The Radio DJ That Was Awake For 8 Days
On January 20th of 1959 DJ Peter Tripp host of “Your Hits of the Week” launched a wake-a-thon for the American March of Dimes. Not a walk-a-thon, a wake-a-thon. He stayed awake and on air for 200 hours.
To keep the attempt honest, and to get attention to the cause WMGM erected a transparent broadcast booth in Times Square. There, any New Yorker could watch. At the time it was the longest period without sleep on record. There was both a morbid and a genuine medical interest in the attempt. For Tripp the stunt was partly for charity and partly to help his career.
“Only toward the end did he begin to show signs of behavioural deterioration when, during the night clear signs of psychosis accompanied by hallucinations appeared. Trip began to suspect people were drugging his food in order to make him fall asleep.”
The experiment got ugly. WMGM hired Psychologists to monitor him. The took daily poloroid pictures of him. They examined him, weighed him, took his temperature and watched him even in the bathroom. WMGM staff hounded him all the way to the toilet to make sure he stayed awake. His body temp began to drop and he was clearly getting paranoid. He ran into the street on the 4th day and was chased by staff, tackled and dragged back into the studio.
He heard voices, he hallucinated and on the last day they attached electrodes to his head and monitored his brain waves. They detected REM-like phases in his wakeful brain. He was essentially insane at this point. Despite actual diagnosed psychosis, he was still able to to his show, which amazed pretty much everyone. The problem was that by now, he actually thought he was not Peter Tripp, just an imposter. Life Magazine showed up to photograph the now psychotic DJ.
He stayed awake a total of 201 hours and slept for 24 hours afterwards. He had permanent personality changes that led to his eventual divorce. Tripp was still indicted by the DOJ only weeks after his stunt and accused of taking $36,050 in payola. He was found guilty and fined $500 and given a six-month suspended sentence.