Moorestown neighbors facing second radio tower

Posted: January 28, 2014

CINNAMINSON It was 1969, and Alma Wojcik just assumed her new split-level house on Cinnaminson's Church Road would be trouble-free.

Soon after the family moved in, however, her young daughter came to her with a quizzical look.

"Mommy," she said, "there's voices coming out of the radiator."

Indeed, there were. And 45 years later, Wojcik still hears phantom voices around her house, mostly on her telephone or radio.

"It's not that bad now," she said last week. "Once in a blue moon."

It's a familiar tale along the Church Road corridor where Cinnaminson meets Moorestown: Voices in the walls, voices and humming on the phones, blocked cellphone signals, and shimmering computer screens.

Creepy? Not really. The source of these phantoms is in plain sight.

There, above a 21-acre field of tall grass just inside Moorestown stands a 425-foot radio transmission tower. There since the 1940s, it pulses 50,000 kilowatts of CBS talk radio, 24 hours a day, at WPHT-AM, 1210 on the dial.

Painted red and white, dotted with blinking red lights, and held in place by four heavy cables, the slender tower is the property of CBS Radio East Inc., which is seeking a variance from Moorestown to add a 199-foot backup tower on the site.

News of that application has some of its neighbors wary.

"I'm sure it's not healthy," said Bryan Lauth of Bodine Tool & Machine Co., which occupies space in a manufacturing plant that abuts the field. "But they've been here a long time, and I doubt there's much we can do about it."

His firm, which has occupied its building since the 1970s, recently shielded its phone lines to block the unwanted signal, Lauth said, but it's still audible sometimes over the public address system.

"It's annoying," said Shana Collins, front desk coordinator for Breakthru physical therapy nearby, who said she often "hears talking" on the phone lines. "We got a second line put in, but you can still hear a hum and static."

And employees at a firm that manufactures sophisticated printing equipment complained of a host of interference coming from the tower. "We had to add shielded cabling to our machines," said one man who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak. The new cables had to be drilled through the concrete floor in order to be properly grounded, he said.

The firm's IT director, who also asked not to be named, blamed "a lot of goofy stuff" on the CBS signal, including unreliable cellphone signals, vibrating computer images, voices on the public address system, and "goofy Internet problems." An additional tower "would probably mean more problems," he said. "I'm not for it."

If granted, the new tower would be used only if the main tower were disabled or shut down for repair, said Karen L. Mateo, a CBS spokeswoman. When in use, the new tower would be used only to broadcast WPHT, at 35,000 watts, she said.

Moorestown's Zoning Board of Appeals was scheduled to hold a hearing on the application Jan. 21 but canceled because of snow. The board will conduct the hearing at its next meeting, Feb. 18.

The smaller tower would be situated "as far as possible from the surrounding residential neighborhood," the application says. It also describes the 199-foot height as "the minimum to allow WPHT to service its licensed broadcast area."

Pete Clifford, Moorestown's zoning officer, said the township was under no legal obligation to grant a use variance for the tower.

Clifford said an attorney for CBS told him it planned to conduct an informational meeting in Moorestown about the project and to meet with Cinnaminson's Town Council to explain.

Mateo did not respond Friday to a query asking when those meetings would take place.

John Tursi, whose house on Valley Forge Road in Cinnaminson has been picking up the radio signal since 1970, may well be among those in attendance at one of those meetings.

"You can hear [the radio] coming out of the electric sockets," the retired Naval Department employee said with a laugh. "Sometimes it's in the walls. And I have to position my radio just so to get KYW."

As he rotated his kitchen radio, it began to hiss, and the voices from KYW and WPHT were talking over one another. "It's usually worse in the mornings," he said. "But you get used to it."


doreilly@phillynews.com

856-779-3841

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