War of the Worlds
© All AlabamaTuscumbia police compared concern over an alien-themed promotion by a Shoals-area radio station to H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.
Florence, Alabama - A radio promotion spoofing aliens hacking into an Alabama radio station spooked students into believing schools would be attacked.

It was all a mysterious misunderstanding, a Shoals area radio official said, that has no logical explanation. Still, law enforcement in the area beefed up security at schools to calm fears from parents.

"It's a very innocuous promotion that got blown out of proportion," said Brian Rickman, program director for Shoals Radio Group.

To bring attention to a format change at Star 94.9 - which is owned by Shoals Radio Group - Rickman said the station on Monday began airing conversations between aliens.

"We came up with what we thought was a really fun storyline and that would be that these aliens or star people were hacking into the radio station," Rickman said. "The concept being that they heard our frequency several light years away, they didn't like Justin Bieber and the pop music we were playing and they were going to take over the radio station and adjust the format.

"We thought it was clever."

Rickman said it's a common tactic by radio stations to promote format changes.

"That night, I took a look at our Facebook page and we had suddenly gone from 1,400 fans to 6,000 fans," he said. "That was my first clue that something was happening. We had about 20 messages there. I start going through the messages and there were plenty of listeners playing along.

"Suddenly, I start running across messages that are panic. People are saying we're broadcasting threats to the community. I'm like, what in the world are they talking about."

Rickman said he took the audio off the air Monday night that was causing the concern.

A flood of phone messages were awaiting Rickman when he got to work Tuesday, he said, including those from police and superintendents of area school systems. Rickman said he sent the audio to community leaders who were concerned, which diffused the situation.

But law enforcement still decided to put extra security on campuses as the aliens announced that they would be taking over the radio station at 9 a.m. today.

"Right now, the aliens have taken over and are trying different formats to see what the humans like," Rickman said. "Come (Friday) morning, they are going to come up with the new format, which is our actual new format, which just kind of plays everything."

The Times Daily in Florence reported that Tuscumbia police chief Tony Logan said chatter on social media is what led to the unfounded concern. Tuscumbia police posted on its Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon that the radio promotion was nothing to be concerned about.

"Word travels like crazy and with social media, you can't put a fire out once it starts," Rickman said.

Star 94.9 posted a compilation of the alien audio on its Facebook page on Tuesday - which included conversation about the fact that the aliens had frightened the humans and making fun of Miley Cyrus' appearance on the MTV Video Awards.

Once the concern began to spread, though, Rickman said the radio station went into damage control.

"My decision was, let's speed up making the aliens friendlier," he said. "That was scheduled to happen. The messages we aired were by no means cryptic but I supposed they were almost too well produced. It really did sound like somebody was hacking in. If we made any mistake, I suppose that was it."

Listen to an audio compilation of the aliens from the Star 94.9 Facebook page.