FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                             Date: October 18, 2000

                                                                                                            Contact: Lezli Austen

WUIS/WIPA revives popular historic radio game with a technology twist

SPRINGFIELD – This fall, WUIS (91.9)/WIPA (89.3), and This American Life—airing from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturdays—are bringing back an entertaining radio tradition, one that has been dormant for a half-century. In the 1930s and '40s, radio shows like Little Orphan Annie and Captain Midnight ended each broadcast with encrypted messages for listeners to decode at home with their "radio decoders" and "secret decoder rings."

"Bringing back a secret decoder is part of public radio's ongoing attempt to harness all of the feeling that radio is capable of—and all its power," says This American Life host Ira Glass. "Also, we thought it would be really fun to introduce this to a new generation of listeners. When I talk to people who remember these old encoded messages, it's clear how thrilling those old shows were and how fun the decoders were to them."

The original radio decoders were made of metal, cardboard, or plastic and fashioned into rings, medals, and badges. The official This American Life amateur secret decoder is designed to look like decoders of yore, but fashioned in the 21st century.  It comes in two versions: an old-fashioned cardboard version and a "virtual" computer version.

The computerized decoder can be downloaded free onto home computers (Windows or Mac) from This American Life’s website, Listeners can also play decoding activities online at The cardboard version of the decoder is available as part of the WUIS/WIPA pledge drive through October 21.


"These decoders were an interactive medium before anyone had invented the term," Glass adds. "It's interesting to see how this antique kind of interactive game meshes so naturally with the Internet."

Drawn by artist Chris Ware, author and illustrator of the newly released Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and many other works, the decoder consists of two cardboard wheels, 6˝ inches in diameter, joined at the center. When users spin the top dial, it not only reveals the decoded letter, but the drawing also comes to life—in a primitive 1940s way. A superhero's eyes toggle left and right, a radio tuner shifts up and down, and an electric bolt flickers between two vacuum tubes.

For four weeks, starting the weekend of November 11, amateur secret decoder holders can tune in to This American Life to hear encrypted messages. Listeners who decode four of the messages are eligible to enter a drawing for an all-expense-paid trip to Chicago to visit the studios and watch a live broadcast. One hundred listeners will win autographed This American Life comic books.

 “It’s all part of the fun and creativity that This American Life brings to our air every week,” says Brad Swanson, WUIS general manager. “Our listeners will find themselves tuning in to hear every encrypted message as faithfully as our parents did during the golden age of radio.”

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