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Paul Turner: Dialing in was real adventure back in the day

UPDATED: Wed., July 11, 2018, 10:40 p.m.


So I apologize if I made it sound as if the West was a radio wasteland back in the day.

I know children listening to transistor radios tucked under their pillows at night could pick up distant stations here. I just didn’t think it was all that many.

You see, kids growing up back East knew that if they nudged the selection dial even slightly after dark they could go from, say, a station in Baltimore to a station in Pittsburgh. Nudge it again and you might land on WLS in Chicago. For young geography geeks, it was thrilling.

Spokane Valley’s Ed Wagnild remembers the feeling.

Growing up on an Eastern Washington wheat farm, he would listen to a station in Sacramento that broadcast San Francisco Giants games. And he would find the Los Angeles station – and the inimitable voice of Vin Scully – broadcasting Dodgers games.

“It seemed pretty exotic to tune into stations a world away from the isolation of the farm.”

John Johnson knows what he means.

Situated in Pullman, he would tune in an all-news station in Los Angeles. “They made traffic jams on the Santa Monica Freeway seem like an exciting event to a listener 1,500 miles away surrounded by wheat fields.”

He also picked up stations in San Francisco, Vancouver, British Columbia, and across the border in Mexico.

“Don’t forget clear channel KGA of Spokane, still pushing a hard edged honky-tonk sound well into the early 1970s, long after most country stations had shifted to ‘countrypolitan.’ ”

Joe Jovanovich grew up in Spokane. He shared this.

“I was a radio junkie from a very early age and to some extent still am. Although my bedroom was in the basement of our house, I remember lying in bed with either a transistor or crystal set, dialing in clear channel stations around the country. While I only received a faint XERB from Mexico once or twice, I regularly listened to KNBR in San Francisco and KSL in Salt Lake City. Content didn’t matter so much as the exotic, foreign (to a Spokane boy’s thinking) location from which it magically emanated.”

Believe it or not, baby boomers did not invent station surfing.

“When power finally came to our farm in about 1937, the first thing my dad did was go to Deer Park and buy us a console radio/record player,” Wey Simpson of Spokane Valley wrote. “The radio dial was not clogged with a station in every hamlet, so long distance listening was certainly possible. Stations from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City, sometimes all the way to Omaha or Minneapolis would come in clearly.”

And the imaginations of kids in the West reached even farther than that.

When someone tells Glenn Winkey he looks familiar

It sometimes turns out Glenn crossed paths with that person during his long career as an officer with the Spokane Police Department. He said one of the following questions usually helps clarify the nature of their previous encounter.

How many traffic tickets have you had?

What felonies have you committed?

How long was your stay in jail that night?

Did I put the handcuffs on too tight?

Not much room in that back seat, is there?

How did that DUI affect your insurance rates?

In truth, he usually manages a slightly less accusatory response. But what he’s actually thinking in those moments, well, that’s his business.

Off the rails

Hearing the sound of trains makes you think about what?

A) How Spokane is what it is largely because of the railroads. B) Train scenes in a hundred movies. C) Environmental hazards including but not limited to threats to the Spokane Aquifer. D) I took an occupation suitability test when I was 12 and it suggested I should consider becoming a drifter. E) Romance. F) Other.

Pot shots

Here’s a sampling of readers’ suggestions for music a marijuana truck could play if it slowly rolled through Spokane neighborhoods bringing reefer madness to stressed out men and women.

Cindy Matthews and others mentioned the Peter, Paul and Mary classic, “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”

Steve Stehr suggested “Smoke Two Joints” by The Toyes.

Bev Gibb voted for Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane.”

Gary Prusa thought of Willie Nelson’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”

Jim Wavada suggested “Low Rider” by War.

And Steven LaCombe said anything by Bob Marley or Snoop Dogg might do the job.