Possible arson destroys Perry radio station

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 2004

UNIONTOWN-Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

In both translations of the phrase, Charles Jones Jr. believes more than an accident destroyed his radio station Monday morning. And apparently, so does the Alabama Fire Marshal.

Somewhere between the hours of 1:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. Monday, Jones’ radio station, WVFG-107.5 FM, burned to the ground. While no explanation has been given by authorities, Jones believes foul play may be involved.

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“I talked with the Fire Marshal today, and they’ve left the investigation open,” Jones said Tuesday. “It’s an enemy, I’m almost sure of that.”

Though some have speculated that local elections may have played a part in the blaze, Jones quickly dismissed that idea.

“I don’t have anything specific, but it could be disgruntled employees,” he said.

During the campaigns leading up to the June 1 primaries, Jones did not host political talk shows on his 6,000-watt station. He did run paid political advertisements, but WVFG was not an outlet for tough political talk during the campaign season.

Attempts to reach the Alabama Fire Marshal’s office were unsuccessful late Tuesday afternoon. However, Jones spent a good deal of time with investigators earlier in the day and indicated some of the clues around the scorched transmitter and office leave open speculation for foul play.

“There were some tracks from an SUV or a big truck that went in a different direction from where cars normally leave,” Jones said. “It also looks like the fire started at the ends of the transmitter, not in the middle.”

Other odd circumstances surrounding the fire involve the lack of initial reaction to the blaze. The transmitter, tower and office are all located in a pasture owned by Jones’ uncle. As the radio station’s equipment burned, Jones said his uncle never heard or saw a thing. He also said the fire department was never called to the scene until it was too late, and a gate leading into the station was wide open.

“Normally, that gate is locked because we have cattle there,” he said.

While combing the site for clues, Jones said investigators from the Fire Marshal’s office used dogs to sniff out accelerants possibly used in the blaze. However, Jones said the dogs found nothing like that.

“It was so burned they couldn’t find anything,” he said.

Though foul play is being considered, Jones said there also may be a more innocent reason for the fire. Early Monday morning, storms moved through the area.

“It may be that lightning struck,” he said. “We’re checking on that now.”

No matter what the cause, Jones is left with no transmitter and office. He believes the radio tower may be in working condition, though some damage may have occurred to one of the tower legs.

The radio station is not insured, which means Jones will have to find at least $50,000 to bring back WVFG, which plays gospel and some R&B.

According to FCC regulations, the radio station can remain “dark,” or off the air, for one year. If the station is not back on the air, the FCC license is dropped.

“I’m going to do everything I can to bring it back,” Jones said. “I may have to find help from some churches, but I want to get it back on the air.”