WBAI-FM Program Highlight
What's The Frequency, Kenneth?


Tuesday, December 3, 2013   4:00 AM - 5:00 AM

What's the Frequency, Kenneth? is a weekly "newsical" about current events, journalism and the media, told through a mix of narration, music and soundbites, on Tuesdays from 4-5am. Not up that early? Catch up on the show on the archive.

From Paul Fischer:

I am a former News Director of WBAI, (Neal Conan and I won an Overseas Press Club Award for "excellence" for our documentary," Northern Ireland: A Month of Bloody Sundays" ,for our reporting from there for WBAI). I was a News Director for KPFA, and then went off to CBS News for 31 years.  The last 24 of those years I was writing for Dan Rather on The CBS Evening News, where I earned 11 Writers Guild of America Awards and a News Emmy.

After CBS News and I parted company in 2006, I decided to return to my roots in public radio. What's the Frequency, Kenneth?  is my way of giving back something to the public for my 40 years of experience in journalism and I  specifically had WBAI in mind when I created the program.

The program now airs on about 2 dozen stations around the country.

The photo on this page is from my time as News Director of KPFA in 1974, the day i received the ransom note and hostage tapes from the kidnappers of Patty Hearst.

The story behind "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is actually quite fascinating. You see, William Tager was a local psycho in New York. He thought CBS News was beaming signals into his head. Naturally, when he saw Dan Rathers walking down the street, he ran up and beat him up, repeatedly requesting the frequency of the signals so he can stop them, while addressing Rathers as "Kenneth" for no apparent reason to this date.

After this freak event, Tager later shot a CBSNews stagehand. He was then arrested.

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?", the phrase, became a nationwide phenomenon. R.E.M. made a song called "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" on their 1994 album Monster. It was the first single taken from the album, released three weeks later. It peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 9 on the UK Singles Chart, and was the first song to debut at number one on Billboard Modern Rock Tracks. See video below.

Watch video