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Thursday, September 3, 2020

Mystery: The Old Tape

Howdy, dear reader. Tell me: do you listen to the radio? Of course you don’t, we only listen to our own playlists because streaming killed the radiostar. Lucky for us, some people inexplicably still listen to the radio instead of blasting the same song on loop for 3 hours during their daily commute; stuck in traffic again, wagie? Don’t worry, Spotify Premium only costs you half of what gasoline will when you’re home by 6:30 in the evening.

Well, that’s not on topic, now is it? I dare say it is, bros. You see, today, we’re headed to my home state: New York—also known as the Big Apple and the Empire State. When I think New York, I think of using up gas because of traffic. Funny joke, but let’s talk about New York for a moment. It’s home to Wall Street, Manhattan, and the most Presidents in United States history as of the time of this writing (Martin van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the current President: Donald J. Trump). Really interesting when you think about it; also, be sure to vote come November if you’re an American citizen so you can pretend that your vote matters if you don’t live in a swing state.

Ah, but where was I? Oh right, New York. This state is a cesspool, but that’s besides the point. When it comes to mysteries however, it’s got some interesting stuff under its belt. The 3X Killer, the 2008 Time Square Bombing, and the cost of living being feasible to anyone without the surname of Rockefeller are but three of the dozens of stories I could tell from the Corona Capital of the Planet (or CCP as I call it). We aren’t going to be covering any of those stories—though the bombing is one my immediate to-do list. Nay, we’re here to talk, well, radio! I said that two paragraphs ago, no?

Radio, although it may seem archaic to anyone who isn’t at least 20, was the way I listened to music before I had those new fangled smartphones. It was also how some folks would screw around; calling into radio stations to say stupid things before hanging up and leaving the host wondering why they didn’t take up a job on CNN. Today’s story is sort of like that, except it takes place in relationship to a college—or those places that leave you in debt until you’re letting your parents down one last time since you didn’t get a six-figure job.

Let’s finally get this introduction on track though. My insane, giddy rambling aside, today’s story brings us to New York; a radio station named WKCR. Those familiar with what I would call “creepy media” will likely recognize that name. It’s a station licensed by Columbia University. Back in 1995, a weird interruption took place. Nowadays, it’s known as the Old Tape or the WKCR Radio Interruption. I’ve been meaning to cover it for a few months now, but have had quite a bit of trouble making the story work. Though today, I will make it work.

With that said: I would just like to note that if this tape is old, then I’m very scared because I wonder how soon I’ll be thrown into the old folks home; also, someone please call the Military, I think my parents are zombies and World War Z is about to become a documentary.

Ah, this is going to be an energetic write-up. How I’ve missed this type of happiness in my life!

The Story

In my experiences, the Old Tape ranks among the most obscure pieces of creepy media. Why that is exactly, I’m not sure, but its content and story are both highly unnerving. It first appeared on 4chan’s /x/ board. I’m unable to find the original post, so whatever was said in it is unknown to me. There is one post from September 7th, 2015 that potentially has an excerpt though. Here’s what it says.

Around 1995, I was about 15. I used to stay up late in my room listening to the radio on a boombox with an integrated tape recorder. I'd dial through the stations, and when I heard something interesting I'd hit record for a while, then move on. One night, I came across this. I don't think this was the beginning of the broadcast, but I caught a lot of it. Right at the end, an announcer says that the station I was tuned to was WKCR 89.9 New York. There are a bunch of names and dates in there, but I've never run into anything else like this.

Whether this is the original post or not, I cannot verify. Whatever the case may be, it set into motion the tale of the WKCR Hijacking—or the Old Tape as the YouTube video name labels it. If you want to give it a look—or listen rather, then here is it.

Pretty creepy if I do say so myself. For those who opted to not listen to it, the video is a bit hard to fully transcribe, let alone understand. A screech is heard 17 seconds into the video, followed by some noise. Another screech is heard before a female voice rapidly lists off obituaries. Periodically, there are bells that, after ringing, cause the echo of the woman’s voice to go away for a brief moment. These bells, as far as I’m aware, are typically played at funeral services. I’m Roman Catholic, so I cannot vouch if any bells are rung at funerals in, say, the Jewish or Islamic faiths, though in Christianity, it’s very common. As such, I suspect that this is the purpose behind these bells. So great: one mystery down. We’re real detectives now, dear reader!

Anyways: that echo effect makes it extremely difficult to figure out what the woman is saying at times. As such, I’ve tried my best to transcribe the entire video. Most of this I admittedly copied most of it from a WordPress page called “Silent Thrill”. I had originally intended to just cite that transcript as being the best one could do, but I eventually realized that there were portions missing and as such, I made the changes/additions that the original author did not include. Despite that, I give full credit to the original author for being the one who wrote most of this.

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

August 22nd 1985 - Irene McGillis Tulio. Sister of Millie, Margaret, Dan, Tony, Dominic and Joe. Wife of William. Mother of Maryanne, Lisa and Billy and me.

May 1987 - Henrietta Graham, Mother of [unknown], my friend.

July 4th 1987 - Peter Dunwell, Son of Robert, [step of Kay?], Brother of Bob, Karen, Cindy, and Mira. Husband of Lisa.

March 17th 1988 - Edward McGillis. Brother of William, June, Peggy. Father of Sholly, Ollie, and Julie.

April 1988 - Ruth [unknown]. Wife of [unknown], friend of Bob and me.

October 1988 - Morgan Tunic. Father of Barbara, husband of Elsie. Barbara’s dad.

November 1988 - John [or Joanne] Burns. Son of John, brother of Catherine and Chris, [step brother?] of Lisa and Billy.

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

First of all: I would like to simply state that early on in the video, it sounds like the voice says “John Burns”, only to then sound like Joanne. While typically used as the name for a girl, Joanne can be used as a name for a boy. So perhaps he went by John, but his given name was Joanne.

With that said: this is merely what I heard and as I said, most of the credit goes to Silent Thrill. They managed to get most of this and I merely added or changed some of it. I hope it’s worth something to those who stumble across this blog and wanted a transcript. All I ask is you credit Silent Thrill and myself if you make a video on this and use the transcript. Also, tell everyone in the video to please read everything I write for the rest of eternity. Please, I don’t make any money off of my writing because Google won’t let me use ads and I’m too lazy to set up a Patreon because I don’t want to e-beg!

Anyways, now that I’m done e-begging, let’s continue onward. That is, by and large, the history of the video. In its entire existence, the Old Tape has never really achieved a whole lot of fame or infamy. It’s been a relatively static entity in the realm of Internet mysteries—let alone regular mysteries. Because of this, not a whole lot of research has gone into it, nor has anyone come forward (as far as I’m aware at least) to say that they heard this mysterious audio while it aired on WKCR. This has always stuck out to me as one would think that some bored college students would have been listening in and heard it, but there is a theory that explains this away, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, let’s hone in some of the individuals mentioned in the broadcast.

The first person I would like to go over is Frank Oppenheimer, the brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the many individuals who worked on the Manhattan Project (which we’ll be discussing in detail this December) and, as a result, he is often considered one of the fathers of the Atomic Bomb. If you’re young and aren’t familiar with what that is: two of them were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending World War II. As a side note: there is an egregious error that’s often thrown around when people tell the story of the Old Tape; that Frank worked on the Manhattan Project. This isn’t true whatsoever. While both were physicists, Frank had no involvement in the creation of the Atomic Bomb.

The second is Barry Valentino. His inclusion is easily the most peculiar; he was aboard Pan Am Flight 103. It was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, granting it the name “The Lockerbie Bombing”. It was a truly heinous act of terrorism; 259 people died in total. Some were on the ground and crushed by the flaming debris. Libyan dictator Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi would later claim responsibility for the bombing.

As for the other individuals mentioned in the broadcast, I can’t find specific details on how they passed away, but Silent Thrill has a few listed. Whether they’re legitimate or not, I cannot say for certain. On the other hand, a website called Odd Things Considered, which has a well written article on this mystery—though I recommend you finish this one so you can feed my ego, states that some of them (it doesn’t specify which ones) died in plane crashes. More on that later though, let us move on.

Ever since this story came to light, there has been a bit of talk here and there on websites like 4chan, Reddit, and a few blogs. However, I couldn’t find any major—or even modest—website that’s covered it. There doesn’t appear to be any YouTube video on this mystery either; Bedtime Stories, ScareTheater, or any other big named YouTuber has never bothered to talk about the ole’ Old Tape. So seeking out information, even if just something minimal, is next to impossible.

So it’s with that that I must say that the story of the Old Tape comes to a close. It ended as quickly as it began, so that can mean one thing and one thing only: theories time. Strap in, there’s more than two of them for once.


1. It was a real broadcast hijacking

Kicking things off, we have the idea that it was a legitimate broadcast hijacking. Wow, look at that, I’m repeating what you just read. Whatever, the theory here has two primary motivations behind it. The first is that it was a disgruntled employee—or disgruntled employees. For what reason is anyone’s guess: low pay, poor working conditions, being fired/laid off, it matters not. What does matter is that we know one key detail: hoes mad.

While the idea that a disgruntled employee would hijack a signal may seem odd, there is a basis for this. You needn’t look any further than John R. MacDougall, better known to some as Captain Midnight. MacDougall was an electrical engineer who interrupted HBO’s satellite feed and protested the rates at which the channel charged satellite dish owners. His message, which was seen for four-and-a-half minutes, can be read below.

$12.95/MONTH  ?

Although MacDougall was arrested, he garnered a fair bit of support from the public (to the surprise of no one if they have HBO and are charged far more than they should be). In spite of that, he was thrown in prison, but is now a free man. HBO, meanwhile, still charges way too much for their services.

So what would the motivation be behind WKCR’s broadcast hijacking? Well, that’s another beast entirely, but if this theory were legitimate, it would likely be due to an employee being laid off or being treated unfairly. After all: piss off your grunts and they’ll eventually retaliate. Though I digress, there’s nothing I can provide here in the way of hard evidence. There doesn’t seem to have been any serious controversies at the radio station and as such, I’m inclined to think that this idea holds no water.

The second motivation for this theory is a lot different. The idea is that it was a political statement. This theory I found on Odd Things Considered, 

Joking aside, the article admittedly debunks this angle, but I want to cover it because it goes over a very interesting concept. The idea here is that someone, whether it be a whistleblower (a la Edward Snowden) or a truth seeking patriot hijacked the radio to broadcast the truth about doomed airplanes like Pan Am Flight 103 and Northwest Airlines Flight 255. You see, there are conspiracies about what really happened with those flights, but I’ll let this comment from a now deleted video on YouTube do the talking (side note: this comment is a part of the aforementioned article).

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.

As the article states: some think that, due to Oppenheimer being mentioned, the hacker may have been trying to blow the whistle on atomic bombs being used to take down the planes. There are numerous problems with that theory—not the least of which being the wreckage was found for both planes (an atomic bomb would never have left as much wreckage as it did, especially if the planes were at the center of the explosion), but the date of Northwest Airlines Flight 255’s crash, August 16, 1987, isn’t mentioned at all during the broadcast. The other plane crashes apparently had no indications of terrorism whatsoever, so that alone puts this theory to rest (unless there was a cover up, but I cannot find what plane crashes these people died on).

In spite of all that, there is some sort of fringe concept that this was a politically motivated broadcast hijacking, so I’ll let you be the judge on whether this is the truth. For now, let’s move on with the theories.

2. It was a prank

The second theory for this write-up is that it was all a prank by the Disc Jockey’s at the radio station. Given that WKCR is a college university’s station, it would make sense that bored college students would want to be epic pranksters like the zoomers of the future. A bit of anecdotal evidence comes to us from the ever-so beloved website that is Reddit. While certainly not a place I would go to for hard hitting evidence, there was a user by the name of jet_heller who posted a comment that raised a good enough point that I feel it’s worth referencing here.

It's a college station. It wasn't hijacked. The DJ's just played this. I've had several friends who worked at college stations and I did too for a short while. They would definitely do exactly this kind of thing.

In response, another user by the name of YourWebcamIsOn said:

I was a college dj and we did this type of stuff, we'd just play some random funny (to us) creepy thing, and cut in on top of me talking and then bring in a song suddenly at the end so it seemed to be someone else broadcasting on top of the regular signal. meanwhile we were all laughing as peopled called in saying "Wtf?"

These two comments, along with a comment I got from a friend of mine who was a Pirate Radio DJ, raise a very good point in the sense that there’s always a market for a bored DJ to mess around with his or her audience for a laugh. This story has the makings of just that: someone was bored, they decided to pull a prank and that was that. Nobody thought twice about it, likely knowing that the DJ was having a little bit of devilish fun with their audience. However, decades later, the memory resurfaced and now it’s a mysterious event, long forgotten by those who experienced it as much more exciting memories took over.

But is there any proof? Well, no one has ever come out and claimed responsibility. This is possibly because nobody has really cared or even remembers. I’ve done a great many silly things and if anyone brings those events up, I typically tilt my head and give a simple “huh?” as a response. So it’s possible that this would-be prank didn’t have the reaction the pranksters had desired and they moved onto bigger and better plans, like pushing old ladies down flights of stairs and setting fire to orphanages.

3. It was to drum up attention

Given that WKCR is licensed by Columbia University, this theory posits that the college had an idea to create a mysterious event to get the attention of the denizens of the college to listen to the station. The idea would likely be to see if they could catch the next mysterious/creepy broadcast. With minimal effort being put into making a creepy broadcast, the university would have more listeners and therefore make more money with the various advertisements that would be a part of the daily broadcasts.

Though is there anything to back this up? Not quite. Given that it seems to have only occurred once, either this marketing ploy worked astoundingly well or they decided it wasn’t worth the effort and scrapped any sort of marketing campaign with creepy broadcasts entirely.

4. It was a numbers station

To quote a famous scholar worthy of being placed alongside the likes of Aristotle and Sigmund Freud:

The numbers Mason! What do they mean!?

Numbers stations are a fascinating part of both the Cold War and modern society. We covered one back in May in the form of Ready, Ready and we’ll hopefully cover another one before the year ends.

There isn’t a whole lot to this theory in the way of how it works: it merely posits that the original poster accidentally picked up, or tuned into, a numbers station that was being used for reasons unknown. It could have been a part of a covert military training operation or an underground radio broadcast for some secretive goingson, whether it be benevolent or malevolent in nature. That’s up to you to decide, dear reader. For now, let’s move onward.

5. It was a hoax

The fifth and final theory is that the original anonymous poster to 4chan made the entire thing up. Some have cited that the audio quality is way too crisp and clear for it to have been recorded from back in 1995. While I have a friend who enjoys working with audio who has said otherwise, I cannot vouch or deny this with firsthand knowledge.

Whether or not it’s possible to have audio this clear is besides the point though. Let’s assume that it was somehow kept in great condition decades after being originally recorded. Anyone who’s familiar with 4chan knows that there’s nothing the denizens of the controversial image board love more than to prank other users. The Old Tape oozes a prank pulled by /x/ and if you’re like me, you’d consider it a pretty fun one.

Though is there anything to back this claim up? Historical records of 4chan would be proof to a fair number of people, but this puts us at a crossroads. On one hand: the idea of it being a prank by a DJ comes up. On the other hand, the idea of it being a 4chan prank comes up. One must then wonder: did the original DJ post the audio to showcase their prank from decades earlier? That’s highly unlikely, but it’s food for thought if you ask me.

My Take

I’m torn between the idea of it being a prank by a radio DJ and a hoax meant to fool 4chan users. If I were forced to pick between one though, I would say it was a prank by a DJ. Things like the Old Tape are by no means anything abnormal and while it may be tasteless in the eyes of some to utilize obituaries, this is a college radio station. A bored college student is likely going to have a devilish sense of humor and would want to prank his or her fellow classmates for a cheap laugh. While I cannot vouch for this, I am a 24-year-old guy writing a blog where he’s covered the likes of Jeffrey Epstein creating Fortnite and who wrote about a penis monster from Florida. I would admittedly likely do something similar to scare the living daylights out of a girl I like so she would cling to me like a leech clings to its host.

What can I say? I have no standards.

If the DJ theory doesn’t hold up however, I would immediately go to the idea that this was a prank by 4chan. I cannot see this audio being anything other than a prank. If it was meant to drum up publicity, it failed. If it was a numbers station, there’s no code I can find within the audio or phrases spoken. If it was meant to be a political statement, it’s a terrible one because it rides solely on the coattails of a conspiracy that’s flimsier than a flaccid dick.

My point is: this is without a shadow of a doubt—in my eyes at least—a prank. Through and  through. End of story. At least, from my perspective. You’re always free to disagree and I encourage you to do your own research. That’s what makes life fun, no?


The Old Tape is one of those stories that reminds me of how fun mysteries can be. It’s a creepy, unnerving, but overall rather benign. It’s eerie audio from a radio broadcast without any direct malicious intent. Every now and then, I enjoy looking into these stories as I think a lot of mysteries can be overly bleak with their content. Sometimes, the greatest mysteries are the ones where no one dies, is missing, or ends up dead in a Wych Elm.

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