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Airwaves: February 15, 2008

Radio Waves Causing Problems?

It's called the Automotive Bermuda Triangle: a five-block radius surrounding New York's Empire State Building where cars stall, won't start, or the keyless fobs do nothing.

An urban legend? The building's managers say so. But others, including nearby tow truck drivers and doormen insist it's true. "We get 10 to 15 cars stuck near there every day, said Citywide Towing manager Isaac Leviev to the New York Daily News. "You pull the car four or five blocks to the west or east and it starts right up."

What could cause this effect? One guess is radio waves.

The Empire State Building has long been an important part of radio and television broadcasts, dating back to 1931 when RCA installed a transmitter to test television broadcasts. But the building became more of a radio frequency hotbed after the 9-11 attacks caused numerous stations to move from their destroyed broadcast home to Empire. Now 13 television and 19 FM radio stations call Empire home.

Further, with digital broadcasts on both television and radio frequencies, the level of constant RF has increased compared with the old all-analog days.

Radio frequency radiation can do lots of fun, interesting ... and dangerous things. I was an intern at Magic 106 when I visited the KMGG (now KPWR, Power 106) transmitter site with Chief Engineer Tom Koza. As we approached the site, I recall that every warning light and chime in the truck started going on ... and stayed on even when he turned off the key.

I also remember stories of residential water pipes vibrating to the sounds of the original KDAY (now KBLA, 1580) on houses in the shadow of KDAY's 50,000 watts of directional amplitude modulation in the 1970s.

So it doesn't surprise me that the super RF of the Empire State Building could be causing problems with cars, especially modern cars with computers that need good clean signals within themselves to run. Certainly it is possible that the radiation is causing some sort of interference in those computers or sensors.

Consider yourself warned ...

Tuna Tuner

Charlie Tuna is back on the air on KRTH (101.1 FM) for weekends and fill-ins. That's 9 AM to 2 PM Saturdays and 10 AM to 3 PM Sundays, in addition to taking over for any vacationing jocks.

Too bad KRTH moved back to Wilshire Boulevard. Had they stayed in the old KHJ studios at 5515 Melrose, it would have been like a homecoming for Tuna, who made his Los Angels debut on KHJ (930 AM) when they were in those studios back in 1967.

More is Less

Clear Channel Communications, the evil empire that owns far too many of the radio stations that broadcast on our airwaves, recently gave testimony to the FCC asking for even more relaxed ownership rules that would allow a company like Clear Channel to own even more radio stations.

The argument? That radio needs consolidation to fend against alternative entertainment sources such as the internet, iPods, and satellite radio.

Excuse me? The only reason the internet, iPods and satellite radio are viable alternatives to traditional radio is because major media companies, led by Clear Channel, bought up huge numbers of stations and destroyed them. They took the soul out of radio and gave people a reason -- a force -- to find their entertainment elsewhere.

There is a reason radio is in trouble, and thy name is Clear Channel and its ilk. The FCC must refrain from further relaxation of ownership rules and must instead tighten them up, forcing companies to sell off most of their stations to independent broadcasters who will use the airwaves to actually compete again. Only then will radio recover from the mess it has gotten itself into.


Copyright © 2008 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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