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Cable Firm’s Move Isn’t Music to Residents’ Ears

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the steep, rocky canyons where the strongest radio waves cannot travel, residents have counted on their cable television company to bring them FM broadcasts.

But the sound of FM radio fell silent Monday for 2,000 customers when Dimension Cable Co. converted the cables to give residents more television stations.

That change has caused some residents to raise a noise of their own.

“I automatically reached to turn on my radio, and all of a sudden, I can’t get FM anymore,” Dick Harley, a 21-year resident of Bluebird Canyon, complained Wednesday. “I’m sure a lot of people in town are frustrated like I am. They’ve made our FM radios obsolete.”

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Harley said he had FM service for at least 15 years.

Deputy City Manager Rick Clark said that since FM service ended, he has received about a dozen complaints, “which is an unusual amount because people don’t generally know that I deal with cable issues.”

Dimension officials say a 1992 federal law requires all cable companies to increase the number of local stations. The cable company was obliged to add six new channels, forcing it to squeeze out FM radio service.

Laguna Beach has been especially affected because many residents live in canyons where, without the cable hookup, they cannot receive radio signals.

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So far, at least one other Orange County cable operator--Cablevision of Orange--has canceled FM broadcasting because of the legislation. Cablevision manager Steve Everett said only 300 customers had received the FM service and few protested when it was stopped in June.

Dimension, however, has heard a squawk.

“The constraints that have been placed on cable operators have forced us to make decisions that don’t necessarily match with customer interests,” said Susan Ritchie, a Dimension spokeswoman. Dimension Cable is owned by Times Mirror Co., which also publishes the Los Angeles Times.

“It is painful for us and painful for our customers to have market control taken from them,” Ritchie said.

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Dimension offers 56 channels to its 130,000 customers in Orange County. The company added four stations in June and another two on Monday, replacing the FM radio reception.

“FM service was not a highly popular product,” Ritchie said. “We had to look at whether it was less popular than another channel that would have been actively viewed by customers.”

Some Laguna Beach cable subscribers say they have no choice but to pay $9.95 a month for a Dimension Cable digital music service that will offer nine FM stations sometime in the future.

The residents will get a chance to speak out at a Sept. 16 meeting of the city Cable Television Committee, a group of residents appointed by the City Council.

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Jim Otto, who owns a Laguna Beach record store called Sound Spectrum, said eliminating FM broadcasts “affects me directly because people who listen to music on the radio come in and buy it.”

Otto wants Dimension to give customers a choice between one of its new channels and FM reception.

“Right now, we don’t have any choices--they took away FM from most of the people in Laguna Beach,” he said.


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