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Cops track emergency call to malfunctioning TV

Flat-screen TV starts broadcasting distress signal, drawing attention of emergency and law enforcement officials.

Talk about unwanted new features in fancy televisions.

College student Chris van Rossman got more than he wanted with his Toshiba set when emergency and law enforcement officials came knocking.

Earlier this month, Rossman's year-old 20-inch flat-screen TV started broadcasting over the 121.5MHz frequency, the channel used for distress signals. Such signals are used by search and rescue workers to find airplanes that have crashed or boats that are missing at sea. Rossman's TV was picked up by search and rescue satellites and emergency crews were alerted.

"These sorts of alerts are not uncommon, but usually happen in airports when someone has accidentally activated a transponder," said Mike Bamberger, emergency manager for Benton County, Ore., who went to Rossman's apartment with U.S. Air Force and Corvallis, Ore., law enforcement officials. "Most of these are false alarms, but we check them out anyway. By morning, we had narrowed the signal to an apartment, and later to a point on the wall of the apartment where the TV was located."

The television had just exceeded its warranty, according to Bamberger.

Toshiba representatives were not immediately available to comment on whether they have been getting similar complaints from other owners of the 20-inch set with built-in DVD, VCR and CD player.

Van Rossman was instructed to cease emitting a false distress signal--that is, to stop watching TV--or face a fine by the Federal Communications Commission of $10,000 per day.

Interference over radio spectrum is an issue that the federal agency is working to address by cleaning up and streamlining how radio bands are used by manufacturers and broadcasters.