Radio tower cleared over neighbors' protests

Posted: February 21, 2014

MOORESTOWN Over the strenuous objections of nearby homeowners - many from Cinnaminson - the Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously late Tuesday to allow CBS Radio East Inc. to build a 199-foot auxiliary transmission tower at its site on North Church Street.

CBS had requested several variances to build the new tower alongside a 425-foot transmission tower that has been at its 21-acre site since the 1940s.

Neighbors of the tower have complained for years that the 50,000-watt signal interferes with their radio, TV, and telephone signals and can be heard emanating from electric sockets, wall switches, even radiators and bathtubs.

"I can't use baby monitors," Jennifer Bottomley, 39, of Hartford Drive in Cinnaminson, said during the hearing that preceded the vote. "It comes out of the speakers on my computer, even when it's not on. . . . It never goes away."

The tower, at the Cinnaminson border, broadcasts WPHT-AM. Programming includes Phillies games and talk show hosts Dom Giordano and Rush Limbaugh.

During the lengthy hearing prior to the vote, representatives of CBS said the new tower would broadcast at 35,000 watts and be used only in the event that the main tower was disabled or taken out of service for repairs.

David Skalish, chief engineer for CBS in Philadelphia, told board members that the backup tower would not exacerbate interference problems and would be visually less prominent than the existing tower.

About 10 residents complained of the signal interference and voiced concerns that such powerful radio waves could cause cancer or other health problems.

Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania and an international consultant on the health effects of radio broadcasting, told the board that there is no clear evidence that radio transmission towers have been linked to cancers or other ailments. Foster was a witness for the zoning board, although his fee was paid by CBS.

All the residents who spoke at the hearing, which ran to nearly 11:30 p.m., urged the board not to issue the variances.

Bottomley, who said she has lived with the signal interference for 13 years, said she never received notification from CBS, Cinnaminson, or Moorestown about informational meetings in advance of the hearing, or the hearing itself.

"I feel they glazed over us because they didn't want opposition," said Bottomley, an office manager at the University of Pennsylvania and mother of two young children.

The zoning board granted CBS a height variance, since the zone in which the new tower would be located restricts structure heights to 45 feet. The existing tower was installed before Moorestown had zoning, officials said. The board also granted CBS's request to to be relieved of the need to clear trees and install berms around the site's perimeter.

It stipulated, however, that CBS may not allow other radio stations to use the new tower, that it may not add cellphone or other broadcast devices, and that it must add protective fencing to the tower bases.

The new tower will rise about 350 feet to the southwest of the existing tower and will likely be left galvanized or painted a pale gray.

In addition to WPHT, CBS operates radio stations KYW-AM, WIP-AM, and WOGL-FM in the Philadelphia area.

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