Cinnaminson divided on new radio tower

Posted: February 12, 2014

CBS Radio East Inc. met little resistance from the Cinnaminson Township Committee on Monday night as it presented its plans to add a second radio transmission tower to its site on the Moorestown border, but it got an earful from residents in a separate session afterward.

They complained that the broadcast signal interferes with their cellphones, landlines, and TV reception, and several said they could even hear it coming out of electric switches, radiators, and bathtubs.

"It's all over the house," said Kathy Johnston, who lives a block from the existing tower. "Why is this happening?"

The broadcasting giant is asking Moorestown's Zoning Board of Adjustment for a waiver to build a 199-foot tower on its 21-acre parcel in Moorestown, about 100 yards from the 425-foot tower it has maintained there for more than 60 years. Its meeting before the Cinnaminson committee was informational.

"The company is very desirous to have all our radio stations have backup ability," David Skalish, engineering manager for CBS Philadelphia, told committee members. He and other engineers said the new tower would broadcast at 35,000 watts on the AM band, less than the 50,000 watts the existing tower uses.

"The two will not broadcast at the same time," and the backup tower will never exceed 35,000 watts, Skalish said. The existing tower broadcasts WPHT-AM across the Philadelphia metropolitan area.

Louis D'Arminio, an attorney representing CBS, told committee members it plans to plant trees along Church Road to provide better visual screening. The existing tower - built when most of the area was tomato fields - now rises out of a broad swath of tall grass.

Committee member Donald Brauckmann said his home on Lenola Road picks up unwanted signals from the existing tower and wondered what a homeowner could do. Skalish replied that some manufacturers of electronic equipment shield their products better than others: "I tell residents to save their receipts and bring it back if they're having problems and try something else."

After about a half-hour before the committee, CBS representatives relocated to another room in town hall to field questions from a half-dozen residents, most of whom complained about the signal interference from the existing tower and voiced concerns about whether the signal might pose a health risk.

"It's killing us," one man said.

Several people said they had heard that CBS was planning to build an FM tower that would broadcast full-time. Skalish said that was incorrect, and reiterated that the new tower would be used only a few times a year, when the main tower was being repaired or was unable to operate.

Stephen Johnston, Kathy Johnston's husband, said he was concerned that CBS might come back in several years and apply for the right to broadcast a signal for another station. "That is not our plan," Skalish replied. "This is not an FM antenna. It will only be used when the other is off-line."

The Johnstons were the most vocal of the residents attending the session. They said Comcast crews had visited their home several times in an effort to correct the interference problems, without success.

Skalish said engineers at his station were more familiar with ways to diminish interference than some of the utilities.

Paul Dugan, a consulting engineer for CBS, told the residents that the loudness or ubiquity of the signal in their homes did not mean the signal posed health hazards. A person would have to be about 10 feet from the transmission tower, or even on it, before it became a risk, Dugan said, adding that the tower met all Federal Communications Commission standards.

CBS will conduct another informational meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Lenola Firehouse on Lenola Road in Moorestown. Moorestown's zoning board has scheduled a formal hearing Feb. 18 on the application for a use variance.


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