Thursday, October 25, 2007

Apple #276: Truth or Consequences

In preparation for Friday, I thought, what better place name to investigate than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico?

  • Once upon a time, this New Mexican town halfway between El Paso, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico used to be named Hot Springs. Because there were springs there, and they were hot -- or at least warm. People used to come to the springs, and resorts were built, and it was quite the tourist haven for a while.

Earliest known photo of Hot Springs, New Mexico, circa 1860s or '70s. This couple is bathing in the hot springs, hoping for relief from their rheumatism.
(Photo from the Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce)

  • But the public's interest in springs died away as more people learned more about how medicine works, and fewer people made the trek out to Hot Springs.
  • Then, in 1950, the producer of a radio program called Truth or Consequences got his staff together and said, "Our 10th anniversary is coming up. Wouldn't it be great if we could get some town to change its name to Truth or Consequences?"
      • The radio program -- which later became a TV show -- was like a quiz show in which the contestants were asked questions. But the questions were usually bizarre or silly and the contestant usually got the answer wrong.
      • Getting the answer wrong meant the contestant had to "pay the consequences," and the contestant was required to perform some sort of stunt.
      • Sometimes the stunts had to be performed over time, off the air, and the contestant had to come back to the program and report on how they'd done.
      • The stunts were usually embarrassing, such as being chased by a man in a gorilla suit, or sentimental, such as being reunited with a long-lost family member.

What looks like the end of a Truth or Consequences episode, after various contestants have paid their required consequences
(Photo from Tim's TV Showcase)

      • Bob Barker hosted of this program from 1956 and 1974 -- this was his first TV show.
  • So the radio show's promotional people put the word out to various magazines and tourist boards and who knows where else. The Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce heard about the idea and started spreading the word around town that this would be a great way to get free advertising. And, if they could get the name changed, that would sure distinguish it from the other Hot Springses around the country.
  • People talked and debated about it so much, the city held a special election. By a vote of 1,294 in favor, the proposal to change the name to Truth or Consequences won.
  • There were 295 dissenting votes, and those dissenters filed a protest. So the town voted again. But the second vote was even higher in favor of changing the name.
  • So Hot Springs called up the Truth or Consequences radio program and gave them the news. The show sent the producer and the entire staff and cast, and they aired the show's first live broadcast in 1950 from the newly-named Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
  • Every May, the town holds a fiesta called the Ralph Edwards Fiesta Day, in which Ralph Edwards, erstwhile producer of the radio show, is the guest of honor. He has attended the fiesta every year since its inception .

Ralph Edwards (right) and Bob Barker (left) attending the Fiesta Day together in 1970.
(Photo from the Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce)

  • The radio program turned into a TV show not long after Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences. The TV show ran until 1974. A few attempts have been made to revive the show since then, but they petered out pretty quickly.
  • Today, the town is officially a city, with a population of 7,068, or almost 7 times the number of people living there in 1950.

What Truth or Consequences looks like today
(Photo from the Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce)

  • And I'd wager that today, more people have heard of the town than the radio or TV show. So I'm going to guess that the decision to change the name was ultimately a good one. Though if I'm wrong, I might have to pay the consequences (har har).

"How Hot Springs Became Truth or Consequences," The Chaparral Guide, January 2000 posted at City of Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce
Tim's TV Showcase, Truth or Consequences
IMDB, Truth or Consequences
IMDB, Bob Barker

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