Antenna removal scrambles radio broadcasts
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, April 30, 2017
The pending removal of a radio tower on Greenville's Town Common has two radio stations scrambling to relocate their broadcasting equipment and raised questions about ownership.
One station, Public Radio East 88.1, went off the air Friday after taking down a translator which it used for more than 20 years to re-broadcast its programming to certain dead spots around Greenville. The other station, WOOW 1340 AM, is still trying to find a new home for its equipment.
The Greenville City Council in October directed staff to begin work on decommissioning the tower after receiving a report that the structure is in serious disrepair, said Greenville Assistant City Manager Merrill Flood. The tower is slanted, its guy-wires don't meet current codes, the warning light doesn't work and other parts are corroding, Flood said.
It's unclear how old the tower is. An aerial photograph taken in the late 1960s of what was formerly called the Shore Drive community, which became the Town Common, shows the radio tower.
Taking down the nearly 160-foot tower, removing the equipment building and underground equipment would generate an additional acre of open green space for the Town Common, Flood said.
Demolition is expected to begin mid- or late May.
The city took ownership in 1988 when Daniel and Fredrica Jacobson and Mark and Estelle Clements deeded it to the city, Flood said.
There are no records explaining why the city acquired the property; the agreement wasn't mentioned in City Council minutes from that time, Flood said. The city never used the tower, he said.
There is a dispute about when WOOW started using the tower.
"I don't know if they were initially on the tower. To my understanding they came shortly after the city acquired it. The city established an agreement with them to lease the tower," Flood said.
The current CEO of WOOW, Adbul Rouse, son of station founder Jim Rouse, said the station has broadcast from the tower since 1978.
Rouse claims the radio station owns the tower, that the city's deed is for the property only.
"They have a deed, we have a deed, and our deed is older than their deed," Rouse said.
Flood said neither Rouse nor individuals working with him have ever mentioned or presented a deed showing they own the tower.
"I've never seen that deed," Flood said. "This is new. I don't know of any deed out there."
A title search of the property turned up no other deeds or claims to the property. If there is evidence of ownership, Flood said he would like to see it.
City officials contacted the Rouses in October after the council directed staff to begin developing plans to decommission the tower and help the two stations find new locations for their equipment. The city's last conversation with the Rouses was in March, Flood said.
Rouse said he proposed replacing the existing tower with a shorter mono pole. Rouse said he applied for a city grant to help purchase the equipment. Speaking Friday afternoon, Rouse said he didn't remember the grant's name but it's offered to improve historic structures.
Flood said he hadn't received any information that the Rouses were seeking assistance. No grant offered by the city could be used to purchase a mono pole, he said.
The city's facade improvement grant, given to improve the exteriors of properties and businesses in Greenville's center city, couldn't be applied to the project, he said.
Public Radio East anticipates returning 88.1 to the airwaves within 30 days, said Jill McGuire, PRE's assistant general manager.
Public Radio East serves 17 eastern North Carolina counties extending from Beaufort to Onslow counties and Carteret to Wayne counties.
The broadcaster has two networks of programming that present a combination of news, ideas, music and classical music, over five frequencies.
PRE began broadcasting over 88.1 in the mid-1990s because there was a dead spot in the area of the Town Common and downtown Greenville that didn't receive PRE's 89.3, which then broadcast morning news programs and classical music, said Jill McGuire, assistant general manager.
Since then the station built a tower in Snow Hill which broadcasts on 90.3, McGuire said. That station should serve the majority of Pitt County residents while 88.1 is off the air.
"It's not a not a big number of people (who won't or don't receive 90.3) but there will be some people inconvenienced," McGuire said. "We've been trying since November to find a new spot."
The station is still talking with commercial tower owners and East Carolina University, McGuire said.
Contact Ginger Livingston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-329-9570. Follow her on Twitter @GingerLGDR.