Some copper tubing from KMBC Kansas City's transmitter hit the black market this week, as thieves made off with the metal that temporarily knocked the Hearst station off the air for some viewers. The miscreants struck Sunday night, cutting through one pipe and almost making it through another before getting spooked and running away.
Most viewers in DMA No. 32 were unaffected, but many who were contacted the station Sunday night. KMBC broadcasted from an auxiliary transmitter while the maintenance crew fixed the sliced pipes; the damaged transmitter was functional at 6:30 a.m. this morning.
Police responded to a burglar alarm Sunday, but the thieves remain at large.
KMBC President/General Manager Wayne Godsey calls the episode, which involves less than $10,000 in damage, "disconcerting." He says the vandals could've sustained grievous injury from either the 35,000 volts of electricity or the scalding hot liquid coursing through the pipes en route to a cooling system. "The risk they took was not just getting caught by the authorities," he says. "They risked serious-and perhaps fatal-injuries. It was incredibly dangerous."
KMBC's transmitter thievery was previously reported in the Kansas City Star, which says the crooks may be looking at federal charges. "If it's maliciously done with the intent of damaging the tower, that is a federal criminal offense," said communications lawyer Erwin G. Krasnow of the Washington, D.C., firm Garvey Schubert Barer.
Godsey was pleased to see KMBC, an ABC affiliate, win Sunday's late news race despite the displaced viewers.
"All in all, it wasn't terrible damage," he says. "But we'll review our security measures and in all likelihood, look at adding some things."