Ohio Section Journal – The Technical Coordinator – March 2024 edition

One of the responsibilities of the Technical Coordinator in the Ohio Section is to submit something for the Section Journal. The Section Journal covers Amateur Radio related things happening in and around the ARRL Ohio Section. It is published by the Section Manager Tom – WB8LCD and articles are submitted by cabinet members.

Once my article is published in the Journal, I will also make it available on my site with a link to the published edition.

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Now without further ado…

Read the full edition at:

Jeff Kopcak – TC

Hey gang,

Imagine you own a 200 foot AM broadcast tower. Then one day – it’s gone – and no one listening to the station noticed. That’s right, the whole tower was stolen. Or was it? Earlier this month, a story spread through international news about WJLX-AM in Jasper, Alabama. A posting on the station’s website recounts this tall tale. WJLX is primarily an AM station on 1240 with an FM translator on 101.5 at a separate location.

The article published in Radio World notes a lawn mowing crew was sent to the transmitter site to do cleanup ahead of a new shed being built. When the crew arrived, they noticed something odd. There was no radio tower. Vandals stole everything in the building, cut guy-wires and managed to make off with 200 feet of radio tower. The incident was reported to police on February 2nd.

Many of us Hams have radio towers and know they are not easy to put up much less take down and remove. There’s a lot of time and coordination involved. This story already sounds kind of crazy.

For those not familiar with how broadcast translators are licensed, translators are commonly used for AM stations to simulcast audio on an FM frequency, ‘translating’ the AM signal to FM. A translator is tied to a primary (or parent) station. A 50,000 watt AM station in Cleveland – WTAM 1100 – is translated to 106.9 FM locally. The AM transmitter must be operational for the FM translator to remain on the air. Translators also have weird callsigns. WTAM’s FM translator is W295DE. If the AM station went off the air, so goes the FM translator.

WJLX AM transmitter site, photo “taken within the last two years” (Radio World)

These lower power FM translators help fill-in where coverage maybe lacking or as a way to gain more listeners on FM. They help lower power AMs fill in when the station is required to change antenna pattern at night or go completely off the air in the evening. It’s an additional way to generate revenue from advertising when the station would normally be silent.

FCC rules state the FM translator must be shut down when signals from the primary station are not being re-transmitted. Exceptions are daytime-only Class D AM stations which must have had an operational transmitter in the past 24 hours. WJLX is a Class C AM station (classes explained).

Even if vandals truly downed the tower, there would be evidence of the tower falling (landing) in any one direction or activity in one area from it being brought down vertically. To transport the tower, there would be evidence of cutting torches, saws, or disassembly. A good broadcast engineer will know their transmitter is off the air through remote monitoring before listeners call up complaining they can’t hear their favorite station. The post to the station’s website says the tower was “stolen without a trace.” The tower was reportedly steel, not copper which is what thieves desire at transmitter sites. This story is becoming very bazaar. That’s when I started poking around the Internet.

First came across Geerling Engineering’s video. They are in my subscriptions list because they had an informative tour of the KMOX-AM tower (St. Louis, Missouri). It’s a father/son YouTube channel where the father (Joe) has been in broadcast engineering for a lot of years.

Some points made in their video: the WJLX website and branding lists only the FM frequency and no mention of the AM frequency. Weird if the primary station is supposed to be AM. The dad goes on to make similar points about downing the tower, removing it, and the improbability of someone stealing an entire tower. In addition, he found filings noting the station was not well maintained.

Another video points out broadcast engineers in the area knew the AM signal had been off the air for some time. One user looked at Google Street View and noticed in October, 2022 there were two towers – one for WJLX-AM and a nearby tower for another station. The Street View car went by again in March, 2023. One of the towers is gone, WJLX-AM. The General Manager claims power was installed and operational until the theft. He provided power bills as evidence to the police. This video too mentions that logo/branding only includes the FM frequency.

Both reference this video posted 11 years ago showing the station “operating questionably.” It’s someone in their car on the property of the AM transmitter. They are listening to the FM translator, then switch to the AM station and the signal is completely silent. Per the FCC rules, with the AM offline, the FM translator must be offline as well.

Lastly, but probably most importantly, is a video posted by William Collier. This video is NSFW (not safe for work) – due to language. With his friend, they documented the state of the transmitter site on February 10, 2024 – about one week after the supposed theft. In 4K video, they document lots of evidence the site is in disrepair and has been abandoned or unused for a long time. In another video on the topic, someone sent William satellite images showing the tower shadow being visible in 2019 and 2021. There is no tower shadow visible in October, 2023.

WJLX AM transmitter site after the alleged theft. Tower pedestal to the left of the building. (William Collier)

William’s video shows the doghouse (transmitter building) being dirty with muddy floors and the door hanging off the hinge. There’s no evidence of someone or some people walking around inside to remove the seemingly heavy transmitter where brush would be trampled in front of the door. Same goes for the base of the tower. Many guy-wires are underneath overgrown weeds and brush. If the supposed landscapers came out to cut down brush, they did a pretty poor job as it’s clearly still overgrown. Nothing indicates a tower existed or was “downed” a week earlier. Required fencing to keep people away from the tower is overgrown in parts, missing in others. Probably the most telling, the power meter connection looks as though it hasn’t been used in months, if not years

Radio World wrote a follow up article to William’s video but the General Manager stands by his version of the story. This whole thing stinks. No one reported the AM signal being off the air because it had been off for months to years. The thread at Radio Discussions is quite entertaining and has even more speculation.

The station is seeking $60K through a go-fund-me campaign for a new AM tower and transmitter as it was uninsured. This is one campaign I’ll not be donating. I discourage and recommend others do not donate as well. Of course, the legacy media was all giddy about the station being back on the air after the FCC denied the request to remain on the air solely using the FM translator. Someone at iHeart Media in New York heard the story and is leasing the station one of their HD signals out of Birmingham.

Thanks for reading and 73… de Jeff – K8JTK