'Alien' radio promotion becomes school threat debacle - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

'Alien' radio promotion becomes school threat debacle

Shoals Radio Group is the owner of the station in question. Shoals Radio Group is the owner of the station in question.
TUSCUMBIA, AL (WAFF) -

A radio stunt in the Shoals set off a firestorm of worry with parents and students. Earlier this week a station with the Shoals Radio Group launched a promo making it seem as if the station had been hacked. At times throughout the day, the station played static and weird voices.

"Commander, the humans are anxious for another message from you," said one voice in the promo (http://bit.ly/188waeZ). "I told them that you would speak to them on Thursday at 9 a.m. They are curious, it is in their nature."

Talk about the gimmick turned into talk of a school bomb threat over the airwaves, leaving parents afraid to send their kids to school Wednesday morning.

Star 94.9 is undergoing a programming change, so station program director Brian Rickman and others at the Shoals Radio Group thought it would be fun to announce the change in an extraterrestrial-type way. Without giving listeners a heads-up, they began playing long periods of silence and static paired with robotic voices and random songs to make it seem as if the station had been hacked by aliens.

The move clearly got listeners' attention, but that attention soon became negative. Rumors quickly spread that the messages were reporting bomb threats at local schools, something station officials said they would never joke about.

Rickman described the case as a game of "telephone" that went terribly wrong.

"I don't blame any of the listeners if they misunderstood. That's understandable, but I don't think most of this was caused by our listeners. It [became] something completely different and by the time we got a hold of it, there didn't seem to be a way to slow it down," he said.

And the situation didn't slow down; local police and school officials contacted Rickman about the recordings. Since the schools mentioned in the rumor involved Tuscumbia City Schools, the police department took the extra measures to ensure public safety on their campuses.

The department placed extra patrols on and around school property Thursday morning out of precaution. Deputy Chief Terry Sherron said they take all threats, no matter how small, seriously, especially when it involves schools. 

Rickman said the messages never mentioned anything to spark community panic, and that as a father, he takes school threats seriously.

"I want to apologize profusely for doing that," said Rickman. "If we would have seen this coming, we would have never done this." 

Copyright 2013 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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