continued What is necessary in terms of tower and antenna size for the purpose of emergency situations has been a source of contention between White and his neighbors. White says he needs the tall tower and wide antenna because, "I'm set up to run 40 meters [wavelength], which we use for emergency stuff."
Barbara Dudl responds, "But we've been in contact with other local hammers who tell us 40 meters is not the wavelength used for emergency work. Two meters is the emergency frequency. Forty meters is used to talk to people on the other side of the world."
White himself suggested that he put up his outsized tower and antenna for hobby purposes when, on March 26, he said in a Yahoo online group for amateur radio operators, "I bought this thing so that I could get to be a big contest gun on 40 meters."
The contests he referred to are competitions among hams to see who can make contact with the largest number of foreign countries in a given amount of time. White mentioned he had contacted people in over 100 different countries in one such competition.
Since White erected the antenna, the Dudls have scoured the websites of emergency amateur radio clubs in Ramona, Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, East County, and Coronado, plus local chapters of the Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service. "What we've found," Jim says, "is these groups list two meters as their emergency frequency. We also found that the ham community has set up an extended network of two-meter repeaters."
Repeaters are the fixed devices that relay radio messages between two stations on opposite sides of physical obstacles such as mountains. "A 40-meter beam antenna," Dudl continues, "with horizontal elements, like Howard's, directs the signal directly towards the horizon and not vertically to the ionosphere. What the two hams we talked to said is that Howard's antenna is good for distances greater than 3000 miles away. A 10-foot pole is all you need [for emergency purposes]. You definitely don't want a 70-foot directional horizontal antenna, because all these do is focus you very much on 1 or 2 percent of the horizon."
Jim continues, "It is my feeling that Howard is not really being honest about the need for protection. I mean, I am interested in protecting our house and our community. I might be in trouble sometime. I want him to have that 10-foot antenna. I want ham operators to have an emergency system. But beyond the 10-foot pole, I think, is for personal use and maybe ego."
White concedes that most emergency communication is done on two meters. But he points out that two-meter communication relies on mountaintop repeaters, many of which were burned or lost power during the Cedar fire. And, he adds, "much of the short-range ham communications, such as two meters, went off the air in the hurricane-stricken areas because the storm destroyed much of the local infrastructure. However, high-frequency communication -- 20 meter, 40 meter, 75 meter -- was able to fill the gaps left in the network."
Steve Early, president of the Palomar Amateur Radio Club, says that both high-frequency and two-meter communications are needed for emergencies. During the Cedar fire, he says, "Environmental factors left only high frequency as a 100 percent reliable communications medium. Because for all intents and purposes high frequency is not significantly affected by the environmental factors that tend to paralyze two-meter operations. High frequency is terrain-following, out to a few hundred miles. This means that the signal hugs the surface of the earth, including into deep canyons. I am one of the many in-the-field emergency operators who rely on fixed-site operators such as Howard White to relay whatever emergency or priority messages I may have for such agencies and organizations as the San Diego/Imperial Counties chapter of the American Red Cross, California Department of Forestry, and local fire and law enforcement departments."
Whatever its purpose, White's tower is legal. He was granted a building permit for the project more than a year ago, and the project passed all inspections during the building process. However, for the time being, he has agreed to a city request to keep the antenna at its lowest height, 25 feet. Former assistant city attorney Bill Witt signed off on the permit, despite a city height limit of 30 feet for new construction west of Interstate 5.
The Dudls are both angry. Jim is angry with White, who he believes derives satisfaction from having the antenna. "He has disregarded his neighbors," Jim says. "And this is a lifelong pattern for him. He told me he has had towers at other houses, 75 and 100 feet tall, and that everybody thought that they were ugly. He sort of puffed up when he told me that, and he seemed to look prideful when he said that he had done these things."
Barbara Dudl is "more angry at the city, because laws such as the 30-foot height limit are put into place to protect the citizens. I feel that Bill Witt was absolutely, totally irresponsible to sign off on something like that. He not only dropped the ball, he threw it at us."
(Calls to the city attorney's office and the planning department were not returned.)