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AFN faces radio silence in Italy

American Forces Network radio in Naples is out of commission while AFN officials await Italian approval to use a new transmitter.

The transmitter is on a site that is home to a number of radio, television and cell phone towers perched atop Collina dei Camaldoli. The site is “hot [with electromagnetic field emissions] and there have been many complaints from residents in the area,” said Giuseppe D’Antonio, with Agenzia Regionale Protezione Ambientale Campania, the regional equivalent of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

For decades, AFN broadcast from a tower at the monastery atop Camaldoli. An extended lease expires Thursday, and AFN cut the radio signal 10 a.m. Monday to give crews time to disassemble and clear away the transmitter and tower, according to Maj. Tom Bryant, senior commander of AFN operations in Italy.

AFN contracted with Italian state-run station RAI to use an existing tower for a new transmitter, off monastery property but still atop Camaldoli, which at 1,482 feet, is the highest site in Naples and prime real estate from which stations broadcast unimpeded signals.

AFN is the only English-speaking radio station in the Naples area.

“It’s really important for us to resume broadcasting,” said Bryant, the senior commander of AFN operations in Italy. “It’s critical we be able to get timely and accurate information to our listeners.”

But the cumulative emissions from the dozens of towers atop Camaldoli have raised potential health concerns in addition to public outcry, D’Antonio said, making Italian officials leery of granting permission for more.

“There is a lot of controversy” with the site, he said Tuesday.

Italian environmental experts are scheduled to meet with Naples officials on Thursday to discuss the whole issue of electromagnetic field emissions at Camaldoli – but U.S. officials have not been invited to attend.

Bryant says cumulative readings notwithstanding, AFN’s new transmitter emits EMFs below Italian legal standards.

Italian law sets two standards for emissions. In areas where people are spending less than four consecutive hours, such as driving by a tower on a highway, the maximum level is 20 volts per meter for each transmitter. In areas where people are present for more than four consecutive hours, such as homes, offices, or schools, the maximum level is 6 volts per meter for each transmitter.

On April 6, RAI technicians conducted two tests of AFN’s new transmitter on the RAI tower, “on the top of the hill in the middle of woods on uneven terrain,” Bryant said. Results showed emissions of 4.3 volts per meter, and 4.25 volts per meter, Bryant said. On April 7, Naples environmental experts from D’Antonio’s office conducted a second set of tests, showing 5.2 volts per meter and 5.4 volts per meter.

Bryant did not know why there was a difference in readings. “Perhaps it was the calibration of the equipment. Regardless, both tests were below the Italian standard of 6 volts per meter,” Bryant said.

The U.S. consulate in Naples is monitoring the situation, but would say little else.

Any request to use the transmitter has to be approved by the Italian authorities, and “must respect all relevant Italian health and environment regulations,” consulate spokeswoman Amy Bliss said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re following the matter, and hope that it can be resolved soon.”

AFN TV programming is not affected, and people with access to TV can listen to the radio programs. Base residents can listen to 106 FM on the television’s program guide channel, and those with AFN decoders off base can listen to 106 FM on channel 182, and 107 FM on channel 183. (Stripes.com)

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