Station's Neighbors Rap Its Wrap-Around Sound

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Residents of Silver Lake and Echo Park say they are being bombarded by rap music that mysteriously booms from their telephones, televisions, stereo players, bedroom walls and bathroom toilets.

The music is being beamed 24 hours a day from a Los Angeles radio station's six tall towers atop a hill between the two neighborhoods. The signal is so strong that some neighbors don't need a radio to hear it.

"It's awful. It's unbelievable. At night it's unbearable," said Tanya Busko, who has lived in the Silver Lake area for 27 years. "It's even worse in wet weather. You can walk in my yard when it rains and hear the 'rap, rap, rap' music on the chain-link fence."

When guests visit, they sometimes believe that they're going crazy, Busko said.

"In the bathroom, you can hear it coming through the toilet plumbing," she said. "I can go in my bedroom, which has no appliances or radio, and hear the rap music coming from the wiring in the walls."

Some residents grumble that the station, KDAY-AM, crows about the way its sound travels.

Between songs by such rap artists as Run DMC and Tone Loc, the station frequently airs a promotional announcement that brags that radio is everywhere--"in cars, at the beach, in living rooms, even in the shower. It reaches more people than you might imagine."

Operators of KDAY say they are getting a bum rap, however.

They blame the problem on inexpensive, poor-quality telephones being widely sold and on the proliferation of electronic gadgets such as answering machines, cordless phones, fax machines and video recorders. Such gear often does not contain shielding that keeps electronic parts and wiring from serving as a receiver for stray radio signals.

Station officials say they have spent tens of thousands of dollars buying radio interference filters and installing them at irate neighbors' homes.

So many complaints have poured in that the station has hired a full-time technician to fight the interference problem, station President Edward J. Kerby said.

"Over in the artsy Silver Lake area, every time somebody puts in a new home recording studio I can count on losing my guy for two or three days," Kerby said. "We get deluged with calls every January and February, when people want to use their Christmas gifts--the new VCRs and stereos.

"We get calls from people who are absolutely hysterical. They say, 'I hear your radio station all the time.' They threaten you with the FCC and the mayor and the governor. But we can only do so much about it."

Kerby said his station has broadcast from its 3 1/2-acre Alvarado Street site for 24 years, focusing its 50,000-watt signal in a narrow path toward downtown and South-Central Los Angeles. The directional beam keeps it from interfering with commercial broadcasters in Oxnard and Phoenix.

As a result, KDAY's rap music--which it has featured since 1982--can sometimes be heard in Hawaii and Japan. Its reception in the hilly Silver Lake and Echo Park areas can be just as unexpected.

"I can turn the volume on my stereo all the way down and I still hear KDAY," said Silver Lake resident Maria Noriega-Petti. "I can't play records without hearing it. On one of my phones, you can't hear the person you're talking to because of it. On the other, I can put my hand on the phone and hear the music."

Ten-year Echo Park resident Herman Marquez said the rap music started blaring from his phone and television set about two years ago. "But we've never complained because we thought it was just us . . . hearing it."

Silver Lake resident Francisco Duarte said he first suspected that his sister was listening in on an extension phone when the rap music began drowning out his calls. Then he found out that callers couldn't hear the music--only he could.

"I'd ask them if they heard it and they'd say, 'Oh? You hear music? Oooo kaaay.' "

Eva Torres, who has lived in her hillside home for 25 years, thought that her son was telephoning her from a night club the first time the music emerged from her phone.

"I said, 'You're in a bar.' He kept saying, 'No, I'm home! I'm home!' Everybody up here has the problem. The lady across the street says she can't even hear on her phone," Torres said.

Pacific Bell officials said they are fielding increasing rap music complaints from the Silver Lake-Echo Park area.

"It's getting worse," said Ray Kilgrow, phone company maintenance supervisor for the area. "We get from two to 10 calls a day. We have to send people out at night, when a lot of the interference happens. But they can only handle so many cases of trouble. It is a problem."

Phone company officials say inexpensive telephones built since 1984, when federal regulations on phone service were loosened, are most susceptible. Many of those new phones do not contain built-in interference filters.

Federal Communications Commission officials say KDAY fully complies with all regulations, however.

"They are very good," said Katherine Deaton, an FCC specialist in charge of interference complaints at the agency's Long Beach office. "KDAY is one of the best, in terms of cooperation."

Deaton said FCC technicians have conducted random checks of KDAY's transmissions in response to suggestions that the interference may be the result of illegal power boosts. No violations have been uncovered, she said.

According to Deaton, few actual complaints about KDAY have been lodged at her office. Those who do call are referred directly to the station, she said.

KDAY chief engineer Ron Russ said he buys boxes of Toroid Ring filters to attach to complainers' phone lines. The $8 gadgets are doughnut-shaped ceramic rings containing ferrite dust that absorbs the 1580 kHz radio signals produced by his station.

He said an AT&T; "Z-100" filter also works well, although it costs $18. Radio Shack radio frequency filters likewise work "with some degree of success," he said.

Russ said those most bothered by interference are Echo Park and Silver Lake residents--although the station's signal "blanketing area" extends three miles to the south of the station, 1 1/2 miles on either side and half a mile to the north.

To play it safe, people living in that area should purchase telephones that can be returned or exchanged if there is rap music interference. "We've had people with $100 phones that didn't work, but the cheap phones are usually the problem," he said.

In the meantime, his technician will continue to filter out complaints--which in the past have poured in at the rate of 250 a year.

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