Why don’t you hear wind-up calls on the radio anymore?

It could be because they got played out, overdone. The best way to devalue something is to do lots of it, scarcity adds value. Then again, wind-ups may have stopped because things can go horribly wrong.

When I worked on the air in Australia, I was told of a wind-up call that cost a station a lot of money. A one man band, roofing contractor wanted to wind up his wife so he asked the station to call her up while he was at work. The presenter pretended to be a customer and asked the wife why her husband was taking so long on his roof. While he was talking, the wife heard sound effects and a scream that made it sound like the husband had fallen off the house. As you can imagine the wife was very upset thinking her husband and breadwinner had just had a terrible accident. The radio station had to pay compensation even though the call was never broadcast.

The most famous wind-up call gone wrong was also Australian. On 7 December 2012 Jacintha Saldanha, an Indian nurse who worked at King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, was found dead by suicide, three days after she got a prank phone call from 2Day FM in Sydney. The hosts had called Saldanha’s hospital and impersonated the Queen and Prince Charles asking about the health of the Duchess of Cambridge, who was pregnant and a patient there at the time. Saldanha believed she was actually talking to senior members of the royal family and transferred the call to the nurse looking after the Duchess. Although it was clearly the fault of the hospital and the royal family’s security, who’s lack of safeguards let the call get through, it was the radio station and it’s presenters who became scapegoats and were blamed for the death.

Those are two extreme examples of what I think the problem with wind-ups is. The person who gets called becomes an innocent victim.

For me, it’s much nicer when you can hear the person on the other end of the phone enjoying the experience of being wound up. In 2001, I was lucky enough to get that response from a bloke I called when I was on the air at BRMB in Birmingham…

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