Few attend Moorestown hearing on radio tower

Posted: February 13, 2014

To the surprise of CBS Radio's engineers and lawyer, only six area residents turned out Tuesday for an informational meeting on the broadcast giant's plan to build a radio transmission tower on North Church Street in Moorestown.

"Did we put the right time?" lawyer Louis D'Arminio asked one of his colleagues as they stood at 7:05 p.m. in the conference room of the Lenola Fire Hall, waiting for a crowd that never materialized.

Homeowners and business owners near the company's 50,000-watt tower have complained for decades that its signal interferes with their telephones, TV, and radio reception, and even emanates from such unlikely sources as electrical outlets and switches, bathtubs, and radiators.

Several of those who spoke voiced concerns about whether the strong signal poses health hazards to close neighbors. Others asked if the company planned to install microwave broadcasters on the site, urged the firm to add fencing around the towers to keep them safe from children, and urged it to keep its 21-acre plot wooded and natural as a habitat for animals.

"We don't plan to cut down a single tree," D'Arminio told Tom Finley of Moorestown, who raised concerns about habitat.

CBS Radio East Inc., operators of radio stations WPHT-AM, KYW-AM, WIPA-FM, and WOGL-FM in the Philadelphia area, is seeking a use variance from Moorestown to add a 199-foot auxiliary transmission tower for WPHT near its existing 425-foot tower on the 21-acre site on the Moorestown-Cinnaminson border.

The company had hired the capacious room to explain its plans and answer questions in advance of a hearing next Tuesday of the township's Zoning Board of Adjustment for a variance.

D'Arminio began the meeting by acknowledging that the tower creates signal interference for its neighbors, but said the proposed lower tower, which would broadcast at 35,000 watts just a few times a year, "will not exacerbate existing interference problems."

If CBS wins approval, the new tower would rise about 350 feet southwest of the existing tower. It would be painted a pale gray, he said, and not wear the red safety lights of taller tower, which has been in place for approximately 70 years.

Lynne Lihotz of Concord Drive told CBS representatives she had been trying for 15 years to find filters for her phones to block the interference.

David Skalish, chief engineer for CBS Philadelphia, replied that technicians for local phone companies are often unfamiliar with the problem - but that either he or CBS engineers would visit homes encountering interference problems to seek solutions.

Skalish estimated the radius of interference extended no more than a half-mile from the tower. Lihotz said she thought it was likelier two miles. "We used to get it when I was growing up in the 1960s," she said, "and we lived that far."

Michael Engi, who said he had moved to Cinnaminson about a year and a half ago, asked numerous questions about whether signals from either tower could cause health problems such as tumors or cancer.

Paul Dugan, an engineering consultant hired by CBS, replied that they would not. "The FCC sets national standards for electromagnetic field safety," he said, and the tower is in compliance with those standards.

"People think 'Oh, if I'm hearing that [interference], I must be susceptible to health issues,'" Dugan said, but added that the signals emanating from a telephone or TV can be as weak as a trillionth of watt and still be audible.

The American Cancer Society's website states that "there is little evidence that these exposures affect cancer risk." The World Health Organization and the FCC sites make similar statements.

Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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