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Wind Storm Knocks Down 2 Radio Towers Serving West Virginia AM

90 mph winds blasted through the state's capital on Tuesday

Editor’s note 4/8: This story has been updated with additional information from WCHS about its operations and recovery efforts following the storm. 

A high wind storm with gusts reaching 90 mph hit West Virginia’s capital on April 2, bringing down two of four towers serving WCHS(AM) and its sister station WSWW(FM).

WCHS is the flagship station of the statewide West Virginia MetroNews network, broadcasting news, talk and sports programming. The AM is licensed to Charleston, W. Va., serving southern West Virginia and southwestern West Virginia. WCHS is owned by West Virginia Radio Corp. of Charleston (WVRC) Media and is the Primary Entry Point Emergency Alert System station for the state.

The AM broadcasts at 580 kHz with 5 kW by day and night. It is nondirectional in daytime from one tower, and directional at night from four towers. In addition to its main signal, WCHS is relayed by two FM translators broadcasting on 96.5 and 104.5, all of which were off the air on Tuesday. One WCHS translator antenna was lost when tower 2 collapsed. The other WCHS translator is located at a different tower site.

In the aftermath of the storm, on Wednesday MetroNews shared the photo below on its Facebook page depicting the two remaining broadcast towers at its transmitter site.

“Where once there was four — now stand two,” wrote MetroNews. “A sad sight this morning from Institute looking toward Jefferson as two of the four towers which transmit our 580-WCHS signal were flattened by Tuesday’s high winds.”

The two remaining, standing towers. Photo credit: MetroNews Network

In West Virginia, about 140,000 customers were without electricity Tuesday afternoon, or about 14% of all customers tracked in the state, per data from More than 53,000 utility customers in West Virginia remained in the dark Wednesday night.

WCHS shared photos of the wrecked transmitter site on Wednesday, taken by Ken Tennant, the director of engineering at WVRC Media.

Tennant told Radio World that they are thankdul no one was injured and that WCHS’ main transmitter building was not damaged.

“It’s still too early for us to provide a path forward to replacing the towers,” said Tennant. “We have notified the insurance carrier who will do their own investigation into the incident, and then provide guidance on how to proceed. The National Weather Service is also looking to determine if the severe damage in this area was caused by a tornado or another type of wind event.”

He said FEMA was also notified since WCHS is a primary entry point for the Emergency Alert System. Their representatives were at the affected tower site on April 4.

In addition to WCHS, the tower site serves WSWW(AM), also owned by WVRC Media. WSWW broadcasts on 1490 kHz and is an ESPN Radio affiliate, airing a sports radio format in Charleston, W. Va.

On April 3, WCHS shared on X that its three signals, in addition to WSWW’s AM signal, are back on the air.

“We have some of the best engineers in the business,” said Tennant. “They worked some long hours to make the needed repairs and impedance matching to one of the remaining towers. The FCC permits emergency non-D operation at 25% power, so we were able to get 1,250 watts into tower number three. As of today [April 4], we have applied for an emergency STA from the FCC to resume operation at 5 kW day and 1.25 kW at night.”

WCHS-TV, an ABC/Fox affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, captured footage via drone of the two fallen towers, which was shared by WCHS(AM) staff on X.

According to CNN, West Virginia wasn’t the only state facing devastation from the recent storm. Sixteen tornadoes were reported Tuesday and Wednesday morning across Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia, along with dozens of damaging wind reports, including gusts topping 100 mph in Kentucky.

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