Mysterious radio signal emanating from inside house walls

This story appeared in both “InsideRadio” & on Chicago’s WLS-TV.  I swear those of us writing about radio don’t make this stuff up – it does happen!  I will offer a bit of technical insight at the conclusion of the story.

A family in Lockport, Ill. has been hearing talk & music emanating from inside their house’s walls for six years now.  The house is not far from the six transmitting towers of 50 kW Chicago Christian station 1160 WYLL.  “There are voices in the wall and I don’t know what it is,” said 9-year-old Brianna Smith.  “It has been waking me up at night,” she said. The sounds are coming from the bedroom walls of her home in the middle of the night.”It kind of keeps us up at night,” explained Brianna’s father Richard. He stated the family doesn’t have any speakers in their walls & captured some of the late night noise on his phone and sent it to the “ABC7” WLS-TV  news dept. in Chicago, who came out to investigate.  Sure enough the TV news crew were able to hear voices & music coming from Brianna’s bedroom wall. Richard Smith called Lockwood police who came out & also could hear the sounds coming from inside the wall.  In one, the officer noted that he could hear “voices and music” and “talking about Christ.” Then the officer said he heard a commercial for the Salem Media Group Christian station AM 1160.  Some nights the sounds are so loud, it has been waking various members of the Smith family.  Salem sent an engineer out to investigate & help the family deal with this annoying issue, but so far no solution has worked.  “The Salem engineer said, ‘I got to be honest with you. I don’t know what is acting as a speaker. There is nothing I can explain of why you’re actually hearing it,'” explained Smith. The father even tore up his daughter’s bedroom wall to inspect the electrical grounding, but it isn’t helping. “No, it isn’t. So we took a piece out to expose the electrical wire and conduit to come up with a solution,” he said.  Smith stated the FCC has been unable & unwilling to help. Under FCC rules the station has no obligation to help solve this or offer compensation to the family.  The Smiths may have to hire an experienced engineer to pinpoint the issue, using special tools to measure the signal and block it. It may require an expert who can also check inside the wall for corroded piping or duct work, or the placement of metal, which acting like a receiver, a speaker or both.  Richard Smith said that after several years of on-and-off disturbance, he and his family are desperate.  “I fall asleep in my parent’s room,” said Brianna.”Sometimes when we think we’ve arrived at a solution, the next season comes around, and it’s back,” Richard said.

Some technical insight & theories from me:  Possibly the home contains copper piping which can act as an antenna if it is old piping & containing some traces elements of zinc or other minute chemical compounds built up from aging.  The right combination of these could act as a “rectifier” circuit producing the signals.  Likewise, enough vibration in suspended piping within the walls could act as a crude speaker resonating at the right audio frequencies to produce sound.  Think “crystal radio” where one piece of a galena crystal is enough to receive AM radio signals & produce audio.  A more modern form of these is the rectifier diode.  These were used in the popular “Rocket Radios” we enjoyed as youngsters & used a germanium diode & a tuning coil sleeve over a ferrite rod to receive the AM radio signal & produce audio. The plumbing inside the walls is perhaps acting in similar fashion & the close proximity of the home to the 50 kW , 6-tower radiation from WYLL is certainly a factor. (Mike Cherry)

Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening

7 thoughts on “Mysterious radio signal emanating from inside house walls

  1. Thanks so much Steve. I will give that a try and I really appreciate your checking this for me. The house was redone in 2000 so not too old, although originally from the 1950s. I am guessing it is as you say and I will see about the grounding issue.

  2. Marc….here are other thoughts I got from a couple broadcast engineer friends. I was an AM radio engineer as well. But your problem is odd enough that it involves speculation vs easy answers. Some problems are standard…off the top of your head solutions. At least if this is at one wall that is a starting point. See below….

    “The advice I would offer is to ensure that if there’s metallic plumbing pipes…typically that would be copper unless the house is old galvanized steel, make sure it’s well grounded or bonded to earth with a proper ground stake inserted 6′ or more into the ground. Likewise, ensure the main electrical panel is well-grounded. It should be unless it is an older house built prior to when grounding became common…as in the knob and tube systems and early sheathed cable lacking that third ground wire or a ground at the old fuse box or panel. I suspect zinc or other trace elements creating a “diode effect” in his pipes or electrical wiring that is acting as an AM receiver since he is in close proximity to a powerful AM transmitter.”

  3. Hi Steve,

    Thanks so much for your reply. It is only coming through the wall and it is pretty localized. I like the idea of checking with the station itself and will give that a try. It is localized but loud. It must be some pipes that are doing this. Thanks for getting back to me on this. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.



  4. Marc,
    I spoke to another engineer friend yesterday. He sort of summed up what Mike Cherry said in the original post. That is is probably related to plumbing pipes and dissimilar metals touching and creating a diode. This is probably not going to be all that easy to figure out. If the signal was bleeding into your TV or something like that it would be more common. Two thoughts:

    Have you called the nearby radio station and asked to speak to their engineering department? If nothing else, the engineer might be interested and be willing to come out with a field strength meter and try to do some basic analysis.

    Is it everywhere or just in a certain room or rooms? Where the problem is the greatest might be a place to start at figuring it out. But it becomes pretty annoying if the source of the issue is in walls. I will see if I can get Mike Cherry to check in on this. He wrote the article.

  5. Yes Steve I do. It is Am radio and there are towers nearby. Since the pipes are in the wall and not visible to me, do you have any thoughts about what I might be able to do?

  6. I have this exact problem and am trying to find out how to stop it. It is driving me crazy. How can I stop it from happening if it is being conducted by pipes in the wall?

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