What’s the frequency, Kenneth!?

More than just an R.E.M. song


"dan rather" by charlie llewellin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The night of October 4th, 1984 was a night CBS anchorman Dan Rather would never forget

CBS anchorman Dan Rather was walking to his Manhattan apartment the night of October 4th, 1986. Two assailants stepped out of the darkness and physically attacked the anchorman berating him all the while with a phrase: “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?”.

Some of our more astute readers may notice that Dan Rather is not named Kenneth. Aside from the strange interrogation, Dan Rather was not robbed during the encounter either, merely beaten and questioned. At the time Rather believed it was a case of mistaken identity and later returned to his job. Then in 1993 the band R.E.M. recorded the song “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?” and that’s where the story should have stopped. Relegated to a fun fact related to a hit song from the early ’90s, but the story doesn’t stop there, and it gets weird.

Eight years later in 1994 a North Carolina man, William Tager, shot and killed an NBC technician outside of the Today show. Upon his arrest, Tager claimed that NBC had been sending transmissions into his brain for years and that his attack on the studio was an attempt to stop these transmissions. 

So how does this relate to the Rather mugging? We are going to get to that. 

Later, when Tager was being interviewed by the prison psychiatrist, he gave an incredible story. According to Tager, he was a time traveler from the year 2265, a felon, who was sent on an experimental mission in exchange for his freedom. The authorities from Tager’s timeline kept tabs on him via a chip implanted in his brain. 

Pretty weird right? This is where it gets even weirder.

Tager then claimed to be one of the men who attacked Dan Rather back in 1986, because he claimed Rather looked like the Vice-President of Tager’s timeline, Kenneth Burrows. 

Rather then positively identified Tager as one of the men who attacked him 8 years earlier!

And it gets even weirder. 

It turns out there was a real Kenneth.

Enter Ken Schafer, an inventor who found a way to intercept Russian TV broadcasts so Americans could watch them.  Schaffer had these intercepted broadcasts available to view at the Harriman Institute for Advanced Studies of the Soviet Union at Columbia University in New York, the same city where Dan Rather was mugged. The story goes that Ken Schafer was the intended target of the Rather mugging by parties unknown as he never did tell the public the frequencies of his interception technology. 

So there it should end, one confused news anchor, one mentally ill man, and one inventor. 

However, astute readers may remember, there were two men who attacked Dan Rather 

The identity of the other man still remains a mystery.