As a wireless earbud user, this is something that concerns me

Remember years ago when doomsayers were concerned that cell phone use would cause an epidemic of brain cancer? The argument was that the radio emissions–shortwave radiation–coming from devices placed next to the skull caused tumor growth over time.

There were plenty of studies on the claim, some (like this one and this one from the Mayo clinic) saying that these feats were overblown. Besides, it’s not like most of us have a cell phone pressed against our head all the time since making actual phone calls is anathema to many people. Why talk to someone when you can text or WhatsApp them?

But then this email appeared in by inbox today which begins by focusing on cellphone radiation but moves to a discussion Bluetooth earbuds and headphones. . I’m keeping the sender anonymous. Thoughts?

I am an industrial engineer and when I moved to LA, I worked implementing RFID (radio frequency identification) tags on DVDs. One of my business partners had been an RF engineer with Marconi Wireless.  On the first day that we met in 2004, he saw me with a Bluetooth earbud and the first thing that he said to mean after some introductions, was to take that thing off and throw it in the garbage. 

He went on to tell me that that device was broadcasting a very hot RF signal straight into my skull and my skull was containing the signal, so the soft tissue inside, my brain, was essentially getting microwaved, and it would get extreme if there were not a good cell signal. He predicted that within a decade there would be all kinds of soft tissue cancers appearing from these headphones and carrying cellphones close to our bodies.  He told me to read the warnings in my Motorola cell phone, and I would see that it was not recommended to hold the device closer than  1” to my body. I  threw away my headphone and try not to carry my phone in my pocket too much.

I had a classmate from engineering school who was probably one of the first brain cancer deaths I know of. He worked for [a telco] and always had one of those big monstrous phones, probably producing all kinds of RF.  I have a few other friends that have had brain issues, including my wife’s friend who is an ad exec and had to have a chunk of her brain removed and she was the type that always had an earbud.  

I imagine that people like Gord Downie and other musicians that have had similar issues were being fried by RF radiation one way or another, especially with headphones. It’s sad that the news will never ever do an investigative report on why there has been such a rise in these cancers over the last couple of decades.

The danger of RF issues is always present when wearing Bluetooth headphones is always there, but it goes off the charts when the device cannot make a good connection to its base station/device, and its wattage jacks up to try to establish a good connection – that is when the most damage will occur and that will happen many times a day if you have a poor signal.    

 I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but there are just way too many people dying of brain cancer now, as compared to back in the 70s and 80s, so although anecdotal, the comments of my RF supplier may, unfortunately, have some merit.  In any event, in your industry, it is an occupational hazard, so I hope this is a non-issue, but do your own research to be on the safe side.

I would switch to old-style wired earphones, personally, to be on the safe side, however, I recognize that listening to music all the time is your job, so take my comments for what they are worth and do your own research. The guy that gave me the initial advice was a genius level electrical engineer from Marconi, and having seen friends and celebrities with brain issues over the years (before and since), I took his warning seriously.

Could be something, could be nothing. But until we see some studies like we saw with cell phones, you gotta wonder, right?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

5 thoughts on “As a wireless earbud user, this is something that concerns me

  • December 2, 2022 at 12:00 pm
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    “Do your own research”

    The calling card of a conspiracy nut.

    Reply
    • December 2, 2022 at 6:13 pm
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      My thoughts exactly. I’ve lost a loved one to conspiracy theories and crack-pot science. So, I drafted a long-ish rant/essay/lecture comment on the dangers of conspiracy theories.

      But I decided to cut it short and leave the important part (see comment below).

      Reply
  • December 2, 2022 at 6:07 pm
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    For any non-journalist layperson who reads this post and intends to “do your own research”, please start by arming yourself against disinformation. There are good resources online. Start with the “Debunking Handbook”. Also there is a US State Dept paper entitled, “A Counter-Disinformation System That Works” and it includes links to other articles and online resources. This paper features online resources created by an EU NGO (Debunk.eu) that has been actively combating Russian disinformation online since 2014. They are based in Lithuania, one of several former Soviet Republics fighting Russian disinformation and propaganda for decades.

    Reply
  • December 3, 2022 at 9:25 am
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    You got duped, sorry bud

    Reply
  • December 3, 2022 at 4:27 pm
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    You shouldn’t wear blue tooth earbuds for listening to music BECAUSE THE SOUND IS GARBAGE! The sound quality of blue tooth is WORSE than an mp3. Get some good quality WIRED inner ear monitors or at least some higher end regular ones. Definitely not Beats, those are @#$% too.

    Reply

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