Something in the Air

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

Lambiotte is looking into a replacement for the K-High antenna, too, but actually making the change is complicated by the Lookout Mountain antennas beaming out the Fox and KBPI, two other Clear Channel stations. Since K-High has its own tower, Clear Channel would like to shift the Fox and KBPI onto it, thereby saving the money it pays to lease space on other towers -- and it would make sense to install a new K-High antenna at the same time.

Yet unlike most Lookout Mountain stations, which are required to have directional antennas that focus toward Denver, the Fox and KBPI boast omnidirectional antennas that reach mountain communities inaccessible to practically every other broadcaster. They're allowed this privilege because their antennas were on the mountain before the passage of the directional regulation; they're grandfathered in. But if they move, they probably will lose omnidirectionality. So for now, K-High must continue running at 40 percent power. Lambiotte downplays the possible negatives. "There may be differences on clock radios or maybe on some downtown office-building penetration," he says, "but the signal loss itself shouldn't significantly affect our listenership.

"We'd prefer to run it at full power, but it's more important to make sure everything's as safe as it possibly can be," he adds. "After all, my people are up there, too."

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.

Roger Ogden of Channel 9, whose station is part of the Lake Cedar Group, doesn't want anyone to think he's unconcerned about health issues. But at the same time, he feels that the broadcasters have been unfairly vilified for simply playing by the rules.

"When you get into emotional debates about things like this, it can become very muddy," he says. "You have to maintain clarity, and the best way to do that is to look at the facts. There has been no instance in which any member of the consortium has ever been out of compliance with the parameters set up for us by the FCC. And the digital tower we propose would actually reduce emissions standards in the area by consolidation, which is exactly what Jefferson County asked us to do many years ago."

Ogden is referring to a 1987 Jeffco telecommunications plan that called for any changes at the Lookout Mountain antenna farm to consolidate existing infrastructure and/or reduce RF.

James Morgese, general manager of Channel 6, says that this pronouncement was what spurred the formation of the Lake Cedar Group. "We were just trying to be responsive to the county and to the concerns of the community, and the tower will allow us to address their concerns. With new technology, we'll be able to reduce the downward effect of the emissions that have caused hot spots in the past. And we have studies that indicate that RF levels would actually drop within a three-mile radius of the tower from where they are today." Morgese is confident that Ralston Elementary would be one of the structures that would experience considerable RF reductions.

CARE supporters counter that Morgese's prediction is based on the assumption that the analog towers used by the TV stations would come down once digital is in place, yet they say there's nothing guaranteeing that they will. Until 2006, when the transition from analog broadcasting to digital is supposed to be complete, they say that stations would send out both types of signals at power levels of approximately 20 million watts, about double the current rate. If the switchover takes longer, or if the antennas wind up in other hands, they fear the high-intensity bombardment of Lookout Mountain might go on indefinitely.

Morgese doesn't think any of this will come to pass. "It's such a complicated issue that unless you really sit down and listen carefully, it can be misconstrued by the general public. In the end, though, it will be good for the people in that community, and all over the area."

The FCC is whistling the same tune about HDTV in general. The commission has spent much of the past two years prodding TV stations to join the digital revolution, with FCC chairman William Kennard setting a series of deadlines for major stations to be HDTV-ready. Outlets in top-ten markets were supposed to be digitized by May 1, 1999, with those in markets eleven through thirty, including Denver, to have accomplished the goal by November 1.

CBS's Channel 7 met this requirement because of FCC-approved "special temporary authority" to broadcast digitally from a tower on their downtown property until a more permanent facility is erected (Channel 7 general manager Cindy Velasquez says she's especially proud of how her station has moved ahead digitally), and Channel 6 has an interim digital rig atop Republic Plaza downtown. That leaves Fox's Channel 31 as the only Denver station granted permanent permission to offer digital broadcasts at present; it opted to go it alone rather than throw in with the Lake Cedar Group, and was rewarded in 1999 when the FCC and Jefferson County administrator Ron Holliday gave the station permission to add a digital antenna to its existing Lookout Mountain tower.

But Channel 31 is not yet free and clear: CARE has objected to Holliday's actions in Jefferson County district court. In February, Judge Christopher Munch rejected part of this protest, brushing off a zoning technicality claim regarding land use, but he has not yet ruled on at least one other CARE charge. CARE, however, isn't waiting for his decision to deliver more blows: On March 8, it filed yet another zoning complaint with the county, asking that Channel 31's antenna be removed because of alleged RF overages since it went digital.

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