In the deepest recesses of St. Louis Park, just past Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, is a terror just waiting—itching—to slither through your speakers and scare the living hell out of you at 11:00 p.m. each weeknight. OK, it’s not quite that dramatic, but if you haven’t yet tuned in to 103.5FM/1130AM to hear Darkness On the Edge of Town during the pre-witching-hour hour, then you have no idea what horrors are lurking in this crazy world. “The best in paranormal talk radio,” Darkness Radio delivers mightily in bizarre stories and extraordinary examples of terrifying experiences. Dave Schrader and his skeleton crew—consisting of the hilariously skeptical producer Tim Dennis and hauntingly beautiful co-host Mallie Fox—have a seemingly endless well of spooky stories and eerie guests to fill the air.
For how strange the show can get, the story of how it began is surprisingly normal. Schrader and Dennis both attended Winona State as broadcasting and mass communication majors where they worked together at KQAL 89.5 FM. In 2006 the two collaborated again, this time on a paranormal radio show that came to be known as Darkness Radio. The show ran out of a small AM station every Sunday night for two years until the station was sold to another—one that didn’t want the show on the air. However, Schrader and Dennis were still allowed to use the station’s equipment, and so the podcasting continued. When the station called it quits, Darkness Radio found itself without a home. With weeks worth of recorded shows scheduled, Schrader and Dennis went in search of a new host mother, which turned out to be a Clear Channel station. Not counting a brief time in 2008 when Dennis was laid off (which is around the time Fox became a regular on the show) they’ve been broadcasting their tales of terror to the Twin Cities and beyond ever since.
Truthfully, when the Darkness trio agreed to an interview with me, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d been listening to the show intensely for a couple months, delving deep into the back catalog on iTunes. I was working in a basement warehouse at the time where I could let my mind wander. Three grim-looking ghouls dressed in black is how I pictured them—serious in all matters except the paranormal where they likely felt most at home, what with their immersion into the dark arts. What I got, however, were three very funny, mostly normal, and exceptionally charming radio show hosts who have what must be the best job in the world.
What did transpire through the airwaves was how judicious the hosts are when it comes to what they believe. When it sounds like something disingenuous is going on, Schrader and Dennis have no problem saying so; I recall one show in particular when a husband and wife ghosting team (so romantic) played some of their electronic voice phenomenon clips on air. Whenever the couple’s interpretation of the sound did not match what Schrader and Dennis heard, they made sure to question the ghost hunters. As a skeptic, but someone who definitely falls into the “I want to believe” camp, this was heartening to me. While there is no proof in this world that ghosts actually exist, it’s neat to know that in the “field” of paranormal research, there is a system of checks and balances.
In fact, the Darkness team is a pretty skeptical bunch. Dennis admits to believing only about 40 percent of what he hears on the show: “There’s a point, and you have to keep an open mind until this particular point where you roll your eyes and you go, ‘Yeah, I’ve had enough.’ It’s an internal barometer. Someone may come on and say, ‘Yeah, I had a wonderful near-death experience until I met a gray alien and he anal probed me.’ And then you’re like OK, that’s the point where you’re like, ‘Alright, just let him finish his story.’ Someone out there—and you have to keep this in mind—someone in your audience is hearing everything that this person’s saying and if they’re not buying into it they’re getting a really great story. If they are buying into it, you don’t want to discount them for what they believe, because we don’t know for sure what to believe …You can’t discount someone for what they believe. However, have I had a gray alien anal probe me? No.”
In order to keep the giggles at bay, and earnestly open their minds to hearing what their guests have to say, Schrader explains that it’s best to think of the show like religion. “Just because you’re Catholic and I’m Lutheran doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong, it’s just our belief system,” he says. “And so if we sit here and we laugh at someone or we mock what they do, first of all, nobody is going to want to do our show anymore. It’s going to get out. And people like train-wreck radio, and we’ll get listeners, but we won’t get any guests,” he continues.
However, that’s not to say that their shock at certain stories doesn’t boil over from time to time. “We could never have a webcam in here,” Schrader says, giggling. “There’s times where it’s like, ‘This is so nuts.’ But then I get 20, 30 emails about that topic and people saying ‘Thank you, I thought I was alone.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? You had sex with a midget Bigfoot?’ That is insane…. And while most of the audience was laughing along with Tim and I, it hit a big portion. So you can’t just discount it. Whether it be mental instability or reality, there’s a connection going on out there, so we always try to keep it respectable.”
For all of their joking about some of the show’s topics, there are a lot of episodes that hit the back of your neck like ice. Take the episode about the ghost children with black eyes that call for help from dark places—terrifying. Also, because Schrader is a judge on the Travel Channel’s Paranormal Challenge, Darkness Radio is privy to some of the most premium guests in the field, like ghost hunter Zak Bagan and psychic Chip Coffey. Other amazing guests include Dan Akroyd and Christopher Quaratino (formerly known as Chris Lutz, survivor of the Amityville house).
In addition to the show, Schrader and crew also run a series of experiential events where a group of people can buy tickets and go with the Darkness team to the world’s most haunted and spooky places—in November they’re going to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado—to do demonstrations, talks, and lessons in ghost hunting. Schrader, rounding out his participation as an active member in the paranormal community, has also co-wrote a book entitled The Other Side: A Teen’s Guide to Ghost Hunting and the Paranormal, which offers explanations of the tools and tricks of the trade, tips on how to avoid taking bad spirits home with you, and advice on putting together an investigative team. Well written and informative without taking itself too seriously, the book is a glimpse into Schrader’s life as both ghost hunter and father.
When I asked about his choice of profession and how he marries his Christian beliefs with his work with the paranormal, Schrader admits that while it’s normal to want to know what happens after death, it’s also his role as a father that makes him curious. “Part of it is as a dad of seven, if I died tomorrow I don’t know that I’d go on even if I knew for a fact that it was God having free rewards and hot wings…I’d probably stay because I would want to be around my kids. I can rationalize and say I believe in heaven, I believe in something that comes next. I really want to believe. But I could also see not wanting to leave my kids, and wanting to be around my family.”
Dennis puts it more simply: “We’ll kick the mortal coil and find out eventually.” When their times come, hopefully Schrader and Dennis will send a message letting us all know what happens.