SAN DIEGO — This city has long called itself America's Finest. But after April Fools' Day, it may become known as America's Most Gullible.
A hoax perpetrated by a radio station tied up traffic for hours at a small airport as hundreds of rubberneckers gathered for what they thought would be a once-in-a-lifetime view of the landing of the space shuttle Discovery.
"This wasn't some Orson Welles joke," said police spokesman Bill Robinson. "This was the real thing, going out live (on KGB-FM). Many of the listeners heard it and began arriving en masse at Montgomery Field" before 8:30 a.m., time of the supposed touchdown.
KGB-FM's deejay told listeners the Discovery was being diverted from Edwards Air Force Base to Montgomery Field, located in the middle of a crowded residential-commercial neighborhood.
No space shuttle flight was even scheduled. But alas, the April Fools' trick worked.
Airport manager Tom Raines was furious, having been put in the role of spoiler.
"Hundreds of people were late to work. Hundreds of kids were kept out of school or were late to school. I had to shoo parents away with their video cameras, and a lot of them got really mad," Raines said.
As angry as Raines was, he wasn't half as mad as the city's Police Department, which threatened legal action.
Robinson said the crowd, estimated at more than 1,000, required the diversion of dozens of motorcycle officers "to separate and redirect traffic, when they should have been working rush hour."
He said the station is being billed for "our manpower hours," and should it refuse to pay, "(City Atty.) John Witt might have an answer for them."
Dave Rickards, the morning deejay who conceived the spoof, said he was merely "looking for a good scambo for April Fools' Day. I just light these bombs, and then I run away."
"I can't believe (the public) bought it," said Raines. "We have a 3,400-foot runway with a 12,000-pound weight limit. I don't know how much the space shuttle weighs, but it's a hell of a lot more than 12,000 pounds."