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Sports column: Strange radio signals evoke memories

Like a lot of kids in the 1980s and 90s, I used to enjoy slipping on some headphones late at night and jamming out to some cool tunes.

I was not the wildest child, though. My tunes of choice were AM radio stations.

I would lay in bed and slowly scan the dial on my Walkman, seeing what cities I could catch a glimpse of. Living in New Jersey, I’d get all of the New York and Philadelphia stations, of course. I’d also hear baseball games from Boston and Detroit, or a news update from Chicago. Through a lot of static I could occasionally pick up a traffic update from Minneapolis, or maybe some local commercials from Washington and Louisville.

For a long time after moving to Vicksburg, I even had St. Louis’ KMOX and Atlanta’s WSB as presets on the AM band on my car, just for the novelty of it. Even now, there are a couple of far-away stations I regularly listen to on smartphone apps.

The signals from powerful AM stations can travel incredibly long distances, particularly after dark. The short reason why has to do with atmospheric physics and the way the signals are broadcast. AM signals travel much farther than FM signals, the latter of which typically fade out after a hundred miles or so.

Occasionally, however, FM stations can travel a bit further thanks to something called “atmospheric skip.” Normally it extends the range another hundred miles or so, so that we here in Vicksburg might clearly hear stations from New Orleans or Baton Rouge.

Last week, however, either the atmospheric physics were incredible or my car radio somehow turned into the best antenna on Earth.

While pulling into downtown on Tuesday morning, the normal signal for Central Mississippi’s 97.3 FM was hijacked by KAJA-FM — a country station out of San Antonio, Texas, nearly 600 miles away. The signal was as clear as if it were broadcasting from down the street.

Then, on Thursday, the signal for 101.7 FM out of Jackson — normally quite powerful — was overpowered by a station from Texarkana, Arkansas, located 250 miles from Vicksburg. On Friday, it was 105.1 “The Wolf” from Little Rock.

I listened, fascinated, for a couple of minutes before heading into the office. It wasn’t a huge deal, hearing one or two songs you could hear anywhere. Internet and radio apps on our smartphones have even made it to where we can listen to almost any station in the country whenever we want to.

There was still something thrilling, though, about hearing that distant station for a fleeting moment. It was almost like visiting another world that shouldn’t exist. It took me way back, and way far away. Maybe it’s time to fire up the old Walkman tonight and see where else I can visit.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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