J.R. Ewing Versus the Radar

For those under 50, you may not be aware that CBS TV’s “Dallas” was, by far, the most popular televison show of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The “Who Shot J.R.?” episode was one of the most-viewed show in television history.  J.R. was J.R. Ewing, the slimy, philandering eldest son of the fictional Ewing Oil empire. Actor Larry Hagman was perfect in the role.
Sunday, Mr. Hagman will guest in an episode of “Desperate Housewives.” TNT is resurecting “Dallas” and will bring Mr. Hagman back, at least for the pilot.
So, I thought this would be a good time to tell the story of “J.R. Ewing versus the Radar” which was editted out of Warnings because we had so much great material that was even more compelling.
In Warnings I call the WSR-88D radar one of the best investments the federal government has ever made when viewed from on a cost/benefit basis. The -88D replaced the worn out vacuum tube WSR-57 radars. The -57 radar was so obselete the only remaining manufacturer of the tubes was in the former Soviet Union. Imagine, the entire U.S. weather enterprise could be held hostage by a trade dispute!
Most areas welcomed the radars with a few exceptions and their life-saving capability. The most notable objector was Larry Hagman. 


Hagman considers himself an environmental activist and says so on his personal website. Hagman owns a condo in Santa Monica, a home in Santa Fe, and a large mansion in the Sulphur Mountain area of Ojai, California, northwest of Los Angeles. Sulphur Mountain is also the location of one of the National Weather Service’s WSR-88D antennas, a fact that did not sit well with Hagman. Hagman gave this interview to “People” magazine in 1995,

A 10-bedroom chateau with breathtaking views, the Ojai place was our dream home, and we named it Heaven—that’s actually the address I use on my stationery. But a scary situation developed there that I think is partially to blame for the tumor that doctors would eventually find in my liver. In 1993 the National Weather Service put up a tower for Doppler radar, which warns of severe weather conditions, 800 yards from my house. It’s 68 feet tall, topped by a forest-green metal ball, 30 feet in diameter, that pulses 24 hours a day, emitting low-level microwave radiation. The government informed us that the tower posed no health risks, but I hired an independent radar specialist and found out that my house, which is on the neighboring mountain, receives what I consider unacceptable levels of radiation. A woman who lived right next door to the tower has developed three tumors—and a child from a family who lives on the hill across from me was born with a hyperthyroid condition. And then I came down with my thing.

Mr. Hagman filed multiple legal actions against the Doppler radar and even offered to personally pay for its removal.  Mr. Hagman, by his own admission a heavy drinker, suffered from cirrosis of the liver that developed into cancer.  He blamed that on the radar. 

Removing the radar would leave Californians living at lower elevations at risk, especially during flash floods.
The fight against the radar was concluded when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found:
·      ”The government fully complied with the law when it conducted an environmental assessment of the Sulphur Mountain site”
·      The NWS had multiple studies indicating there would be no adverse health effects from the microwave energy emitted from the radar.  The court concluded the energy “will not generate adverse health effects”

As unfortunate as Mr. Hagman’s health problems were, they were not caused by the radar, according to the court.  Fortunately, his health improved and he is back working in television as discussed above.

Along with Hagman, a number of other Californians protested the installation of Doppler radars, including some who contend those radars and American satellites are causing global warming … on Mars. One contended his parakeet could not grow feathers because of the radar. The protesters had some effect: some of the California radars are not as well sited as they should be due to the complaints but are, nevertheless, a huge improvement over the nearly non-existent radar coverage in California prior to the NEXRAD, WSR-88D radar installation. There is no question those radars have saved countless lives.






P.S. If you enjoyed reading this, think how much you’d enjoy reading Warnings. After all, this is material we left out because we had better material for the book itself!

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