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Museum plans “Voice of the North Pacific” exhibit

‘Hello all mariners, hello all mariners, this is WBH-Two-Nine Kodiak.’
— Peggy Dyson

Prior to the advent of faxes, email and cell phones, mariners throughout the North Pacific listened up when they heard WBH-29 Kodiak — aka Peggy Dyson — on the radio.

In fact, they depended on it. Twice a day, every day for 25 years, Dyson broadcast the marine weather and personal messages to those at sea from her home in Kodiak on her single sideband radio.

Peggy Dyson - launching of Oscar Dyson Peggy Dyson

WBH-29 – Peggy Dyson at launching of the research vessel Oscar Dyson. Courtesy Ray Broussard for NOAA.

Kodiak Maritime Museum (KMM) has acquired Dyson’s radio and 1000 watt power amplifier with plans to use them and interview recordings with Dyson, fishermen and other mariners in an interactive audio-visual exhibit for the community.

This project represents an important chapter in the story of Alaska's pioneering fishing industry. During the boom years of Alaska's commercial shrimp, crab and groundfish fisheries, fishermen were at sea for months at a time with no dependable way to call home. Dyson's reassuring voice on the radio every day at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. became a reliable way for mariners to hear important news from home and to get accurate weather information. Twice daily Peggy broadcast forecasts prepared by the National Weather Service (NWS) and gathered actual weather observations from skippers. Observations from fisherman, tug operators, and freighters transiting the North Pacific were invaluable to the NWS as they struggled daily to develop the next forecast.

Dyson began her volunteer career by radioing her husband, the late commercial fishing pioneer Oscar Dyson, on Channel WBH-29 twice a day while he was at sea. The fleet soon caught on to their schedule and went to WBH-29 to hear the weather and news from Kodiak. Her broadcasts became a mainstay for mariners and the U.S. Coast Guard, especially search and rescue operations such as the rescue of the fishing vessel Mary Lou, caught in a storm in 1984.

“[The] fishing vessel Mary Lou provided Dyson with daily position reports during her weather broadcasts,” said a 1999 Coast Guard press release. “One evening she received a mayday call from the fishing vessel, but no position. Dyson reported the last known position to the Coast Guard, enabling searchers to pinpoint the boat and rescue three of the five crewmembers."

Many skippers made life-saving decisions based on Dyson's weather broadcasts, such as the crab vessel that heard Dyson broadcast a severe weather update and turned back to Dutch Harbor, the press release stated.

"The boat jettisoned crab pots and gear to pick up speed to outrun the brunt of the storm and received severe structural damage, but was able to reach Dutch Harbor with no deaths or injuries."

During her twice-daily broadcast, Dyson also sent out personal messages, everything from birth announcements to World Series scores, to mariners eager to get word from home.

The Voice of the North Pacific exhibit will pay homage to Dyson's decades of public service and bring them to light by providing an interactive oral history of Dyson and the fishing fleet. Not only will viewers see the equipment she used, they will also hear Dyson's distinctive voice calling all mariners as well as mariners remembering their days at sea and listening to messages from "WBH-Two-Nine Kodiak."

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