So far away

Yet another area where the Digital Age is no improvement over its analog ancestor:

[S]ometimes on summer evenings, you could play a little with “atmospheric skip” and get stations from farther away than you normally would. It was like dxing on a radio, but with a television)

(And for that matter: do kids today even know what dxing is? It was a thing my dad taught me about and it was kind of fun in that geeky way — “Oh, hey, I’m picking up St. Louis!”)

And St. Louis was one of the first places you’d get, assuming you lived somewhere east of the Rockies; in the middle of the dial, in the middle of the country, KMOX had 1120 kHz all to itself after dark, one notch above the station pairs on opposite coasts. (Example: KGO San Francisco and WGY Schenectady, New York, both running full time on 810 kHz, though KGO’s signal is slightly directional at night to protect WGY.) This clear-channel stuff was important to us in South Carolina, which had only two 50,000-watt signals, both way the heck up around Greenville and — wait for it — operating with that much juice only in the daytime. Down on the coast, our hardy Top 40 perennials ran 5,000 watts daytime, 1,000 watts night (WTMA) or 1,000 watts daytime, 250 watts night (then WQSN). We eagerly hunted down stuff like the Big Ape (WAPE Jacksonville, a mere 25,000 watts at night but so close by we could sometimes pick it up in the daytime. I remember once or twice managing to snag their competition, WPDQ, only 5,000 watts but still only a state and a fraction away.

I discovered Nashville early: they had two blowtorch AMs, WSM, then and now home of the Grand Ole Opry, and WLAC, now news-talk but back then a serious R&B outlet, anchored in the evenings by the legendary John R. (I regret to say I never made it to Ernie’s Record Mart in Nashville, a major John R. sponsor.) After you’d heard all the big boys, it became something of a game to try to locate low-powered rivals to said big boys. I think my single greatest night of DX was the night I got an amazingly clean signal from the amazingly weak WKWK (Wheeling’s Krazy, Wacky Kilocycles), 1,000 watts day, 250 watts night, not even a patch on the mighty WWVA just up the dial, but competitive just the same.

6 comments

  1. Roger O Green »

    30 May 2018 · 3:03 pm

    In Binghamton, NY at night, I listened to WWVA a LOT. Also stations in Cleveland, NYC, WGY in Schdy,

  2. jsallison »

    30 May 2018 · 7:20 pm

    Occasionally I can pick up KOA out of Denver 850 AM on my commute to OKC. Back in the day in Charlottesville VA I used to listen to Larry Glick doing the overnight out of Boston on WBZ 1030 AM.

  3. McGehee »

    30 May 2018 · 7:59 pm

    I didn’t have specific stations I tried to bring in at night in Sacramento, but I could get San Diego and Salt Lake.

    One summer day about 8,000 feet up in the Sierra just west of Tahoe, I eavesdropped on a CB base station in Globe, Arizona.

  4. Wombat-Socho »

    30 May 2018 · 9:19 pm

    Back when my dad was stationed at Tyndall AFB outside of Panama City from 1968-69, we always listened to WWL in New Orleans, because they played a lot of big band, Dixieland jazz, and swing music. Came in clear as a bell even though we were three states away.

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    30 May 2018 · 10:04 pm

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  6. Dan Patterson »

    31 May 2018 · 9:42 am

    Oh MAN those are good memories!
    Pocket transistor radio with an earplug, in PIedmont NC, listening to the Braves games on WGN (did I get that right?) . At night WLS (Chicago), WOWO (Des Moines), etc etc.
    Driving to tech school early mornings the car am radio would grab distant stations until sunrise when we would transition to local yokel blab-fests. Those urban DJs were calm, cool, and collected with dry sardonic senses of humor and were starkly contrasted to the area mic-jocks who sounded…just like WE did.

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