WMOB-AM Mobile to relocate antenna due to ground clutter
Christian-formatted WMOB-AM Mobile, AL says its signal is being hindered by Austal Shipyard and AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training) expansions. 82-year-old owner Buddy Tucker says Austal’s and AIDT’s new buildings (Maritime Science Center) are warping the station’s coverage area. At the western end of the Mobile Bay Causeway, between a massive shipyard building and the construction site for a new state jobs training center, is the location of WMOB’s antenna site, says The Mobile Press-Register.
To improve things, Tucker plans to relocate east on the Causeway to the location of the former WLVV-AM (later WNPL-AM), vacant since Hurricane Katrina. He and his wife have paid $450,000 for the property.
To accomplish the move, Tucker tells the paper the neighbors need to chip in: “We are going to have to depend on getting some money from these people,” Tucker said. “We’re just small-time, compared to them.”
Tucker may not have grounds to sue shipyard Austal USA or the state. The FCC doesn’t have the ability to stop construction projects that may weaken a signal’s coverage.
“This situation is very much akin to a guy who’s got a great view of the ocean,” Bill Pfister, vice president of external affairs for the Australian-owned Austal, told the paper. Such a guy would have no recourse if someone legally built a house blocking the view.”
Tucker has been blind since he was 15, and a radio broadcaster since he was 16. He started as an announcer on some of the South’s most historic stations, moving on to work as a manager launching two Christian stations in Iowa. After that, he bought WMOB, which at the time was off the air. Since, he’s added a station in DeLand, FL, and WTOF-AM in Bay Minette, AL.
But the plot thickens: the interference problem began two years ago, when Austal started building a manufacturing facility west of the site that WMOB rents from the state. Workers who were erecting steel kept getting “zapped” when they touched the beams, Pfister said. And a copper phone wire kept picking up religious programming.
“We finally figured out it was radio energy,” Pfister said.
Asked to turn off the station during Austal’s construction, Tucker said that he
Tucker said that the beams and walls in Austal’s structure, which has some nine acres under roof, reflect WMOB’s broadcast, bouncing its signal away from its normal southwesterly course. WMOB’s directional antenna avoids contact with stations in Monroeville, AL and Pensacola, FL.
Because of the deflected signal, WMOB is out of compliance with its FCC license, although regulators have granted waivers while it works to solve the problem. The FCC hasn’t gotten any complaints. Tucker said he’s received calls from listeners in southern Mobile and Baldwin counties who used to be able to hear the signal but can’t any more.
Pfister said that Austal is working with AIDT to come up with a solution that WMOB can accept. “They’re neighbors,” Pfister said. “We want to help.”
The station has limited leverage. It operates on land leased from the state on a month-to-month basis, and could be ordered to clear out within 30 days. AIDT is likely to have to plow up some of the copper wiring underground that aids AM broadcasting to build a seawall around its new property.
Austal, meanwhile, plans to build an administration building on the WMOB end of its property, and Pfister said that Austal could probably get the FCC to force WMOB to shut down its transmitter if it intruded on Austal’s operations.
Tucker said that he is frustrated that the problems have dragged on for almost two years, and fears that Austal and AIDT are trying to wait him out.
Pfister said Austal hopes to reach a settlement this summer. “We’re moving as expeditiously as we can,” he told the paper.
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