Man's Homemade Electronics Disrupt Entire Neighborhood's Car Keys and Garage Openers

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Illustration: Justin Westbrook / Jalopnik
Illustration: Justin Westbrook / Jalopnik

Sudden and mysterious reports of car key fobs and garage door openers not working started back in late April in a North Olmsted, Ohio suburban neighborhood, befuddling locals as to what could be the cause. It was like something out of the Twilight Zone, and it took weeks to find out what was actually happening.

On the surface, the story featured by the New York Times this weekend had all the makings of a great Spielberg movie. Residents in North Olmsted and nearby Fairview Park were having problems unlocking their cars and getting their garage openers to work. Nearby was the NASA Glenn Research Center, which some thought may have had something to do with it.

I would definitely watch this movie.

But officials and investigators quickly figured out it had to be a mystery radio frequency somewhere locally interfering with the frequencies used by the neighborhood electronics, but they struggled in their search to find a source.


From the New York Times:

Officials from the cable company and AT&T joined the search for answers, and on Thursday, the Illuminating Company, a local electric utility, dispatched inspectors to investigate.

“They began by shutting off the power in the places where they detected the strongest reading for interfering radio frequencies,” said Chris Eck, a company spokesman. But even after shutting off power on an entire block, the overpowering frequency persisted.

“It’s like trying to talk to someone at a nightclub,” said Adam Scott Wandt, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, in explaining how a strong frequency can derail a weak frequency.


There was also a team of local amateur investigators, including ham radio operators and a television repairman who walked around with a signal detector.

After weeks of the weird issues, the source of the interfering frequency was finally found:

By Saturday afternoon, City Councilman Chris Glassburn announced that the mystery had been solved: The source of the problem was a homemade battery-operated device designed by a local resident to alert him if someone was upstairs when he was working in his basement. It did so by turning off a light.

“He has a fascination with electronics,” Mr. Glassburn said, adding that the resident has special needs and would not be identified to protect his privacy.

The inventor and other residents of his home had no idea that the device was wreaking havoc on the neighborhood, he said, until Mr. Glassburn and a volunteer with expertise in radio frequencies knocked on the door.

“The way he designed it, it was persistently putting out a 315 megahertz signal,” Mr. Glassburn said. That is the frequency many car fobs and garage door openers rely on.


Nothing nefarious, no weird NASA experiments, no aliens.

An entire neighborhood filled with slightly frustrated and likely hopeful suburbanites wondering if they were in the presence of a real-life E.T. got their answer in the form of a basement dad who just wanted to know when other people were home, by the looks of it. Incredible.


I just want to know if this guy goes by “Doc” and keeps a DeLorean parked the garage. It sounds like he has ideas.