard-rock radio station KEGL-FM, who were fired Monday after reporting on their night show that teen heartthrobs Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were involved in a car accident. Police and fire officials in Los Angeles were bombarded with phone calls from distraught fans on the night of June 12 and into the morning of June 13 wanting to know whether the accident had killed Spears and left her beau, ‘N Sync’s Timberlake, comatose. The disc jockeys, whose real names are Keith Kramer and Tony Longo admitted later that the report was a hoax.
Radio personalities often make jokes on the air about the famous. Always on the hot stove is Howard Stern, the so-called “King of all Media,” who thrives on grilling his guests or ripping those who dare not step into his studio.
Those who devise such on-air hoaxes as the Spears-Timberlake car crash are simply doing it to garner attention, according to Russ Morley and Mickey Miller, hosts of the “The Get Up & Go Show” on WRMF-FM in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“They are just looking at the ratings,” Miller said. “They want to get people to talk about it.”
Disc jockeys try to be funny when they do “bits,” Miller and Morley said, but falsifying news reports to amuse listeners is done partly for the shock value.
When disc jockeys decide to play a joke of that magnitude, they had better have a copy of their resume handy because they are likely to be fired, Miller said.
Kramer and Longo have lost their jobs, but not to worry, Miller said. The publicity and notoriety surrounding the hoax may help Kramer and Longo land pretty jobs elsewhere, he speculated.
The disc jockeys definitely got caught the nation’s attention. The hoax made many believe that their idols were dead. Jive Records, which represents both artists, had to release a statement on June 13 saying that there was “no truth to the rumor” and that “Spears and Timberlake are in great health.” The record company went as far as to say that Timberlake is touring with ‘N Sync and that Spears is in the studio recording her next album. There also was a threat of possible legal action against the perpetrators of the hoax, but Spears‘ representatives said Wednesday that the disc jockeys would not face any lawsuits filed against them by the stars.
The Federal Communications Commission would not comment on the hoax or any possible action against Kramer and Longo.
That the hoax became accepted fact so quickly surprised one of Timberlake’s colleagues.
“I can’t believe that [rumor] spread so fast, but yeah, I mean, I don’t see how CNN and ABC could actually report stuff like that and not even get it for fact,” ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass told online music magazine Launch on Monday.
The news hit so fast that they didn’t have time to call their families to let them know that it was a hoax, he said.
“[Timberlake] had family members who really thought it was true because they saw it on CNN,” Bass said.
CNN only reported on the hoax, not on the accident itself, said network spokeswoman Megan Mehoney.
ABC News.com public relations rep Lauren Kapp said that the network’s only story regarding the teen couple was a column written by Heidi Oringer, in which she speculated how the public would react if the accident had really happened.
KEGL-FM received a few calls from people who wanted to confirm the rumor, but a few callers figured it wasn’t true, Tom Schurr, Clear Channel vice president and Dallas market manager, said Wednesday.
The disc jockeys joined KEGL-FM in 1998. Their show also aired from December to May on KSJO-FM in San Jose, Calif., where they were based.
Kramer and Longo courted controversy long before they thought up the Spears-Timberlake hoax. The Dallas Morning News reported that the disc jockeys once implied that motorists knock down bicyclists or hit them with their car doors.
“The decision to fire Kramer and Twitch was based on a whole series of things that we have experienced during the last several months,” Schurr said.
Schurr would not elaborate further.
Kramer and Longo could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Kramer told The Dallas Morning News that he and his partner were surprised that they were fired.
“We got permission to air the bit,” he said.
Schurr said that the disc jockeys neither asked nor received permission to air the hoax.
Kramer said that they decided to use Spears as the butt of their joke because they did not think her fans listened to their radio station.
KEGL-FM has replaced the disc jockeys with Chaz Knight, another radio station’s personalities.
“What Kramer and Twitch did was extreme night-time radio,” Schurr said. “[Knight] plays more music. He will do a good job for us.”