REM and Dan Rather: "What's the frequency, Kenneth?"

Jason and I were just revisiting the bizarrely fascinating story of Dan Rather getting assaulted in 1986 by an attacker who kept asking the newscaster "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" as he beat him. Of course, that led us to REM's 1994 song "What's the frequency, Kenneth?," culminating in Rather singing the song with the band during a soundcheck before their gig at Madison Square Garden on June 22, 1995.


  1. Back in the mid-1990’s, I was taking high school physics.  We were doing some experiment with sound and my lab partner, a guy named Kenneth, was supposed to report to me the frequencies of the sounds we were generating.  He was a big space cadet and rarely on top of his game. Throughout the experiment, as I attempted to record our findings, I repeatedly yelled out, “What’s the frequency Kenneth?”  My teachers was laughing hysterically at the whole thing.  It took me a few minutes to figure out why that was so funny.  I wasn’t ever much of an REM fan.

  2. The wizard was looking for kenn amdahl.  Got the wrong person – Kenn went to a cabin without telling the wizard.

  3.  Always loved Rather’s sense of humor about this. Now if we can just find the clip of the CBS Evening News from the Spring of 1990 when I swear I saw the closing credits roll to 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny”. Please, someone out there confirm this really happened.

    Some say the mystery of “What’s the Frequency” has been solved. Dan rather was attacked by crazed Donald Barthelme fans.

    1.  your story reminds me of when Nirvana played “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on SNL.  During the ensuing commercial break, I could swear there was an ad for Teen Spirit–a flavor of deodorant stick marketed to teen girls.  It seemed like a huge troll co-ordinated by someone in NBC’s ad department, but nobody ever mentioned it.  Now I can’t really trust my memory that it actually happened.

  4. In 1990, I drove cross country with a couple friends. One friend made shirts with a picture of a kid with Graves Disease and it had a caption of “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”. The back said “Courage” — that’s another Rather quote.  We visited my sister in Athens, GA who lived next to Pete Buck (maybe it was Mike Mills) and we were giving out shirts to friends. I’ve always wondered if they saw that shirt.

  5. May I give a shout out to Game Theory’s “Kenneth – What’s the Frequency?” recorded so many years earlier?

    I may?  Thank you.

    1. That song was also probably inspired by the work of Donald Barthelme. Game Theory must also have been in on the conspiracy.

      I’m not that big into conspiracy theories, but I am fully convinced by the link in my above comment that Barthelme fans were behind the attack.

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