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Literature / Ghost Radio

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Ghost Radio is a horror story written by Leopoldo Gout in 2008. It centers around Joaquin, a former punk rocker and the melancholy host of "Ghost Radio", a late-night Mexican radio show during which listeners call in and share ghost stories or their own paranormal experiences. Sharing the airwaves with Joaquin are his beautiful Goth girlfriend Alondra, the show's resident "scientific expert" thanks to her advanced degree in urban folklore, and Watt, Joaquin's sound engineer and friend. Joaquin is haunted by death after both his parents and his best friend Gabriel were killed in separate, horrific accidents that Joaquin himself survived, but things appear to be looking up: a conglomerate becomes interested in syndicating Ghost Radio to the United States and providing Joaquin with a much larger, mainstream audience beyond his local, devoted followers. With the additional attention brought on by his increasing popularity, Joaquin reluctantly engages in an interview about his program with Newsweek magazine.


When the magazine's fact-checkers have trouble verifying Joaquin's explanation on the inspiration behind Ghost Radio, Joaquin's sense of reality and his own past become distinctly murkier. A troubling sequence of events begins to unfold as Joaquin finds himself slipping deeper and deeper into not only his listener's stories but his own confused, paranoid mind. Joaquin has a harder and harder time telling the world of the living apart from that of the nightmarish dead, and repeated visits from someone in his past make that task even more difficult and dangerous. With his control over reality slipping and nearly gone, Joaquin must confront his past and his own mortality to save what is most important to him.

Pedro Pascal recorded an Audio Adaptation of this book in 2008.


Ghost Radio contains examples of

  • Arc Symbol: Alondra has a vision of a cross made of a strange set of letters, and becomes interested in Joaquin when she notices him bearing a tattoo with the same symbol, despite him having no knowledge of how he got it. It turns out at the end that the letters are actually the first letters of the first two stanzas in Kill the Poor, which had turned up several times throughout the story.
  • Aztec Mythology: Toltec religion plays a key role in the story, with the belief that the line between the living and dead is thin, and can be torn by traumatic events. Gabriel and J. Cortez created altars to the Toltec gods using collected pieces of junk.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Joaquin dies at the end of the book, sacrificing himself to save Alondra's life. And the afterlife puts him in an Alternate Dimension where he can see people but not interact with them.
  • Cassandra Truth: After the radio station fiasco, corrupt police chief Pantoja takes Joaquin and Gabriel as leaders of a drug cartel that'd been using Mexico City as a hub, rather than teenage punk rockers, which results in Joaquin being handcuffed in the hospital, and wounded to the point that he can't even talk. Then weeks later, Mexican gangsters bomb the hospital and free Joaquin while mistaking him for the same leader.
  • Creepy Doll: Taken Up to Eleven in one of Ghost Radio's call-in stories, involving a Creepy Child who constructed dolls for her dollhouse using living, frightened, realistic body parts.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Seconds after the Mexican radio station blows up, Joaquin survives, only to witness Gabriel being eaten alive face-first by guard dogs, one of which almost chewed off Joaquin's nose earlier.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Shortly after his various phone calls, Gabriel starts appearing to Joaquin in person two-thirds into the book.
  • Eldritch Location: Gabriel takes Joaquin on a trip through the afterlife, reliving flashbacks of their lives on the way. When Joaquin tries to return to reality, he has to endure being lost in a landscape that isn't physically consistent.
  • Electromagnetic Ghosts: The book opens with Joaquin hearing a voice coming through the static of his ham radio. The prologue establishes that indeed, some force is using it to speak.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: One night while Joaquin stays in a hotel in Dallas, a helicopter flashes its lights in Morse Code, which he can translate right away, being familiar with ham radios as a hobby.
  • Evil Phone: Gabriel breaks onto the air through one of the station's phone lines to talk to Joaquin, and later uses someone else's phone number to reach his home phone. Barry even hears whispering voices instead of a dial tone on the latter when trying to dial 911. Somewhat downplayed later on when Joaquin figures out that Gabriel stole his cell phone after the shaman's murder.
  • Genre Savvy: Joaquin attempts a couple of tricks to be sure that his brief walk through the afterlife is a lucid dream. He quickly confirms that the lights don't turn off when he flips a light switch...then they do, to which Gabriel points out that dreams are also in flux.
  • Ghost City: The instant J. Cortez dies, the entire city around him becomes this, with neither Joaquin nor Barry able to explain why. After some time, this stops when Joaquin tries to drive away.
  • Ghost Story: What Ghost Radio is all about: Letting people share supernatural experiences on the radio that can't be scientifically explained. Some chapters are dedicated to the stories from individual callers.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Gabriel's death happened when Death Los Muertos tried to use an abandoned Mexican radio station to broadcast their music on the air, while the station was half-flooded and in bad shape. Their instruments caused the station to short-circuit and blow up, taking Gabriel with it.
  • Hope Spot: Joaquin's return home after his search in Houston, combined with a Zanax pill, make him feel like his madness would be over. Then he shows Alondra the photo.
  • It Is Not Your Time: Gabriel says this when Joaquin briefly finds himself in the afterlife after the radio station explosion.
  • Kick the Dog: Barry, a boy working as J. Cortez' assistant, who ends up traumatized by said priest's murder. He shows up again in the land of the dead, having entered due to a disease. With writhing faces on his body where joints or his genitals should be.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: After J. Cortez snaps, Joaquin mildly bruises him in the scuffle, but leaves him very much alive. After Joaquin and Barry step outside and come back after the former realizes his phone is gone, Cortez turns up having been stabbed in multiple places, after the two left the room.
  • Noise Rock: Gabriel and Joaquin used to be in a band that did this, called Death Los Muertos. Gabriel would record hundreds of noise samples and mix them to his music using cheap sound hardware. Watt did too, which is how he became Ghost Radio's sound engineer.
  • Only Sane Man: Alondra, being the station's fact-checker. Naturally, she starts worrying about Joaquin's mental problems when his visions start.
  • Out of the Ghetto: Discussed in-universe; the Newsweek reporter applauds Joaquin for attracting non-Mexican listeners, referring to Ghost Radio as the Ugly Betty of radio shows. Joaquin naturally takes offense at comparing them just because they both have Hispanic origins, though he resists the urge to call the comparison "idiotic and borderline racist".
  • Perspective Flip: The novel routinely switches between Joaquin's perspective and Alondra's, sometimes diverting to earlier time periods to set up their origin stories. The last third of the book stays on Joaquin once the supernatural effects start.
  • Temporal Paradox: Several strange events happen in this manner.
    • When Joaquin leaves to follow on a mystery that ends in disaster, he gets back at the exact same day and time he left, even with bruises from a fight that hadn't happened yet.
    • Joaquin explains in a Newsweek interview that he got the idea for Ghost Radio from a similar station that he called while in the hospital during the '80s. He's later told that there were no such broadcasts back then, and an audio archive tape contains a broadcast his own show made in the present day, alongside an ad for Return of the Jedi.
  • The Television Talks Back: During Joaquin's brief stay at a motel, where J. Cortez directly gives Joaquin directions to a clue from his past.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Midway through the book, Joaquin slowly starts hallucinating while listening to his callers, and later in the book, suffers out-of-body experiences that visually show him what his callers are describing in their stories. It only gets worse from there.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Joaquin's past is littered with trauma, from losing his parents and inadvertently killing Gabriel's in a head-on collision, to being mistaken as a drug lord because of a police chief's grudge after the radio station's explosion, and more. This is largely what leads him to start Ghost Radio in the first place.
  • Significant Anagram: Colette, the sound mixer of Death Los Muertos, is revealed to later be an anagram for Toltec.
  • Sinister Minister: J. Cortez, a Christian-Toltec priest who owns a temple in Houston that's no more than a dingy one-room apartment. Subverted in that, while not outright evil, he did attack Joaquin out of the blue in a sudden outburst.
  • Spooky Photographs: Near the end of the book, involving one of the photos from Gabriel's collection being different than when it was taken, and when he shows up on Joaquin's plane and looks at it, it keeps changing. Even the writing on the back.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Joaquin's return trip to Houston to find out the truth behind his past results in near-constant inexplicable events at every step, from hearing Ghost Radio in the daytime narrated by someone other than him, day and night changing literally in the blink of an eye, and more.
  • Weird Weather: At the climax of the story, a thunderstorm storm with blood-red lightning constantly warps time and space around the city where J. Cortez' temple is, with people, signs and other details changing every second.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Gabriel is pissed that Joaquin survived near-lethal accidents that he and both their parents didn't, and still causes trouble to whomever else he's around.

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