The carpet Bomb

In Midtown, KBMB 103.5 FM strafes other frequencies with impunity

Consider this image: dozing, complacent Midtowners rudely awoken one morning by a riot of clock radios, on which the rambunctious Davey D has somehow muscled his way in between the heady dignity of a Johann Christian Bach sonata and the poised eloquence of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition news talk. Then for the rest of the day, low-range FM’s over-starched aura routinely gets busted up by the likes of Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” and Kelis and Too $hort’s “Bossy.”

To some dispositions, no doubt, the image has a savory, subversive appeal. But, notwithstanding its inherent value as a disruptor of Eurocentric dead-white-male cultural hegemony and all of that, radio interference more often than not tends just to annoy people.

KBMB, whose signal normally resides at 103.5 FM, recently was discovered by SN&R just to the left of 90.9 KXPR, Capital Public Radio’s classical station, and just to the right of KQEI 89.3, the North Highlands KQED affiliate. And also at the very bottom of the dial. And at the very top. And pretty much throughout the middle, too. Broadcasting 6,000 watts of hip-hop and R&B from its apparently robust Midtown transmission tower, KBMB, also known as “the Bomb,” seems to be negotiating a new claim to fame, as Sacramento’s officious hip-hop station.

“It’s been going on for years,” Karen Campbell, who lives on 24th Street, told SN&R by phone last week. Campbell, it’s safe to say, is not a hip-hop fan, and she wasn’t pleased to find the Bomb’s signal strafing her radio’s other frequencies.

“The first time that I contacted KBMB, they said, ‘You have a cheap system, and that’s why it’s causing problems,’” she said. Campbell used to work at a college radio station herself. She recalled that if ever someone registered an interference complaint there, the engineers would go to the complainant’s home and install filtering equipment to correct the problem. “But KBMB told me, ‘It’s your responsibility to do something about it,’” she said. “Really, it’s their responsibility to properly calibrate their transmitter so that it doesn’t do this.”

Is it? “To my knowledge, the station follows all regulations regarding power and output,” said Larry Lemanski, the general manager for Sacramento of Entravision Communications Corp., which owns and operates KBMB, among other local stations. “There’s nothing going on as far as the station being too powerful,” he added. “I wish it was more powerful.”

When pressed to explain the bleed, Lemanski said, “It just may be the physical radio being close to the transmitter. I think if you are close, it comes in very strong. As you move away further, that evens out.”

“Well, if you’re living right next-door to the transmitter, or it’s right outside your bedroom window, maybe,” said Capital Public Radio Station Manager Carl Watanabe, who, admittedly, was surprised to learn that some of his listeners, hoping to tune in for Bach, might have to dodge the Bomb. “I’ve not had that problem,” Watanabe went on, “and this is the first I’ve heard of it.” Still, he found it disconcerting. “Bleeding happens sometimes with the immediately adjacent frequencies—which, in this case, would be the others at around 103. But down in the 90s? That shouldn’t happen at all.”

According to Bruce Romano, from the Federal Communications Commission’s office of engineering and technology, the problem most likely results from a phenomenon known as “blanketing interference.” “If you have a high-powered signal and a receiver that is not overly selective,” Romano explained, the signal might stray far from its designated frequency. Such interference “is not unheard of,” Romano said, but it’s not exactly common either. This explanation does corroborate the suggestion that the cheaper your receiver, the more likely you are to tune in the bleeding Bomb. But it doesn’t explain why only the Bomb seems to be doing the bleeding—or, for that matter, why people who can’t afford more selective stereo equipment should have to endure it.

Romano was careful to point out that he knows no specifics of KBMB’s situation and legally would not be permitted to discuss them if he did. Hypothetically, he said, “it could be they’re operating over power, but it could also just be that funny things happen with signals in particular locations sometimes. Most broadcast stations know our rules very well. And we do periodic compliance checks.”

The FCC’s rule about blanketing interference is essentially that stations are required to inoculate against it, and to address any complaints of failing to do so, during their first year of operation; after that, they’re not responsible. KBMB has been in business since 1998.

And that must be why, when confronted with the issue, Lemanski said, “We’ve never had a complaint about that.” Campbell’s, apparently, came in too late to count.

“It’s kind of like the people who buy a house at the airport,” Lemanski added, “and then they go, ‘Why are these planes so loud?’” That may not seem like a persuasive argument, but of course it doesn’t really need to be.

Eventually, Campbell installed a more sensitive antenna, left over from her own radio days, and it seemed to do the trick. But, as she explained, “it’s kind of costly to put something like that on every radio in every room.”

For the rest of Midtown, including SN&R staffers who normally appreciate subversive activity and diversity of expression, but also appreciate classical music and NPR, fallout from the Bomb has become a fact of life.