BELLEVILLE — Belleville was once again the setting for National Public Radio's annual April Fools' joke Wednesday when it aired listeners' concerns over awhale-farming business as an alternative source of energy. "All Things Considered" hosts Michele Norris, Melissa Block and Robert Siegel read comments reacting to a segment on Belleville, where "the nation's first farm-raised whales are being grown and harvested."
The station never aired such a segment. It was the first time NPR tried to dupe listeners with fake comments instead of a made-up story.
The comments led listeners, such as Belleville native Kathy Pellman, to frantically search the Web for more information on whale farming.
Pellman, who now lives in Indianapolis, said she didn't know NPR has a tradition of elaborate April Fools' pranks, and she didn't realize the segment was a joke until the next day.
"I heard the story on my way home from work and thought, `You've got to be kidding,'" Pellman said. "I don't think I would have been hooked if it wasn't for the Belleville part."
Art Silverman, senior producer of "All Things Considered," said he decided to use Belleville in tribute to a 1997 NPR prank in which the show did a fake story on the "ninth annual Mouth Sounds Competition" in Belleville.
Silverman cast fellow producer Sean Collins as "Reed Summers," the supposed champion of the competition, and then decided to feature Collins' hometown, Belleville.
"I was happy to see that Reed Summers lived to see another decade on the radio," Collins said. "For awhile yesterday, and maybe even today, farm-raised whales was the top search on Google."
This time, "Reed Summers" was a conductor who taught the captive whales to sing close harmony and says, "In achieving three-part harmony in whale songs, I think we've tied nature's most wondrous sound to a great barber shop tradition."