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Theft of 200-foot radio tower leaves employees scratching heads in Alabama

Click to play video: '200-foot Alabama radio tower stolen, baffling employees'
200-foot Alabama radio tower stolen, baffling employees
WATCH: "I've tried all weekend to figure it out, and I just can't," said WJLX General Manager Brett Elmore. "I've seen it all now." – Feb 10, 2024

Radio station employees in Alabama are baffled by a question they never thought they would have to ask: How does someone steal a 200-foot tall radio tower?

The bizarre theft has forced WJLX, a station in Jasper, Ala., off the air.

According to a statement from the radio station, a landscaping crew discovered the steel AM tower was missing on Feb. 2 when they visited the wooded site for routine clean-up of the property.

The tower, which supports antennas for the radio station’s broadcasting, was nowhere in sight. The scattered wires left on the ground were one of the only signs it’d ever been there in the first place.

The station’s AM transmitter, a device that send signals to the radio tower, was also stolen from a nearby building, which had been vandalized.

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It is currently unclear how the 200-foot (61 m) radio tower was stolen.

Brett Elmore, the radio station’s general manager, said he was shocked by the audacity of the tower theft.

“I’ve been trying all weekend to make sense of it, but I just can’t,” Elmore said. “I’ve been involved in the radio business my whole life, and I’ve never heard of anything like this. I thought I had seen it all.”

Elmore called the theft a “major setback” for the little local radio station.

On Thursday, the radio station estimated it would cost upward of US$60,000 (about C$80,820) to rebuild the tower. WJLX said the transmitter site was uninsured.

“I have faith that we will uncover the culprits,” Elmore maintained. “This is a federal crime, and they will realize it wasn’t worth it.”

In the meantime, the Federal Communications Commission has ordered WJLX to halt its broadcasts. Though WJLX still has a working FM transmitter and tower, Elmore told The Guardian it is not allowed to broadcast over FM radio without AM capabilities as well.

WJLX has continued to broadcast online only.

Though the Jasper Police Department is still investigating the theft, Elmore told the Guardian he believes WJLX’s tower and transmitter may have been stolen so the robbers could sell the metal materials.

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Elmore said the cost of rebuilding the AM radio tower is more than the station can front on its own. After sympathy erupted from the local community and beyond, Elmore created a GoFundMe page to collect donations for the station.

Elmore is hopeful WJLX will get back on its feet, and on the air, soon enough.

WJLX has been filling Alabama’s air waves since the mid-1950s. The radio station plays everything from classic rock to a daily 8 a.m. church program.

Anyone with information about the stolen tower is urged to contact either the Jasper Police at 205-221-2122 or Crime Stoppers at 205-221-5050.

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