Jasper Fire Department and other mutual aid agencies battled a large structure fire in the 4300 block of Main Street on New Year’s Eve.
The building, a former private home and longtime building in the Jasper area dating back to just after the Civil War, has most recently been the tower site and transmitter building for Marion County Broadcasting and WTNW-AM radio which went on the air in 1986 and is licensed to Shelton Broadcasting Systems.
Eyewitnesses say the fire started somewhere before 8:00 PM CST at the property located at 4306 Main Street in Jasper.
The building has been unoccupied as a private home for several years and was instead being used as offices, studios, and transmitting facilities for Marion County Broadcasting and WTNW-AM.
WTNW, a former news media partner with MarionCountyMessenger.com, has been serving the Marion County area since it signed on the airwaves in 1986 as WAPO, later changing to WWAM and taking on a Southern Gospel format through much of the 90s. In 2012 the station re-branded itself as WTNW with an Oldies and Classic Hits format and worked to super-serve the Jasper and Marion County area with local and national programming including Marion County High School “Warriors Football” coverage on Friday nights each fall.
Station management says the station had fallen on harder times in recent years with advertising revenues at an all-time low for AM broadcasters and had been relying on forms of new media and non-traditional revenue means via social media and the Internet for extra income but had only been minimally successful in those endeavors. The station’s licensee and owner of the property that burned, of which Marion County Broadcasting was under a lease agreement with at the time of the incident, was no longer interested in daily operations of the station which resulted in the lease arrangement rather than selling the business and property outright.
Management also said that the licensee and property owners were to be responsible for carrying insurance on the property and contents; however, they were informed on the night of the fire that the insurance policy had lapsed and was not renewed just a few months prior resulting in no insurance for either party.
A dollar estimate on the total loss of the structure and property was not given; however, station management said they valued the contents including various office and broadcast equipment, paperwork and client records, and a vast music library somewhere in the $60,000 – $80,000 range.
Investigators do not yet know exact the cause of the blaze, but foul play is not suspected. Fire crews on the scene told MarionCountyMessenger.com reporters that electrical issues are a likely cause since the fire started in the attic area where electrical wiring was present.
Traffic on Main Street near the Exxon and Marion County Jail were blocked off and detoured around the area while crews worked to fight and contain the blaze.
Stay with us for the latest information on this developing story.