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Reason #2 why Alternative Radio sucks

(see the Showbox rant for reason #1)

Today was one of those days when for a few fleeting moments I am reminded of why I love living in Seattle so much. The last time I felt this way was June 13, 1996. I had just had a great day at work, the weather was beautiful, and I was on my way home to kick back and enjoy the rest of the day (and since I normally get off work at 3:30 in the afternoon it isnít hard to do ;-) ). I had no sooner started my car and turned on the radio when I heard a deejay between songs say, "Next Thursday, June 20th, Soundgarden are playing a surprise show at the Showbox. Tickets go on sale at 4:00 at the following three locations only... Sorry for the short notice!" The timing was perfect; I was a half hour away from the nearest outlet. Thank god my tape deck is (still) broken and Iím forced to endure Seattle's only two stomach-able rock radio stations during the day. Sometimes, just sometimes, it pays off.

It didn't quite work out the way I thought it would; I ended up at home dialing Ticketmaster madly because Caryn had already been tipped off and was a step ahead of me getting in line. I didn't get through on the phone but Caryn scored tickets for us, and I saw Soundgarden for the first time in my life from five feet away in an 800-capacity club. My brain is still recovering from being bludgeoned by "Outshined" at 100 decibels.

Present day: it's 2:30 pm, and I have just returned to the office to hang out for an hour and twiddle my thumbs before going home, again, coincidentally, to enjoy the nice weather that showed up out of the blue (Seattle's like that). As I cruise into a parking spot and shift into park I hear the deejay: "Now I can make that important concert announcement... Pearl Jam, doing a one-off, free outdoor show today at the Burien [south of Seattle] park & ride. You don't need tickets; you just need to show up. It starts at 6:00. No coolers are allowed. No cameras or video cameras, but you can bring a tape recorder."

My heart is racing of course, and I grab the nearest piece of paper and a pen and hurriedly jot down the location. I go inside and immediately ask Ray, a co-worker who not only lives in these parts but is a virtual encyclopedia, if he knows where the Burien park & ride is. He doesn't, but says he does have a Thomas Guide in the car and heíll go get it. Why am I not surprised? -- I swear this guy is the most prepared and most resourceful person on planet earth.

Two minutes later we find the general location on the map. I know where it is -- it's out by the airport and is only 15 minutes away from where I'm standing. It's three hours until the supposed show time and I'm practically next door! I immediately wonder if I'll have time to make it into the city to collect Caryn and get back before the traffic gets horrendous, but then I come to my senses -- said trip would happen between 3:00 and 6:00 in the afternoon -- and I-5 south is the last place you wanna be this time of day, PJ show or no PJ show.

Ten seconds later someone else comes to their senses and reminds me what day today is -- April 1.

I'm almost relieved ya know. This is The End we're talking about. They are not above pulling stupid stunts, least of all starting Pearl Jam rumors on April Fool's Day. I'm willing to write it off but then I remember that I'm not the only one within earshot of a radio in this town. Surely someone else in our regional-PJ-fan contingent heard it, and they're probably freaking out too if they didn't remember what day it is.

But I can't quite write it off completely, and here's why: it's Pearl Jam. Yes, they have been subject of the same stupid joke time and again over the years, even when it isn't April 1st. I distinctly remember a post to alt.music.pearl-jam way back when from an individual who described how their local radio station pulled the same prank on local fans, complete with directions on how to get to the site, and it turned out to be the biggest gathering at a Shell gas station the world has ever witnessed.

PJ knows this. They also are well aware of how people react to announcements of surprise gigs they do. When they played a free show at Seattle's Magnuson park in '92, 30,000 people showed up. No, it was no longer a surprise at that point. But at one time it was, and people were seen jumping the barriers on Aurora Avenue in an effort to get to Seattle Center to pick up their two free tickets. Sonics games don't cause traffic jams that bad.

I do not personally know any of the members of Pearl Jam. In fact, I've never even met any of them. But I'm a big enough fan now, and have been a big enough fan long enough, that I'd like to think I have a pretty damn good fix on their personalities, both individually and collectively, and on how they like to do things. Let me qualify that before someone over-reacts: call it a die-hard PJ fan's sixth sense, if you will. I've been right about too many things to simply shrug off this probable hoax, and Caryn can attest to that. I told her two months before PJ announced their fall '96 U.S. tour that they would do a warm up date in Seattle (and dammit, everyone but me got tickets!). After alt.music.pearl-jam got their panties in a bunch over "Olympic Platinum" and the uproar finally died down, I predicted it would be the Xmas single. I didn't know; I just had a hunch, and I realize there is no way I can prove any of this except to say that Caryn can vouch for me. ;-) But back to the story at hand -- a little voice was telling me I'd better not just ignore this announcement, and it wouldn't go away.

The little voice was telling me this: the boys in PJ have a twisted enough sense of humor to actually do a surprise show on April Fool's Day. Knowing the size and rabidness of their fan base, what better way to ensure that the whole world doesn't storm the site? Safe bet that half will write it off as an April Fool's joke and not show? I couldn't forget this thought, even though I knew it was just The End being stupid again.

Twenty minutes later my pager goes off with a phone number and "911"s all over the place. As I suspected, Caryn had heard what was going on. This is the scary part -- she heard it after getting e-mail from a friend of ours who lives in Olympia, who got it through e-mail from a friend in Portland, who had received a phone call from a friend in Seattle, all within minutes. Folks, welcome to the Internet. This is efficiency at its finest. As Caryn would say later, "I'm surprised it isn't over the border by now." Christ, I'm surprised Caryn wasn't getting e-mail from Ramon in Holland telling her about it. (Don't laugh -- it's happened before. ;-) )

I inform Caryn that if anyone is in a position to check out the site and dispel the rumor, it's me. It's basically on my way home and is no more than a few miles out of my way. And I promise to call her from a pay phone as soon as I find out anything.

To make a long story short, I found the Burien park & ride, at least I'm pretty sure I found the one they spoke of. Not only is it in the middle of a commercial district but it is a) near the airport, where a band would have to drown out a never-ending stream of Boeing 737s, b) a metro bus park & ride, which means it is c) a very small lot, and d) it doubles as a church parking lot (I'm not kidding). I call Caryn to douse the fire so people can return to normal functionality. As I drive home The End continues to report the free show at said park & ride (and I find out later that they've been saying this all day, as often as every fifteen minutes), and KISW continues to report the opposite: "Pearl Jam are not playing a show today," obviously feeling the pressure from people who were listening to The End and wanting very desperately for it to stop. In fact, KISW's deejay goes so far as to say, "This is just me being honest. I have not heard from Pearl Jam, their management, their friends or families, or anyone even remotely connected with them about new tour dates of any kind. They are not playing at a park & ride today, people, and if they did so on this day, possibly the worst traffic day in Puget Sound history [today is opening day for the Mariners, coincidentally] I think it would be pretty damned irresponsible of them!" he adds, laughing. "And there is a pretty big Sonics/Lakers game tonight and I also happen to know Jeff Ament has court-side seats."

Half an hour later The End finally caves. They admit it was an April Fool's joke, and hide under the guise the holiday provides and tell people to "lighten up."

If you've read this far I'm sure you're laughing at our gullibility. Go ahead, laugh. If you're a big enough PJ fan to read this page there is no question you'd have done the same thing, especially if your office was minutes away from the site. "So what?" you say, "What are you ranting about?"

My point is this: there is a time and a place for an April Fool's joke. The time is April 1. The place is most definitely not public radio. If you do not live anywhere near the Seattle area you can stop reading now, as you will probably never understand, but this was about as irresponsible as a Seattle radio station can get. Here's why:

a) They choose a site south of Seattle and a start time of 6:00 pm. The absolute worst possible thing that can happen in the Seattle area with regards to public safety is to give people reason to storm down I-5 south during the late afternoon on a weekday. Traffic here is horrendous, especially this time of day when people are commuting home from work. I see at least one bad car accident a week on this stretch alone.

b) They pick Burien. For those outside the 206 area code and have no idea where Burien is, it's near SeaTac airport. How do you get there off I-5 south? You take the 518 exit, the same exit for the airport, which has enough of its own traffic thank-you-very-much.

c) They pick a small park & ride lot as the venue. Yes, very funny. When you see it you get a big kick out of the idea that PJ would or even could play there. One problem: it's in the middle of a business district, nestled on the corner of 148th and Pacific Hwy South, which by the way is also a heavily trafficked area. There is little parking for normal volumes, much less for a stampede of rabid PJ fans, unless I've got the wrong park & ride and I seriously doubt I do.

Consider: there have been four highway shootings on Seattle's major highways in the last three months, all attributed to the L.A. syndrome -- people getting pissed off about being cut off by another driver. Laugh if you will, but I drive I-5 everyday, both directions, to get to and from work. Lately I've been scared shitless I'm gonna piss off somebody and get shot at. Cutting people off is not always avoidable; it happens, and people really do get way more pissed off than they need to about it and they really do kill people.

Radio stations are a public medium, and should be treated as such. I don't care how "cutting edge" they are, or what audience they cater to. Starting rumors of this nature over the air, April Fool's Day or no, is irresponsible and dangerous. You can argue 'til you're blue in the face that anyone with half a brain would have known it was an April Fool's joke, and you'd still only be half right. Some people don't remember the holiday. Some people aren't cool, calm, and collected, and will storm down I-5 if they think PJ is waiting at the end of it. And some people, folks, is all it takes cause confusion and disaster.

After The End pulled the plug on their little joke they were later heard backpeddling frantically, telling people not to go to Burien. Too late. We may never know how many people actually did.

Before anyone accuses me of being a stick-in-the-mud I'll have you know I have a wonderful sense of humor. Ask Caryn. :-P

The moral of the story -- You want to have fun making someone look foolish on April Fool's Day? Do it face to face with a friend or acquaintance, and keep it off the air. I thought Orson Welles taught everyone a lesson a long time ago (and his wasn't even intentional) but some people obviously need to be reminded of the power and potential influence of their positions.

Ranting this month,
Chris Mansfield