We have become a nation of speculators and rumor followers.
Some good examples include the recent questions about whether or not President Obama was born in the United States and, in the past, whether Elvis Presley is/was still alive.
The opposite of the Elvis issue happened in the fall of 1969, when reports circulated that Paul McCartney, then still a part of the Beatles, was dead.
It first circulated on college campuses, then made its way to several radio stations.
Perhaps the biggest of the latter was WABC in New York, 40 years ago this month. On his all-night radio program, which because of the station's gigantic signal, could be heard throughout the eastern half of the country, DJ Roby Yonge started discussing the rumors, and the so-called "clues" which appeared on some of the Beatles more recent albums and album covers.
One of those clues was the much-talked-about claim that, if you played one of those albums backwards, you could hear references to McCartney's death. (Comedian George Carlin later quipped that, "if you play it backwards at slow speed, it screws up your needle".)
WABC is now a talk radio station, but at that time it was one of the biggest music stations in the country. Station executives who heard the broadcast were concerned that, aside from the fact Yonge was discussing unproven rumors, he was doing more talking than playing records. He also was fielding telephone calls from people who said they found their own "proof" of McCartney's death. Those calls were not broadcast on the air, but they were overwhelming the WABC telephone system.
Yonge admitted on the air that night that he already had been fired, effective in two weeks, but his speculative broadcast accelerated that process. He was taken off the air permanently, before his show was over, and replaced by a substitute DJ who was instructed to tell listeners that his comments about McCartney were "speculation".
Interestingly, neither Yonge or anyone else talking about McCartney's alleged fate at the time brought up what, if it HAD been discussed, would have been the biggest (and more accurate) rumor of all: that the Beatles, as a band, would be dead within five months.
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