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The Ignorance of a Faculty

A recent story in The Daily Free Press, the student newspaper at Boston University, quoted the dean of the College of Communication with troubling comments about radio.

A recent story in The Daily Free Press, the student newspaper at Boston University, quoted the dean of the College of Communication with troubling comments about radio.

As workers were getting ready to take down a 50-year-old radio tower from a roof at the school, the newspaper quoted Dean Tom Fiedler as saying, “It speaks of old technology. It hasn’t been used in 30 years. I think it sends the wrong message of where we want to go as a college. In 2008, radio is old, the technology of our grandfathers.”

It also quoted journalism professor Anne Donohue, academic director for the student-run station WTBU, saying the radio tower is antiquated. The tower reportedly was not being used for an active radio signal.

Removal of the tower is one thing, but the ignorance of this school’s faculty and students is another.

Radio broadcasting is not a “an artifact of a bygone era.” It is a $20 billion a year industry in the U.S. and is listened to by 99.5 percent of the U.S. population each week.

There are more FCC-licensed radio stations now than ever before and radio plays a critical role in public safety during emergencies. We have a wonderful public radio service in the United States called NPR that uses, as described by Dean Tom Fielder, “old technology.”

As for the tower being antiquated, “vertical real-estate” values are at an all time high. If Professor Anne Donohue wants to be “progressive,” she should push to use the tower to distribute Wi-Fi, WiMax and other new Internet technologies. Revenues such as those from cell phone companies could bring substantial income to Boston University.

Concerning the comments that the tower is an eyesore, the same was thought of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and it was nearly demolished until its utility as a radio tower was discovered by the allied forces during World War I. Many radio towers, such as Mt. Sutro in San Francisco, have become architectural landmarks. Many great works of art, architecture and engineering are considered eyesores by some.

Regarding Dean Fielder’s feeling that radio speaks for “old technology,” yes, radio waves are old technology. Electromagnetic fields — radio waves — are one of the four forces in nature and have existed since time began and before matter was formed.

The mathematical equations that describe radio waves, Maxwell’s Equations, are the foundation of electrical engineering and one-fourth of the world’s economy. This work by Maxwell inspired a young scientist by the name of Albert Einstein to formulate his ideas on relativity.

All new technologies, including the computer, Internet, GPS, WiMax, MP3, cell phones and anything else electrical and digital, would be impossible without these old, outdated radio waves. Even light is a radio wave.

Instead of tearing down this tower, Boston University should have dedicated it as a monument to science and culture. It should have placed a plaque below the tower describing the scientific, historical, cultural and sociological importance of radio waves in our world.

Perhaps its students might be inspired each time they saw it, and unlike Dean Fielder and Professor Donohue, more informed of our scientific world.

Mario Hieb, P.E.
Consulting Engineer
Salt Lake City