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The Slice: For certain kids, radio was under-cover activity

Mon., Nov. 28, 2011, midnight

For certain adults, references to children “all snug in their beds” conjures more than holiday images.

It can remind some of us of being under the covers on a school night and slowly scanning the AM radio dial in search of stations in distant cities.

During the daytime, you could usually hear only the same old local stations. But at night, it was a different world. A kid with a decent transistor radio and a deft tuning touch could pick up stations from hundreds of miles away — sometimes farther.

It seemed like magic.

Where I lived as a youth, the slightest frequency adjustment and holding the radio just so could take you from Baltimore to Buffalo. Then Boston. Then Chicago.

Young experts got to where they could change stations with the delicacy of someone disarming a bomb.

You wanted to shout “Hey, I’m getting Pittsburgh!” But, of course, you couldn’t because you were supposed to be asleep.

Hearing those static-punctuated voices in the coal black night, you could imagine what life was like in those far-away cities. Surely it was more exciting than the ho-hum routine in your sleepy hometown.

You felt a fleeting connection to fast-talking disc jockeys and newscasters breathlessly going on about upcoming concerts in arenas you had not heard of and spectacular accidents at intersections you had never seen.

And it was like being admitted to a club to hear through your little white earphone homer sports announcers several states away confiding that the biased referees obviously had it in for the good guys tonight.

I suspect this was mostly a boy thing. It seemed like girls spent all their time giggling about some inscrutable hilarity or fighting with their mothers about clothes. But maybe any kid with an interest in geography and an eye on the horizon could get into after-bedtime radio travel.

That brings us to …

Today’s Slice question: Did those who grew up in the Spokane area get to vicariously roam the country at night via their transistor radios or did the relative scarcity of big metros and the low population density in this part of the continent make nocturnal city searches a low-yield pursuit?

Write The Slice at P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210; call (509) 459-5470; email It’s not a real fruitcake unless it is 800 calories per bite.

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