Something in the Air

Lookout Mountain is a hot spot in the battle over broadcast emissions.

CARE, however, doesn't seem especially eager to bend regarding the digital tower or the antenna farm as a whole. In addition to its aforementioned zoning complaints against channels 9 and 31, the group has made a formal request for the county to investigate Channel 2, which has its own tower, for possible zoning and power-use violations (Don Rooney, Channel 2's chief engineer, says CARE's claims are unfounded), and is objecting to a Channel 4 application to place a digital antenna on a microwave tower.

And CARE attorney Carney isn't nearly finished. She's going through records in search of more legal abuses, and she and her group plan to keep complaining until there are no more antennas or towers to complain about. "When it comes to the cancer up here, I keep thinking about those three monkeys: Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil," Carney says. "But our ears and eyes and mouths aren't covered. We'll keep watching and listening -- and speaking up."

In the meantime, not every Lookout Mountain resident who's been touched by death, as Robin MacLaughlin was, has fled the area. Take Paul Kopper, who moved to a home in plain view of 90 percent of the antenna farm in 1982 with his wife Betty and son Michael, then in his early twenties. Two years later, Michael wound up with an egg-sized tumor behind his nose and below his eyes (it wasn't technically a brain tumor, but was in the cranial cavity). Fortunately, the tumor turned out to be benign; it was removed and today Michael, a law-enforcement officer living on the East Coast, is doing just fine. But Betty, who didn't work outside of the home and spent most of her time enjoying the splendor of their three-quarters-of-an-acre plot, wasn't so lucky. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1985, and died two years later.

Don't touch that dial: Clear Channel's Jack Lambiotte insists that emission fears are overstated.
Don't touch that dial: Clear Channel's Jack Lambiotte insists that emission fears are overstated.
Don't touch that dial: Clear Channel's Jack Lambiotte insists that emission fears are overstated.
John Johnston
Don't touch that dial: Clear Channel's Jack Lambiotte insists that emission fears are overstated.

Paul, a geologist by trade who's now semi-retired, began associating these tumors with RF after the tower fight got going, and these days, he no longer thinks their development was just a coincidence, especially since Betty's family has no history of cancer. But at age 72, the last thing he wants to do is move -- so he's convinced himself that he's less susceptible to the emissions than was his beloved.

"Betty was always outside, but I've either been at work or on the road because of business interests outside the state, so I haven't been exposed as much," he says. And when he is at home, he doesn't spend a lot of time enjoying the spectacular scenery. "I mainly stay inside."

Gina Neidiger employs similar logic. She's lived in a Lookout Mountain house directly behind one belonging to her parents for twenty years, but her property (built by her grandparents in the 1940s) is in a small valley; she thinks the beams pass over her head. She feels her father is fairly safe as well, since he's come and gone from the house for work purposes over the twenty years or so of his residence. But when her mother, Shirley Neidiger, wasn't volunteering at Ralston Elementary, she was hanging out at home; she loved looking out a window at the antenna-studded landscape. Then, a decade after arriving on Lookout, she began exhibiting stroke-like symptoms. When tests later found brain tumors on the right side of her head (the side that faced the antenna farm when she was at the window), she said to Gina, an investment banker, "I told you those towers would get me someday."

Shirley died five years ago this July, and while she is remembered at Ralston by a marble monument, her passing wasn't memorialized in the 1999 Colorado Department of Health study; because her house was a few hundred yards beyond the boundary set by researchers, they didn't include her. Officially, her death and the presence of the broadcasting towers were completely unrelated. But Gina isn't so sure, and says that if the digital tower is approved, she'll have to take her two kids (they're fourteen and seventeen, and perfectly healthy) and leave a place that's been in her family for generations.

"It'd be hard," she confesses. "But I don't want anyone I love to die for better TV."

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