It begins with a low hissing sound, like air being let out of a thousand car tires. Within days, the noise is so loud that having a conversation outside is challenging.
Reality has exploded as millions of large black bugs — downright prehistoric, with orange wings and red, beady eyes — cover the trees, crunch under your feet, get caught in your clothing and stick to your hair.
While it may feel like yesterday, it has been 17 years since cicadas dominated the environment of millions of Americans. Since 2004, the Magicicada septendecim, cassini and septendecula species have been gorging on root sap and now they’re nearly ready to emerge from the dirt to munch on trees and gleefully mate.
Are you ready for some comic relief this spring? Aren’t we all?
Once soil hits 64 degrees, anywhere from mid-May to late June, our noisy neighbors of 2021 will emerge in Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
For stations addicted to national collective contesting, this one-in-17 spectacle should encourage you to dream up unique local challenges that involve kids and families. During a time when one of the safest places we can be is outdoors, having fun with cicadas is a natural.
Here are a few idea starters:
Cicada Cuisine: Okay, so it’s not for everyone … but adventurous eaters know why cicadas have been called ”the shrimp of the land.” I was astonished at the number of cicada recipes available for soups, snacks, main dishes, desserts and even candy (like chocolate cicadas). Engage your listeners in the search for the best cicada recipe, along with gathering tips and cooking techniques. If your morning show is hungry and brave enough, perhaps the finalist creations could be sampled on-air and ranked for creativity, flavor, and yes, crunchiness!
Cicada Travel: Perhaps your area will be light on cicada numbers but close enough to a high-density region. If by late spring it’s okay to start encouraging travel, why not send a pair of listeners on a cicada scavenger hunt to an area where cicada cacophony rules. Sound levels can hit 100 decibels and have a nearly hypnotic effect. Your contest winners can record the sound for you and send video for your website. Maybe you have them go camping in a forest for the full effect.
Hunt and Gather: Cicadas shed their shells. These husks are brown and look terrifying, but, like the bugs, are totally harmless. Have kids gather and count the shells up to the number of your station frequency. Your junior entomologists take a pic or video of their collection and submit to win a cicada mask with your station logo.
Bug Me to Draw: It’s a perfect time to give away a VW Bug. Could be a new Bug or a classic Beetle. It might be easier to get a dealer to do it as a two-year lease. To enter, have listeners submit their best drawings or paintings of cicadas, put them on your Instagram feed, then do a random drawing from all the entries.
News stations, get your reports ready to roll so you’ve got plenty of stories to feed your cicada-swamped listeners.
Keep in mind that there will be people who initially freak out, so getting folks to understand that the creatures are harmless is a first step.
Sure, small trees and certain plants may need netting for protection. And folks will want to check the car and drive with closed windows since the crazy buzz of a cicada on a driver’s face or neck could cause an accident. But cicadas are really different and interesting and there’s a lot to talk about.
Could you find a local resident who has been around for four or more cicada events? Now that’s a story that a cicada sensationalist would surely enjoy.