You think you had a busy day yesterday?
Pop singer Stevie Wonder spent a good part of it convincing friends he was't dead - as reported on Washington's WKYS-FM at 11:35 a.m.
Friends here started calling Wonder at his New York apartment moments later. His Manhattan office was swamped with calls. The switchboards at United Press International and the Associated Press were tied up with inquiries, as were those at local radio and TV stations and newspapers.
It all started with "that man in Guyana," according to Michael Way, an editor for the news service Agence France-Press in Paris. A Guyana stringer filed a report to Paris, Way sighed, that The Daily Gleaner in Kingston, Jamaica, had reported Wonder dead in Jamaica from a drug overdose.
AFP's Paris office cabled its New York bureau with an inquiry. Even as correspondent Patrick Polte was checking the story in New York, someone in the office called WKYS here with a scoop. Operations director Gordon Peil approved the report, and at 11:35 a.m. announcer Jim Supriano went on the air with the story as an unconfirmed report, omitting the drug aspect.
Meanwhile, AFP's New York bureau called Wonder's Motown record company and discovered that the singer was quite alive. Friends of Wonder here began calling the station and reporting that they had just spoken with Wonder. Forty-five minutes after the initial report, WKYS, NBC-owned and the fifth-ranked FM station here, corrected its error and apologized to listeners.
AFP eventually filed a story on the subject later in the afternoon, a simple denial of reports that pop singer Wonder had died in Jamaica. The story was sent to the agency's French-language subscribers in Canada, Haiti and Guadalupe. No report went to English-language buyers.
In Kingston, Daily Glenner city editor Lloyd Williams observed that "an awful lot of Americans have wasted money calling here today" to inquire about the supposed death. "We haven't written a jot about Wonder in the last few months," Williams said.
WKYS general manager Frank Scoft neatly summed up the matter last evening in rather direct language.
Said Scott: "The whole thing was dumb."