SPIRIT LAKE - A new broadcast frequency hit the airwaves over the Iowa Great Lakes last April but you won't hear the latest music or the ads for local businesses. This signal, at AM 1640, broadcasts a message about protecting the lakes against aquatic invasive species and offers weather updates within a 10 mile radius of the Spirit Lake fish hatchery.
The low power signal was the brainchild of Phil Petersen who is a Spencer product that spent 38 years working at Motorola and returned to the lakes area in his retirement. As a former president of the Okoboji Protective Association, Peterson has worked hard in the Iowa Great lakes to promote water safety and protect water quality.
The lakes region draws boaters and anglers from across Iowa and surrounding states each year. Petersen said the purpose of the radio station is to try to catch the attention of the many weekend boaters who may not be getting the message about protecting the lakes from aquatic invasive species.
The radio system message gives visitors to the area directions on how prevent the spread of plant and animal species, like Eurasian watermilfoil ,zebra mussels or other nonnative species, before they get to the ramp. When invasive species are transplanted into Iowa water bodies, they can cause ecological and economic harm by displacing native plants and animals, damaging water resources and interfering with water-based recreation, including fishing.
Petersen said the local media does a good job covering the topic and local residents are well schooled on aquatic invasive species, but visitors may not pick up the paper or tuning in to the local radio stations. With 12 major boat ramps in the lakes area, there simply is not enough staff to be at every ramp, 24/7.
To catch the visitors, the Iowa Department of Transportation and the Dickinson County Engineer posted nine travel information signs on the major state and county roads leading in to the Great Lakes. These signs tell motorists to tune to AM 1640 for travel information. Motorists can listen to the five minute message as they head to the particular boat ramp.
The $28,000 traveler's band radio station was donated by the Okoboji Protective Association. A grant from the Dickinson County Water Quality Commission helped to purchase the station last April. The DNR holds Federal Communications Commission license.
The FCC has rules covering traveler's band radio: no music, no mentioning of businesses by name. It is only intended for road or travel messages. The station runs on an uninterrupted power supply and has the ability to go live making it attractive to local emergency management personnel.
The Natural Resource Commission of the Iowa DNR officially accepted the donation of the station during its November meeting.
"At this point, we have not used this to its full potential," said Mike Hawkins, with the DNR's fisheries bureau who has worked closely on the radio station project. "We will be using the system more in the future, putting more current information on it like the fishing report. We could also include special events, the walleye opener or winter games. This could definitely take off and grow."
Hawkins said fisheries staff will measure the radio station's effectiveness reaching boaters by including a question on the station as part of the aquatic nuisance species inspectors' survey of boaters at local ramps during the summer.
The message has two minutes of up to date weather report from the National Weather Service, followed by three minutes from the DNR. The low power station is similar to other signals used near airports and national parks.