I found a zombie!

Now that I have a more accurate way to know what radio stations you should be able to hear, it was time to test it in the real world.

Back around Christmas time, I sat in a parking lot with a list of nearby radio stations to see if there were any discrepancies. At that time, I mentioned that there was one radio station that appeared to be missing in action – all the rest seem to be there

Previously because I didn’t know how free space signal loss worked, I just set the range to < 35 miles – but some stations can be heard more than 35 miles, in fact most. With the range set to 200 miles, many more radio stations appeared to be within the listening range – and that is true.

But that one radio station – WAGL-AM in Lancaster SC was still not audible in Charlotte, where it should have a clear signal. Time for a road trip!

So I told my iPad where the station tower is, and told Siri – “take me to the tower!” – at the time I started the trip, I was already in a place called Stallings, NC. Siri figured out a route, and started turn by turn instructions. I had the radio to the appropriate frequency, no matter how close I got to Lancaster, no signal. It was plausible that the station might have been running reduced power, but there was nothing. I arrived on the street outside the towers, there they were – and absolutely no signal.

If one were hunting for zombies this is an obvious candidate – the reasons include:

  • It is daytime only AM station
  • It is licensed for 50 kW daytime, which would probably cost $80 a day for electricity
  • It was airing gospel, which probably does not draw a big audience
  • Lancaster is a small town with a struggling economy (9000 people – majority black, and 23% below the poverty line)
  • The license is for a directional antenna array, which requires 4 towers, requiring engineers to check them, and more things to go wrong
  • The ownership contact address is a PO Box
  • the license renewal was not done by an attorney

Upon further review, the owner died in September 2014

The FCC has not been notified that the owner died or that the station is off the air. The web site domain has stopped functioning. The FCC should have been told in 10 days, it has been 6 months.

So what now?

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6 Responses to I found a zombie!

  1. Art Stone says:

    Which is better – a dead zombie station or a blowtorch in Charlotte teaching me about the love of Jesuchristo? How about Classic Hip Hop?

  2. radioz says:

    Wikipedia says that it was an oldies station. It also has a 250W translator on 104.1 but they may or may not have owned that directly. There is family per the funeral announcement so someone does (or should) own it. Then again there may be estate issues or debt related to the radio station. Running an AM station, much less a high power daytimer can be rough today.

    • Art Stone says:

      the translator

      A station owner is not allowed to use an FM translator to transmit anything other than the signal of the over the air station it is translating. Since you may be a radio guy, I’m not going to bore people with the differences between commercial stations and fillin translators vs noncom stations and the newer idea of feeding translators using HD 2/3 channels. But under no situation (other than a daytime only station after sunset) can an FM translator be running without the AM transmitter running (even if the translator is fed directly by satellite).

      The translator is owned by a guy in Rock Hill hiding behind a PO Box. WRHI also uses one of his translators. I didn’t check to see if the translator was powered up.

      I’ve seen dozens of similar AM stations in my just completed review. The owner dies, nobody knows what to do. The transmitter is turned off, no STA is filed, the license is not transferred to the executor of the estate (or transfer of control if the license is owned by a corporation). One of these from 2002 just finally got cleared up. Who is checking the aircraft lights? What happens to EAS alerts?

      If I were King of the FCC, I would say that if you are given an FM translator, you may tear down the AM towers, dig up the copper, sell the land and make the translator the primary station, with the signal protection of a full power FM station. But luckily, I’m not in charge.

      • Art Stone says:

        The reason I didn’t notice the translator is the FCC records show it as being a translator for WHRM-FM, despite my own record pointing to WAGL-AM. My guess is the translator was pulled back to the FM station.

        • Art Stone says:

          Things get even screwier – even if that was the translator, it’s 60 dBu contour doesn’t reach Lancaster, the Community of license of the AM station.

  3. Art Stone says:

    Manning Kimbel owns WRHI in Rock Hill, SC and the FM Translator that WAGL-AM was hoping to use.

    Manning Kimbel is the grandson of the General commanding the Pacific Fleet when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. His grandfather was relieved of duty 10 days later. The grandson is hoping for an apology from Barack Obama


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