The Ottumwa Courier

March 21, 2008

Iowa Public Radio on the air in Ottumwa

KUNZ officially launches

By MATT MILNER Courier staff writer

OTTUMWA — The sunglasses. The soft, relaxed voice. Bob Dorr looks and sounds like an old-school blues musician.

That’s because he is.

His voice takes him all over Iowa with the Blue Band which, it seems, has played just about everywhere over the past three decades. It’s not a surprise that Friday was not his first concert here.

“I’ve played in Ottumwa a few times a year for the last 30 years,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to grow a nice following in Ottumwa and Oskaloosa. I also used to play a nice little roadhouse in Bloomfield.”

Dorr’s voice also finds its way around the state on Iowa Public Radio, where he hosts several shows. But it had a hard time finding Ottumwa. IPR signals hit the city sporadically, depending on weather conditions and whether your radio antenna was behind a hill.

That is changing.

IPR launched KUNZ 91.1 FM on Friday. It’s the first IPR station specifically aired to reach this part of the state. A second station, KDWI 89.1 FM, will follow in the coming months. Technical problems delayed its launch date, which was originally slated for Friday as well.

Dorr’s programs air on the latter station. He doesn’t seem worried about the snag. He’s happy he can finally tell people to tune him in when the station goes live.

Cindy Browne, the executive director for IPR, is happy and relieved. The stations were a long time coming.

“The people of this area have been very big supporters of bringing this service into the area,” she said. “One of the things I think is different with public radio from community radio is we’re community based. People have a very close relationship with their public radio station.”

IPR applied for the Ottumwa licenses back in the 1990s. But if there was an obstacle, it seemed like IPR hit it. There were issues with competing signals. Then there were problems with the antenna. Funding is always an issue, especially for non-commercial radio. Getting over the hurdles took time.

Betty Rae Potts says it is worth the wait. She has listened to public radio since she got married in 1983. It was frustrating to lose the signal when she drove toward Ottumwa from Blakesburg.

News programming is the draw for Potts.

“I’ve been waiting for this a long time,” she said. “The news programs are very objective, informative and at length. They’re going to cover things in-depth.”

That’s one of the draws for Supervisor Steve Siegel as well. He lobbied from that office for the stations and proposed the resolution that declared Friday “Iowa Public Radio Day” in Wapello County.

“It just gives a little different perspective on things,” he said.

The other draw for Siegel is the music. Much of it consists of bands and songs many stations dropped from their playlists as formats evolved.

And that brings things back to Dorr. He’ll take new music from Iowa artists and find a place for it. But one look at his playlist shows where his heart is. And soon he can air it here.

“Eureka,” he said. “We’ve come to Ottumwa.”

Matt Milner can be reached at (641) 683-5359 or via e-mail at mwmilner@mchsi.com