NRAO RFI Hunter On CBS “Sunday Morning”
Green Bank, WV – The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank sits squarely in the heart of the national radio quiet zone, an extremely large area of some 13,000 square miles. For residents in Green Bank and nearby localities, this means that cell phone towers and other wireless communications are either verboten or greatly discouraged depending on their proximity to the site. Richard Schlesinger, veteran newscaster with CBS news found this to be intriguing. So much so, that he and a camera man came to the NRAO earlier this week to learn more about it.
“It’s kind of a roundabout story,” says Schlesinger. “We were doing a show on “Sunday Morning” about islands in honor of the beginning of the summer traveling season. We didn’t just want to just do one tropical island after another, so we started looking for different kinds of islands and your part of West Virginia is sort of an island of tranquility for people who are sick and tired of cell phones and all these gadgets ringing and buzzing and vibrating all over the place, so we just came to do a short story on what it’s like in a town where you don’t have that.”
But he says not all who live here appreciate a cell phone free life.
“The funny thing is that we found a lot of people considered it an inconvenience which was strange coming from a different part of the county where I hear people complaining about cell phones going off all the time; so it’s like “the grass is always greener”, he says. “It’s so unusual in the country, and I would wager that a lot of people who don’t live in West Virginia don’t know that there’s this huge swatch of land where you can’t use a cell phone or a blackberry or Bluetooth, or wireless internet; all these things that we take for granted in the rest of the world that you guys don’t have.”
Indeed residents of Pocahontas County know exactly where to find those few local spots where you can pick a cell signal, whereas in the rest of the country, it’s more unusual to find a place where you can’t connect.
AMR Chief Engineer Chuck Niday’s day job is as a Tech Specialist 1 at the NRAO. Part of his duties
include tracking down RFI, or Radio Frequency Interference in a specially equipped truck. He took Schlesinger and a cameraman on tour around Green Bank looking for interference.
“I love the fact that they have all this modern technology designed to try to detect people trying to use modern technology,” says Schlesinger. “And we had a very good ride; he pulled out of the observatory and right away wireless networks were popping up on this little display in the truck. So they’ve got their work cut out for them, but of course the observatory says they’re doing a pretty good job; people around the area are pretty understanding, they haven’t too much of a problem. But that’s what makes it so interesting for us to do a story on it, that it’s so unusual and to you guys it’s just everyday life.”
As with most visitors, the beauty of the county also left a lasting impression on Schlesinger.
“It is spectacularly beautiful; it’s breathtaking,” he says. “I live in a small town in Connecticut but we don’t have the scale that you guys have. We have mountains and things but not as high as yours and not [with] these gorges and hollows, and oh my god! It’s amazing, the trip in from Washington was just breathtaking and it was even in bad weather and it was still beautiful.”
Barring any unforeseen complications the NRAO story is scheduled to be part of the CBS “Sunday Morning” show broadcast on May 20th. The program airs from 9 to 10:30am. After airing, it will be on their website at www.cbs.com.