Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Interview with Bill Baker

This post is in relation to yesterdays post about the small company "TouRadio" which quickly grew to become 'Information Station Specialist" (ISS), the foremost provider of T.I.S. stations in the U.S.

A couple of nights ago I listened to what I found to be an extremely interesting interview with Bill Baker from about 5 years ago. It's one of the KDX Low Power Hour episodes, a few others of which had been featured here before. While this episode is not really specifically about part 15, it is addressed, and does prove to be a fascinating listening experience for any part 15 hobbyist... or for that matter, you're listening audience. 
Download and listen: Low Power Hour # 78 - T.I.S.

Low Power Hour # 78 - T.I.S. Sept. 3, 2013 (54:56)  Low Power Hour No. 78 is titled "T.I.S." for "Traveler's Information Stations," bringing a visit with Bill Baker of I.S.S., "Information Station Specialists." It's an in depth step into an alternate low power universe with all kinds of creative angles.

Here's my summery and overview of this episode:
Carl introduces the episode and proceeds with the usual "Low Power in the News" segment including announcements of 6 AM NOUO, 5 of which by the same agent being the same who cited KENC, and Gerald Gaulle, others for some on 1710, and curiosities of only 15.209 citations with no mention of 15.219.. And then something about Indian tribes getting kicked off the air.. Carl also ponders upon just who it is making the complaints.. those self righteous rats!.. Carl expresses outrage but the mood quickly changes as Bill Baker enters the scene, then quickly ducks back out again for a moment as Carl fills the gap with a delightful presentation of a low power lesson with fictitious caricatures... Bill Baker returns and the interview begins....

Bill Baker Interviewed. TIS and Part 15 options:
Baker talks for the majority of the hour and there's several things that really jumped out at me - although most of it is about licensed TIS, he does talk a little about their part 15 method towards the end of the interview and some places it's being used, as well as it's installation methods including use of the ATU, even some about linking multiple transmitters in analog, but that discussion is rather brief, most of the interview concerns licensed TIS.-nevertheless in his discussion of TIS he talks about some things that can, or possibly can be applied to part 15..

Groundplanes and Alternatives:
For example he talks about their patented pre-made "powerplane" which some of us have utilized or are at least familiar with ISS' patented PowerPlane® Factory-Assembled Groundplane. You don't see much mention of this on their site anymore because after 20 years of them utilizing it, ISS doesn't really use them anymore since they came up with a better and ultimately less expensive option that they've been using over ten years now; it's easier to install, doesn't tear up the property, and their test have shown it emulates almost equally the results of a 10ft wide ground radial system does- I've noticed the described system on their site before but never really paid much attention to it, is the "Vertical Profile Antenna System" which utilizes a "conductive vertical shaft" made from solid copper as it's base which goes into the ground and supports the antenna, it's all shipped out as one piece on a truck and basically plopped into the ground... It seems like something similar could somehow be modified and utilized for a part 15 system? -I don't know, I'm just speculating.

Who owns TIS and Rule Changes on Permitted Content:
Also found it interesting that about 20% of the TIS stations are actually owned and operated by private entities yet with the license held by the state to meet the FCCs requirements of only government organizations making use of TIS. He also talks about some recent changes to the rules that weather and emergency info can be broadcast - I remember reading about this a few years ago when the rule was changed and thought it ridiculous that it hadn't already been allowable, but as Bill explains there had been several citations issued to TIS stations (evidently sometime around 2007-2009) who had been 
The American Association of
Information Radio Operators
broadcasting such info, and in response to these citations the AAIRO (which Bill and some others had founded) submitted request to the FCC for clarifications on permitted content, which in turn resulted in a rewrite of the rules in relation to permitted content, as well as who may make those determinations of when such content is permissible. Also new permissions where granted of making use of multiple TIS station networks synchronized to broadcast the same feed. So today, due to the AAIROs efforts, TIS are permitted to air such information. This was a big change (although at the time of this broadcast was still in consideration). Bill says ISS created has created an acronym to describe this; "TIDE Broadcast" T=Travel, ID= Imminent Danger, and E=Emergency.

Inexpensive Field Strength Meter
SMR Receiver
Another thing, and it being something I've seen asked several times before.. in fact someone asked just recently again in the forums about where to fond an inexpensive field strength meter.. Where here's an answer.. Bill explains, ISS not only sells but usually also performs the installations of those TIS systems, for which they utilize a Potimatic field strength meter,
Project Manager Tom Coviak compares
size of Potomatic to the SMR Receiver.
but they also do provide a special Signal Measurement Radio Receiver to every agency that has TIS stations installed. He says ISS test have shown that these SMR receivers which have an S-meter on it that registers in increments from 15-99 has demonstrated itself able to provide reading rather accurately in comparison to their own very expensive Potimatics, they also offer these radios separately.. but there's no price shown. I never knew about these but after hearing him talk about it and then finding it on their website (link above), made and inquiry just today.. Haven't heard back yet, but will return with an update. However, truth be told it's really not a necessary item for a part 15 station, but if the price is right it certainly would be a pretty cool addition!

"The SMR Receiver is the first device of its kind capable of measuring and displaying AM signal levels with a useful level of precision... This handheld, battery-operated receiver can be utilized in the field to estimate signal intensities of broadcast radio stations. Though not a calibrated measurement device, it displays relative signal intensity in dbu, which can be used for rough translation to millivolts per meter (mV/m) in a given frequency range using an included correlation chart..

Anyway, I think any part 15 broadcaster would enjoy and find this interview of great interest. Carl also has a lot of other episodes that feature interviews with part 15 operators and their stations. There are a substantial amount of those episodes which I considered to be just as exceptional as this one was with Bill Baker; You can browse the full list of " The Low Power Hour" and download episodes from his archive at: http://kdxradio.com/lph_archive.html Most, but not all of them have descriptions providing an overview. You must contact Carl for permission to rebroadcast on your own station.

A couple other Low Power Hour episodes I've reviewed:
(I really thought there were more, but evidently I never got around to it) 

Charles Hefti - Car Tunes, and the first(?) stereo broadcaster
 LPH #3 Neil Radio8Z

Update already!:
As mentioned above I inquired about the SMR radio a few hours ago and have already received a response:

Sent: Tuesday, February 5, 2019 10:26 AM
To: info@theradiosource.com
Subject: SMR Receiver
Hello, What radio is that and what's the price?

Thank you,

======= The response was.. ==========
The price is $144 plus a little freight, Rich.
It includes a correlation data so you can determine approximate relative electrical field intensity using the display.
Bill Baker
Information Station Specialists
PO Box 51
Zeeland, MI  49464 USA
616-772-2300 (ext 102)  fax 616-772-2966
Founded in 1983, Information Station Specialists is the USA's best known source for information radio stations, advisory signage and related products and services.

He didn't respond what make/model it was, my hopes were to find some online reviews about it as just an AM/FM/SW/LW receiver as compared to something premium like one of the CCrane radios, which if proved positive would be an added bonus for everyday use (my use of it for only field strength readings would be far and few between, but I'm enthused about that feature) . I was already guessing it would be about $130 so I was close on my estimation. Chances are it's a good quality radio but I could not find a visual match while searching online. It's going to have to wait till this summer but I will be getting one... When I do I provide my novice review about it.
If anyone picks one up before I do, please leave a review in the comments or contact me directly.
See more details about it on their website here: Signal Measurement Radio Receiver

Monday, February 4, 2019

TouRadio - Predecessor to ISS

In a past post; 'Making Waves with Part 15 AM' ISS (Information Station Systems) was briefly mentioned, as they are who distributes copies of those video CDs which SeaGrant had produced years ago. But recently I read an article about the ISS history which reveals it originally began as a company called TouRadio in 1983 and at the time only marketed part 15 systems before it expanded to being the primary supplier of TIS stations in the US today.

What I had actually been looking for was campground radio history in general. I recall
experiencing it from my childhood with the family at some campgrounds somewhere; we watched Yogi Bear cartoons on an outdoor screen while listening to it on the radio... plus I always hear stories that part 15 broadcast used to be commonplace at campgrounds, but never have been able to find much of anything documenting it  (an archived flyer, brochure, article or anything).
But I did come across this story..

Bill Baker was camping at Lake Michigan in 1980 when he came up with the idea of creating tiny radio stations specifically to campers, and in 1982 started the company "TouRadio" and setup their first campground radio installation (part 15) at no charge for Mississippi Palisades State Park in Illinois. Then in 1983 he changed the name from "TouRadio" to "Information Station Specialists" and expanded to two products; one being the part 15 systems he started with (estimated 1/2 mile range) and also added to his line up the TIS option (estimated 3-5-mile range)...

The rest is history. ISS Founding and First.
" In 1980..The idea first came to him while camping on the shores of Lake Michigan. He thought about the potential for starting a tiny radio station to broadcast continuous messages specifically to campers. Since
every vehicle had a radio receiver, it occurred to Baker that it would be "cool" if there were a little radio station in the park where he camped. "I decided to do something," he says. After returning home, he investigated, then pursued his idea. The technology already existed. "All we did was apply a little creativity to integrating, assembling and making it accessible," Baker recounts. "It was a great use of FCC-approved technology and spectrum."
Two years later he formed his own company, TouRadio, in Davenport, Iowa, to offer and install low-power AM radio stations that would allow park officials to communicate directly with visitors. In the summer of 1982, he convinced the manager at Mississippi Palisades State Park in Illinois to try his idea, offering to set up a station at a campground for free. It worked. 

 In 1983, the fledgling company with a new name, Information Station Specialists, officially rolled out its first “Information Station,” a 10-watt, AM-band Travelers Information Station (TIS) with a 3-5-mile-radius range and a companion product with 1/10 watt of power for about ½-mile range. National parks and local visitor and convention bureaus became Information Station Specialists' first customers...."

Oh.. let me pause here for a moment.. I said I couldn't find documentation of part 15 campground radio, but should clarify that I actually did dig up a rather extensive group of documented confirmations of using part 15 in campgrounds besides this story. I think Seafront documents some of these, and also back in 2011 Yellowstone placed orders for, and used numerous Rangemaster AM1000s and Procaster AM transmitters coupled with weather radios to transmit information to campers in the area - I think I've already posted about those stories here, but if not will in the future.. But even farther back then that, in the late 1960s/early 1970s Yellowstone originated and made extensive use of part 15 AM,.. This I haven't posted about yet, mainly because it's been an ongoing research for about 2 years and there's still a few details to finalize. I really hope to have it completed soon.. what a mess. Most of the fragmented pieces of the story I have posted across numerous threads in over last two years at hobbybroadcaster.net, and also have already discussed it with less detailed specifics over at part15.us as well as the alpb.org forums, but it's spread across so many threads it's a little difficult to see the whole picture.. sometime in the next few months I'll provide it here in a better presentational way..

Sigh... excuse me, let's get back on topic to Bill Bakers campground inspired radio company story..

On a whim, I tried checking the internet for more specific information about Bill Bakers "TouRadio", in hopes to find an archive of an advertisement or flyer, but I turned up nothing. However did re-read another article I had seen before 'Bill Baker Hums on Low Power'  - but had missed this little snippet which elaborated a little bit more about his original camping trip..

This is excerpted from that Grand Rapids Business Journal article:
Bill Baker - (pic from Radio World) 
"The idea first came to him while he was camping in Ludington more than 20 years ago. Traveling in the fall during the slow off-season, Bill Baker’s group found little information available on what to do, what to see, or even where to go for camping supplies. A disc jockey at a radio station in Moline, Ill., across the Mississippi River from Iowa, Baker thought about the potential for starting a radio station that would broadcast continuous messages for visitors to the area.

“You don’t know what’s going on up there. I didn’t even know where to buy firewood,” Baker recalled of the 1981 trip to Ludington State Park.
“It occurred to me that it would be cool if there was a little radio station in the park — ‘Hey, you campers, here’s where to buy wood,’” he said. “I had to do something.”

After returning home, Baker investigated and then pursued the idea. Two years later he formed his own company to install low-power AM radio stations that would provide information to tourists.."

Firewood! A lack of firewood is what instigated him to start an information radio company and it became a huge success. TouRadio which became ISS is still going strong today over 30 years later.
Besides their licensed TIS systems, they still offer the license-free part 15 transmitters too, either the budget friendly classic Talking House for only $95, or the audio enhanced version iAM for about $100 more, or the more advanced and complete outdoor self-contained system known as the InfOspot which is most commonly used at parks, historic sites, nature trails and various other locations.

 Bill Baker started out only with a desire to provide campers information on where to get supplies, and made it a reality with little more than a little part 15 transmitter.. Part 15 hobby broadcasters often seem to mostly focus on creating automated AM music stations that, let's face it, usually have few, if any other listeners than ourselves.. One should consider that if you looked around your own area and determined some specialized potential uses for your station you could probably find something that would cause more attraction than just your music taste, something else worth tuning in to your broadcast frequency, making your station more worthwhile.

But of course there's nothing wrong with broadcasting just for the fun of it, but radio deserves an audience.. Think about it, get creative, look around your area and find something special to focus on, things particular to the area, the story behind an historic building, who's that couple playing chess at the local park, where's that bike path go to, is that spooky abandoned house haunted, that crazy squirl that chases cats, where do you get firewood?.. there's always something interesting around your area to include as part of your station programming besides just music.. make your station more fun and interesting, make it more notable!

Ok enough of my opinions..