There are more than a few things that seem hinky about the story from Jasper, Alabama, of a radio station’s tower supposedly being stolen earlier this month without the knowledge of anyone who worked there, including the general manager.

The small AM station was allowed to simulcast its signal through a translator on an FM frequency. The FCC allows such setups to help keep AM alive in small markets (talk about a losing proposition!), but the FM can only be on the air as long as the AM is. So, once the AM station stopped broadcasting, the FM had to go off the air, with its signal only available via an online stream.

My first job in commercial radio was at WRCN, an AM/FM combo in Riverhead, New York (I wrote about it here). These were the days when, even as a solo disc jockey working at night, you had to be licensed by the FCC. I remember being sixteen when I proudly passed the test for the “third-class radiotelephone operator’s license with broadcast endorsement,” a diploma-like certificate that said the federal government gave me permission to operate a radio station.

The WRCN-FM transmitter and tower were several miles away on a hilltop, but we had remote monitoring equipment that told us whether we were putting out the right amount of power and other engineering specifications. Meanwhile, the AM transmitter was in the same building as the studio, with the tower right outside. On the even-numbered hours, the disc jockey on the air was required to write down readings from both transmitters on a clipboard next to the turntables (yes, I’m that old!). If any of the numbers were outside the allowed range — or we were off the air — we had to call the chief engineer immediately. I remember this occurring only once in the three years I worked there, a problem quickly fixed by the engineer replacing a tube (I told you, I’m old!).

The same would have been required of the DJs at the Alabama station. However, according to the GM, the AM antenna being gone wasn’t noticed by any radio personnel, but by a landscaping company hired to clear away brush from the site. If that were true, it would mean that no one on the air was taking the mandatory readings and that none of its listeners had called the station to find out why it was off the air. In a small market, with a station that’s supposedly a valuable part of the community, that’s impossible — or the entire audience only tuned to the FM station.

Years later, I was doing the evening shift at another station when the engineer had me announce that he had to do some maintenance to the transmitter and we would be off the air for about 15 minutes, The program director, a very clever guy, had me add an incentive for people to keep listening — if you were the first one to call when our signal returned, you’d win a prize. Sure enough, the moment I returned to the air, every phone line lit up.

I have also worked at talk stations where it seemed like no one was listening because I couldn’t get anyone to call and discuss whatever topic I’d brought up. Those dead-phone moments were quite uncomfortable, making me wonder for a minute or two whether the station was still on the air. But that was always my fault, since whenever I introduced something that interested them, listeners called in droves.

So, what’s the real story about the Alabama radio tower, which purportedly was torn down while powered up?

There’s speculation that the whole thing is a lie (read this story for details) being told by management of a station struggling financially and trying to raise money via GoFundMe. For more, watch this ten-minute video made by Jeff and Joe Geerling (the latter was the longtime engineer for KMOX and other stations in St. Louis), who also doubt an entire tower could be taken down and dismantled without leaving a trace of evidence.