This joke was on them.
During their Monday morning show on Gator Country 101.9, Val St. John and Scott Fish used a decades-old hoax, announcing that “dihydrogen monoxide” was coming out of Lee County taps. Dihydrogen monoxide is another name for water, based on its molecular composition of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.
Tony Renda, general manager at the Bonita Springs country music station, didn’t find the joke funny. The News-Press reported that he immediately pulled the duo and began airing a retraction and apologies.
This prank is an old but classic joke (Penn & Teller did this prank in one of their Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episodes) about dihydrogen monoxide (aka H2O – “water”) being toxic or in some way bad for you. And it’s been a successful prank in the past. Just take a look at this story.
It just goes to show that using different words for something harmless, especially if you make it sound very chemical-like, it sounds bad.
What’s even more depressing is that the County officials had to go out and assure the people that their water was safe as some people freaked out. Oh for some better skepticism… especially on April 1st.
For more on myth that chemicals=bad, see this piece.
UPDATE: Some people have said this was debunked as a hoax itself but I’m not so sure. This from the Atlantic.
The popular deejays are mainly in all this trouble (potentially of a felony level) because their listeners panicked so much — about the molecular makeup of their drinking water, however unwittingly — that Lee County utility officials had to issue a county-wide statement calming the fears of chemistry challenged Floridians.
Audio evidence of exactly how St. John and Fish executed this bad joke remains scarce, as they were pulled off the air around 8:30 a.m. — about three and half hours into their Val and Scott in the Morning show on WWGR/Gator Country 101.9 FM, which airs across a big region of Southwest Florida. That was enough time for listeners to begin calling the water company.