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So, why are radio and cell signals diminished?

By Walter Geiger and Derek Petty In last week’s edition, we looked into multiple complaints from area residents about diminished signals for FM & Am radio stations and cell service. Judging from the number of responses to our social media outreach, the problem is widespread. We reached out to local experts to get their opinion on the matter. Tom Rauch lives near Johnstonville, is a HAM radio operator and designs radio systems. He has his own radio tower on his property. Rauch contends the loss of radio signals and diminished cell service have different causes. According to Rauch, radio signals are lost largely due to ‘˜noise’. This disruption is caused by all sorts of things including increased use of LED lighting, switch mode battery chargers, power supplies in electronic equipment and other wall power outlet operated devices. ’Locally generated noise is terrible on VLF and longwave bands such as the WWVB signals for smart clocks. It is bad for the AM broadcast band and shortwave, less problematic for FM broadcast frequencies, not much of an issue for TV and virtually no problem at all on cell frequencies,’ Rauch said. Smart clocks includes devices like Amazon’s popular Echo Dot. Clutter, consisting of multiple towers on one elevated point and multiple transmitters on one tower, is also an issue as are physical obstructions like hills, tall buildings, etc. The proliferation of towers for cell phones may also impact radio broadcasts. Local radio executive Carl Pruett, like a lot of others, has also noticed diminished signals. The signal of 98.5 FM has diminished distinctly in this area over the past two years he has noticed. Pruett lays part of the blame at the bureaucratic feet of the Federal Communications Commission. ’˜’The FCC has lessened the amount of dead space required between transmitters and is allowing more and more radio stations to operate in the area. I think it is just too much magnetic energy in the air. At the rate it is going, I think it is only going to get worse,’ Pruett said. Cell phone are another story, Rauch said. New, sleeker phone have less room for antennas. ’You can’t have the best of everything. If you want a good camera, high speed data and a lot of digital features, you should expect to give up phone range in fringe areas,’ Rauch said. Obstructions are also a problem for cell signals operating on higher frequency cellular bands, according to Rauch. ’To increase data and provide more spectrum (more cell channels), cell phone companies have been migrating phones to higher frequency cell bands. Those bands do not penetrate obstructions nearly as well as the older, lower frequency cell bands,’ Rauch said. Many locals noted diminished signals for WSB’s AM and FM signals. Another engineer with familiarity of that issue reported Lamar County is in the fringe area for those broadcasts. WSB’s AM transmitter is near Tucker in metro Atlanta and is broadcast at 50,000 watts That signal must travel about 55 straight line miles to reach our antennas. The WSB FM transmitter is powered by only 40,000 watts and is even farther away near Gainesville – thus the fringe designation. The conclusion? There are multiple signal degradations locally due to a multitude of factors. ’What everyone is noticing is absolutely not from just one change. Different things are affecting different devices differently at different frequencies. The overall general result is, as we have faster and more featured systems, signal range will decrease. There is a negative that comes along with every positive. Loss of fringe area coverage is one of the negatives of the high speed, full-featured digital world,’ Rauch concluded.

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