Something in the Air

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

In other words, the study couldn't possibly have proven such a link -- so why should its failure to do so make anyone feel better?

Most Lookout Mountain residents remain opposed to the towers, but that doesn't mean TV and radio types have suddenly decided to take their equipment and go elsewhere. Last summer, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners denied permission for a bevy of broadcasters collectively known as the Lake Cedar Group to build a tower, popularly referred to as a "supertower," intended to bring digital television, or HDTV, to the Denver market. (The broadcasters are under an FCC mandate to get digital TV up and running as soon as possible; a November 1999 deadline has already passed, and an extension to May 2000 will do so soon.)

In response, the Lake Cedar Group filed a suit against Jefferson County seeking a reversal of its decision and petitioned the FCC to overrule the local authorities. If the FCC decides in the Lake Cedar Group's favor, it could set a precedent with lasting repercussions in the broadcasting medium and beyond.

Indecent exposure: Lookout Mountain resident Al Hislop uses his own survey meter to measure radio frequencies.
John Johnston
Indecent exposure: Lookout Mountain resident Al Hislop uses his own survey meter to measure radio frequencies.
Bad vibrations: Attorney Deb Carney won't rest until the last tower is down.
John Johnston
Bad vibrations: Attorney Deb Carney won't rest until the last tower is down.

CARE, meanwhile, has made a slew of zoning complaints against currently existing devices on Lookout Mountain and Mount Morrison, a site near Red Rocks Park that's also in the vicinity. Since there are hundreds of antennas on Lookout alone, some of which are of questionable legality, such grievances could keep coming for years unless the broadcasters move everything to another site. But while CARE argues that there are a number of first-rate relocation options that couldn't possibly imperil anyone's health, the broadcasters insist that these alternate spots aren't even close to acceptable for anyone who wants their HDTV.

It's a battle that Robin is choosing to observe from the sidelines. She's remarried (she goes by Robin MacLaughlin now) and currently lives in Genesee, a mountain community she considers a sensible distance from the rays of energy that once surrounded her home. At this juncture, she's feeling good (in early March, she was suffering from blinding headaches that made her fear she was following in Marcus's footsteps, but an MRI revealed only a sinus infection), and she recently gave herself a well-deserved gift of two new golden retriever puppies. So what if they're chewing up the woodwork at the new place? She's just glad to have them around.

Yet while she applauds the folks in CARE, she's not marching alongside them. "I can't right now," she says, "because it makes me too angry. I moved into that house on Lookout Mountain with my husband and my two dogs, and now I'm the only one left -- and I'm just 38 years old. And supposedly everything there is perfectly safe."

Often when communities are at odds with corporations, the residents lack the resources to make it a fair fight. Think of Denver's Globeville neighborhood, where it took locals much of the twentieth century to finally convince Asarco, a mining firm, to do something about pollutants that had been raining down on them from the company's lead-smelting operation, and the Overland neighborhood, which is still trying to get the Environmental Protection Agency to force the removal of 50,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste entombed at the Shattuck Superfund site despite wrangling over the issue for most of the '80s and '90s.

With Lookout Mountain, by contrast, the combatants are much more evenly matched. The Lake Cedar Group, which was formed to support the proposed digital tower, is a powerful consortium made up of channels 4, 6, 7, 9 and 20, and is represented by Tom Ragonetti, a widely respected attorney whose skills were recently employed by the City of Denver in its negotiations with Ascent Entertainment Group over the aborted sale of the Pepsi Center, the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche to multimillionaire Donald Sturm (Ragonetti would not comment for this story).

But Lookout Mountain counters with a multitude of affluent professionals -- lawyers, physicians, engineers -- who have the time, the expertise, the ability and the will to confront Lake Cedar on legal, medical and technical fronts.

Many of the people on the mountain also have an impressive grasp of public relations. Although CARE representatives feel strongly that their cause hasn't gotten a fair shake from local TV news operations because the stations have a vested interest in its outcome (a charge rejected out of hand by Channel 9 general manager Roger Ogden and other executives), they've been able to get the message out by other means, including an impressive Web site,, and Broadcast Blues, a well-produced and highly effective documentary film made in 1999 by producer Len Aitken and narrated by John Emelin, the once and future lead singer of the Denver cult band Lothar and the Hand People.

Highlighted in Blues is the presence of a school, Ralston Elementary, directly in the line of the proposed digital tower's beam, as well as examples of the bizarre effects signals sometimes have on electronic equipment on the mountain: An electric wheelchair goes berserk, electric car-door locks don't work, radio stations emanate from VCRs and, irony of ironies, local TV signals are so distorted that they're unwatchable. These technical oddities don't occur in every home on Lookout Mountain, and simple filters placed on electrical outlets can eliminate many of them. But they still leave many residents wondering: If this is what the antennas are doing to our hardware, what are they doing to us?

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