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April Fools' prank about 'dihydrogen monoxide' in water gets Gator Country 101.9 deejays suspended

12:03 PM, Apr 1, 2013   |    comments
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Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Two long-time deejays at Gator Country 101.9 FM who perpetrated a hoax on Monday morning involving Lee County water quality have been suspended indefinitely, a station official said.

Tony Renda, general manager at the Bonita Springs country music station, said he immediately pulled Val St. John and Scott Fish off the air when he heard about the April Fools' Day joke they had been playing on their 5 to 9 a.m. morning show and then started having the joke recanted and an apology aired during station breaks. 

"Every break we have we're telling listeners it was a goof, a bad joke," he said.

"It is one thing when radio stations change their format or other crazy things they do," Renda said. "But you are messing with one of the big three, food, water or shelter. They just went too far; I just knew I didn't like that."

Renda said the pair have been doing their show for years and usually do a very family friendly April Fools' joke. "Every year they do a joke," he said. "But it's been a fun joke." The duo's identifying line on the show's Facebook page is "We're all a little wrong, but Val and Scott ain't right."

Renda, also vice president of Pittsburgh, Pa., based Renda Broadcasting, said the suspension is indefinite for now. "We take this very seriously. We take our FCC license very seriously," he said.

The radio station's joke involved that "dihydrogen monoxide" was coming out of county resident's taps. Renda said that "dihydrogen monoxide" is water. Despite that, he said, "We have a responsibility to our listeners."

A search on the internet showed that "dihydrogen monoxide" is an alternative way -- and popular hoax term -- to describe water.

The station's news immediately got the attention of Patty DiPiero from Lee County Utilities. She said Lee County residents began calling the utility this morning saying they heard on the station that county water was unsafe and should not be used for drinking, showering or for any use.

DiPiero stressed in an email to media outlets that the utility was not having any issues with the water supply and the water is safe to use.

"My understanding is it is a felony to call in a false water quality issue," Diane Holm, a public information officer for Lee County, said, due to the potential of such a false report to affect a large segment of Southwest Florida's population.

Holm added that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection had been asked to check into the hoax.

Renda said that if felony charges are possible then the two deejays will have to face the music. "They will have to deal with the circumstances." St. John has been with the station for 16 years and Fish for 10, Renda said, with St. John considered something of a station "institution."

"It has been a very busy morning," Renda said. "A lot of wasted time and energy. We're making an effort to clean up an annoying mess."

Meanwhile, DiPiero said she did not hear the broadcast herself but that people were calling the utility department this morning when she got in. "We were fielding calls and letting people know that water was safe," she said. "Right now we're just trying to put the pieces together."

DiPiero said when she saw that no other media were making the announcement she figured something was up and believed it was an April Fools' Day prank.

Some people believed in the hoax, at least for a short time. An email to our news partners at The Fort Myers News-Press reported that the Gator Country 101.9 FM radio had announced the water advisory.

"Gator Country radio announced Lee County was under a water advisory. Lee county is not to drink, or shower, or use water at all. I see no water advisory notices posted on the Internet nor do I see it on the Lee County Utilities site," the writer, who did not leave their name, said.

"I work in food service and I was already trying to alter my day to be able to serve my customers and prepare foods that wouldn't require water. Had I not found out this is a joke, this would have affected sales for the day which no small business can afford to lose at this time.

This is a terrible April Fools joke and demands an apology from Gator country," the email writer concluded.

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