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A familiar tune can take a listener back to that curvy two-lane highway outside his or her hometown — the radio jacked up to full volume, palms slapping the rhythm on the steering wheel, driving hell-bent as long as the gas tank’s full and the music’s loud.

“Sometimes, when I hear just the right oldie, I’m gone,” says Ray Welch, executive assistant, Personal Service Branch, Marine Corps Community Services on Camp Foster, Okinawa.

Just the memory triggers a change in his voice. He breaks smoothly into the rapid patter of an early-1960s disc jockey.

“This is Welch in beautiful downtown Ishikawa, bringing you the latest in sounds,” he says, his voice a deep bass. “We’re gonna boogie, we’re gonna woogie! So let’s keep that old sunny side up and the rusty side down, and keep the pedal to the metal.”

Welch, 51, grew up in Southern California.

“Wolfman Jack, he was the man!” he said. “Radio – rock ’n’ roll — allowed you to let your imagination soar. KFXM in San Bernardino, that was the station we tuned into up in the mountains where we lived. The Wolfman wasn’t the only guy — there were a lot of DJs back then who were just out of the box.”

That one song can transport them back to their favorite home station, whether they’re an ex-pat, like Welch, who’s been in Japan for years, or a young Marine doing a one-year tour.

For Marine Pfc. Mark Farley, 22, a postal worker on Camp Foster, that station is K-92 FM out of Roanoke, Va., whose strong signal carries into a neighboring state.

“ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Limp Bizkit, any songs by them takes me back home to West Virginia,” Farley says. “I love a mix of music, and WAVE-FM here plays it all. That’s what I like about them, they mix it up.”

Sometimes, that head trip takes the listener halfway around the world. Z-Rock, the alternative rock played late at night on Okinawa, sends Paul Grundy back to his home just outside London.

“I listened to the pirate stations. You know, the ones that had to keep moving every few weeks to keep one step ahead of the man,” says Grundy, referring to the British officials that would attempt to close such unlicensed stations. Grundy, 30, taught English in Motobu in northern Okinawa for three years before recently moving to China.

“AFN is middle of the road, but well-chosen middle of the road. Sometimes, I’ll hear something that reminds me of being back in England, listening to some station broadcasting out of someone’s basement or van.

“But that’s rarely. A lot of the music on those stations back home would never get much airplay on regular radio.”

It’s not just the music that reminds listeners of home. Dan Carey, who works for the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Department at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, fondly remembers the many hours as a youngster listening to Cincinnati Reds games on WLW.

“I’ve always been a big baseball fan of the Reds,” says Carey, 36, who’s spent most of the past 15 years overseas. He grew up in Illinois, and said that — at least in part — he selected a college because it was close enough to Cincinnati for him to use season tickets.

“I remember as a kid dialing into 700 WLW in Cincinnati,” he says.

Carey remembers hearing Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver throw a no-hitter for the Reds.

“And back in those days, you had to tune the radio,” he says. “So you had to get it tuned just right to get through the static. I remember moving the radio around from room to room to get better reception when the weather was bad.”

WLW also served as a companion of sorts while he worked as a teen.

“My father ran a bakery when I was growing up,” he recalls, “and I remember when I was working there I’d always have the radio on in the back so I could listen to the weekend games that always came on about 1 p.m.

“I miss hearing that on the radio.”

Petty Officer 3rd Class T.J. Tupling of Misawa’s Naval Air Facility in Japan listened to commentator Paul Harvey’s unmistakable manner of delivering the news from a rather unique vantage point when he was growing up in Mansfield, Wash.

“I listened to him on the tractor while I plowed fields on my family’s wheat and barley farm,” says Tupling, 23, who was pleased to learn Harvey is carried six days a week on Misawa’s AM 1575 outlet. “It’s a neat reminder of home for me.”

Greg Tyler and Wayne Specht contributed to this report.


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