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200-foot radio tower disappears from small town 'without a trace'

A station is now completely off the air after operating for decades — and without insurance, the tower could cost over $60,000 to replace.
200-foot radio tower disappears from small town 'without a trace'
Posted at 4:32 PM, Feb 09, 2024

WJLX 1240 AM general manager Brett Elmore says he "grew up in the halls" of the radio station.

"This radio station is like family to me, I'm a second generation broadcaster," he says.

The theft of his station's 200-foot radio tower has silenced "the sound of Walker County," as their slogan says. Since the 1950s, the AM-originating station has been a reliable source of news and information for Jasper, Alabama and the surrounding area. 

Then last week, the station's transmitting tower was suddenly gone. 

Elmore said last week, a landscaping crew sent down to the area on around 52 acres of land, where the tower stretches towards the sky, discovered that the long rural communications spire taller than the length of a football field had just vanished — "stolen without a trace," the station said. 

Elmore was "shocked" when the crew called to tell him, he said. 

The tower wasn't insured, and there weren't any cameras around it. What cameras there are at a nearby poultry processing plant just offered low-quality limited video, if any, according to Elmore. 

"Obviously they have cameras, but the cameras really — from what I understand — are not giving a good view, and they only keep [the video] for a short period of time."

Elmore said the police investigation is still ongoing, and signaled there could be challenges as the poultry facility near the tower is "going through a massive project" to expand their facility. 

The tower is "kind of behind" the poultry operation, and "you have to go through the poultry facility's parking lot to get there," Elmore said

Police told WJLX their investigation is still ongoing, but Elmore hopes the national and international attention the story is getting will help solve the case. 

"I've always wanted to make the national news, but for winning the Powerball, not for someone stealing my 200 foot tower," Elmore said. 

"This is home, I'm going to bring back the radio station," he added. 

This week, the station said the FCC denied their request to keep broadcasting with the missing tower. Elmore says the missing tower was their AM transmitter which was simulcasted to their FM station. It survived, in part, through a government revitalization effort for AM radio transmissions. Without the AM tower, 101.5 FM cannot broadcast, the federal agency told Elmore. 

The station has powered down their FM transmitter per the federal government's orders, Elmore said. 

Now WJLX 101.5 FM will only be allowed to stream online via a web browser or their app. 

Without insurance, the station was told it could cost over $60,000 to replace the tower — so Elmore did what he didn't want to do, and set up a crowdfunding campaign online to try to raise all or some of that money. 

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"The town essentially doesn't have a voice," Elmore said — placing some of the blame on the FCC's denial of their request. "I'm disappointed in the decision, but I respect it," he said. "This is something we did not cause or create — I can't help it that thieves came down there and robbed us blind."Scripps News reached out to the Jasper Police Department but didn't immediately receive a response regarding their ongoing investigation. It's unclear if detectives have any leads on a suspect or suspects, or what might have been the motive. 

"We're going to make it through this," Elmore said. "We're going to be back on the air as soon as we can."

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