The announcement came over the radio in the middle of the night that tickets would go on sale that same night for the long-anticipated Washington, D.C., Rolling Stones concerts. Everyone knew the Stones were coming to the Capital Centre, but just didn't know when the coveted tickets would be available.

The Rolling Stones will have three shows in Washington: Dec. 7, 8 and 9. The news came over the radio to rock 'n' roll fans winding up a Saturday night of partying, driving their dates home from the movies, getting off their shifts at fast-food restaurants or just drifting off to sleep.

By 2 a.m., when the tickets actually went on sale, the vast parking lot at the Capital Centre was host to a bevy of cars emptying frenzied fans, clutching sweaters or draped in blankets, into the cold, windy dark.

Officials said 2,000 people were waiting for tickets when the ticket windows opened. Some had arrived as early as Friday, after hearing rumors that the tickets would go on sale sometime over the weekend. By 4 a.m. yesterday the crowd was estimated at 4,000. And within 12 hours, the three shows (with nearly 20,000 seats apiece) were sold out.

The Washington dates complete the Stones' first tour of the United States in three years. The tour began on Sept. 25 in Philadelphia, where the 90,000 seats available for two shows at JFK Stadium were sold out in less than 24 hours.

In the light of the huge Capital Centre arena, the crowd mobbed the ticket portals. But the fans (many of whom must have been very young when Mick Jagger started singing "Jumpin' Jack Flash") quickly overcame the initial confusion over which line was for tickets and which for the necessary green voucher with your number on it. Getting tickets to see the Rolling Stones was turning out to be an experience rather like going to the bakery. When you got your number (meaning you could buy four tickets at $17.50 a shot if you could find $70 at 2 o'clock in the morning) you also mysteriously had your hand stamped "CONFIDENTIAL."

At the Cap Centre officials' insistence the fans formed an unusually orderly single line and waited patiently for their numbers. Well, most were patient.

"Hey," said one blond teen-age girl through chattering teeth (she had just finished work at the Red Lobster and hadn't had time to change out of her uniform or grab a coat). "Do you know someone here in line?" This to a guy who was trying to casually work his way into a better line position.

Those already in line around the pair looked accusingly at the usurper.

"But I was here before," he protested faintly, then moved sheepishly off to the end of the line coiling around beneath the red, white and blue Liberty Bell gate marker.

"Anyone want to buy a voucher?" called out one youth. "Guaranteed you get tickets. Just five bucks." He, too, was shunned. The teen-agers appeared disgusted with someone who would disturb their order of civilization.

After the line for the vouchers came the vigil for tickets, with the cold, sleepy crowd huddling together for warmth.

"Hey man, I'll give you two tickets for that hat if you give me your voucher, too," offered a curly-haired youth.

"Tickets? You have tickets already?"

"Yeah, my old man knew somebody at the Capital Centre."

Offer considered, reluctantly refused. There was sentimental attachment to the hat.

"Wait a minute. If you've got tickets, why are you standing here?"

"Oh, I'm just hanging out," he replied offhandedly.

Another boy, tall with freckles and glasses, grinned. "I just saw Woodstock on HBO, man," he said. "This is like that -- all those people coming together . . . "

"How old were you when Woodstock happened?" asked a cynical observer.