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Fraxinus Excelsior
Sunday, October 10th, 2004, 03:13 AM
Now Rather Knows "the Frequency"
by Marcus Errico
Jan 29, 1997, 2:35 PM PT

In 1986, Dan Rather was chased, pummeled and kicked on a Manhattan sidewalk by a well-dressed man who kept asking "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

That quixotic statement, and Rather's account of the surrounding circumstances, baffled the world. Some doubted the CBS anchor's story altogether. The line took on a life of its own, spawning a hit song, a slang term and the punchline to Letterman jokes for the rest of the decade. Now, it seems the "Kenneth" mystery has been solved--and we all owe Dan an apology. His assailant turned out to be William Tager, 49, who's serving a 25-year prison sentence for killing an NBC stagehand outside the Today show studio. Tager told a psychiatrist that he thought the news media was beaming signals into his head. One of his obsessions apparently was to find out the frequency of the signals.

Yesterday, after examining photos given to him by the New York Daily News, Rather finally fingered Tager. "Everybody's had their guess about what happened, and some have had fun with it. Now the facts are out. My biggest regret is he wasn't caught before he killed somebody," Rather told the newspaper.

While it remains unclear why the attacker addressed Rather by the wrong moniker, the legacy of the Kenneth query remains firmly entrenched in pop culture. "Kenneth" has entered Gen-X-speak, meaning a confused or just plain clueless person.

And, most famously, R.E.M. (http://www.eonline.com/Reviews/Music/Leaves/0,6,47,00.html) borrowed the line for "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" on 1994's Monster (http://www.wbr.com/rem/home.html) album. The track turned out to be prophetic, with lyrics like: "'What's the frequency, Kenneth?' is your Benzedrine/I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed."

Audio Clip: R.E.M., "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"
RealAudio (http://www.eonline.com/News/Audio/rem.0197.ram) | Install It (http://www.eonline.com/Help/Tools/helpaudio.html)

In a moment of self-parody, Rather donned shades and joined the band at Madison Square Garden for a tuneless (on Rather's part) rendition of the song, which aired on the Late Show with David Letterman (http://www.cbs.com/lateshow/lists/960305.html).