Thieves steal 200 foot AM transmitter mast

You’ve probably seen the story of “thieves steal 200 foot AM transmitter mast”. WJLX-AM in Jasper AL was surprised to see that their mast had suddenly disappeared! Here’s the police report! “But how did nobody notice?” was the obvious question. “Did they get no calls at all from their audience?”

WJLX’s website promotes 101.5FM as its main frequency. The 101.5FM transmitter is a translator called W268BM. You’d have to look quite hard to find 1240AM mentioned at all. Why might that be?

Briefly, US law is that translators “complement the main service”, and “may not originate programming”. In effect, the AM transmitter is the main licence, and the FM relay on 101.5FM is only there because of the AM licence. Without the AM licence in operation any more, the 101.5FM transmitter has also had to come off-air.

Except… 1240AM hasn’t been on-air much since July 1, 2017, when the station applied for a suspension of its transmission on 1240AM. The FCC let them. It reportedly went back on-air in August 2017, but it’s not quite clear if it remained on-air for long; some suggest that it’s been off-air for at least five years.

Indeed, here is a YouTube video from February 2012 showing that the AM transmitter was off-air, while 101.5FM was still broadcasting - which is against FCC rules.

In fact, a forum post has done an excellent job checking old Google Streetview pictures of the AM mast. It’s the one on the left in April 2021, the one on the left in Oct 2022, but in March 2023 and Jan 2024 it’s nowhere to be seen.

And a YouTuber went to take a look to be confused by the large amount of vegetation that has grown in the “week” since the tower was removed; and he says the transmitter room also didn’t look like it had been ransacked a week previous.

Was the transmitter really “stolen” overnight? Or did the transmitter actually close a while ago because it was too expensive to run/repair, has since slowly fallen down, and a convenient story needed to be made to cover for an FCC inspection?

Perhaps we’ll never know.

Anyway, they’re back on-air now, thanks to another rather odd loophole: they’re now on an HD3 channel on an iHeart station, which lets that translator operate again. I guess those side-channels are useful after all!