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This Wall Doesn’t Have Ears, but It Talks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

You wouldn’t know it from the quiet, shuttered homes or the well-manicured lawns, but strange things are happening in the community of East San Gabriel.

One man reports that his bedroom wall sings--the lonely, plaintive call of Mexican folk music . A woman said she could not open her oven without hearing voices, always in Spanish. And hundreds of people have told of singing and chatter on their telephones--when no one is on the line.

Such phenomena are nothing new in the neighborhood known as Sunnyslope, which since 1941 has been in the shadow of the transmitter for Spanish language radio station KALI.

Just about any metal object can attract the 5,000-watt signal from a set of four 198-foot antennas on North Vista Street. As a result, several hundred homeowners in the community east of the city of San Gabriel have routinely lived with the sounds of KALI--"The Music of Mexico"--issuing forth from telephones, televisions, an oven and even a light socket.

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Some neighbors hoped to put an end to the interference when the station’s county land-use permit recently expired. But that wish was quashed Wednesday when the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission voted unanimously to extend KALI’s conditional-use permit through 2005.

The county commission oversees land use in the neighborhood--where the four metal spires are surrounded on all sides by single-family homes--because it is unincorporated territory.

“We will appeal to the Board of Supervisors,” vowed Joseph Krotosky, the leader of the opposition and the man who says his wall sings.

Executives at Spanish-language KALI (1430 AM) say the Planning Commission vote affirms what they have said since an initial hearing in December--that they have been able to eliminate radio interference for those who have accepted their help.

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The Planning Commission agreed, finding that “measures taken to limit interference have been successful.”

Some neighbors close to the transmitter disagree.

“We have suppressors on our phones, and it just doesn’t work,” said Krotosky, a 35-year-old schoolteacher.

Roy and Helene Fazzi picked up their phone Tuesday to demonstrate their problem, and a lilting salsa beat issued from the receiver, as if they had been put on interminable hold. Roy Fazzi said the interference also causes glitches and delays when he tries to use his home computer to patch into his company’s mainframe. He said he has called KALI repeatedly for assistance, but has not gotten any.

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Down the block, on Woodlawn Street, Maria Castro said KALI put filters on her phones, but her big screen television still has a distorted picture. Neither her cable television company nor the radio station have been able to help, she said.

KALI chief engineer Richard Hunt said that the Hollywood-based station has received about 200 complaints from neighbors in the past year. He said almost all of those problems have been solved.

“But we had one group that wanted us just to leave their neighborhood, no matter what,” Hunt said. “That is unfortunate because the technology is there to help almost all these people.”

Telephone static can be eliminated simply by placing filters on phone lines, Hunt said. Stereo wire can be insulated so it does not act as an antenna for the KALI signal.

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Other problems proved more challenging, such as the case of the singing oven. But Hunt said he solved that one by putting a slight bend in an oven rack.

One man complained repeatedly about phone static, but the problem was never apparent when KALI engineers came to his home.

They finally deduced that the static came only at night, when the man was telephoning from his bed. His electric blanket had become an antenna for the radio signal. Hunt said the man has been told he can use his phone without static if he keeps the line away from the blanket.

Hunt speculated that the singing wall could be caused by electrical wire that is picking up the KALI signal. But he said he has not yet been invited into the house to investigate the problem.

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