Plane annoying! Ridge man maddened by interference on boob tube

Shore Road resident Allen Bortnick is furious that plane traffic diverted over Bay Ridge is wreaking havoc on his TV-watching habit.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Low-flying planes over Bay Ridge are wreaking havoc on the TV-watching habits of a Shore Road man — and it has nothing to do with the loud roar of jet engines making him unable to hear his favorite programs.

Eighty-year-old Allen Bortnick says that he hasn’t been able to watch his favorite shows like “NCIS” and “The McLaughlin Group” for the past month-and-a-half, when he began noticing that his tube went on the fritz whenever a plane flew overhead.

“It’s hellish,” he said. “It happens four times a day, but it’s pretty heavy.”

Bortnick, who has trouble getting around because of a neurological disease, watches hours of TV a day to pass the time between meetings of the community board, where he is a member of the traffic and transportation committee, and having his picture taken while holding his nose to prove to newspaper readers that the Owls Head Sewage Treatment Plant smells.

But when a plane flies overhead, his ability to watch “Jeopardy” is, well, put in jeopardy.

Bortnick says that interference caused by the planes make his TV lose reception during the morning, late afternoon, early evening and late at night.

And Bortnick said he’s tried everything to solve the problem.

“I put a rabbit antennae out the window, but I face east and reception is poor to begin with,” he said. “I lose my signal and programs just break up or I lose the signal [all together].”

Bad reception caused by planes — know as “airplane flutter” in over-the-air parlance — happens when signals bouncing off of low-flying planes create a warped image known as “rolling” — the very symptoms Bortnick sees while trying to get his daily fix of “Wheel of Fortune” on Channel 7.

The Korean War vet said that he and his elderly neighbors, many of whom also pick up TV signals with rabbit ears, can’t afford to pay for cable, so they’ll have to make do with a warbled “Regis and Kelly.”

“An awful lot of people in this neighborhood have not bothered to go out and buy flat screens,” said Bortnick, who claims he has a five-year-old television plugged into a digital converter box (though pictures of the TV seem to prove otherwise), and says that he can’t afford a better rig on his veteran’s benefits and Social Security.

Justin Brannan, spokesman for Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge), said that when he contacted the Federal Aviation Administration — the agency that monitors the country’s airspace — on Bortnick’s behalf, he was told that planes have been flying directly over the Ridge for the past month.

“This time of year and into the winter, LaGuardia uses Runway Four and Runway 310,” he said the agency told him. “This approach takes them right over Bay Ridge.”

The agency did not respond to our repeated requests for comment on Bortnick’s dilemma.

So he’ll just have to wait until spring, when planes will no longer be routed over the Ridge.

“I’m just sitting back and waiting.” he said. “In the meantime, I’ll just keep pestering them in the hopes that they’ll change something.”

Reach reporter Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow his tweets at twitter.com/dsmacleod.

Allen Bortnick’s reflection stares back at him from the flickering TV — rendered useless by plane traffic overhead.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

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