I Spotted some Strange Radio Towers on a Roadtrip

Photograph of a radio tower with large horn shaped receivers at the top

I was taking a small road trip from Missouri to Iowa using I-35 and spotted something strange. Well, two things, one was a Tesla Cybertruck in the opposing lane. Which at the time of writing this post, are a rare sight to see in the Mid West. The second thing I saw was radio tower that look both ancient and epic at the same time. Usually I see radio or cell towers that have these things that look like flat white panels or something that looks like a large white drum. This however had large gray horn shaped features aimed in four different directions. I imagined this had nothing to do with cell service and would more likely be receiving alien messages from space.

To be honest, I’ve driven past this tower many times and raised an eyebrow. Look at the tower, look at the mile marker, drive for couple more hours and then totally forget. Finally I remembered, found it on Google maps, which took about half an hour. Even seeing it in the browser I thought it looked epic. What is this thing? Who should I ask for more information?

The only community I know of that would welcome such a question with open arms is the amateur radio peeps. I popped on reddit and asked the /r/HamRadio community and they did not disappoint. There were a lot of responses to my question, which over time proved to not be the first time a random Joe took a second glance at these unique structures. Here is my original post. The posted that these were AT&T Long Lines, a old network of towers that stretched across the country.

This is just one unit of a microwave relay system was stretched across the entire country after World War II, due to the pressures of the cold war. A long distance communication system was needed that could survive a nuclear war. I felt like the brutal nature of this device still resonated even in 2024 when I was driving down the highway and glanced at it. Many of these towers have concrete bunkers at the base to ensure it’s robustness. Each tower broadcasts to another tower approximately 30-40 miles away. These days many have been disassembled, but they are a reminder of historical events.

A couple of cool resources that came up from this discussion is a YouTube video by Pete Meets. You’ll see in his video that some of these towers facilitated emergency communication networks for the president of the United States of America. Also, of course, there is a whole other sub reddit dedicated just to these types of towers https://www.reddit.com/r/longlines/
So keep your eye out for these old relics while they are still around.

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