Radio Station Pranks Listeners By Repeating Its Playlist for Groundhog Day
By Nick Keppler
“I haven't heard ‘Mr. [Wendal]’ two days in a row since the 1990s,” Shannon Norman tweeted at Pittsburgh-based radio station WYEP on Tuesday.
Norman, an apparent fan of the hip-hop act Arrested Development, isn't the only Pittsburgher feeling a sense of déjà vu. The noncommercial station pranked listeners by broadcasting the same playlist from 6 A.M. to 5 P.M. on February 1 and 2, in an unannounced homage to the 1993 Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day. Every song that aired on the first day aired on the second day, too, and in the exact same order.
Even the DJ banter, prerecorded, was largely the same. Morning listeners heard co-host Cindy Howes do a Springsteen impression on February 1. “That was Bruce Springsteen with ‘The Ties That Bind,’” Howes announced, “or ‘the ties that bi-yi-yi-yi-ind.’” Anyone tuning into 91.3 FM again on February 2 (Groundhog Day) heard her make the same joke at about the same time.
“We didn’t run the same newscasts,” Mike Sauter, WYEP’s director of content and programming—and the mastermind behind the idea—tells mental_floss. “We only wanted to take it to a certain level.” The station also didn’t allow The Givers, a Louisiana-based indie pop group scheduled to play live in the WYEP studio on February 2, to suffer because of the stunt. They inserted promotions of their performance into the Tuesday block.
Aside from that, all content from those 11 hours was repeated. In a direct reference to the movie, in which Murray plays a Pittsburgh weatherman reliving Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney in a time loop, the station played Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” at 7 a.m.
Sauter says he’s been sitting on the idea since 2014. He was inspired by the continual references to the movie on social media every February. “I think any movie with a calendar element has a life of its own,” he says. “You certainly see that with Christmas movies. Some people watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles every Thanksgiving.”
Groundhog Day fell on a Monday last year; WYEP’s Sunday programming and listenership are so different that he didn’t think the prank would work then. This year, the station had its chance. Three sets of DJs—the morning, mid-day, and afternoon hosts—recorded their sets in late January and downloaded them into the station’s computer for replay.
Many social media users got it by early morning, says Sauter. One listener called Howes, the A.M. host, to inform her the station must be having some kind of technical problem. Most of the reaction, however, has been positive, says Sauter.