This article is courtesy of Christian
The year was 1981. Ross Brittain and Brian
Wilson (not the Beach Boy) were the toast of the
radio world in Atlanta. For two and a half years
the two-man team hosted morning drive at pop
station WZGC-FM. I was a fan. Rarely did I miss a
show. They were funny, original, and according to
the local radio ratings, the audience thought so,
like everything in life, all good things must come
to an end. So it was with Ross and Wilson. Success
bred success, and my favorite comedy tag team
eventually hit the road to New York City to host
the morning show at WABC.
I was disappointed. But that’s the world of
radio – here today, gone for a better
gig tomorrow. Unfortunately for Ross and Wilson,
the memories of laughter weren’t the only thing
they left behind in Atlanta. Forever and a day,
this morning show crew would be remembered for The
The word on the street – and around
the water cooler – and wherever else you
could share a story, was that Ross and Wilson were
fired from WZGC because, in the midst of a
gruesome crime spree in Atlanta, they went on the
air to dedicate Queen’s "Another One Bites the
Dust" to the murdered and missing children in
The story circulated amongst anyone who had
ears to hear. I had heard it so many times, I
almost came to believe it. Let me repeat the word.
Something about it just didn’t quite
ring true. I couldn’t personally vouch for its
lack of authenticity, but one telltale sign kept
popping up every time this story was propagated.
The person who heard it was always "a friend," or
"a friend of a friend." I could never find a
first-person account of anyone who had actually
ever heard the episode.
Fast-forward 20 years later. I’m on the phone
with the aforementioned Brian Wilson (again, a
reminder: not Carnie’s father), now a syndicated
radio talk show host. Not surprisingly, he’s very
familiar with the story.
"A reporter from an Atlanta newspaper called me
at the studio in New York in '81," explains
Wilson, "and said, 'Have you heard the rumor? It’s
being said here that you and Brittain were fired
"My response was, 'What?!' First of all, we
weren't even allowed to play that song in morning
drive. Second, it was sick humor – not the
kind we would do. Third, our departure for the New
York station had already been announced in the
local paper. Even though the station wasn't
thrilled, our parting was amicable."
According to Wilson, The Joke never happened,
and he has no idea how it got started. He
describes this episode as "the model for all urban
The Legend Lives…and
According to John A. Williams (not the
conductor), author of The Cost of Deception and
president of Sound of His Voice Ministries, the
Ross and Wilson story falls squarely into the
urban legend (UL) definition.
"Urban legends are popular tales with a good
hook – something that draws you into the
story – that usually involve some combination
of off-the-wall, frightening or supernatural
events," says Williams. "They always happen to 'a
friend of a friend.'"
Broadcaster and speaker Rich Buhler, founder of
the UL-debunking Web site truthorfiction.com,
agrees. "We all love a good 'wow' story," says
Buhler. "What would you do if you walked into your
dentist’s office and there was a pig in the chair?
Then you find out the pig was there to get dental
work done. You would tell people that story for
the rest of your life."
And for the rest of their lives, Wilson and
Brittain will more than likely have to continue to
put the kibosh on the lie that wouldn’t die.
"In 1991 I went back to Atlanta to host a show
on a news/talk station," says Wilson. "Third
caller into the show, boom! He asks about the
rumor. I thought, 'My gosh, that was 10 years
ago.' Then the local paper did another story on
it. If I went back on the air in Atlanta today, I
promise you it would start all over again."
Again, part of the UL pattern. "Urban legends
are given birth, they grow, they decline and then
they come back in another form," says Williams.
"The location or the name of the company has
changed, but the plot is still the same."
The Christian, The
Atheist, and Ivory Soap
There are a plethora of contemporary myths that
society has perpetuated, ranging from hair-raising
creepy campfire tales to
she’s-dying-please-help-her e-mails to the
rodent-in-your-chicken stories. While some believe
these phony fables are reserved for those whose
main source of news is supermarket tabloids, the
Christian community has proliferated its share of
Look no further than Exhibit A: Madalyn Murray
O’Hair. For more than a quarter of a decade, the
Christian community has received letters, faxes,
e-mails – you name it – stating
unequivocally that the famed atheist has a
petition before the Federal Communications
Commission to remove all Christian programming off
the airwaves. In turn, and in panic, believers
have swamped the FCC in similar communication
fashion, urging the commission to deny O’Hair’s
request. Approximately 30 million letters have
been sent to the FCC since 1976, the largest
single response to any item in the agency’s
For the record, O’Hair never introduced such a
petition. There is a shred of truth (not uncommon
to ULs) to the story: a real petition number
(attributed to O’Hair), RM2493. The original
petition was submitted by two men asking the FCC
to put a freeze on Christian organizations
acquiring signals at the noncommercial end of the
FM dial. The two gentlemen wanted smaller schools
and colleges to have a crack at what were termed
"educational" channels. The request was denied,
but the story, mysteriously attached to O’Hair, is
like a Friday the 13th movie – just when you
thought the enemy was dead, he resurfaces five
years later in the next sequel. The most recent
round of e-mails declares that TV’s "Touched by an
Angel" is the next target).
It doesn’t stop there. May I present Exhibit B.
The story goes that an executive of Proctor and
Gamble appeared on a nationwide talk show and
declared he was a member of the Satanic church and
10 percent of P&G’s profits would be given to
the church. Couple that with the company’s logo,
which many a rumormonger made out to be a Satanic
symbol, and you had calls from all over
Christendom to boycott Proctor and Gamble’s
products – toothpaste, Ivory Soap, anything
branded with their name and symbol. Again: Never
"When I first heard the story, a gentleman told
me he saw the interview on television," says
Williams. (Several also told Wilson they actually
heard the "Another One Bites the Dust" bit).
"However, no one can produce a transcript, nobody
knows the name of the executive, and the name of
the show he appeared on changes, depending on the
So is the Christian community more easily duped
than others? Perhaps we’re "urban
"No category of people is more susceptible than
others," explains Buhler. "We (Christians) are a
special interest group with special concerns. But
I do believe we are vulnerable because of our
desire to embrace truth."
Williams concurs. "We have to learn to discern
the truth, because if we are going to represent
the truth to people, we can’t deal in
fabrications, half-truths, innuendos, and
That goes for those in the pew – and the
pulpit. Every week, urban legends are repeated by
an unwitting pastor – ranging from President
George W. Bush witnessing to a teenager on the
campaign trail (never happened) to the inspiring
tale of actor Mel Gibson overcoming severe facial
burns (ditto, didn’t happen) to become an Academy
"There’s nothing wrong with a fictional story
with an inspirational purpose," says Buhler. "But
if it’s presented as a real story, for the sake of
integrity, we need to have the desire to know
whether or not it’s really true."
And how exactly can we know? E-mail has
accelerated the process of spreading urban legend
(note how many ULs have resulted from the World
Trade Center tragedy alone). When disseminating
information, Williams offers some practical
1. "Ask questions. Where did you learn the
information? Try and go back to the source.
2. "See if the source is verifiable – CNN,
a newspaper or magazine. Is it something you can
find in a well-known media outlet?"
3. "Look at the fruit of it. Does it produce
the qualities Jesus would want us to emulate, or
does it produce fear and doubt and dread?"
For Williams, the cost of not verifying the
truth comes at a high price. “Believing and
spreading the urban legend makes Christians appear
irrational and irresponsible," says Williams.
"We’re viewed as reactive rather than proactive.
Because of that view, it hinders our right to take
the message of truth into the marketplace and be
heard and taken seriously. My advice, when it
comes to discerning the truth of a story, can be
summed up in three words: Trust, then