One of my earliest memories of radio is listening to presenters playing pranks. Many a time I’ve been enthralled listening to one of Steve Penk’s wind-ups or Tiny Tim’s latest adventure on Justin Moorhouse’s show. I’ve always been a practical joker, so when I was let lose to broadcast on radio myself I knew that it was going to lead to pranks before too long.
I started on Fuse FM, presenting and producing my chillout show but, as you can imagine, it is not the most conductive environment to play a prank! All this changed when I took up my committee position and helped run the station. The broadcasting code stipulates that student radio stations must not play prank calls on the public… but we could get away with pranking other committee members (with their consent to broadcast it afterwards, of course.) I never received one of these calls unfortunately though. This was probably because I presented a Sunday morning show and, quite literally, no one could get up early enough to catch me!
The Radio Super Show was well known for the practical jokes they’d play around the station; it was a popular feature and compelling to listen to. Each week they’d target a show and try to persuade the presenter play a video that, unbeknownst to them, had a secret message hidden in it from the fader we hooked up to the computer for YouTube audio. This served as a great lesson actually, because presenters would learn the hard way that you must always PFL (pre-fade listen) unknown content before broadcasting it on-air… I fell for this myself when I took my eye off the ball while co-hosting a topical debate show and ended up playing the Mr Blobby song to the students of Manchester – who loved it!
Probably the most important rule for a prankster is to NEVER prank a station technician. Instead, it’s a much better strategy to have them on your side. This was essential for one of the bigger pranks that the Fuse committee played. The studios had just been fitted with a talk-back system, which meant that producers or newsreaders could sit in separate studios but still communicate with each other through their headphones. This was being trialled at the time, so we hadn’t told presenters about the new development. We couldn’t turn such a golden opportunity for mischief down. The webcams in the studios caught it all, I’m sure Orson Welles would have been proud of us. Here’s what happened next…
I haven’t played a prank since I graduated from student radio, I like to think it’s because I’ve matured like a fine wine now. The pranks that get played on me are also not as frequent but I still like to keep alert, just in case. Sometimes I do get caught out and it’s best that I don’t lead any type of Guess the Year features on Pure 107.8 FM any more because the team always find some way of getting the answer out of me! While over at North Manchester FM I can never be too sure if it’s a listener who has rang in or if it’s one of the other presenters disguising their voice outside in the office! They like to keep me on my toes. Maybe I’ll get them back one day, for old time’s sake…
Whether I started the joke or the joke is on me, it doesn’t really matter as long as everyone involved can see the funny side and laugh about it. I always say; if you can’t take it yourself then don’t dish it out, so I don’t mind (and secretly quite enjoy it) when I have a practical joke played on me. No one can see me blushing on radio anyway.