Welcome To The Quiet Zone

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Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
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01Into The Valley20150518

Imagine a place without mobile phones. Quiet isn't it. People still look at each other when they are talking. It's not a dream. It really exists.

Take Highway 250 in West Virginia into the Allegheny Mountains and the car radio fades to static. Glance illegally at your mobile phone and the signal disappears. You're in The National Radio Quiet Zone - 13,000 square miles of radio silence, just a few hundred miles from Washington DC. No Wi-Fi; no cell phones; no radio signals.

Designated a radio wave free area in the 1950s, the area is home to two giant listening stations. One listens to deep space, as far back as milliseconds after the Big Bang - the Green Bank National Observatory; the other is Naval Communications, the NSA listening ear.

Taller than the Statue of Liberty, the Green Bank Telescope is the world's largest moving land object. It has the sensitivity, says Mike Holstine, "equivalent to a billionth of a billionth of a millionth of a watt... the energy given off by a single snow flake hitting the ground. Anything man-made would overwhelm that signal." Hence the legal requirement, for a radio frequency free zone.

Photographer Emile Holba, long fascinated with the edges of society, takes a trip into the Quiet Zone where the ability to listen in to moments after the creation of the universe, means the local population have sacrificed their connection to the outside world.

It's not a world without conflict as pressure grows to move into the technological future on the one hand, whilst on the other, a growing band of electro-sensitive immigrants are moving into cabins in the woods. Meanwhile the government are considering the viability of a continued large investment in searching space.

Producer: Sara Jane Hall.

02Keeper Of The Quiet20150519

'The Keeper of the Quiet' - Chuck Niday takes Emile Holba out in his radio wave detector van, as he continues his exploration of 13,000 square miles designated 'the National Quiet Zone' - protecting the Robert C Byrd Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia. Listening to deep space, using a giant telescope - the largest moveable technological object on land - 2.3 acres in size.

Imagine a place without mobile phones. Quiet isn't it. People still look at each other when they are talking. It's not a dream. It really exists.

Designated a radio wave free area in the 1950s, the area is home to two giant listening stations. One listens to deep space, as far back as milliseconds after the Big Bang - the Green Bank National Observatory; the other is Naval Communications, the NSA listening ear.

Hence the requirement, by law, for a radio frequency free zone since 1954.

Photographer Emile Holba, long fascinated with the edges of society, takes a trip into the Quiet Zone where the ability to listen in to moments after the creation of the universe, means the local population have sacrificed their connection to the outside world.

Producer: Sara Jane Hall.

03We Are Technological Lepers20150520

Pocohontus County has strict rules about the emission of radio signals, so that the Green Bank Telescope can conduct observations without interference.

This can cause some irritation to locals, who might want to use mobile phones but can't, but the National Quiet Zone is a legally controlled are of radio quiet, so the area has remained Wi-Fi free, as the rest of the world get increasingly addicted to their smart phones.

Now a new group of people have started to make their way into the area - living in cabins, or 'faraday cages', they are the people who believe themselves to be electromagnetically hyper sensitive. Mobile phone towers can give them headaches; smart metres stop them sleeping. Emile Holba heads into the woods to meet the Wi-Fi runaways, and self-describing 'technological lepers'.

Producer: Sara Jane Hall.

04Hunter And The Hunted20150521

Homer Hunter takes Emile down by the creek in Stoney Bottom star gazing. Homer remembers before the telescope was built and when the Quiet Zone was just a quiet place - apart from the moonshine, and the blue grass, and the bear hunting, and the preaching.

Producer: Sara Jane Hall.

05Change Must Come20150522

Rumours of closure at the Robert C Byrd Telescope at the National Radio Astronomy facility in Green Bank, West Virginia, abound.

Emile Holba hears from Karen O'Neill what extraordinary things the telescope can hear, and asks if the Quiet Zone is no longer needed how will that change the lives of those who live in this valley?

The telescope is trying to understand the creation of the universe, but there are universal issues pushing against the Quiet Zone.

The lives of those in the valley are in the hands of outsiders. The real MIB.

Producer: Sara Jane Hall