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A kid discovers the power of radio.

Sometimes in the innocence of youth, a window to the future opens. But because we're so young, we don't realize what has happened.

I grew up in a small farming town of 2,400. It was during the days when AM radio was really the only choice. We were about 55 miles outside of St. Louis, so we were able to receive most of the stations with no difficulty. Among my summer memories are walks down the town's streets during the early evening. No one had air conditioning. You could literally follow the progress of the Cardinal ballgames, as related by Harry Caray, as the sounds drifted out each screen door on the block.

All the kids in town listened to KXOK. There was never a question. That's just the way it was. And since air conditioning wasn't present in cars back then, you'd hear the sound of KXOK coming out of every teen's ear as they drove past.

My favorite uncle, a bachelor from Chicago, had a knack for coming up with unique gifts that no one else in my town had seen. For my tenth birthday, he gave me a Knight Kit transmitter. This was a gift that hadn't even appeared on my personal radar screen, but there it was, ready to assemble. All I needed Knight Kit were a few tools, a soldering iron and patience.


I'd never soldered before, but despite my sloppiness, I managed to assemble a working transmitter that had a range of about 500 feet. The great part about this little electronic contraption was that you could tune to whatever AM frequency you wanted. That was all I needed.

I absconded with the microphone to my dad's reel-to-reel tape recorder and cut off the old jack, soldering on one that would fit my little transmitter. Then I turned on my clock radio which was, of course, tuned to KXOK. A few light twists of the screwdriver finally achieved the wonderful whistle of feedback and I knew I was ready.

Grabbing every extension cord in the house, I ran the power source out the front door, across the porch and down into the evergreens that had grown to form a semi-protective wall in front of our house. I plugged in my contraption, sat, and waited.

I told you this was a small town. It was so small that we knew everyone, and we knew the kinds of cars they drove, so my plot was easy enough to carry out.

I waited in the bushes until one of the town's teens drove past. Then I shouted out to them in my microphone: "Hey, Bobby!" "Hey, Richie!"

The flash of brake lights was immediate, followed by looking around and fiddling with the car's radio, but by the time they could react to hearing a kid's voice greeting them on KXOK, they were well past my house. One can only imagine their conversations later, as their friends shook their heads in pity at their delusional peers.

It was fun, but my interest waned after a couple months and I went after new discoveries, eventually passing my toy on to my younger brother. But at the age of ten I had discovered the power of radio. I had also seen how people reacted when radio talked to them, not as an audience but as individuals.

Frank Absher

St. Louis

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Title Annotation:off the record
Author:Absher, Frank
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Viewpoint essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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