For over two decades I made my living, in large part, performing radio pranks. I pranked individuals, I pranked co-workers, and I pranked entire cities. I even pranked a presidential candidate once (resulting in a post-show visit from two non-pranking Secret Service agents). Why have pranks always been such a big part of morning radio? Because people like them. Research and ratings both show it, undeniably. When people hear a prank being played on the radio they rarely tune out, assuming it's a good one. Same with TV, and its been that way since Candid Camera.
I can honestly say that when long-time fans approach me it's always the elaborate pranks we pulled that they want to talk about first.
The story of British nurse Jacintha Saldhana, who took her own life last week after falling victim to the world's worst Royal Family impressions by two Australian DJ's, is an unthinkable and terribly sad tragedy that was completely unpredictable. But the ensuing witch-hunt it has created can only be described as completely predictable.
We live in a world where, when something unfortunate happens, society immediately needs to know who is to blame and how severely can they be punished. And sometimes it's an easy call (a drunk football player getting behind the wheel of his car, killing his teammate, leaves little question as to who is at fault). But often it's not so easy. Bad things happen and they don't always come with a convenient or understandable explanation.
It's a safe assumption that Ms. Saldhana was a very modest person whose last wish was to have her 15 minutes of fame or to be the center of attention. I'm guessing she was a quiet, caring person who was horrified that her error may have caused international embarrassment for her employer and the Royal Family. But most mental experts agree that suicide is never the result of one event, and in the coming weeks I'm sure we'll learn more about her life and what really drove this fragile person to make such an extreme decision that now leaves her children without a mother.
And while the actions of DJ's Michael Christian and Mel Greig certainly played a role in the tragedy, it's misguided to singularly blame them for her death. They played, what 99 out of 100 times, would amount to a harmless juvenile joke that was certainly without malice or mean spirit. And I believe that needs to be considered.
In the end, they were fired. And while I understand they'd become a liability from a business standpoint, I don't like seeing people lose their jobs over things that could not have been foreseen. Remember, the radio station (2DayFM) didn't have a problem with the prank when they were enjoying ridiculous amounts of international publicity before the tragic twist (I can promise you they were loving it). And even most of us were amused, on some level, that the DJ's were able to get through to Kate Middleton's room. It's also been noted that they followed full company policy by having management approve the recorded segment before airing it in the first place.
We see people play idiotic pranks all the time with outcomes that are fairly predictable -- or at least within the scope of foresight. But this was not one of them. Simply put, sad and unfortunate things happen that sometimes defy simple explanations.
What happened last week in London was tragic but it was also fairly isolated. And unfortunately, we will now sit back and watch the very predictable over-reaction.
Jimmy Baron was part of the Morning X with Barnes, Leslie, and Jimmy on 99X Atlanta for 10 years. He also hosted the morning shows on 92.9 Dave-FM. He now works in residential real estate.