Lucille Ball receives Morse code radio broadcast through dental fillings
Lucille Ball, the zany comedic redhead (she was a natural brunette) that starred in popular television shows such as I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy, was one of the most influential comedic stars in U.S. history. Lucy was the first woman to head a major television studio, the first to film before a live studio audience (with multiple cameras), and the first to use side-by-side sets during filming – a string of firsts that solidified her legendary status in comedic TV sitcom history. And as portrayed in her popular television series, life with Lucille Ball was never mundane, as evidenced by a bizarre true-life incident she recounted during a live 1974 appearance on the Dick Cavett show. According to Lucy, she had picked up Japanese spy Morse code transmissions through her dental work – which lead to the arrest of a Japanese spy on American soil.
In 1942, during the early days of World War II, U.S. citizens located along the Pacific coast lived in constant fear of an imminent Japanese invasion (a Japanese submarine had already been spotted near the coast early that year). During the wave of panic (a few years before she began filming I Love Lucy), Lucy had several temporary dental fillings fitted in her teeth. Later that day, as she drove home from MGM to her ranch in San Fernando Valley, she heard a strange sound which she at first thought was music. She reached down to turn off the radio and noticed that it was not on. The music grew louder and after twisting and turning in the car to determine the source, she was stunned when she realized the music was coming from her mouth. According to Lucille Ball:
“I even recognized the tune. My mouth was humming and thumping with the drumbeat, and I thought I was losing my mind. I thought, ‘What the hell is this?’ Then it started to subside.”
Lucy arrived at home and as she climbed into her bed, wondered if she should tell anyone what had happened.
The next day, Lucy recounted the experience to fellow actor Buster Keaton. Keaton laughed, and explained to Lucy that she was picking up television signals through her new dental work. He explained that the same thing had happened to a friend of his and that there was nothing to worry about. Lucy thought no more about it – until it happened again.
About a week after her first incident, Lucy was driving home from MGM Studios (along a different route) when her mouth started “jumping”. She immediately recognized that the sound was not music, but rather, Morse code. As she continued down the road, the sound began to fade. Lucy stopped the car and backed up, noting that the sound grew louder and louder until she reached one specific home along her route (the location of the home has never been revealed to the public).
“I stopped the car and then started backing up until it was coming in full strength. DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE DE-DE-DE-DE! I tell you, I got the hell out of there real quick.”
The following day, Lucy told an MGM security officer about the incident. Thinking it suspicious, the officer called the authorities (Lucy believed it was the FBI) who drove to the home where Lucy said the Morse code signal was the strongest. During a search of the premises, authorities found a secret underground Japanese radio station. According to Lucy:
“It was somebody’s gardener, but sure enough, they were spies.”
As odd as the story sounds, it was told during a serious segment of the Dick Cavett show, in an interview during which Lucy passed on many other true-life stories – some happy, some sad, and this puzzling one. The story was reiterated by Lucille Ball that same year to Ethel Merman who worked it into a Cole Porter musical plot that she starred in several years later.
During her lifetime, Lucille Ball never recanted the tale.
Other cases of radio signals being picked up through dental work
Reception of radio and television signals through dental work or other means (besides an antenna), has been widely reported and hotly debated. Theoretically, it should be possible, but seems far-fetched to many. Regardless, there have been several verifiable stories of persons who claim to have picked up radio or television broadcasts through their ship’s mast, hot water heater, toaster, refrigerator and yes – dental work.
Radio signals picked up through telephone
In 1995, Ned Rozell, science writer for the Alaska Science Forum, told how a radio transmission was picked up through his telephone and explained how the jarring phenomena occurs.
“It’s one of life’s little irritations—I answer my telephone, and the person on the other end sounds a lot like Elvis. Then I realize that a local AM radio station is broadcasting an Elvis song, which is somehow being picked up by my phone and competing with the caller for my ear.
How does my phone turn into a radio receiver? I spent four years in the Air Force working on radios, and I remember the receivers as rather large, complicated boxes, crammed with tiny electrical components and a web of wires. My phone doesn’t seem that complicated.
According to Robert Hunsucker, a professor emeritus at the Geophysical Institute with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, my phone isn’t that complicated, and neither is a receiver circuit. A receiver is so simple, Hunsucker said, that anything from a phone to a person’s mouth can act as one.
At its most basic, a receiver circuit consists of only three elements: an antenna, which picks up an electromagnetic radio signal; a detector, which is an electrical component that converts the radio wave to an audio signal the human ear can pick up; and a transducer, which is anything that acts like a speaker.”
New Scientists once reported a reader question regarding an incident where the husband and wife “heard voices in their heads” while on a boat. Several scientists responded, all pointing out how the radio waves were being heard through the ship’s masts. Jenny Pollock of Nelson, New Zealand asked:
“In 1980, my husband and I sailed from New Zealand to Hawaii and back. Just the other day we confessed to each other that, on quiet nights in the middle of the ocean when there was very little wind and hence very little boat noise, we could hear voices coming from the mast. These voices would be both male and female but you couldn’t make out what they were saying. We were both quite sober and were not under stress. Can anyone explain this? Our mast is aluminum and the stays are made of coiled wire.”
And here is one of the responses:
“The voices the couple heard were radio waves that were being picked up by the mast and stay arrangement. Either the mast or the hull was acting as the speaker. When I was a child, my family and I heard radio broadcasts at nights through our water heater. The pipes acted as the antenna and either the heater itself, or the small room it was in, acted as the speaker.”
Radio signals through dental fillings – a painful experience for some
In 1995, David Bartholomew told the tale of an experience similar to Lucille Ball’s that left him in great pain.
“[The phenomena] is real. I attended a Field Day setup a few years ago, staged by the Westside Amateur Radio Club in Los Angeles. They had one of their stations inside a trailer, and the radio had an automatic antenna tuner. Well, SOMEBODY didn’t ground the thing right. I was inside the shack about 5′ from the radio when the op said, “Well, 15 meters is dead; let’s tune it up on 20.” He changed bands and hit the deadly little “Automatic Tune” button. The radio began buzzing as the tuner went to work. Also, I let out a scream as one of my teeth with a nice filling in it suddenly felt like a dentist was drilling in it with NO anesthetic! I RAN from that trailer uttering obscenities and the pain vanished as soon as I got clear of the thing. Needless to say I didn’t hang around that particular shack much during the rest of the contest.”