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Yard Residents Startled by Mysterious Radio Signals

Computers, telephones pick up WHRB programming


Last Thursday afternoon, students in several first-year dorms began hearing voices--but it wasn't a result of midterm stress.

Instead, they were hearing the sounds of WHRB-FM, Harvard's student radio station. Coming from a backup transmitter on top of Holyoke Center, for a brief time WHRB's signal was picked up by telephones, computers and turned-off radios in some areas of the Yard.

According to station officials, a circuit board malfunctioned which prevented the station from using its main transmitter in Boston.

The result of switching to the Holyoke Center transmitter was a phenomenon called "blanketing," common near large FM transmitters. Audio equipment and other electronic devices located close to a transmitter may receive the signal and begin broadcasting it without being tuned to the station.

Several first-years were surprised to hear WHRB's broadcast coming over their computer speakers and radios.

"I was sitting at my computer, and I had some music playing," said Matthew R. Polisson '02, a resident of Grays Hall. "I turned off the music but my speakers were still on, and I was getting some radio signal pretty clearly. You could hear songs and voices. It was pretty weird."

Students in dorms farther from Holyoke Center also experienced the "blanketing" effects of the Holyoke transmitter.

"I could hear opera and guys speaking about music coming from my computer speakers," said Thayer resident Dan Krockmalnic '02. "It was kind of annoying until I figured out I could make it go away by moving the speaker wires."

According to WHRB General Manger Clifford Y. Chen '00, Grays Hall experienced the greatest effect of the transmitter because it faces Holyoke Center.

Chen said the effects most likely began at about 4 p.m. Thursday when the station changed transmitters. The station did not experience any major problems after the switch.

"There was only about a minute of dead air when we switched from our main transmitter to our backup," Chen said. "Some of the outlying areas had poor reception but the reception actually improved in the Cambridge and Somerville areas."

Replacement circuit boards arrived at WHRB on Saturday and the station returned to broadcasting off its main transmitter by 10:30 a.m.

"I don't anticipate any problems in the near future," said Chen. "This is the first time we had to run off the auxiliary transmitter since we installed the one in Boston."

Chen said the problem of blanketing was much greater before WHRB began using the transmitter in Boston in 1995. Prior to this, the station was using the transmitter on top of Holyoke Center full-time, and blanketing problems were more common.

Chen said that persistent problems with blanketing could be fixed.

"You can install electronic filters [on telephones]," Chen said. "They're pretty inexpensive and easy to install."

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