It is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome. — T.S. Eliot



One of the little ways I used to amuse myself when I was a teen was to drive around town and listen to the radio. Yeah, it sounds boring, but I enjoyed the time to be by myself and unwind. Of course gas was way cheap back then, so I didn’t care how much petrol I burned. I stayed away from the main drag, Seventh Avenue, because it was too congested and it made no sense to me to drive up and down the same area all night. No, gentle reader, I wanted to explore and find out where things were by taking this route and wondering where it would lead. Funny thing though, right now I can’t recall how to get around half of this city’s streets anymore. Perhaps I need to do that again.

While in the midst of my adventures I’d tune my AM dial to whatever struck my fancy. I found many stations to listen to, but found an extreme fascination with one in particular — WLS from Chicago. It boggled my mind how I could pick up that signal from so far away. Taking a class from the late, lamented Radio/TV program from UNAC later on I learned the basics of broadcast theory. According to science, FM waves are supposed to be “line of sight,” meaning we shouldn’t be able to pick up Dallas broadcasts, even when they are pumping the maximum 100,000 watts of power. Theoretically the distance is 50 miles but because of uneven terrain that tenet flies out the window, which kinda explains why we can’t pick up stations from Waco (usually) because they are in a lower geographic area, unless one is on the road.

Conversely, AM signals bounce off the atmosphere, meaning sometimes we can pick up remote locales due to seasonal changes. In other words, those changes can cause signals to travel further than usual, the “skip” I mentioned last week.

Another thing I learned was some stations have exclusive rights to a certain frequency, called a clear channel, where no other outlet in the country can broadcast on it. WLS was one, while WBAP 820 was another, which could be picked up in 46 of the 48 contiguous states. That distinction made Bill Mack, the “Midnight Cowboy,” such a favorite with long-haul truckers. They could literally listen to him from coast to coast, and aired commercials from all over the country during his show. By the by, WBAP shared the frequency with WFAA because the rights were in dispute for a time. They would switch between 570 and 820, shifting every six hours. Eventually WFAA stuck with 570 and WBAP took 820. Now, 570 is KLIF, which is another story altogether.

I know I’ve bored you to death, but this does lead into something. I finally found a station I can stay on awhile. I’m not quite sure of the exact call letters (KJKK?), but it can be found on 100.3. In the brief time I’ve sampled their fare I heard Led Zeppelin, Prince and a lost of ’80s New Wave pop. Maybe this is “the one.” I’ll keep you posted.

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Ken Hall is a Daily Sun columnist. His column appears Sundays and Thursdays. He may be reached via e-mail at kendubh1@hotmail.com.

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