while back, I received an email from someone asking about SouthernReader, specifically, its submission requirements, its overall theme (what exactly does the watermelon represent?) and its frequency.
I told him that a submission needs to be interesting, yet tame enough that the oldest lady in his church would not be embarrassed upon reading it; SouthernReader's theme is "all things southern"...the watermelon is merely an edible icon of that quest for southern-ness; and as for frequency...uh, could I get back to you?

That word frequency can conjure up a lot of memories. Just ask Dan Rather. I'm sure he still cringes when he hears it. It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 20 years since that strange New York City evening in October of 1986 when Rather was confronted by a crazed man on Park Avenue. The man knocked Rather to the ground and continued to kick him, all the while screaming, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" (Some reports claim the question was: "Kenneth, what is the frequency?" but, either way, the gist is the same.)

The assailant escaped, leaving Rather bruised and battered and quite unable to explain either the reason for the beating or the cryptic message. The police, CBS and their viewers, and America at large all scratched their collective heads.

Just when everyone had nearly forgotten about the incident, in 1994 R.E.M. reintroduced it with their Monster hit, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" And just to underscore the real in surreal, Rather appeared with them on the David Letterman show, complete with shades and attitude, and sang the song with Michael Stipe and the band backing him. This kind of thing could only happen in American pop culture, where a major network news icon gets attacked in a rather bizarre manner (no pun intended), and then a few years later, self-parodies himself on late night TV.

It wasn't until January of 1997 when Rather finally figured out his assailant's identity, one William Tager, and learned the secret of Tager's frequency request. Tager was serving time for murdering an NBC stagehand outside the Today show studio, and Rather identified him as his assailant from photos provided to him.

One account claims that Tager believed that he was born in 2265 and was a volunteer to be sent by his government back in time to the past and to a parallel universe, namely New York City, 1986. Before Tager left the future, Kenneth Burrow, the vice president of his planet's uni-government (who looked amazingly like Dan Rather), informed him that he had been implanted with a transmitter in his brain which would be removed once he returned to the future and reported on his mission. However, (the account goes on to report), he was wrongly jailed for putting coins in expired parking meters (can you say, "Cool Hand Luke"?), and missed his window to return to the future. Then he began getting hostile messages in his head from Vice President Burrows demanding that he return immediately. Tager felt that if he could just identify the precise frequency, he could possibly block out the messages and sort things out before his return trip to the future. Unfortunately for Tager, it will be 25-to-life before he can book that return trip.

As for my own personal wrestling with the precise frequency, we have to set the dial for the early 1960s in suburban Nashville, Tennessee. I was a pre-teen, DJ wanna-be, and my father was the foreman of the cutting die department of a downtown Nashville electrotype company by day and a frustrated electrical engineer and inventor by night.

I had received the greatest Christmas present an early-'60s kid could ever get; my Uncle Ray had given me a genuine portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. It was very similar to the one that would always self-destruct each week on Mission: Impossible after providing Mr. Phelps the plot and seamy details of that week's show and caper. With the availability and popularity of the cassette recorder in the early '70s, tape recorders became commonplace, but in the early '60s a home tape recorder was quite a novelty.

That following summer, my father brought home a little device he had created that would trump even my tape recorder; out of carefully-bent sheetmetal, some transistors and vacuum tubes that would shock the snot out of you if you touched them, he had fashioned an honest-to-goodness AM radio transmitter. He called it his "little project"; I called it radio station WKID.

When he arrived home with his creation that late summer afternoon, he asked for my portable reel-to-reel, and when I retrieved it, he unplugged the recorder's small white microphone and plugged it into the little transmitter. He then uncoiled the yellow insulated wire and said, "Here's its antenna. Now let's see what it can do." Producing my mom's leather-cased transistor radio, he began simultaneously talking into the mic and twirling the transistor radio's dial until he heard his own voice.

That was the thrill of the thing for him...just to know that his creation worked. After that, it was time for us both to move on to other projects.

I assembled a "KID Playlist" from my 45s (and occasionally, 78s), and every morning I would re-attach the mic to the tape recorder and ride my bike around my neighborhood, interviewing my friends and taking their requests (always from the KID Playlist, naturally). Then, every afternoon I would plug the mic back to the little transmitter and host my radio show, complete with interviews and requests from the neighborhood kids. I also discovered that if I attached the transmitter's yellow insulated antenna to the screen in my bedroom window, the signal would carry quite a bit farther than the short distance down the street that my father had assumed my broadcasting would reach.

As for my dad's next project, he began creating one beautiful, two-tone, green and white 1956 Ford Crown Victoria out of two beat-up '56 Fords. To finish it off, he installed a custom AM radio with a "Wonderbar," which was, in effect, an early "seek" button. Pressing the Wonderbar activated a small electric motor which moved the tuner knob and pointer to the next AM signal detected by the Wonderbar circuit.

One summer evening as my dad was on his way home from work, he pressed the Wonderbar and discovered, much to his pride and horror, WKID, the kid on your radio dial. Visions of FCC G-men kicking down our front door flashed through his mind.

The Crown Vic's engine was still running in the driveway when he burst through my bedroom door, and before I could even protest, he yanked down the yellow antenna in the middle of Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans."

"Good grief, David Ray," he said, visibly shakened, "do you know what your frequency is?!!"

Interestingly, after all these years, I've found that there is a correlation and similarity between SouthernReader and WKID. I never know who is going to hit it, either by pressing their Wonderbar or surfing Google. So far we've had hits from just about every continent in the known world. My only fear is that one of these days, some uni-government G-man from the year 2265 will kick in my bedroom door and, tearing out the yellow modem line from the back of my Mac, will, in no uncertain terms, demand to know the frequency.

David Ray Skinner

Saucers in the Valley In this short story by David Ray Skinner, a Tennessee farmer reports a UFO sighting to the local sheriff and discovers a bad night can get a lot worse. To hear the song, "Saucers in the Valley," (the file is 1.2 MB and takes a few minutes to download with a dial-up connection) go to: http://www.SouthernReader.com/SaucersInTheValley.MP3

Sugar Cane Monica Lawrence reflects on her bittersweet childhood years spent on her grandparents' picturesque Tennessee farm.

Getting Bert M.C. Frier describes how she and an accomplice got even with a difficult character who shared their "junk business" patronage.

Thoughts About Diversity & Democracy Georgia writer/musician David Clark explains the relationship and compliment of diversity and democracy and how they work together.

The Point of East Tennessee Maryville, Tennessee attorney Stephen T. Hyder chronicles his obsession with finding the easternmost point of Tennessee (not to be confused with the eastern tri-state point of Tennessee).

The Culture of the Redneck Riviera Atlanta writer Ron Burch takes a look at the attractions and distractions of vacations he has experienced down on Florida's famous panhandle.

SouthernReader is an e-publication with all rights reserved. SouthernReader reserves the right to reject or approve all advertisements. The ads that appear in SouthernReader do not constitute an endorsement for products and services as advertised. Ads and articles can be submitted by email to David Ray Skinner at dskinner@SouthernReader.com. Letters can be sent to SouthernReader, Post Office Box 1314, Norcross, GA 30091-1314. We can be reached by phone @ 404.840.7450. All contents are ©2004 SouthernReader and David Ray Skinner.

©Copyright 2004 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.