Tower of Trouble
Crossed wires: Remember AM radio? This primitive form of communication still exists, broadcasting swap shows and local high-school sports in many small towns across Maine. These low-budget operations produce soothing background noise in old-fashioned full-service gas stations, nursing homes and other places where they’ve never heard of Sirius XM or Pandora.
Unlike those modern delivery systems, small AM stations can actually make money, thanks to lousy pay, cheap advertising rates and committed ownership willing to fill in on long weekend air shifts for no reimbursement other than whatever equity the company manages to accrue.
Most small town residents feel a real kinship with their local station, recognizing that it’s virtually the only media outlet likely to acknowledge their existence. (Unless you count podcasts, where any such acknowledgment is likely to be unwelcome.) However, this familial relationship between the populace and the station doesn’t often extend to actually listening, because the new pickup has an MP3 player and so does the phone.
AM radio is an anachronism, much like the 45 r.p.m. records it once played. And yet, it refuses to die, mostly because there are still a few crazy people around who never got over their teenage love affair with small-time broadcasting. AM survives, like an artifact in an under-funded rural museum. In fact, some defunct stations are shaking off their mummy wrappings and trying to return to life.
WCME (900 AM) in Brunswick has been off the air since May because its transmission signals from a temporary site interfered with other communications. The station, which has existed since the 1950s under various owners and call letters, was purchased last year by Jim Bleikamp, who planned to build a new tower on Old Portland Road.
According to a story in the Forecaster weekly, Bleikamp originally proposed a “monopole” tower, which requires no guy wires to support it. Such a tower would have been allowed in that area under Brunswick’s zoning. But monopoles are expensive, and expensive is not a word often found in the vocabulary of AM owners, unless it’s preceded by “That’s too …”
After considering the price tag, Bleikamp revised his plans, asking the local planning board to approve a standard tower with guy wires, something that would require a zoning variance. The board was less than receptive, questioning why WCME couldn’t share a tower with a local FM station. Bleikamp said such an arrangement would likely lead to interference, but several members seemed unconvinced. Another meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14, at which time an engineer working for Bleikamp will explain the technicalities.
The planning board also expressed concerns that the guy wires would cause harm to birds.
If WCME ever gets back on the air, it plans to broadcast at a thousand watts during the day, but just sixty-six watts after sundown, because of Federal Communications Commission requirements. Bleikamp said the programming will include – you guessed it – local high-school sports.
Old news: Does anybody edit the Bangor Daily News on weekends?
The early edition of the Monday, Dec. 13 paper carried a story that seems to have been left over from Saturday, Dec. 11, informing readers that a big storm from the Midwest was headed toward Maine. By the time I read it Monday morning, the worst of the snow, rain and wind had already passed my area.
The online version of the piece had been updated (as of 10 a.m.) to indicate the impact of the weather system in some parts of the state, but still contained a first sentence that claimed the storm “was on a track toward Maine.”
Even AM radio is more up-to-date than that.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.