Catholic radio expands to Storm Lake area
By MICHELLE DELANEY, Globe staff reporter
Years ago, John Fitzsimmons remembers listening to Catholic programming on Sirius radio and hearing people call in to share how their faith had been refreshed, renewed or returned because of the station’s message.
“I was thinking, when are these stories going to become our stories,” said Fitzsimmons, president of the St. Gabriel Communications, Ltd., board.
Fitzsimmons’ dream became a reality when KFHC hit the airwaves in February of 2008. For nearly five years, KFHC has been offering an uplifting and educational Catholic radio station to the people of Siouxland. The station’s signal reaches approximately 60 miles around Sioux City.
When KFHC first went on air, Fitzsimmons noted, Bishop Walker Nickless expressed his desire for the station to reach farther and cover the entire diocese.
St. Gabriel Communications is one-step closer to fulfilling that goal by announcing the opening of a new station, KOIA. The new station is on the same frequency, 88.1 and it will cover Storm Lake and the surrounding areas.
Putting it together
In early 2011 an opportunity arose that would allow St. Gabriel Communications to expand their radio station and it just happened to have the same frequency as KFHC, 88.1.
“We just kind of took that as a sign that this is something we need to pursue,” said Fitzsimmons.
After looking into the opportunity, they learned they would need to be on the air by early November to secure the license for the station. Knowing how much work is needed to start a new station and how it took just under 10 years to get KFHC on the air, the deadline seemed daunting.
“It started off as a pipe dream,” he explained. “We didn’t know if it was feasible but we kind of moved ahead with faith and, remarkably, it worked out.”
One big problem they thought they were going to have to face was having to build a tower. Luckily, their engineers found a television tower that wasn’t being used anymore and was already approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Because attaining the FCC and FAA’s approval takes so much time, finding the tower was a huge relief.
After buying the tower, the next step in getting the station up and running was to get a transmitter for it. The transmitter, he explained, has to be built the right size for the area and the antennas need to be built in order to fit the terrain.
“All of those things take time, we had to have the equipment done right, sent to us, installed and ready to go by November. Things just fell into place, pretty much with no time to spare,” said Fitzsimmons.
In addition to all of the technical needs, support from the Storm Lake community was necessary. Fitzsimmons noted that Tim Brown from Central Bank and Tom Fitzpatrick from Fitzpatrick Auto-Truck Center were very significant in that aspect.
KOIA’s airwaves stretch about a 30-mile radius from Storm Lake.
“You can drive east from Sioux City, not touch the radio and not even notice that you’ve moved on from one tower (KFHC) to the next (KOIA),” said Fitzsimmons.
He noted that, often, the signal can go farther than they realize so they are asking people to let them know how far it really reaches.
Up and running
KOIA hit the airwaves at noon on Nov. 19 and already people have called in to give their feedback on the new station.
“It’s already having its effect,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s been our dream to be able to provide this source of evangelization for the diocese.”
The mission of KFHC and KOIA is to broadcast a message that adheres to the Gospels, Beatitudes, the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church and the pathways of the Magisterium every day. KOIA will continue with the mission of providing a Catholic-centered broadcast, and it will be able to create a sense of local ownership to the Storm Lake area.
Fitzsimmons shared that in the near future, they hope to add local shows, news, sports and weather to the Storm Lake station.
Martha Hawthorne, producer and outside promotions manager for St. Gabriel Communications, shared how the expansion in Storm Lake has allowed Catholic radio and many different Catholic organizations to come together in the community.
“It‘s such a great gift and I pray that everyone in that area who can receive our signal will take advantage of it. I hope it sparks everyone’s interest because it is such a great tool for our Catholic faith,” said Hawthorne.
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