Off and on from 1987 to 2010, on different networks, people tuned in to watch the weirdness that was Unsolved Mysteries. The show presented mysteries that ran the gamut of murders to Bigfoot sightings. At the end of the show, viewers would be encouraged to call a hotline to share any information they may have about the mystery. You can imagine that hundreds of callers with no connection whatsoever to the case would flood the lines with their opinions. According to an Unsolved Mysteries phone operator named Delilah, that was true, but she listened to each one because you never knew when a nugget of truth would come through.
She would get the callers insisting they knew who was really behind the Oklahoma City bombing, or asking for a segment on the conspiracy behind water fluoridation. UFO callers were the strangest (in a very competitive field), but still, it was her job to listen. When one call came in about Kecksburg (a famous UFO crash in Pennsylvania) ...
"At first, it sounded convincing. He was from around there as a kid, and had been told by a passing soldier that it was a secret satellite that fell. It seemed legit, and I began taking the info down. But he slowly began adding a detail here and there. About the certain project it might have been. About what it was there for. About mysterious happenings. When my supervisor came around, I was writing about how it was a program to destroy aliens. He said, 'Why are you writing this down?' [The caller] had so slowly built up to it I didn't notice."
But then in 2002, they did an episode about the Phoenix UFOs. Among all of the many calls declaring it the beginning of an alien invasion, Delilah got one from a guy claiming, in a rather convincing way, that it was a secret military project.
"I thought, 'Here we go,' but he introduced himself as someone from the military and explained that they were flares dropped during an exercise ... and told us to look into what the Maryland Air National Guard was up to that night."
It turned out that he was telling the truth. The mysterious lights were flares attached to balloons.
"It turns out it was an amazing tip, because it completely debunked the UFO, but we couldn't use it." Because the military had made no announcement to that effect, that caller got lumped in with the cranks.
Useful calls were overwhelmed by pranks, creeps, the unhinged, and people who just wanted to talk to someone, but quite a few real crimes were solved with help from callers. Read about the life of an Unsolved Mysteries operator at Cracked.