The Radio Static Challenge
THREE MORE TEEN DEATHS ATTRIBUTED TO VIRAL ‘RADIO STATIC CHALLENGE’
Not the greatest headline to wake up to, but I guess that’s my new reality.
I’ve been keeping a tally of the number of deaths caused by the Radio Static Challenge to date. So far, I have thirty-seven. Thirty-seven deaths on my head. Thirty-seven incomplete families, grieving communities, empty chairs—all on my head.
Anyone would tell me it’s not my fault, that I didn’t intend for any of these deaths. I appreciate the sentiment. I really do. But I’ve made this bed and I can’t fall asleep in it.
Why do they keep happening? Well, the challenge is unwittingly designed to self-perpetuate. Not everyone dies who does the challenge, in fact, a small percentage of people actually die, but the prospect of dying or hallucinating is high enough that it’s seen as a challenge. Can you survive the Radio Static Challenge?
Since I am the accidental founder of the Radio Static Challenge, I’m creating a personal history—something on the record that tells my side of the story.
My friend Dom and I are district managers for a self-storage company in the Midwest. I oversee fifteen sites in Ohio, Dom oversees twelve sites in Indiana. It’s not my dream job, but it pays the bills and allows me to not be behind a desk all day.
Occasionally, Dom and I will team up and hit some of our sites together. We conduct manager trainings, audit financials, interview employees, etc. The job requires A LOT of driving—something I don’t mind. I jump between music, podcasts, audiobooks, and even the radio on my trips. There’s nothing quite like listening to AM radio in rural Ohio, I’ll tell you that.
Although the self-storage gig is my sole source of income, I also run a podcast on the side. It’s a kind of mindfulness, live-in-the-moment type thing. I don’t have many subscribers, but it’s cheap therapy for me. I’ve always needed a creative outlet to function in the real world, and I find it incredibly therapeutic to research topics, write scripts, record and edit shows. There’s nothing more rewarding than when a fan reaches out on Twitter or Facebook and thanks me for a recent episode or tells me a story about how the show impacted their lives.
Two weeks ago, while Dom and I were making the rounds together in Northern Indiana, he complained to me about his always-on internet brain and his inability to focus. He had ADHD as a kid but mostly had it under control by the time he was a senior in college. He’s found that he does fine at work, but when he’s in the car, he can’t get his brain to turn off. He told me he can barely get through a song without skipping. He tries podcasts but can’t focus longer than five minutes at a time. Audiobooks are simply not an option. Silence is not an option, because then he can only think about when he’s getting his next drink.
We were on our second to last stop of the day in Pendleton, Indiana, getting ready to drive to New Castle. We drove separate since I’d be going home to Ohio and he’d be heading south to Indianapolis at day’s end.
In a moment of unexpected inspiration, I came up with a challenge—the challenge. I’d record a brief clip of radio static pulled from the good old AM radio, loop it in a 30-minute track and save it as an mp3. I told Dom to wait for a minute, I ran to my car, recorded the static, uploaded and looped it on my laptop and sent it to his phone.
I proposed that both of us listen to nothing but the static for the full thirty-minute drive. I told him our phones had to be on airplane mode, and we couldn’t listen to anything else. The static had to be loud enough to drown everything else out. Not the safest idea, I know.
I told him that if he commits to the challenge upfront, it would make it easier. He agreed and was actually kind of excited about the challenge. I was too, to be honest.
Before leaving, I started a Facebook live session on my podcast’s page. A handful of my fans hopped on.
“Hey guys,” I said, putting my arm around Dom. “This is my buddy, Dom. And Dom has a problem. One that most of us deal with.”
“Erectile Dysfunction,” Dom interjected. We both laughed.
“Not—no, not that. He has a problem with something I like to call internet-brain. This is something we talk about a lot on the show, but it’s clear that it’s taken a hold of Dom. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the feeling, the anxiety that comes with constantly being plugged in. After a while, our brain is so used to the constant stimulation that our attention span shrinks until it’s—”
“Gone,” Dom finishes and pretends to shed a tear.
“So, I’ve come up with a little challenge that we’re both gonna do on the thirty-minute drive that’s in our very near future. I’ve recorded a loop of AM radio static and we’re gonna listen to it in our respective cars and LOUD.” I turned to Dom. “Okay?”
“Loud and clear.”
“So, we’re gonna do the—what should we call it?” I posed.
“The Radio Static Challenge,” Dom said sarcastically.
“Very creative. The Radio Static Challenge. I will upload the static clip to my page right now and we will return and report in thirty minutes.”
“Onward and upward,” Dom said.
I finished the Facebook live session and we got in our cars. My phone connected to Bluetooth and I started the static track. We pulled out of the parking lot and headed toward the freeway. Dom pulled up to me at the first red light and rolled down the window, the static blaring in his car. He pretended to ignore me. I rolled my eyes.
As soon as I hit the freeway, I zoned out. Like, in-a-coma-while-awake kind of zoned out. Driving a car in silence is its own version of white noise, but there’s enough variation in the sound of the tires moving over different surfaces, changing lanes. The sound of cars speeding by, the occasional wind gust, or click of the A/C kicking on. But with static, there are no variations.
And I learned very quickly that the brain doesn’t like it. At least mine didn’t.
After about fifteen minutes of driving mindlessly, the radio static filling the car, I started to hear overtones. First, it was a high-pitched whir—kind of like a boiling tea kettle, then it sounded like a shrill, piercing scream. The overtones seemed to rotate between the two for five minutes before dropping pitch a few octaves. The sound became a deep, guttural sound that came in and out like a sci-fi sound effect. I knew it was a product of my imagination, that the clip I recorded was only a few seconds long and was nothing but static.
The longer I drove, the more my purview began to narrow until I felt like I was driving in an infinitely long tunnel. Thinking back to the experience, I don’t recall passing or being passed by any cars my whole drive, which obviously would not have been true.
At some point, once the hypnotic effect of the static was in full bloom, my mind became razor sharp. In an instant, I had what I’ll call a perfect understanding.
But not in a good way.
I suddenly knew that life on earth is the only life in the entire universe. There is absolutely no intelligent life anywhere else in existence. We are all there is.
I realized that there is no greater meaning to life. We are preprogrammed to survive—that’s how we evolved enough to become intelligent. That’s why we build and develop societies, to survive. That’s why we have children, to perpetuate our kind. Once we have lived long enough to have children and raise them to a point of independence, we are no longer needed.
I understood that our freedom to choose, our free will, is simply a construct. That we are nothing but animals with animal instincts and a brain smart enough to tell itself stories that make us think we’re in control.
For the first time, I internalized that I was born alone, and that I’d die alone, and that I would return to the earth when it’s all over, my mind would fall in an endless pit of blackness.
Of course, I can’t prove any of those claims, but I believe it all. It’s like those realizations bypassed my rational brain and went straight to my soul.
The sound of knocking on my car window snapped me out of my hypnosis.
“You ok in there?” Lee, the manager for the New Castle store asked through the window.
I had made it to the New Castle store in what seemed like a few seconds. Like a few seconds or a few years.
“The hell are you listening to?” Lee asked as I opened the door and stepped out. “Is this another one of those new-age things y’all millennials are into?”
I looked into his eyes for a moment and couldn’t help but feel that his irises contained their own universes—an odd sensation.
Dom arrived thirty seconds later, Twenty One Pilots blaring in his car. He stepped out with his signature dopey grin.
“What happened to the static challenge, man?” I said.
“Oh man, it was great! After like five minutes of the static, I felt like a new man.”
“Wasn’t the idea that we were doing it for the whole thirty minutes?”
“Well, I mean, it worked for me after five, so what’s the point of wasting another twenty-five?” Dom said.
“Whatever,” I said, and we followed Lee into his store.
During the site inspection, I felt unbelievably hollow, like my worldview had been flipped upside down. I’m not religious or anything. I guess I just never cared much for speculating on the unknowable, but now I somehow knew the unknowable.
I walked down the hall to my apartment just in time to see a damn mouse slip under my door. Better find that before I go to bed, I thought, or tonight there will be no sleep. As soon as I stepped inside, I got onto my laptop to take the Radio Static Challenge video down. The video itself had been viewed 1,744 times. There were 54 comments of people committing to take the challenge, and I had 18 messages in my inbox. Something that simply doesn’t happen for a mediocre, part-time podcaster like myself.
My heart sank.
The first message I opened was from Dane Eggett, one of my biggest podcast fans. He told me he had downloaded the Radio Static Challenge file and had done it that afternoon. My heart raced as I read his message, but he wasn’t freaked out or upset, he was grateful. He told me that in those moments, about twenty minutes into the challenge, he was dawned with a profound sense of purpose. He didn’t tell me exactly what his purpose was, but he said that he had never been so at ease with ‘existing’ ever before. He reposted the Radio Static Challenge on his page, which seemed to generate a decent amount of activity.
The messages showed mixed experiences. Or possibly mixed reactions to the sameexperience. Some were scared, some were relieved, some were dull, many were simply weirded out. Several fans said they shared my post.
I grabbed a beer from the fridge, prompting the mouse to flee from its corner hiding place to my bathroom. I shrugged with indifference.Nothing matters, after all, I thought and returned to the laptop.
After finishing the messages, I decided (again) that it would be best to take the post down altogether. It might be like pulling the rug out from my fans who, undoubtedly, spent a lot of time writing their experiences alongside reposting the challenge. Oh well.
I finished a second beer and left for a late-night grocery store trip to get mousetraps. The thoughts kept coming in. Well, it felt more like my thoughts were disappearing, leaving me with nothing but a dark, empty blank slate. That’s what these horrible thoughts—realizations—were. It’s the knowledge that was always there, but that gets covered up as we’re spoon-fed religion and culture and customs.
Wanting to be discreet, and having an odd fear of stepping on a mousetrap in the middle of the night, I got an Ultrasonic Mouse Repeller, a mouse repeller that plays a certain frequency—one that goes unnoticed to humans, but that makes the mice stay away.
I kept thinking on the drive home about frequencies. Different frequencies spark different reactions in different species. What if the clip of static I took from the radio that day was emitting some kind of frequency that was causing this reaction in people?
That’s the best theory I’ve been able to up with to date.
When I got home, I got the first message. The first suicide note. It was from Dane Eggett. He said that he understands it all, that it’s time for him to go. I didn’t what that meant, and he didn’t respond to my messages asking for clarification. It was ambiguous, but it was enough to prevent me from having a decent night sleep.
My fears were confirmed the next morning, when I got a reply from Dane’s account, only it wasn’t Dane, it was his mom. She said he took his life sometime in the night, likely soon after sending that message to me. I was the last person Dane messaged.
I was crushed. I came clean to Dane’s mom, told her that the Radio Static Challenge was meant purely to be a mindfulness exercise, nothing else. She was understanding and asked if I had taken it down already, I said yes.
What I didn’t realize at that time is that someone, well lots of people, had ripped the video and reposted it many times over. I found about twenty different ripped postings of my clip on YouTube. There were tens of thousands of views between them all. But I don’t think the Radio Static Challenge would’ve had the effect it did if the national news hadn’t picked up Dane’s story immediately.
I guess all the Slenderman and Momo happenings were good business for the news media because they did not shy away from Dane’s suicide.
COLORADO MAN COMMITS SUICIDE AFTER DOING ‘RADIO STATIC CHALLENGE’
They had to have known that the way they covered Dane’s suicide would spark more.
Despite having deleted the video early on and creating an apology video, I was blocked on YouTube and Facebook. I get it, I’m the guy who started this thing. Didn’t matter my intentions—it started with me.
Ten more suicides happened that week.
I did an interview with my local NBC station, then one with CNN the night after. I explained the original intent behind the clip and that I never meant anyone harm. I purposely neglected discussing mydark experience with the challenge.
Twenty suicides happened the next week.
The videos continued racking up views. The comments grew darker. What began as a fun challenge became a drug for many. People said the more times they listened to it, the deeper their understanding got.
What pisses me off more than anything is the undying media coverage of the challenge and the suicides. They could’ve prevented this tragedy to a large degree, but they don’t care. It’s good TV, it’s clickbait. Lotta ad revenue.
Now the suicide count is thirty-seven and I’m at a loss. There’s no sign of them stopping, though I’m sure it’ll stop at some point. All viral challenges like these do eventually, right?
There’s an overpopulation problem anyway. You’re doing the world a favor.
That’s just a sample of the dark thoughts I’m plagued with day after day.
I’m signing off now, cause I’m doing the Radio Static Challenge again, only this time, I know what I’m listening for. I’m either coming out of this thing with a deeper understanding of what’s really going on, and can work to stop it, or I will become victim number thirty-eight.