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Here's a passage from Stephen King's Night Surf short story:

The Massachusetts station was better, but we could only get it at night. It was a bunch of kids. I guess they took over the transmitting facilities of WRKO or WBZ after everybody left or died. They only gave gag call letters, like WDOPE or KUNT or WA6 or stuff like that. Really funny, you know - you could die laughing.

The sentence "They only gave gag call letters, like WDOPE or KUNT or WA6 or stuff like that" made me puzzled. Does it refer to some kind of telephone jokes, prank calls? What is it about? What are gag call letters and what's the humor in the WDOPE, KUNT and WA6 acronyms to make the radio listeners laugh?

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'Call letters' are the string of 4 letters radio (and broadcast TV) stations in the US are assigned as an identifier - WCCO, KQRS, etc.

'Gag call letters' are simply joke versions. The joke in the examples given is that they (roughly) spell insults or curse words - the sort of joke a 12 year old might come up with. 'WDOPE' - 'Dope', 'KUNT' - 'cunt'. I have to confess 'WA6' I'm not sure about, perhaps another reader will tell us both.

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  • So "call letters" (characters of the alphabet) mean the same as a code sign in the military? – Victor B. Mar 9 '18 at 17:16
  • In the early twentieth century, soon after radio was invented, operators transmitted in the Morse Code developed originally for telegraph. Individual operators identified themselves with "handles" that were a string of letters easy to translate into Morse Code such as K and W. An early radio station in the US operated by Westinghouse Electric had the call sign KDKA. See en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Call_sign – Jeff Morrow Mar 13 at 2:22
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A6 was the name of the apocalyptic pandemic flu in the short story.

Night Surf

Plot Summary


Loosely related to the author's highly regarded novel The Stand, the story occurs on an August night on Anson Beach, New Hampshire, with a group of former college students who survived a catastrophic plague caused by a virus called A6, or "Captain Trips". They believe the virus spread out of Southeast Asia and wiped out most of humanity.

(Wikipedia)

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  • The Stand was first published in 1978, whereas Night Shift almost a decade earlier, in 1969. Anyway, thanks for the suggestion and for the title of Stephen King's piece of work I happen to have missed) – Victor B. Mar 14 at 18:15

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