The origin of the digital-TV dead zone west of Lookout Mountain

"DTV or No TV," a Message column in the January 22 issue, reveals that some people who've been receiving analog television signals for decades will likely lose free TV service entirely once the conversion to digital broadcasting takes place on February 17, the scheduled switchover date, or at some point in the near future if there's a delay. The reason: The Lake Cedar Group, a consortium of area television stations, adjusted the signal on the main Lookout Mountain digital tower to avoid bombarding an elementary school and other homes nearby with radio frequencies (known as RF) in a failed to attempt to assauge a neighborhood group. As a result, individuals who live due west of the tower find themselves in a de facto dead zone.

This unintended consequence was spawned by an epic political battle between broadcasters and Lookout Mountain residents that's been documented in the pages of Westword for the better part of a decade.

Start with "Something in the Air," an April 2000 feature that lays out the history even as it highlights concerns among many of those who live near the Lookout Mountain antenna farm where the digital tower now stands, who fear that increased RF exposure increases their risk of getting cancer. "Tower Failure" and "Revising the Standards," both from January 2002, look at a revised tower design touted by broadcasters and a proposed change in RF limits, respecitvely, while "Hot Stuff," published in September of that same year, looks at the possible repercussions of a new RF measuring technique. The second item in the July 2003 column "Woody Rises" juxtaposes an apparent victory for the broadcasters with promises by Deb Carney of Canyon Area Residents for the Environment (CARE) to keep fighting. The next year, as noted in an item from the August 2004 column "Stan's Plan," Jefferson County commissioners voted unanimously in favor of allowing the tower's construction. But at the time the April 2006 column "Golden Showers" appeared, the project remained in limbo, and CARE had been joined by the City of Golden, which was threatening to use the power of eminent domain to seize the land where the tower would be built. Later that year, a bill co-sponsored by senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard to block this action and allow the tower to be built was ramrodded through Congress, and while CARE kept trying to undermine the legislation -- see an item in the March 2007 column "Split Decision" for details -- the group ultimately ran out of options.

A number of TV viewers living in outlying locations may soon know the feeling.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts