Something in the Air

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

Hoffman resists further characterizing these figures, but he makes it clear that his findings shouldn't be interpreted as "a completely clean bill of health for the community. It would be incorrect to say that there is absolutely no link between the tumors and emissions, but it's also incorrect to say there is a link. This is evidence in a puzzle, and anybody who's trying to explain things has got to consider this evidence."

One of the topics the health department's study didn't address was the RF levels in the homes of those who wound up with tumors. But RF in the vicinity of the towers has been measured and measured and measured again, and the process by which it's been done has generated tension between CARE and the broadcasters for more than two years.

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.

This issue didn't crop up earlier because the FCC doesn't regularly monitor RF at broadcasting sites. Dr. Robert Cleveland, a Washington, D.C.-based senior scientist with the FCC who's been drawn into the Lookout Mountain scrap, says, "Right now, we don't have the resources to do it. We have virtually no budget for this kind of thing."

Likewise, no one in Jefferson County government had an RF survey meter, the instrument that measures RF, prior to 1998, and neither did CARE.

That both CARE and the county went to the trouble of purchasing such meters is due largely to a report by Robert Weller of Hammet & Edison, a San Francisco firm hired by the Lake Cedar Group to evaluate Channel 6's Lookout Mountain facility. Dated October 1997, it stated that there were no areas near the tower that exceeded the RF standards used by the FCC: 200 microwatts per centimeter squared as averaged out over thirty minutes. (This level pertains to members of the general public. Those working in the broadcasting field can legally be exposed to a greater concentration of RF: an average of 1,000 microwatts per centimeter squared over six minutes.)

Attorney Carney doubted the veracity of Weller's report, and in mid-1998, she urged another Lookout Mountain resident, Al Hislop, to put it to the test. Hislop, an electrical engineer who's been living within a mile and a half of the Channel 4 tower since 1992 (he, too, has no tower-related health problems), subsequently rented an RF survey meter -- he owns one now -- and, he says, "everywhere Mr. Weller claimed it was safe I found much higher levels, some as high as 250 percent of the maximum level." This information got the attention of the FCC, which flew Dr. Cleveland to Denver.

Broadcast Blues documents what happened next; as Cleveland watched, Hislop and Weller took readings confirming that the RF level was way over the top in numerous areas, creating what are known as hot spots on the ground. In the film, Weller says that the discrepancy may have been due to an unexplained failure of his survey meter.

Since then, Hislop has kept up his testing, and the accuracy of his reports has regularly been confirmed by Russell Clark, the Jefferson County employee (he works in the planning division) assigned to use the RF survey meter Jeffco purchased. Their efforts have caused plenty of ripple effects among Lookout Mountain broadcasters -- especially those with FM signals, which are the primary hot spot producers.

Public radio stations KUVO and KCFR, which were responsible for the overages by the Channel 6 tower, have had to turn down their power to alleviate hot spots and put up flexible plastic fencing to isolate small patches of ground that remain out of compliance with FCC regulations.

Other FM outlets, including Alice, KOSI and the Hawk, have had to reduce power as well. And on March 31, KHIH-FM, known as K-High, reduced its juice from 100,000 watts to 40,000 watts because the hot spots it was creating were on Jefferson County open space; fencing put up by the broadcaster had cut off access to a portion of public land for nearly a year, and prompted yet another zoning complaint from Carney and CARE.

According to Jack Lambiotte, the chief engineer for Clear Channel of Denver, which owns K-High, and the chairman of the Lookout Mountain User's Association, a group intended to serve as a liaison between the broadcasters and the community, this situation wasn't as egregious as it might seem at first blush.

The area that's been fenced off is primarily accessible only after crossing privately owned land, he says. Furthermore, he argues that there's a sizable safety bubble built into the FCC limits. "The standard for workers is one-tenth of what is believed to cause tissue damage according to epidemiological studies, and the standard for the general public is one-fiftieth of what may cause tissue damage. That's a lot of headroom." Over twenty published reports, including one by Dr. Lai, appear to show that RF and radar workers are at higher-than-average risk to noteworthy problems ranging from cancer to increased suicide rates. But Lambiotte, who's been in the field for two decades, has never suffered from such troubles, and he says he's never met anyone in his profession who has.

Even so, none of the Lookout Mountain broadcasters -- all of whom undoubtedly recognize that hot spots make for bad public relations -- brush off RF violations. Sean Carpenter, vice president of communications for KCFR, says that his station and KUVO are in the process of getting new, better engineered antennas that should prevent future hot spots, and Tribune Broadcasting's David Juris, speaking for KOSI and the Hawk, notes that these outlets will be doing the same.

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