U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Two arrested after Oklahoma radio tower toppled, section stolen

Incident Details


The upper half of KITX’s radio tower is seen after being knocked over on Jan. 15, 2024, in Hugo, Oklahoma. The bottom half was stolen and its parts sold for copper.

January 15, 2024

Two individuals allegedly knocked over KITX’s FM radio tower and stole a section of the structure on Jan. 15, 2024, forcing the Hugo, Oklahoma, station off the air for 10 days, according to the broadcaster.

Will Payne, president of Payne Media Group, which owns the station and the tower, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the top half of the nearly 500-foot tower fell after the two suspects cut the guy-wires supporting it. Payne said he believes the suspects cut the bottom half into pieces and carried them into a vehicle. The theft caused more than $500,000 in damage, he added.

“We’re hunting down somebody that brought down a tower in order to get a little hundred-dollar fix of copper,” Payne was reported to have said at the time of the theft. “Seriously, that’s about all it’s going to be worth to them.”

The Choctaw County Sheriff’s Office arrested two suspects on Jan. 18, according to the station’s Facebook page, after they sold copper from the tower to a nearby junkyard the day after the theft. One suspect is currently being held on a $500,000 bond, while the other has since been released, Payne told the Tracker.

Payne said that when he first saw the red and white tower on the ground, he assumed it was brought down by ice or inclement weather. But once he saw the open door to the transmitter building, he knew something was seriously wrong.

“I had never heard of this as a criminal act. It’s always weather related,” Payne told the Tracker. “To be honest, … that’s why we have insurance.”

The country music station was able to get back on the air at half power just 10 days after the theft, thanks to community and industry support, Payne said.

“(Tower builders) were able to build four 20-foot sections of tower in four days, which is unheard of,” he said. “That’s a very, very aggressive timeline to get back on the air. We’re half the tower, half the power.”

Payne said some listeners may have more difficulty accessing the radio station because of the weaker signal. He added that he hopes that the station will be able to operate at full power again in the next 90 days.

KITX is not the only radio station that has recently seen its tower stolen and damaged. In early February, an AM radio tower in Alabama mysteriously vanished. That station is still unable to broadcast and is unsure whether it will be able to rebuild its radio tower because it was uninsured.

Since going public, Payne said he had heard similar stories from a number of internet service providers of their towers being destroyed or vandalized.

“It’s a horrible trend,” Payne said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].