Not what you want to hear on April Fools Day

Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows you get some real crackpot calls on a regular basis. When I worked down on the river, we used to get phone calls from a man who identified himself as “Jesus”. On the weekends back in the early 90’s we used to get a call from a woman who I think called herself Mrs. Kitchens and ranted and raved and swore like a sailor. I always tried to be nice but after she started a long string of obscenities about something, I told her that I was not going to listen to someone with such a potty mouth and I hung up on her. When she called back and started again, I told her again I would not tolerate such language. This went on several more times until she finally realized I was serious so she stopped swearing and told me that she was sorry. Everyone on the weekend got to hear from Mrs. Kitchens at some point in time as she called several times a day.
But it was on April 1st, 1989 that we got the kind of call on a Saturday night that no one wants to get in a newsroom when you’re short-staffed.
I had been filling in on Saturday night for Alex Coleman who was doing weeknights Sunday-Friday. Jerry Tate has not come back to 3 from WHBQ.
Also understand that I had only been in the market since the first of February at the time.
If I remember correctly, we had a skeleton crew with just me and the producer, and a photographer who was handing around to shoot spot news. The reporter had already gone home for the night.
We had already received a few crank calls since it was April 1st. About mid-evening, the phone rang and the caller said one of the Highway 51 bridges had collapsed over the Hatchie River just north of Covington, Tennessee and that several vehicles had gone into the water. I don’t remember who answered the phone, but when the caller hung up and the information was shared in the newsroom, we stared at each other trying to decide if this was just another crank call. Then we started scrambling to make calls, trying to confirm the story. It turns out something had happened and we started making calls to the top of our newsroom foodchain to get some help and get crews to the scene.
Long story short, five vehicles had gone into the water when the older, northbound lane bridge of Highway 51 collapsed from what was called “scouring” by high water in the Hatchie River channel. Eight people died in the tragedy. Eventually the entire old bridge was torn down and a new one built in its place with some of the survivors on hand for the dedication.
April Fools Day has not been the same for me since April 1st, 1989.

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4 Comments on “Not what you want to hear on April Fools Day”

  1. Tvnewseditor Says:

    Ah, memories of Jesus still make me laugh. After he introduced himself, you couldn’t understand another word out of his fast-moving, garbled mouth! I now have a caller who believes that he is “Prince Charles” – he doesn’t think he is the big eared guy – he thinks that he was switched at birth with the guy married to Camilla and that HE is the rightful heir to the British throne.

    I’m still waiting for his proof on that one…

  2. Joan Carr Says:

    Like so many who’ve worked in the Memphis market, I too spoke to Jesus many times. It really surprised me what a potty mouth Jesus had, and he also took his Father’s name in vain, and isn’t there a commandment about that?

    My favorite Jesus story happened on Christmas day, probably in 1995 or 1996. I was producing that day and answered the phone, and guess who it was? I immediately put him on speaker phone and told the newsroom, “Hey, everybody, it’s Jesus!” Everyone–led by the irrepressable Steve Hayslip–gathered around and yelled “Happy birthday, Jesus!” He really seemed moved and said, “Thank you.” Ah, memories.

  3. newsboyarizona Says:

    It’s been years since I heard someone mention Mrs. Kitchens. I think there was something about Memphis. I got more wacked-out newsroom calls there than anyplace else I’ve worked. It was fun on Sundays when people would call and ask me to re-run last night’s Hee Haw. And when I would tell them that it wasn’t possible, they would claim that they were Johnny Dark’s wife or something like that. I also got a call from a woman who asked us not to cancel Touched by an Angel, which struggled initially before CBS moved it to Sundays and it became a Top 10 hit. I tried to tell her that we didn’t really have control over that, and she burst into tears, sobbing about how much she loved the show. I’m glad things worked out for her.

  4. Doug Johnson Says:

    I saw the news release about Claudia Barr being made a permanent hire at the big 3… Is it possible that was an early April Fools effort? Not that the GM over there is known for his knee-slappers…

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