Two one hour recordings of every available radio frequency, one recorded during the day, the other at night.
Untitled [for William Tager], 2006
A radio for every available frequency in a given room, each broadcasting at their lowest possible volume.
Demanding the Frequency
On October 4th, 1986, CBS anchorman Dan Rather was walking home along Park Avenue after spending an evening at a colleague’s Manhattan apartment. He was a casually dressed and wearing eyeglass, affording him a modicum of anonymity. Two well-dressed men in their thirties appeared and began accosting him, one of them continually shouting “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”
“You have the wrong guy,” Rather replied, confused but assuming the situation to be a case of mistaken identity. He was punched, pummeled and kicked, with the assailants continuing to demand the answer to their strange query. He attempted to escape into the lobby of a building, but was pursued. A doorman and superintendent came to his aid, and the assailants fled. Rather was hospitalized, treated for injuries to his back and jaw.
When he returned to his news broadcast he made a statement about the attack to his estimated 18 million viewers. “Why and exactly by whom remains unclear,” he said, “and it may never be determined.” He later dismissed it as a simple mugging, though neither his watch nor wallet were stolen. The incident became the subject of much discussion, late-night talk show jokes, pop songs and a couple of plays. R.E.M. singer Micheal Stipe called it “the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century.”
On August 31st, 1994, William Emanuel Tager drove from his North Carolina home to mid-town Manhattan, parked outside Rockefeller Center, drew a MAC-90 assault rifle and shot Campbell Theron Montgomery in the back with a single bullet, as co-workers and bystanders watched in horror. Montgomery was a 33-year-old NBC stagehand who was identifying Tager to police as he was shot. The police had been called earlier when the suspicious Tager was seen brandishing a rifle. The shooting was captured on tape by both tourist cameras and the NBC security cam, and was broadcast the following day on the Today Show.
Initially deemed unfit for trial, Tager was later allowed to plead guilty to the crime. The District Attorney's office would not comment as to why. During questioning Tager told police that major television networks had been monitoring him for 20 years, directing messages into this head. He also believed that vibrations came off his television set and that his phone was tapped.
A few years later a television critic put the two stories together and suggested that William Tager, then serving a 25 year sentence at Sing Sing prison, was Rather’s never-apprehended attacker. The frequency in question being the one used to beam signals into Tager’s head. The newspapers rewrote the original story with the attack on Dan Rather being perpetrated by a sole assailant. Despite the event taking place more than ten years prior and now being unsure how many attackers were involved, Rather positively identified Tager from a photograph. Presumably eager to put the event behind him and find closure, he stated "There's no doubt in my mind that this is the person.”
In the December of 2001 Paul Limbert Allman wrote about the story in Harper's Magazine, coming to a very different conclusion. While reading the work of Donald Barthelme, often referred to as father of postmodern fiction, Allman discovered a recurring character named Kenneth, which he notes as uncommon. In one of the works that the character appears, he also discovered the phrase “What’s the frequency?”. Furthermore, Rather and Barthelme were the same age, both hail from Houston, Texas, and both worked as journalists. It seems reasonable to suggest that they might be aware of one another. There is no disclosed incident of animosity between the two, but another book includes the character Lather, a pompous editor who bears a striking resemblance to Rather. Barthelme died in 1989 and is survived by his brother Frederick, who has refused to comment on the connection.
In prison, William Tager wrote and illustrated his side of the story. He claimed that he was born in the year 2265 on an earth from a parallel universe. As a convicted felon, he had volunteered to be the first human to test pilot the governments time-travel program. He was to be awarded a full pardon upon his return. Before Tager entered the travel chamber he was visited by Vice-President Kenneth Burrows who explained that he had a transmitter implanted in his brain to ensure his return.
Tager arrived in New York in September of 1986 and his mission was successful until he was mistakenly arrested for putting coins in expired parking meters. After a month in jail (and overstaying his time on earth by two weeks) Tager began receiving hostile transmissions from Vice-President Burrows demanding his immediate return. The frequent messages kept Tager awake at night and began to chip away at his sanity. When he saw Dan Rather on the streets of New York, he recognized him to be Vice President Kenneth Burrows. Tager called out to him, knocked him to the ground and demanded to know the frequency of the transmissions, but quickly realized that the man was not the Vice President of his planet, but merely an exact double. Regretting his error, he fled the scene and missed another opportunity to return to his home planet. Years later, still haunted by the transmissions, he visited 30 Rockefeller Plaza, in the hopes that NBC could assist in locating the offending frequency. It was here that a confrontation led him to shoot a stagehand and spend the next twenty odd years in prison.
Tager was denied parole last year and is eligible again this December. The transmissions, he claims, are now automated and continue to play in his head, every twenty minutes.