Radio station causes static for some residents

Instead of her friend’s knowing voice, Barbara Devries’ phone calls are being answered with static.

Sterling resident Devries has been trying to ring her pal Amelia who lives at the Wingler House retirement community in Ashburn, but to no avail.

“I think instead of using all these smartphones, we better go back to smoke signals,” Devries said.

Likewise, Cascades resident James Thompson’s home phone has also been acting up. But, instead of just static on the line, Thompson can also overhear a Chinese talk radio show in English on his home phone landline.

“I listened to it for awhile,” Thompson said. “I didn’t understand at first, but now I completely understand.”

The interference and static on the line stems from the increased wattage of the radio station formerly known as WAGE. The station now has new call letters, WCRW at the 1190 AM dial, as well as a ten-fold increase in its wattage to 50,000 watts. The station sounds out from its three 195-foot lattice-tower AM radio transmitters in Ashburn.

The Loudoun-based station returned to the air April 11 after going dark more than one year ago. Avid WAGE fans that listened to the station for five decades, however, immediately noticed a stunning difference coming through the airwaves – a significant change in the radio station’s programming that now includes entertainment news coming out of Pacific Rim countries.

Immediately after shutting down in 2009, Potomac Radio, the owner of WCRW now known as New World Radio, began searching for a site for its new 50,000-watt towers. The station’s towers landed at the intersection of Loudoun County Parkway and Gloucester Parkway in the Route 28 corridor. The towers cost New World Radio $2 million.

The station’s new programming has been jarring to some residents. But, the increased wattage has left many Loudoun residents in its sound wake.

“I couldn’t make a phone call [out] or a phone call in,” Thompson said.

He phoned the Federal Communications Commission. The commission, he said, gave him “a long diatribe about how it’s not their problem” because they do not get involved with issues of interference. They instead told him that AM static interference is a local disturbance problem. He tried calling the number he knew for the radio station. It rang static.

Alan Pendleton, president of New World Radio, is aware of and quite familiar with the interference issue, adding that it happens all the time.

“It’s important to know that most interference issues are a result of the malfunctioning consumer electronic equipment, or its a cause of the copper telephone lines that are becoming an antenna,” he said.

Pendleton said telecommunications providers are best able to doctor the problem, as it is their equipment that picks up the signal. When a house is wired for phone services, telecommunications companies put filters around the wires, but sometimes the filters are not strong enough, he said. Sometimes, an additional filter around phones within the household are required.

Thompson patched things up by doing just that. He had his telecommunications provider install an ion ferrite filter that clamps around his phone lines. The filter negates all interference.

Although Thompson remedied his problem, he and Devries still have unanswered questions.

What is the county was going to do about it? Thompson said the supervisors did not understand what the increased wattage was going to mean nor did they understand the technicalities of the FCC license.

“I don’t understand how this radio station is allowed to operate,” Devries said. Devries worries about her elderly friends who may not be able to make phone calls in case of an emergency. “That’s dangerous, especially for them that they get all this static on their phones.”

Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) had not yet heard of the phone interference, but called it “an emergency situation.” He was nonplussed that it was happening in Loudoun where the supervisors “work tirelessly on improving our communication abilities.”

Delgaudio said the issue requires investigation and a possible declaration of a state of emergency.

“They can’t call 9-1-1 or reverse 9-1-1. Doesn’t that defeat everything? I mean, really. It’s intolerable and we have to work on it right away,” he said.

Contact the writer at hhager@timespapers.com.

This article was first published by Hannah Hager on LoudounTimes.com.

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