WKCR Broadcast Interruption, Part One

A few years ago, I first came across the WKCR broadcast “interruption” as I was revisiting the Max Headroom incident.  Lots of people were unnerved by the videos of the Max Headroom interruption and I never really felt strongly about it because it was just so puerile: a weird dude wearing a Max Headroom mask, muttering about “nerds,” humming a very old cartoon theme song and getting smacked on his bare ass with a flyswatter.  I can see the people who actually saw this happen in 1987 becoming alarmed.  It was a simpler time and some of them just wanted to watch Doctor Who.  There was no Internet yet to make them jaded.  Doesn’t explain all the people who say the Max Headroom incident made their blood run cold after they first saw it on Reddit or some social media site, but different people, different triggers.  The WKCR incident, not so much – it’s fairly eerie and I wonder if some of the fear reaction comes from the actual extended note at the beginning, which some call the “E-shriek.” Certain noises can inspire a fear reaction, and the religious sort of chanting that followed that shriek points to something hidden and arcane being revealed.

The WKCR incident doesn’t have anything close to the level of verification as the Max Headroom incident.  The lore is that a 4channer discovered the tape when listening to some old audio tapes he or she recorded on an old cassette recorder.  The claim is that the 4channer would randomly record radio programs they listened to as they fell asleep so they could play them back later. They recorded this audio in 1994 or 1995 and recently rediscovered the cassette and uploaded it so others could marvel at the creepiness.  I believe the 4chan post was back in 2013 but has since been deleted, as most 4chan posts are over time. All we have to go on regarding the station identification is from the original poster – station ID does not appear in the recording but WKCR is an actual radio station in New York City.

The WKCR incident doesn’t make my blood run cold but it has an eerie vibe, and I think that had I been listening to a radio station when this happened without any explanation, I would have been alarmed.  However, I do not think this was a genuine radio broadcast interruption, hence the quotes used in the first sentence. I have not been able to find any evidence that the radio channel has ever acknowledged such a broadcast interruption.  In 1994 or 1995, when the broadcast interruption supposedly happened, the station was a student radio station in New York, NY, and promoted avant garde music. Had this genuinely occurred, the mindset behind the station would have been more likely to acknowledge it happened and discuss it, especially since to many the “interruption” sounds like something Diamanda Galas would have recorded.  It’s not even mentioned on the Wikipedia entry for the station, it’s not mentioned anywhere on the station’s site, and I can find nothing that indicates the FCC ever investigated such a broadcast interruption (though I admit that my searches on that front may not have covered all potential information).

So I tend to think this was either an avant garde music project someone at the station played over that evening’s playlist (that the voice in the hijack sounds very similar to the alleged disc jockey’s voice can lead one to that conclusion) or it was created by the 4chan poster and uploaded as a sort of audio creepy pasta.  I don’t think it was a failed ARG (alternate reality game), along the lines of the similarly creepy Wyoming Incident because it doesn’t have that sort of feel to it, especially since so much of the dialogue in the recording is difficult to understand.

Because it does sound so creepy, it’s understandable how this alleged interruption has become a popular example of a radio interruption, regardless of how hard it is to verify that it happened.  But the enduring appeal of the WKCR audio also comes from some of the names and dates used in the recording because two of the names and one of the dates lend themselves well to conspiracy theory.  The recording is a woman’s voice rapidly reciting death dates and loved ones of nine people who died during 1985 through 1988.  She initially murmurs all nine mini-obituaries then she repeats them and after each one a bell rings. The names are often surprisingly hard to hear, and sometimes all she recites are the years of death.  Various sites online have attempted to transcribe the names.  Here are a couple of examples of such work:

February 1985 – Frank Oppenheimer, brother of Robert. Husband of Jackie, their father of Micheal, our friend.

August 22nd 1985 [incoherent] Tulio. Sister of Millie, Margaret, Dominic and joe. Wife of William. Mother of Mary, Lisa and Billy.

July 4th 1987 Peter Dunwell, Son of Robert, Husband of Lisa

March 17th 1988, Edward McEllis (McNellis?) [Incoherent] Edward’s brother. William, June, Peggy father of Julie, Heart Attack.

April 1988 Rupert [incoherent]

October 1988 Morgan (Tunic?) father of Barbara, Husband of Elsie. Barbara’s dad. Kidney failure.

November 1988 John Byrne (Burn?) Son of John, brother of Catherine and Chris.

December 21st 1988 Barry Valentino, son of Barry Senior, brother of Scott, Mark and Lisa. And his friend, my friend.

May 1987 Henrietta Graham, Mother of [incoherent] my friend

From one of several Reddit posts about the tape:

A transcript someone posted on godlikeproductions thread on the tape:

  1. August 22 1985 Arimichaelis?? Tulio sister of millie, margaret.. domanic…. and joe, wife of william, mother of mary, lisa? and billy.

  2. July 4 1987 peter dunwell son of robert

  3. November 1988 john byrne?? son of john brother of catherine

  4. December 21 1988 Barry Valentino son of Barry snr. brother Scott

  5. February 1985 Frank Oppenheimer brother of Robert

  6. May 1987 Henrietta Graham

  7. March 17 1988 Edward McNellis?? brother of william , june… peggy

  8. April 1988 Rupert ??

  9. October 1988 Morgan Tunic?? father of Barbara, husband of Elsie “Barbara’s Dad”.

Obviously, the name “Frank Oppenheimer,” brother of Robert Oppenheimer jumps out, since both brothers were physicists, and J. Robert Oppenheimer is considered one of the fathers of the atomic bomb.  Barry Valentino is also a jump out because he died aboard the doomed Pan Am Flight 103, the plane that was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland. Libya’s Qadaffi took responsibility for this terrorist action in 2003, which would have post-dated the alleged tape recording by several years.

Several of the other dates are linked to other plane crashes, but none of them were enduring news stories and none of them were linked to terrorism or any other sort of criminal activity.

However, the presence of the Lockerbie crash has caused Internet sleuths to proclaim that all these dates are plane crash dates from 1987 and 1988, and that since Robert Oppenheimer is mentioned it involves potential atomic bombs used in terrorist acts taking down planes.  In fact you can see some such theories in the comments for the particular YouTube video I link to above.  One from two years ago asserts:

This is more than likely the work of a signal hacker who had a political agenda. All the names she read were those of victims of two airplane incidents that were the subject of conspiracies from the year they happened (1988) and stretched to the 1990s. It was believed by conspiracy theorists that the US government was behind both the northwest airlines crash in 1987 (because of they mysterious circumstances of the crash) and the pan am airlines bombing in 1988. Conspiracy theorist signal hacker probably decided to take control of the broadcast and read the names of all the passengers killed and their family members, likely to remind everyone of who they were and not to forget them.

Variations of this show up all over the places where this audio recording are discussed, and almost invariably they mention the Northwest Airlines crash in 1987, and assert all the dates represent plane crashes from 1987-1988.  There are obvious problems with this theory.

  • The dates of death range from 1985 through 1988.
  • Frank Oppenheimer did not die in a plane crash.  Barry Valentino Jr is the only currently confirmed victim of a plane crash.
  • The Northwest Airlines crash in 1987 occurred on August 16, 1987.  That date is not represented anywhere in the recording.

Most other explanations hold even less sway than this one.

I don’t care how this audio recording came to be known – actual broadcast interruption, avant garde music clip or 4chan prank.  I am sucked in because I want to know what, if any, all these names have in common.  I am no audio expert – all research I can listen to comes from slowing down the YouTube video and listening to it on headphones. Interestingly, this has proven fruitful because I’ve managed to come across three pieces of information that others seemed to have missed.

First and second, the names “McEllis/McNellis” come up in two of the above names.  These names come from people in the same family, though they have separate entries in the audio.  The “incoherent” Tulio entry from August 22, 1985 is linked to the March 17, 1988 entry for Edward “McNellis/McEllis.” The spelling for the last name is a very atypical spelling that sounds like McNellis/McEllis/McGillis.

Third, the speaker very clearly says after one of the entries “my father-in-law.”  Given that most of these entries have the phrase “my friend” or “our friend” at the end, this is a very interesting clue.

On Halloween, I hope to have solved all the names on this recording, with hopefully links to the obituaries online. But even if I don’t, I will reveal the information I have that is new so maybe better researchers can find out if there is any greater meaning to this strange audio project.  Again, I do not think that this tape is alluding to a conspiracy on any level, nor will tracking down these names lead to a larger knowledge of conspiracies.  Rather, at the moment I think these names can lead to the name of the person who made the recording. Not nearly as earth shattering, but if you are like me and feel a compulsive need to figure such things out, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor. See you on Halloween!

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