The Broadcasters' Desktop Resource

Security Watch – The Copper Belt

The continuing theft of copper and ground systems has become a major security issue for broadcasters. Could this happen to you? A special threat: theft of auxiliary antenna coax and parts.

This is a serious issue and by highlighting it, we hope to help stations begin to fight it more effectively. One resource is – a scrap metal industry site. If your site is targeted, it might be good to let them know. 


A Louisiana man was arrested for stealing copper and components at WEKZ, Monroe, WI in early October – and trying to sell them to a local scrap dealer who let the authorities know.


A Texas man was sentenced to 10 years for copper theft and is required to pay $163k to victims of up to two dozens thefts from communications towers this year. Three others are involved in what prosecutors define as “organized criminal activity.”


A gruesome scene and a nasty way to go. Tucson Police found a body, apparently electrocuted, in a manhole. The autopsy, which will apparently require dental records or DNA to identify the individual, indicates the body has been in the manhole for two years.


The leader of a copper theft ring gets just 2.5 years in $80 million theft.


Apparently it was not the amount of copper stolen – the station says it was worth less than $1.00 – but where it was. According to the station manager, KLOG, in Kelso, WA,was knocked off the air most all day Wednesday, and it will take $1500 to repair the cuts made by thieves. 


The value of surveillance cameras: A 23-year-old man was arrested after breaking into a transmitter site and stealing copper and other equipment at WLTX, Columbia, SC


It is not just in the USA. Thieves looking for copper cut enough fiber cable to leave large areas of London (UK) without broadband Internet service, some for more than three days. Some 37,000 customers were said to be affected. (Thanks, Randall Miller)


WSGS-FM in Hazard, KY was among stations affect when theives took copper. The thefts and outages were repeated the next day.


KMBI in Spokane, WA was knocked off the air when thieves stole copper from the station.


The theft of a large section of copper and fiber cut at least eight California departments off from their websites and email. The state continues to be in the top five locations for copper theft.


Sacramento, CA has become one of the first cities in the country to “brand” their copper wire, to make felony convictions of thieves easier. Last year, the city had 24 felony copper theft convictions, which caused some $1.68 Million in theft damage. Now, with special cable and covers the city hopes to be more efficient in finding and prosecuting thieves and reduce the problem – now happening, on average, every two to three days. 


Three Asheville, NC area men have now been arrested for “stealing the parts from a WKJV tower, then trying to sell them for cash.” According to local news reports, the value of the “parts” – most likely copper – taken from the AM religious station was $25k. (Blaine Thompson)


It  will be ten years behind bars for a Florida man who stole copper from WJAQ Radio in Marianna, Florida. Marianna is on I-10, 70 miles west of Tallahassee. The cops caught up with Robert Scott, Jr. quickly, saying that the copper he stole only had one use. The station was reported off the air for about 12 hours until repairs could be made.


KWWK, Rochester, MN was knocked off the air due to copper theft.


A copper theft at a church produced a spectacular surprise for the thieves.


Arizona Department of Public Safety officers have uncovered a theft of copper plates worth $1.5 million. $300,000 of the four-foot square plates were recovered in Tucson, with another $1.25 million in plates found at the Port of Los Angeles, ready to ship to China. A total of 464 plates were recovered, but another 240 plates are missing, and may have already gone overseas.


Amarillo Texas is the latest location where copper theft has become a problem. According to reports, three stations have been hit in the past two weeks. (BT)


An Ohio couple were charged by the US Attorney with the malicious destruction of federally-licensed communications lines. The two had “willfully and maliciously destroyed and removed copper material from four radio-station towers” belonging to Radio One. According to the indictment, some $125,000 in damages were caused.



A scrapyard employee reported to the Sheriff’s Department that a man in Hazard, KY stole a piece of an antenna belonging to WSGS Radio. The station was preparing to install the new antenna. According to the statement given, the $100 piece removed made the entire $50,000 antenna worthless (those are the station’s figures… so please do not write just to tell me that figure is a bit outrageous!). 


You may have suspected so. We know there are thieves who target broadcasters – but a “new” scheme is being repeated in several places, like Bowling Green County, KY. Auxiliary transmission lines are being targeted (See 2/10/12 below) – which normally means some “knows” something about a site.
On May 2nd, one of sevearl recent thefts of an auxiliary line was noticed – it could have been several months since the actual theft. The thief climbed up 150 feet to take the coax from WNKY. Another report from May 1 includes transmission lines, pipes, elbows, etc. The value of loss runs into tens of thousands of dollars.  If you know of any such thefts, let us know and also alert the scrap metal industry site.


In what may be the first test of the West Virginia law to make copper theft a felony, two men were charged with taking 1300 feet of copper wire. Charges include disruption of public services. According to police, the two were just released from jail for a similar offense.


Copper thieves stole piping in a fountain at Gerald Ford’s Birthsite in Omaha, NE.


A theft of cable in San Diego County, CA, left two sheriff’s substations, a Department of Defense facility, and 10 million people without communication for up to 17 hours. It only took about 75 feet of fiber optic and six feet of copper cable (600 pair) to cause the outage.


A man was electrocuted stealing copper from a power pole in the city of Fontana, CA.


The Kentucky HB390 was signed into law.


Police have arrested two men in southern Minnesota for stealing the copper at KIMT-TV, and causing as much as $500,000 damage.   (see 2/10/12 below)


Police have arrested and prosecutors have charged Benjamin Ary (three stories are linked) of stealing over $137,000 of copper and other items while working for Cumulus.


Police reported $30k worth of copper was taken from the WBRD site in West Palmetto, FL. The site is owned by Clear Channel, which has an FM located there.


The Kentucky HB390 was sent to Governor Beshear. His signature is expected.


The Kentucky Senate has passed a Bill to match the House Bill 390 (below 2/24/12) and sent it back to the House with an Amendment.


Ohio has passed a bill to require photographs of copper sellers. Another set of laws in Cincinnati is under attack as requiring too much paperwork from small businesses. Ohio is reported to lead the country in insurance claims for loss of copper and other metals. Texas is ranked second, then Georgia, California, and Illinois. Many of the major market cities also top the list. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, reported claims jumped 81% in the latest three-year period.


Tucson copper theft problem has caused over $1 million damages over the past five years to city lights and parks alone. According to the city, some success has been achieved with new locking devices.


The Kentucky House has passed HB390 and sent it to the senate.


Kentucky has begun considering a Bill, House Bill 390 that would crack down on copper and metal theft. The current version of the Bill is located here.


The Washington State Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on HB 2570 regarding metal theft.  The bill sets up a task force to come up with recommendations to the 2013 Legislature for combatting metal theft.  The bill provides that one of the members of the task force is to be from the AM/FM broadcasting industry.


Officials in Fremont, CA are seeking help to combat the problem, as they reported about $460k of copper was stolen in the past seven months.


WZRK(AM), Lake Geneva, WI reported to the FCC that they had been hit twice, as they asked for an STA to remain silent for a few months.


The man who stole copper from power poles and two radio stations (see 11/9/11 and 9/9/11 below) has pled guilty to damaging an energy facility. Jeffrey Blake faces a sentence of up to 20 years and $250k in fines for that, the count relating to obstructing the EAS was dropped as part of the plea.


A Mason City, IA TV station reported that they were hit by copper thieves this week. Taken from KIMT’s transmitter site was over 700 feet of 3-inch copper lines from the building and up the tower. The first guess from the station manager was the the thieves were somewhat knowledgeable, as they left the STL dish alone, and may have taken only auxiliary lines.


WV Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, has announced plans to submit a Bill to the WV legislature to make copper theft a felony.


Florida officals report that a Daytona Beach station, WPUL, was knocked off the air for about a day, after thieves stole about 50 feet of copper.


The man who knocked KRPS and KKOW off the air in September (see 9/9/11 below) has been indicted on federal charges. Jeffrey Blake, 39, was charged with one count of attempted damage to a communications system at Weir, KS, and one count of attempted damage to an energy facility.
The US Attorney noted that KKOW was part of the EAS. Blake was also charged with other damage, to a local electrical utility. The potential sentence is 10 years in prison and $250k for the damage to KKOW.


Two Pittsburg, Kansas stations were taken off the air when copper thieves knocked down a utility pole and stole copper wiring in the middle of the night from a site in Weir, KS. KKOW and KRPS were taken down on Wednesday. The stations got back up after repairs.


Two Pittsburg, Kansas stations were taken off the air when copper thieves knocked down a utility pole and stole copper wiring in the middle of the night from a site in Weir, KS. KKOW and KRPS were taken down on Wednesday. The stations got back up after repairs.


WVOW, Logan, WV, returned to the air today. The station was knocked off the air when thieves recently stole 150 feet of telephone lines in the city, killing the WVOW program loop. Logan has been afflicted by repeated large copper theft problems, which recently resulted in the arrest of at least seven people, charged with causing nearly a half million dollars in losses. Cellular and landline service was also affected.



Utilities are starting to become more aggressive in dealing with copper theft. Noting that over 48,000 thefts occurred at utility substations, Puget Sound Energy has announced a new video motion detection security system to try to get police to sites before the damage is done.


Check out this video from the San Francisco Bay area. In one city, 300 power poles have been knocked down in less than six months – an average of close to two a day! Notice that they indicate that it takes an average of $500 to repair what the crooks sell for a buck or so.


Security Watch: WNDB, Daytona Beach, FL was reported to have suffered as much as $10k damage and knocked off the air for eight hours last week by copper thieves.


KSL in Salt Lake City was hit by thieves looking for copper and other valuables. You can watch the surveillance video as two men break into the transmitter site and take what was estimated by a station engineer as $30k in wire, tools, etc.


A broadcaster’s nightmare: Burglars carted off WCYC-LP’s studio gear in London, OH. However, the station was back up in less than 498 hours after police, investigating a pair of stolen vehicles, were led to an apartment where the $3,000-4,000 of broadcast gear was taken.


WIBG Ocean City, NJ had some folks ready to grab their ground system. A good neighbor saw it and reported it to police, who arrested a couple of would-be thieves. The station GM wrote to us and said: “Fortunately State Police said they were thwarted before they completely even started their damage. Fortunately, the tower is in a residential area and the neighbors watch very carefully. The two dudes were criminally charged.”


Two stations were knocked off the air in two days when their transmitter sites were broken into and hit by vandals. On Sunday Jan 16th, the antenna tuning unit for WROD (AM 1340), Daytona Beach, FL was smashed by vandals. Repairs got WROD back on the following day.
On Monday Jan 17th, a transmitter was taken from the WHKO (FM 99.1)site (co-located with WHIO-TV). WHKO moved to operations from their auxiliary site. Not long after, police arrested several people, as they tried to sell the transmitter at a scrap yard.