RAPID CITY, S.D. — In recent days, DJs Chad Bowar and D. Ray Knight have done the unthinkable - they've voluntarily played a country music song.
Messrs. Bowar and Knight are, after all, irreverent hosts of Top 40 station KRCS's morning show here - more likely to lampoon the twang of Dwight Yoakam than to give him airtime. Yet, after the terror of Sept. 11, they were only too eager to play Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."
From this remote hill town of farmers and Air Force pilots to the dust-encrusted streets of New York, Britney Spears is taking a back seat to the Boss, as titles like "Born in the USA" make a comeback. The shift is but one part of the nation's resurgent patriotism, as Americans respond to the worst act of terrorism in the nation's history with reams of red, white, and blue ribbon and millions of dollars of aid.
Indeed, for many younger citizens, the attacks of Sept. 11 have aroused a love of country previously felt only faintly through snippets of grandparents' stories or films about World War II.
With a renewed national pride, however, has come a demand for retribution. Few have an answer as to what should be done. But in this crucible of American patriotism - bracketed by Mount Rushmore to the south and Ellsworth Air Force Base to the east - the overwhelming sadness of the past two weeks is gradually giving way to a new resolve to act, increasingly evident on street corners and over the airwaves.
"We've seen people go from grief to anger," says Knight, whose size lends him more the appearance of a linebacker than a small-town radio "shock jock." "People are really mad right now."
Throughout the past few weeks, radio stations have been barometers of this public mood. Immediately after the attacks, requests led DJs to play anything that had an American theme.
Eric Andrews of KIQK country in Rapid City says the huge volume of requests for "God Bless the USA" prompted him to play it three times during his five-hour Tuesday show. He plays only the most popular songs twice, at most.
In addition, many stations are overlaying news clips on older songs with poignant titles - like Kid Rock's "Only God Knows Why" and Jewel's "Hands." Some have even gone so far as to nix songs that could be considered inappropriate.
Clear Channel Communications in Houston sent a list of 150 songs to its affiliates, suggesting that they might not want to play tunes such as R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It," the Dave Matthews Band's "Crash," and, oddly, Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
Here in Rapid City, an unassuming city of 50,000 swaddled in the first gentle folds of South Dakota's Black Hills, the changes have been welcome.
"Stations are playing a lot more patriotic music, and it really moves you," says Rick Ewing, a young Wal-Mart employee pinned with a red, white, and blue ribbon, who conscientiously walks as he talks, because he's "on the clock."
Yet as the initial shock over the audacity of the attack recedes, DJs here have also noticed a desire among listeners for songs with more of an edge.
Last Tuesday, Bowar and Knight began running a parody of a rock song called "Learning to Fly." It includes the lines: "Time to change the name on the map to Af-GONE-istan," and "He [Osama bin Laden] and all his terrorist buddies are gonna fry."
"Haven't gotten a single complaint call," says Bowar, who wrote the lyrics.
To some degree, the hardening sentiment can be traced to the town's intimate relationship to Ellsworth Air Force Base.
With local jets being deployed to the Mideast, the six radio stations of Rushmore Radio Ltd. have taken to playing more songs like "Danger Zone" from the movie "Top Gun," and "Eye of the Tiger" from "Rocky."
Knight adds that many requests have come in for the punk classic "Rock the Casbah," quipping that "the minute the bombs fly, that goes into heavy rotation."
Moreover, Rapid City - at its heart - seems a town more tied to its heritage in the quick-draw days of the American frontier than to the modern world of conferences and coalition-building. This is a place where the tallest building is a grain silo, and where the city's flagship store on the corner of Main and Sixth is famous for its buffalo skulls and hide paintings.
One block away, leaning on a cowboy-hatted statue of Ronald Reagan, high-schooler Jordan Mason offers this blunt, if historically inaccurate, assessment: "As bad as World War II was, we didn't have another war for 20 years. If you can scare ... another country, it's not going to rise up as quickly."
Thirty minutes away at Mount Rushmore - where license plates are more likely to read Colorado or California than South Dakota - the feelings are largely the same, suggesting that, for now, Rapid City is in tune with the rest of America.
As visitors file down a row of state flags toward the immense granite faces of greatest leaders in American history, many express gratitude for US leaders today, and acknowledge that this place means more to them now than it would have a few weeks ago.
"We just got off the plane an hour ago, and this is the first place we came," says Utahn Lisa Stearns, who is in the area for a friend's wedding.
For most, though, these feelings of awe are tinged with a deep disgust over the attacks. Pausing before an impromptu memorial that has sprung up beneath the Pennsylvania flag, Pittsburgh native Matt Holewski says America must make a significant military response, not only against Osama bin Laden, but also against the whole of Afghanistan.
"Tuesday, I was just in denial. It was the worst day of my life. I felt emotions I didn't even know I had," he says, looking vacantly toward the ground. "But we have to do something.... I think it's almost time for us to start thinking like [the terrorists] do."