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 calledTouRadio in 1983 and at the time only marketed part 15 systems before becoming ISS and eventually on 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 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, and also have already discussed it with less detailed specifics over at as well as the 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..

Edit: February 22, 2019: Per request to Bill Baker, he found an old ad copy for me of his original "TouRadio" company shown below. Also note I added their logo to the beginning paragraphs of this post as well.

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