The freakiest story ever told on Dave Schrader's Darkness Radio likely came from a Minnesota caller three springs ago.
The season had been especially waterlogged, the most recent week experiencing unabated rain. The caller and her husband had retired after watching the late-night news, she told Schrader, co-host of "Darkness on the Edge of Town Paranormal Radio Show," which airs weeknights from 9 p.m. until midnight on Twin Cities News Talk AM1130. Lying in bed, the couple heard what sounded like children playing outside.
"They thought it was a little strange to be up so late, " Schrader explains. "But they really didn't question it, thinking the kids had been driving their parents crazy and since the rain had stopped, they were out burning off some energy."
Hours into the night, the woman awoke. Three kids were standing next to the bed. Believing she was temporarily suspended in a state between dreams and consciousness, the woman took a deep breath and closed her eyes. They'd be gone when she opened her eyes, so she thought. They weren't. The wife wanted to scream. As she reached for her husband, the girl, whose eye whites were consumed entirely in black, and was standing in the middle among the figures, raised a finger to her and said, "Shhhh. We just want to look at you."
"What makes this story scary is, before this, we only knew black-eyed kids to be wanderers," Schrader says. "They were always outside a person's house and asking to come in or asking for a ride outside someone's car. Always asking for permission to come in. Here, they actually had come inside."
What started as an hourlong 11 o'clock temporary filler show on a KLBB in Edina nearly a decade ago has swelled into radio phenomena, a journey into the unexplained. Broadcast locally from the News Talk's St. Louis Park studios — home since KLBB was sold seven years ago — Darkness streams live to a national audience through its website and iHeart Radio's as well. Its stories of black-eyed children, the haunted, UFOs, and all things paranormal are eaten up by an international fan base, transfixed via podcast, iTunes, and YouTube.
"We get emails and callers from Singapore to Germany, New Zealand and Australia to Sweden, all 50 states, and every province in Canada," says Schrader, who co-hosts along with college buddy and show co-founder Tim Dennis. "I think that's why so many people think it's a syndicated."
Darkness Radio is two guys in a suburban studio for three hours, five nights a week, who have created a worldwide niche sharing stories that often terrify, sometimes amuse.
One night, the show's focus is on the Villisca Axe Murders. Eight people, including six children, were slaughtered in an Iowa farmhouse in 1912. The case remains unsolved. On another, Schrader and Dennis home in on a discomforting examination of the afterlife.
"In the past," Schrader says, "if you had experienced a ghost or if you had your own paranormal story, you maybe shared it with a friend. Now, with all the TV shows that have sprung up over time like Medium, Ghost Hunters, ... Paranormal State, talking about them is almost like watercooler conversation.
"We have police officers and fire officials, military personnel, doctors and nurses in hospitals who call in. They've experienced or witnessed things they can't explain. It makes you step back and look at things a little differently. Part of what's made the show successful is when you can get into people's psyches with these stories. It's a thrill, and it's the thrill that makes it great."
When the Minnesota woman who called the show with the story of the black-eyed bedroom visitors finally roused her husband, the kids were gone. The couple scoured the house and founding nothing. She spent the rest of the night huddled against her husband. At daybreak, they were both awakened. They heard children playing outside again.
"After we aired that show," says Schrader, "we had police officers pay the station a visit .... They told us that while they loved the show, they didn't buy into most of the stories."
On the same night the black-eyed children episode was airing, one of the officers said a dispatcher radioed to say an elderly woman had reported seeing kids near her house. The whites of their eyes, the woman said, were completely black.
Says Schrader, "That's when one of the officers turned to his partner and said, 'Oh fuck that!' They told me they refused to take the call."