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Decoder 2000

November 16, 2000

Imagine the sonorous voice of an announcer coming out of a radio in the 1940s, right after an exciting episode of "The Lone Ranger," "Captain Midnight," "Little Orphan Annie" or "Sky King." With gravity in his voice, as if he were imparting secret plans to friendly spies, he begins to carefully spell out words that seem to make no sense at all.

But you can break the code if you are one of the millions of kids across the nation who sent a letter to the show to get a secret decoder ring! Now, the wonderful weekly public radio show "This American Life" is bringing back those bygone days via the Internet.

By going to the show's site at and clicking on "Decoder Fun," you can download a beautifully designed digital version of a decoder ring that looks like the dial of a wartime shortwave radio.

There are versions for both the Macintosh and Windows formats, or if you have the latest version of Shockwave installed, you can use it right on your Web browser.

On the site, you'll find several printed stories that contain coded words. Using your mouse on your decoder ring, you spin a little dial to put each coded letter into a window. Simultaneously, a window on the other side of the dial shows you the real letter.

Better yet, if you listen to "This American Life"--which presents funny and poignant true stories based on a weekly theme--during the weekends of Nov. 18 and 25 and Dec. 2, you will receive a coded message right on the program as read by Fred Foy, a veteran announcer who actually did this feature on the "Lone Ranger" radio show.

Local stations carrying "This American Life" are KCRW-FM (89.9), Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.; KPCC-FM (89.3), Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.; and KCLU-FM (88.3), Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m.

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