Newsletter Issue #596: Welcome to the Wild World of Non-Stories

May 2nd, 2011

I used to collect radios, lots of them. Maybe that’s why I got into broadcasting in the first place, since I could actually be heard on one of those contraptions. Indeed, during my long-ago teen-aged years, I built a few, ranging from simple models with a few spare parts, to full-blown multichannel receivers. Unless I’m totally wrong, one of my close friends of that era is actually using the FM radio tuner I assembled for him with a screwdriver and soldering iron.

One lesson I learned then is that radio reception is unreliable, and can vary all over the place. Even FM, which can deliver nearly pristine sound under ideal conditions, may present difficulties, as most of you know. If you move the radio or antenna around, reception will improve. I also discovered, early on, that my hands would become part of the circuit, and then the quality of the signal would depend on their proximity.

The most frustrating lesson was learned before I got cable TV, when I used an regular antenna to pick up local stations. Consider the time, years ago, when I lived in a small apartment, and had a rabbit ears antenna affixed to the family TV; the rental office wouldn’t permit an external antenna, and I didn’t want to invest in cable. Well, it was frustrating to carefully point the two ends of the antenna in the right direction, only to have the picture get snowy again as soon as I moved my hands away.

Now, from a purely scientific standpoint, there should be no mystery whatever why this occurs, and how your hands, essentially two large sacks of liquid, can hurt or enhance reception. Certainly cell phone makers know this. Some tell you in the manual not to hold a handset the “wrong” way, and a few models even have warning stickers affixed to the sensitive location. Nobody seemed to care, until the iPhone 4 arrived in 2010.

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