Heymatt: Chollas Lake in College Grove has a radio tower that played a big role in WW2, or was the first radio tower of its kind in the U.S., or something fabulous. It’s still operational, I guess, ’cuz I see its red lights stacked high into the sky from my bedroom window. I can’t get radio reception, except a few strong channels. There’s a conspiracy theory on my cul-de-sac that it’s due to the tower. I’ve tried to get to the bottom of this but now feel I have to hand it over to the elves, as I’ve reached too many dead ends. I am very interested in getting my favorite tunes (Grandma knows why). — Rebecca in Oak Park
Mwaahahaha! The Cul-de-Sac of Conspiracies. We’ve heard about you people. We much liked your theory that trash is collected by blundering CIA operatives, neatly explaining the weekly trail of old yogurt cups and phone bills left by clumsy-yet-crafty men who would later examine your toothpaste tubes and junk mail for incriminating evidence. By comparison, the Tower of Power conspiracy was easy. Tall, hulking transmitter. Crappy radio reception. The connection draws itself. Yes, any radio receivers in the shadow of a big transmitter will be hijacked by the transmitter’s noise and transmissions. This looks like a case for Dr. Wave, our go-to broadcast engineer guy. There must be something you can do besides move, which was Grandma’s suggestion.
Dr. Wave’s final report to us begins with a brief yet snippy history lesson. The three renowned naval radio towers, landmarks in the Chollas area for 80 years, were dismantled in 1995, you boneheads. (Dr. Wave always enjoys making the rest of us look dense.) But not to worry, Rebecca. The area still hosts transmitters, but these are of the civilian, rock-and-roll type. Clear Channel’s towers beam out FM stations KHTS (93.3), KGB (101.5), and KLSD (106.5). KLSD’s AM signal (XTRA 1360) and KOGO (600) also come from Clear Channel’s towers. But KBNT-TV and KSON-FM (97.3) transmit from the area, so there are lots of people yelling at you and broadcast waves assaulting your radio as you spin around the dial. Do these stations sound familiar? The FM signals are powerful (50,000 watts; that’s a lot). Are they locked onto your radio like a pit bull on your face bone? What to do, what to do?
Moving on, Dr. Wave takes the opportunity to diss your radio. Sez he, your common household receiver just isn’t built well enough to untangle all the waves sent its way, particularly dim ones knocked out of the ring by the big guys. When you live in a broadcast combat zone as you do, you need a radio that has what electrogeeks call a “selective front end.” Helps pull in and neaten up distant signals so they are distinct. Also, a fancy dipole antenna stuck on your radio will help your FM reception. A good loop antenna will fix up the AM stuff. And remember that an AM antenna (you have one built into your radio) works directionally. Slowly spin your radio around and see if reception is better when it’s facing, say, the bathroom instead of the closet. Weird but effective.
But what do the tower keepers at Clear Channel have to say? Yes, they admit, living near a transmitter can give people reception problems. Also, AM signals are easily assaulted by everything from electric blankets, high-voltage power lines, channel changers, cell-phone chargers, electronic toys, and light dimmers, to those energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps, computers, power saws, and newfangled consumer electronics. Theoretically, by law, the manufacturers are supposed to place filters on any products with power emissions that can interfere with AM radio signals. But as FCC reports prove, this hasn’t been very successful. There are loopholes…
So, unfortunately, it’s pretty much on you and your neighbors to solve your problem. Grandma’s favorite suggestion — people person that she is — comes from both Dr. Wave and Clear Channel. Call or email the station you want to listen to but can’t receive and ask politely to talk to someone who can help you pull in their signal. Any decent, audience-hungry station will make the time to help you.
Hey, Matt: Any idea what the TSA does with all the airport-confiscated stuff? I’m curious as to the final resting place of my new and unused SPF 70 sunblock cream. — Sunburned in San Diego
What’s the ultimate solution to all our too-much-stuff problems? eBay, of course. (The LAX TSA takes 600,000 items a year, 10 percent lighters.) TSA contractors haul off our nail clippers and Swiss army knives from the airport. Fed law gives states the right to do with that junk what they will. Often it goes to big surplus-property stores or to eBay “PowerSellers,” who resell the stuff, natch. Or the states themselves resell it or donate it to nonprofits. Your sunblock could be in a bin at a resale store or slathered on the face of a homeless person.