Florida Broadcaster Took Multiple Hits from Copper Thieves

ORLANDO, FLA. Transmission lines for the Mega Communications radio stations in Central Florida were “harvested” three times in a four-month period, according to a report by John Bisset in Radio World.

Bill Sullivan was the director of engineering at the time.

“The first resulted in the disappearance of the coil at the base of the tower. This line was excess after Bill moved an old main FM antenna down the tower to make room for a new one. Since this was now an aux line it wasn't active at the time of theft, but Bill had a pressure alarm on the line, which alerted him after the fact.

“A month or two later, someone harvested the next 40 feet of that same line. On their way out, they also took about six feet of rigid line that was used to connect the active flex line to the transmitter inside the building. This took the station off the air for almost 10 hours while a new section was fabricated by Central Florida Tower, delivered and installed.

“Had the thief not gotten greedy the second theft would not have been discovered immediately.

“A few weeks later Bill was alerted to yet another incident by an off-air alarm that tripped while the thief was cutting the active line. Bill switched on his radio, heard nothing and turned the transmitter back on, only to hear the station for a moment, then nothing again.

“’I don’t know if he felt anything while he was cutting, but I hope he did,’ Bill said of the thief.

“That outage lasted 29 hours. Again, Central Florida Tower was able to fabricate and install a replacement line.

“Meanwhile, Bill contacted police. A sheriff’s deputy stopped a man leaving the area and noticed a red mark on his arm, apparently from oxidized paint on the tank. (The officer later simulated cutting the line and his own arm brushed the tank, making a similar transfer mark.)

“The police also found black PVC dust on a Sawzall blade in the guy’s truck.

“The thief told authorities he knew who stole the earlier line sections and figured he’d try it himself. Whether it was him all along is anyone’s guess. This attempt also involved copper grounding strap as well as the power ground.

“Lessons learned here: If you don't have off-air and pressure alarms tied to your remote control, you're taking a chance. With people looking to turn a quick buck selling surplus copper, your transmitter sites are prime targets.

“In the July 1 Workbench, we also mentioned that vandalism and damage to a broadcast facility can elevate the crime to a federal level; but I guess that depends where you live.

“Bill reported these thefts to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He says the commission office in Tampa had absolutely no interest because the individual--who’d been caught and subsequently pled no contest--had not caused unauthorized transmissions. (Of course, he did silence an authorized one.)

“Bill said the FBI person he reached really wasn’t interested either, and when Bill mentioned homeland security he became angry and asked if Bill was trying to cause trouble. At that point, Bill let local law enforcement handle the incidents. Unbelievably, the sentence was probation and restitution for the line section and labor to replace it.”

Radio World has the complete article with images of the burglarized transmitter site here.