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Posts Tagged ‘amateur radio

Is the ARRL ready for the Second Century? Part I

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Next year, the ARRL will mark the 100th anniversary of its founding with a year long celebration including a Centennial National Convention in Hartford, where it all began.  We are proud of what has been accomplished in the first century of the ARRL’s existence.  What’s in store for the second?
— QST June 2013; ARRL CEO David Summer (K1ZZ)

QST magazine is the official publication of the ARRL.  The ARRL’s mission is: “To promote and advance the art, science and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.”

QST has a column, written by CEO David Summer (K1ZZ), called “It seems to Us”

The subject of the June 2013 QST “It Seems to Us” was titled: Building For Our Second Century.

In 2014 the ARRL will be 100 years old.

In the article, CEO Summer recounts some of the history of the ARRL from its beginning including ARRL’s evolving  role as the principle advocate for Amateur Radio to government.

Summer goes on to say that there are tens of thousands of people “…whose lives and careers have been enriched beyond measure” and that we need to recognize “a great debt to those who came before us, who did the difficult and sometimes thankless work of building and sustaining a national association to promote and advance the art, science, and enjoyment of Amateur Radio”

The ARRL Second Century Campaign

The rest of the article is about the ARRL Second Century Campaign.  The vision statement of the ARRL SCC  includes “securing significant financial resources to fund the ARRL’s commitment to its future objectives”.

The article ends by stating the fundraising goal of $10 million by December 31, 2014 and with this statement

None of us can know the specific challenges our association will face in the future or the opportunities that may arise for the ARRL to make Amateur Radio even more valuable as a community and national resource.  But we know this: Our predecessors made great sacrifices so we can enjoy te benefits of Amateur Radio.  We owe the same opportunities to the generations of radio amateurs that will follow us”.

Everyone who reads the QST article will pick out certain aspects based on their background, experience, and interests.

There are very few books written on the history of Amateur Radio and the ARRL.  In a sense, the history of Amateur Radio is the history of the ARRL.  An older book on the history of Amateur Radio and the ARRL ( I should just assume these are coextensive) is: Fifty Years of ARRL  published by the ARRL.  This book covers the beginnings of the ARRL to about 1950.

A more recent book is: The World of Ham Radio: 1901-1950 by Richard A Bartlett

Both these books cover the first fifty years of the ARRL.  But it is interesting to note that Bartlett’s book was published in 2007.

The missing 50 years of the ARRL (1950 – present)

The casual reader may ask the question, if Bartlett’s book was written in 2007 why did he stop writing about Amateur Radio and the ARRL as if some sort of catastrophe had occurred and both the ARRL and Amateur Radio are of little interest beyond1950?  Did Amateur Radio and the ARRL disappear in the 1950’s?

Bartlett has an answer

Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.

The last page of the last chapter of Richard Bartlett’s book ends with this:

Time passes on, and the old guard gives way to the newcomers.  In November 1948 death came to Kenneth Bryant Warner, who for nearly thirty years was secretary and general manager of the ARRL.  “It was Maxim who conceived our League, it as Warner  who breathed into it life and energy and vitality, whose balanced judgement and clear vision ensured its growth and success,” reads his obituary. “With his passing we suffer the loss of a great leader, an untiring servant in the cause of amateur radio.”  p. 230 The World of Ham Radio 1901-1950

That’s the end of the story for Bartlett.  In 1950’s and beyond, the ARRL and Amateur Radio entered a state of repetition with no forward progress of the ARRL or Amateur Radio worthy of mention in any following chapters.

Poised for the Second Century?

Posted on the ARRL website regarding CEO David Summers K1ZZ findings (emphasis mine)

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

The Take (non-Profits)

… We are proud of what has been accomplished in the first century of the ARRL’s existence.  What’s in store for the second?  — ARRL CEO David Summer

Many of us get calls all the time asking for a monetary donation to a worthy cause.  Generally, I ask them what they are going to do with the money.  In most cases, the person doing the solicitation does not know much of anything about how the money will be invested or used by the organization.  These folks are generally just doing the solicitation and are not ready to answer this question.  Understood and accepted.

So the next step, if you want to find out how your money will be invested or used by the organization, is to go to the organization’s web site and check out their strategic plan, programs and initiatives, and the track record of results they have achieved to date.  Some organizations do this better than others.  Many organizations use the Balanced Scorecard along with all the details to show how all the parts of the organization fits together (strategy, operating model, alignment, metrics, measures, etc.)  to deliver its goals in service of the mission.

No matter what model of strategic planning you use, or how you show the tangible benefits, the existence of these assets gives potential donors (monetary, or time as a volunteer) some confidence that the money (or their time commitment)  will in fact be used effectively to further the mission of the organization to the stakeholders.

Creating a sense of confidence for donors

The (historical) absence of these assets is not helping the ARRL Second Century Campaign.  The history of ARRL’s strategic planning effort has been troubled for years.  Further adding questions about the  Second Century Campaign is the statement made by CEO David Summer K1ZZ on the ARRL web site quoted above.  And most recently in the June 2013 QST article (emphasis mine)

None of us can know the specific challenges our association will face in the future or the opportunities that may arise for the ARRL to make Amateur Radio even more valuable as a community and national resource.

This statement strikes me as profound

Is this to say that we “throw up our hands”, not have a plan, and live day-by-day just because we can not know, with (technical) certainty, what the future will hold? It is exactly this situation of imperfect information and an uncertain future where CEO’s and executive leadership can shine.  It is exactly this situation where CEO’s can differentiate themselves by being able to navigate these uncharted waters to identify opportunities which the organization can exploit to move it forward.

Some CEO’s see the same event either as threat or opportunity.  In the 1990’s, Jeff Bezos of saw the potential of the internet for selling books that no traditional bookseller could see – it was the beginning of the demise of the traditional bookseller.  In 1979 Steve Jobs saw at Xerox PARC the potential of a graphical user interface for personal computers that no Xerox executive could see.  David Sarnoff saw the potential for wireless “one-to-many broadcasting” and built the RCA corporation.  In this same vein, what in the current environment does the ARRL see as its opportunity?

Restoring confidence in the ARRL and Amateur Radio’s future

The ARRL could help its cause in its Second Century Campaign by having “in hand” a plan when asking for monetary donation.  Or better, to have a story to tell  to potential donors about what the ARRL has accomplished since “The First Fifty years” up to the present.  What is the compelling vision of the future for the ARRL and Amateur Radio – who the ARRL is and why they matter in the current context where always-on wireless global connectivity is available to nearly everyone on the planet.  What is the strength of ARRL executive management team and what is the record of their accomplishments?  What executive “bench strength” has the ARRL accumulated over the years?  Treat the ARRL Century Campaign as a VC (Venture Capital) due diligence test and you will probably know all the questions a major donor would ask.

Messaging – Perception is Reality

The combination of Richard A Bartlett’s sentiments quoted above about “50 years of ARRL repetition with no forward progress worthy of mention”, CEO David Summer’s statement that “there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it” and his most recent statementNone of us can know the specific challenges… or the opportunities that may arise” does not give one confidence that the ARRL knows its destiny or that our donation will be used effectively.”

In essence, the messaging and perception might be: we don’t see the value of having a forward-looking plan; don’t know how to create one – we are waiting on a consensus from others to tell us how to do that; and we are not sure of the challenges or opportunities that face our organization today or in the future.  Will this motivate any potential donor to open their wallet and give a large donation?  “Repetition of yesterday”  is the easy way out of this conundrum – but it won’t inspire anyone.

The role of the CEO and executive leadership

There are opportunities and challenge every day!  The role of the CEO and executive leadership is to diagnose the situation and trends – to “see around corners”.  It’s an exercise in CEO and executive leadership analysis, choices, and direction setting followed by execution – allocating resources, aligning people to measurable goals and outcomes, and holding them accountable.  The formula is pretty simple.  The devil is in the details and discipline of execution.  The ability to navigate and accomplish all of this, and to be transparent to stakeholders all along the way,  is a differentiator among CEO’s in any industry.  Even if an organization has a strategic plan, the majority fail in execution.

There is an old saying, “If you want to know the future, create it”.  We can learn this from anyone who taken advantage of disruption and changed an industry.  In a sense, uncertainty, disruption, imperfect knowledge is just what some CEO’s need to redefine and reposition their organization to lead in the future.  One only needs to look to Steve Jobs who, in 1996, snatched Apple out of near bankruptcy to make it the most valuable company in America in 2012.  In the process Apple redefined the personal computer industry, the music industry, and what we understand as a telephone.

Why can’t this apply to the ARRL?  Is it time for the ARRL to stop the “50 years of tiresome repetition” that inspire only a rare few of the up and coming generations?  Isn’t it time for the ARRL to re/position itself for the Second Century?

ARRL CEO David Summer titled his article “Building the Second Century“.  He thinks of this in terms of the primacy of a donor action of a financial contribution.  Where is the concomitant organizational action – long overdue?  Building denotes concept, design, architecture, and construction.  Show us the blueprint for the ARRL Cathedral of the Second Century.  And only then, will major donors fund your enterprise.

Read more

The work of one such organizational architect

American Radio Relay League – The Future Mission
December 12, 2003 by Richard Kiefer, K0DK

Amateur Radio: Projecting an image of ham radio to 7 million people in 22 minutes

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The Opportunity

Episode 17 of Last Man Standing (wikipedia) depicted the use of Amateur Radio.  The ARRL gave the Amateur Radio community early notice that Amateur Radio would be depicted in a major prime time sitcom.  Many amateur radio folks were looking forward to watching this episode.

The episode aired in March, 2013.  For many hams, it was not what they expected.  One could ask, what sort of image did the script writers project of Amateur Radio and what do seven million people now think of Amateur Radio?  One could also ask, what is the power of the ARRL in influencing the public messaging and image of Amateur Radio?  The ARRL spends some portion of its budget on PR.  Did episode 17 of Last Man Standing enhance or detract from that messaging, “brand building”, and PR by the ARRL?

Impressions from the Amateur Radio community

You can look to the ARRL forums for some discussions.  Three months after airing, there are only 4 comments on the official ARRL forum.  Only three of those comments contained any real content and analysis.

Here they are:  (

“ABC Comedy Last Man Standing Episode 17”  It was disappointing in how Ham Radio was depicted.  This looked more like “CB Radio” and advertising for the equipment and the illegal Linear Amplifier shown. The average TV fan would assume that anyone could use these expensive radios to chat without having to type to their friends! According to the show, some of the writers/producers are Ham Operators and they know the requirements to become licensed. Being a 40+ year ARRL Life member, 20 WPM Extra Class licensed Ham, makes me wonder about the shows story line and how far they are going with it. Lastly, while Ham Operators enjoy the hobby, they also volunteer their services in disasters and various community events. KB3SM: a proud Old Ham…


Dear OM,

Our main page had a news story back on March 4th that announced the airing of this show. The spokesman of this show, who is an active Radio Amateur, warned us about the way Amateur radio was presented. From our news story, Mr. Amodeo says,:

“As a ham, I am very excited to be able to have an episode that presents our hobby in an upbeat and positive way,” Amodeo told the ARRL. “As a television producer, I am pleased to present a very funny episode for our more than 7 million viewers. This episode will feature more ham gear than seen in mainstream movies such as Frequency, Contact and Super 8 — all great films that had Amateur Radio in them. It’s worth noting that although hams will enjoy the episode, it was written with our 7 million non-ham viewers in mind. Please be prepared for some inconsistencies related to Amateur Radio, but enjoy the show nevertheless.”

I don’t watch this show, since I’m too busy to watch television, so I can’t comment on it. Wish we could come up with a show of our own, but we don’t have the resources.


Bob Allison


As a retired geezer, I did watch the show. It was a 30-minute sitcom, what do you expect? Answer: not much when it comes to “important content” regarding amateur radio — or anything else.

I noticed the “illegal” use of the radio by an unlicensed and unsupervised person, of course. It was irresponsible to say the least for a ham to leave his rig “live” in a house full of teenagers.

But I marveled at how the writers could weave radio and international QSOs into the plot in a very quick and (to the uninformed) believable way. I bet there are a lot of young people who now have a different impression of ham radio as an alternative to mindless texting, Facebooking, etc. It was artfully done, I’d say.

Not that I’m likely to watch again. I’m the wrong demographic!

If we had a “show of our own”, I’m sure it would not get 7 million viewers.

73 Martin AA6E
ARRL Technical Advisor
ARRL Test Engineer

Storyline and writers depiction of Amateur Radio

We can look a little deeper into what was depicted in this episode.

Amateur Radio was a sub-plot in the episode titled “The Fight”.  The daughter, Mandy was getting poor grades in high school.  So, the parents decided that the reason for this was that she was spending too much time using her computer and smart phone.  To remedy the situation the parents decide to take away Mandy’s computer and phone until she pulls up her grades.

Of course, Mandy recites the mantra of her generation when her parents take away her devices, “This is how people of my generation communicate and exchange ideas”.  Without her devices, Mandy is having withdrawal symptoms.

Mandy wanders into the basement trying to find out where her parents hid her devices.  On the shelf she comes across an old typewriter.  She mistakes the typewriter for a laptop with a missing monitor.

Across the room is her fathers Amateur Radio station.  It’s fired up and running.  So, she walks over to it, sits down, picks up the microphone and stats talking.

All the comments above made by Hams is dead on.  What she did was illegal – you need a license to use a ham radio or be “third party traffic” with a licensed amateur radio operation present at the radio.  Leaving a ham radio on and unattended  like that was irresponsible.  And finally, no one just walks up to a radio with a linear amplifier and just starts talking without doing some technical fiddling.

“Who Are You People?”

When Mandy starts talking on the Amateur Radio, other Hams come back to her.  She asks, “Who are you people?”  One ham responds that they are amateur radio operators and that people all over the world can hear what you say.  In response, Mandy says, “Oh, it’s like twitter but more advanced since you don’t have to type”

Mandy tries to use what she knows about Twitter on Ham Radio.  So, after talking, she “hash tags” her last sentence and gives permission to “Re-Ham” (Re-Tweet) what she just said.  The ham folks reply with “LOL Mandy.  Did I get that right?

The writers have set up the dialog to get a laugh out of the generation gap between Mandy (a millennial) and the amateur radio operators (Baby Boomer generation and older).  Both generations try to talk to each other across the generation gap by trying to use idioms and phrases they think the other generation would understand.  Mandy tries to adapt her generations terms and concepts (hash tags, re/tweet) to the language of hams (“Re/Ham that’).

The personal stories of World War II

Mandy is trying to do a paper for school on World War II.  A couple of Ham’s respond.

Mandy tells the hams she is working on a paper for school on World War II.  She gets two responses.  The first ham (Walter) says he was on Omaha beach (D-day invasion).  Mandy misunderstands this as Walter trying to tell her about his vacation.  The second ham, a woman says, “I remember the war like it was yesterday.  Better than yesterday since I’m in early stages of dementia.”

Again, the script writers play on the generation gap between Mandy and the amateur radio operators go get a laugh.  Anyone of age who was present in World War II to have personal stories to tell is now in their late 70’s or 80’s.  The writers throw in the comment by the Ham that she is suffering from “early dementia” for good measure – it got a laugh.

Mandy does her paper and her parents compliment her on the all the personal stories of World War II she has cited.  She got those stories from the ham radio operators who she talked to.  They were there in World War II.

The Take

This episode of Last Man Standing was seen by an estimated 7 million people.  What impression did the mainstream masses come away with of Amateur Radio?  That Amateur Radio is a legacy technology with a bunch of old people?  Perhaps.

The 2009 ARRL has set this strategic goal

The ARRL will have a membership in 2020 with 60% of the members being under the age of 40.

I have not seen them report on this progress.  But engaging young people is essential to their continued existence given that the average age for hams is late 50’s and into the early 60’s and 70’s.  Young people are heavily under represented in the Amateur Radio community.

Is this a crazy idea?

While watching episode 17 of Last Man Standing on the internet I got treated to a whole bunch of commercials.

I saw ads for Google, Verizon, Internet Explorer, Land Rover, Nokia, and Bank of America.

I was treated to an interactive ad for Nokia smart phone video stabilization.

There were two ads for cat food and one ad for a carpet company (Luna).

What I did not see was an ad for the ARRL, or for any amateur radio equipment.  Was there no company or organization associated with Amateur Radio for which it would make sense to squeeze a 15 second spot for Amateur Radio between the two cat food commercials or the carpet commercial for this episode where Amateur Radio played a role?

Of course, any ham will tell you, that it’s crazy to advertise amateur radio to the mainstream.  The key is to ask them why.  Further, given the episodes depiction of Amateur Radio an ad would be embarrassing to whatever company or organization placed it.

The lasting impression to  7 million people

Those 7 million people who watched the episode of Last Man Standing now know the term “Amateur Radio”.  They saw some nice (expensive) equipment.  They got a few laughs at Amateur Radio’s expense built on the generation gap between Mandy and the Hams.  Now they will go on with their life and forget about amateur radio or know it as some sort of quirky legacy technology ( in the same scene where they saw a typewriter) before the advent of always-on global communications available to nearly everyone on the planet.

For Amateur Radio to survive it’s about influence and impact.  But I think that the portrayal of Amateur Radio on Last Man Standing to the mainstream masses has now relegated Amateur Radio only to a technical curiosity easily forgotten.

As a ham, I am very excited to be able to have an episode that presents our hobby in an upbeat and positive way,” Amodeo told the ARRL…  It’s worth noting that although hams will enjoy the episode, it was written with our 7 million non-ham viewers in mind. Please be prepared for some inconsistencies related to Amateur Radio, but enjoy the show nevertheless.

How many chances does the ARRL get to reach 7 million non-hams in the Last Man Standing demographic with a 22 minute story at no cost to them?  This high stakes portrayal of Amateur Radio to the mainstream also gives us some insight into the ARRL’s influence (influence to a team of creative sitcom script writers?) and ability to mange the public image of Amateur Radio.

Written by frrl

June 3, 2013 at 2:33 am

Doing more; Doing more of the same; Doing just a little different

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I always read Seth Godin’s blog.  They entries and short, direct, to the point, and always give me something to think about.

Here is a recent posting

“I’m making money, why do more?”

Because more than you need to makes it personal.
Because work that belongs to you, by choice, is the first step to making art.
Because the choice to do more brings passion to your life and it makes you more alive.
Because if you don’t, someone else will, and in an ever more competitive world, doing less means losing.
Because you care.
Because we’re watching.
Because you can.

There is a difference between doing more and doing different.

Sometimes, doing more of the same is your biggest liability – whether its your personal life, a for-profit company, a non-profit organization, or a government agency.

I always encounter people in organizations that are intent on “doing more”.  This is their biggest mistake.  They do more of same expecting to get promoted.  The only thing “doing more” (of the same) in non-strategic job roles is going to get them is “more of the same” since few managers will promote someone who excels at being  “a workhorse”.

Doing more (of the same) didn’t keep most traditional booksellers from going out of business.  Amazon did it different.  Different beat more of the same.

For non-profits, doing more of the same when the social, economic, technological, cultural and other external realities are shifting under your feet is going to send you on a trajectory of irrelevancy.  Traditional organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the ARRL faces this challenge.  Do more of the same when the external context has radically changed –  or do different?

NASA essentially accomplished its biggest goal in 1969 by landing a man on the moon and returning safely back to earth.  What happens when you do it 6 more times?  Doing more of the same triggered some scrutiny by Congress with a report saying they needed a viable strategic plan, not to do more of the same, but to do more of something different – something that can engage the national vsion.  How about the US Post Office.  They would like to do more of the same (delivering physical postal mail) but seemingly most of the public doesn’t need more of the same.  Customers do different and the Post Office is now in decline because they are not doing different – what customers really need, want, and are willing to pay for.

The Take

Do more?  Ok.  But sometimes, doing more of the same is really doing less.

Doing a little different may grant you the privilege to do more of the same…  Then the chance to do different again…  and the process repeats.

Read more

Doing more of the same.  From one of the few books on the social history of amateur Radio “Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.”    Read the posting – ARRL: Does the ARRL need a Strategic Plan?

NASA – more of the same. From the office of the Inspector General ” These problems are not primarily of NASA’s doing, but the agency could craft a better response to the uncertainty, for example, by developing a strategic plan that includes clear priorities and a transparent budget allocation process. A better response would improve NASA’s ability to navigate future obstacles and uncertainties. An effective agency response is vital, because at a time when the strategic importance of space is rising and the capabilities of other spacefaring nations are increasing, U.S. leadership is faltering….”   NASA: What to do after mission accomplished

More of the same.. missing it allOf Telegraphs, Telephones, Radios, and Organizational Momentum

Why?  Group ThinkThe C-word: Consensus

Doing a little differentStupid Survives until smart succeeds

Written by frrl

March 4, 2013 at 6:17 pm

Trends for society through technology: What Jay-Z knows

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Mary Meeker from venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins recently gave a presentation at Stanford University on the the state of the web.  The slide deck is filled with industry trends and statistical data to back it up.

So, I went through the deck and if you’re paying attention to the world we live in, nothing in the deck should be a surprise to you.  Every presentation of this kind is backward-looking.  That is, it describes trends that everyone can observe.  These sorts of presentations do not “look around corners” nor do they speculate on a discontinuous or non-linear future.  Of course, these latter events in history represent the significant opportunities for society and culture.

All that being said, there is interesting trend data and statistics in Mary Meeker’s deck.

The linear societal doom

It was going good until I looked at the last few slides in the deck.  One slide shows US spending on entitlements and debt as percent of GDP.  Another slide shows the distribution of taxes among entitlements, defense, interest and other.  The US spends 57% of taxes on entitlements.  A third slide shows that entitlement and interest expense will exceed GDP by 2025.

What Jay-Z knows

We were kids without fathers… so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history.  We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves.  – Jay-Z

What Jay-Z knows is about peer groups.  Pick your peer group, don’t let it fall to chance.

Everyone who walks on the face of the earth encounters peer groups.  Each peer group has it’s own culture and set of standards.  Whether you are going to be successful in life (a sort of difficult self-referential idea inside the group) depends on what peer group you hang with.

We could probably all agree that being part of the entitlement system which represents 57% of tax revenue spending is, in a sense, making one group of people pay for the existence of another group of people.  If this entitlement peer group continues to grow then a well-functioning economy is unsustainable.  When entitlements and debt exceed GDP (Gross Domestic Product) then that will be the end of the “late great USA”.

Pick who will inspire you…

Reading the slide deck its easy to see that the folks who consume these sorts of decks believe that “the future has unlimited possibilities”.  And, as Jay-Z says, “we pick and choose… [those] who would inspire the world we are going to make for ourselves.”

But what about the other peer group?  What about the people who consume 57% of the taxes that other people pay?

There are people everywhere where the temptation of having someone else pay your way is too strong to resist.  I encounter these people from time to time.  They have little regret or embarrassment for their situation.  They would rather spend their time “working the system” to try to get benefits than spend their time positioning themselves to be productive members of society.

The Take

Read the Jay-Z quote again and then page through the slide deck linked below.

Who will you pick to inspire the world that we collectively will make?  Are you the “Meekers’s” or a recipient of the 57% of tax revenue?

Mary Meeker 2012 Internet Trends Year-End Update – Business Insider

Read some related postings

The Future of Digital… is not in a rear-view mirror

How do organizations deal with changes in the external environment?

ARRL: Does the ARRL need a Strategic Plan?

NASA: What to do after “Mission Accomplished”




Written by frrl

March 2, 2013 at 4:42 pm

ARRL: Does the ARRL need a Strategic Plan?

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Management is about generating yesterday’s results.  Leadership puts the leader on the line.  No manual, no rulebook, no uberleader to point the finger at when things go wrong. Leaders are vulnerable, not controlling, and they are taking us to a new place, not to the place of cheap, fast, compliant safety.

Strategy in the Corporate World

A few days ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave an interview to the UK Daily Mail.  In that interview, Zuckerberg talked about Facebook’s greatest challenge and missed opportunities.  “Facebook’s biggest challenge – and its greatest opportunity lies in mobile devices which is an area that the company did not pay much attention to until just last year.”

About a week ago I watched a Bloomberg video interview of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.  In that interview she talked about the future of Yahoo and the concept of the “interest graph” to compete in search against Google and Facebook

A few months ago Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman appeared at the quarterly earnings call to talk about the HP turnaround.  An extensive amount of material was presented detailing the turnaround and how all levels of the company will become aligned to the new strategy.

Everyone has one…

Needless to say, every public company has a strategy.  Strategy is driven by the recognition (diagnosis) of challenges and opportunities.  The nature of the challenges and opportunities sets the stage to formulate an  approach to best address the situation.  The approach translates into the development and execution of a coordinated set of actions across the enterprise along with metrics and measure to assess progress.  You can see this clearly played out in HP’s multi-year turnaround strategy made public at the recent quarterly earnings call.

In general, you can look in just about any quarterly report or annual report of a public company and find the strategy.  They differ in degree consistent with the diagnosis of the extent of the perceived challenge and opportunity in the external and competitive environment in which they operate.

Strategy in government agencies and charities

So why is it that NASA and the ARRL have such difficulty when it comes to formulating a strategy?


In late 2011, the Congress directed the NASA Office of Inspector General to commission a “comprehensive independent assessment of NASA’s strategic direction and agency management.”

In part, this is what it said:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is at a transitional point in its history and is facing a set of circumstances that it has not faced in combination before…

Other than the long-range goal of sending humans to Mars, there is no strong, compelling national vision for the human spaceflight program, which is arguably the centerpiece of NASA’s spectrum of mission areas…

Although gaps in U.S. human spaceflight capability have existed in the past, several other factors, in combination, make this a unique period for NASA. These include a lack of consensus on the next steps in the development of human spaceflight, increasing financial pressures, an aging infrastructure, and the emergence of additional space-capable nations—some friendly, some potentially unfriendly…

These problems are not primarily of NASA’s doing, but the agency could craft a better response to the uncertainty, for example, by developing a strategic plan that includes clear priorities and a transparent budget allocation process. A better response would improve NASA’s ability to navigate future obstacles and uncertainties. An effective agency response is vital, because at a time when the strategic importance of space is rising and the capabilities of other spacefaring nations are increasing, U.S. leadership is faltering…

The ARRL (American Radio Relay League)

The ARRL as an organization is nearly 100 years old.  Below is their self-diagnosed position on a strategic plan

Posted on the ARRL web site regarding CEO David Summers K1ZZ findings (emphasis mine)

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

Challenge and Opportunity

What NASA and the ARRL have in common when it comes to the difficulty in strategic planning revolves around the assessment of challenge and opportunity.  This has many dimensions.  Partial considerations are suggested below.

In a sense, for NASA, it’s a case of “mission accomplished”.  It’s fair to say that NASA’s biggest challenge and accomplishment was putting a man on the moon and bringing him safely back to earth.  This was the challenge that President Kennedy set for NASA on May 25, 1961.  NASA accomplished this goal in July 1969 with Apollo 11.  NASA repeated this accomplishment five more times with Apollo 12,14,15, and 17.

NASA Mission accomplished – six times over.  Now what?

For the ARRL, in a sense, just as in the case of NASA, for the ARRL it’s also “mission accomplished”.  I will have to rely on Richard Bartlett’s assessment in his book The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: a social history.

In the epilogue of the book, published in 2007, Bartlett provides an answer for those who would ask him the obvious question: If you published the book in 2007 then why end the history of amateur radio and the history of the ARRL in 1950?  What happened in Amateur Radio and the ARRL over the past 57 years which is not accounted for in the book?

Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.

ARRL Mission accomplished – back in 1950.  Now what?

NASA and the ARRL – Sources of identity

NASA and the ARRL have something else in common of a deeper nature.

The identities and goals of both organizations was set externally.

The Congress and the President of the United States created the national Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on October 1, 1958.  Amateur Radio was first governed by the U.S. Department of Commerce (the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor until March 1913), then by the Federal Radio Commission, and finally (in 1934) by the FCC.

The broad missions of each organization was set by other agencies

For NASA, the preamble to the act of congress was, “An Act to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the Earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.”   For Amateur Radio, the definition of the Amateur Radio Service was set in Part 97 Amateur Radio Service Subpart A–General Provisions §97.1 Basis and purpose.

If an organization gets its identity and goals outside of itself, then how much latitude does the organization have (or, think it has) when it senses that its basic purpose or goals need to evolve to stay relevant as the external environment changes?

Engineering and operations, not Strategy

The third aspect that the ARRL and NASA have in common is based on the combination of the two commonalities mentioned above.

Insofar as the identity of each organization was set externally outside the organization.  And, insofar as the goals of the organization were set externally outside the organization both organizations developed a culture of, what could be called, engineering and operations.  There was no need for either organization to develop the capability to re/define identify and or re/establish strategic goals.  The operating model of such an organization has a focus of delivering preestablished goals and sustaining ongoing operations.

In the corporate world this is never the case.  Corporations are constantly challenged to re/define their identity and re/position in the context of the ever-changing environment of challenges, opportunity, and competition.  The job of assessing and diagnosing the environment, framing an approach, and then aligning execution and resources is the job of the Chief Executive with oversight from the Board of Directors.  So, it’s no wonder that analysts, on a quarterly basis, will badger Zuckerberg, Mayer, Whitman, and every other CEO of a public company  into articulating their latest strategy.

The Take

What are the legitimate reasons for any organization to not have a strategic plan?

Well, probably the most obvious reason based on what is written above is that  an organization without a strategic plan does not recognize any challenge or opportunity in the context in which it operates.

If there is no new challenge and no new opportunity and you are satisfied with the organizations current performance then there is no need of any strategic plan.  One simply operates in a state of sustainability by repetition – for as long as you can maintain it within a budget, or for as long as you continue to not recognize a challenge or opportunity in the external environment,  or for as long as you can get away with it until stakeholders commission a “comprehensive assessment” (as in the case of Congress and NASA above) to find out why you don’t have a compelling vision of the future that can engage a national interest.

The last page on the last chapter of Richard Bartlett’s book ends with this:

Time passes on, and the old guard gives way to the newcomers.  In November 1948 death came to Kenneth Bryant Warner, who for nearly thirty years was secretary and general manager of the ARRL.  “It was Maxim who conceived our League, it as Warner  who breathed into it life and energy and vitality, whose balanced judgement and clear vision ensured its growth and success,” reads his obituary. “With his passing we suffer the loss of a great leader, an untiring servant in the cause of amateur radio.  p. 230 The World of Ham Radio 1901-1950

The way Bartlett ends his book begs the question as to why he thinks Amateur Radio and the ARRL entered a state of 57 years of unremarkable repetition.  Was it because every ounce of value was developed from Amateur Radio’s pre-defined identity and purpose?  Or, was it because in 1948 Amateur Radio and the ARRL ran out of great leaders like Bryant who “breathed into it life and energy and vitality… [ that] ensured its growth and success.” .

Bartlett does not give an answer – one way or the other.

Related Reading

NASA: What to do after Mission Accomplished
ARRL: Reaping the Whirlwind

The Boy Scouts recently celebrated its centennial
Read the intro to the Strategic Plan from Chief Executive Robert J. Mazzuca

As our first century of Scouting comes to a close, I am delighted to share with you our 2011–2015 National Council Strategic Plan. This document represents the confluence of our vital mission with a clear corporate direction and will be the cornerstone for our second century of Scouting. I am particularly proud of the grassroots support and feedback given by Scouters throughout the country that provided guidance as we developed objectives and goals that are in direct support of local councils. This investment made in setting our course may well be one of the most significant accomplishments in the history of our movement.

The National Council is committed to following this strategic direction with a very formal process; allocating manpower and financial resources appropriately, and setting course corrections as the environment dictates.

The stakes are simply too high to put forth anything but our best effort

And then read the 2011-2015 Strategic Plan

It’s amazing how many opportunities CEO’s get to differentiate themselves.

ARRL: Reaping the Whirlwind

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“Why end this book as of the year 1950?  It is because the story of ham radio’s development essentially takes place in the first fifty years of the twentieth century.  Having been created, accepted, regulated, and achieved permanent status by 1950, the story after that becomes one primarily of repetition.  The one great exception is in the area of technology, and save for minimal descriptions necessary to the story, that has not been our concern.
The World of Ham Radio, 1901-1950: a social history by Richard Bartlett

It is rather interesting that a book published in 2007 ends with the above Epilogue.  The author is essentially saying that, for him, the evolution of ham radio ended in the 1950’s  and so that is where his book on Amateur Radio will cease to tell the story.  There is nothing else to report other than “repetition”.  It’s a sort of “Mission Accomplished” and the date in history is 1950.

Look in the index of the book and you will find that the ARRL (American Radio Relay League) has about the most page references of any entry.  The ARRL figures prominently in the story of Amateur Radio since its founding at the beginning of the 20th century up until where the author ends the story.

A couple of weeks ago there was a segment on 60 minutes on the newspaper industry.  The newspaper industry just like traditional book sellers, travel agents, video rental, and all the rest have been hit by a technological revolution.  This technological revolution can be seen either as death through  irrelevancy or as harbinger of opportunity – depending on your perspective.


Newspapers are in trouble because they continue to do what they do, and what they always did – print newspapers no matter what the massive changes (opportunities) that were in front of them all along.  Traditional newspapers are in  trouble because they were in a state of repetition while the whole world changed, and continues to change, around them.  Printed newspaper are falling into a state of irrelevancy for an increasing large number of people.

In the case of the The Times-Picayune which was profiled on 60 Minutes the reason the paper gave for not changing was the traditional audience for the paper.  The idea being that they would be loyal to their current audience and the preferences this particular audience chooses to consume their news.  But, in the end, the current audience and their preferences could not sustain the ongoing full operation of The Times-Picayune.

The Take

There is an interesting parallel between the decision of the author of The World of Ham Radio published in 2007 to cut short the history of Ham Radio in 1950 and the newspaper industry.  Both the ARRL as a proxy for Amateur Radio and The Times-Picayune as proxy for newspapers in general are caught in decades long cycles of repetition.  Both remain loyal to their existing audience.  The audience for both is generational.

As for the The Times-Picayune newspaper they were forced into shutting down parts of the enterprise due to financial concerns brought about by change.  They were forced into this unplanned event based on financial drivers.

As for the ARRL, it seems to be a waiting game of how they deal technological change which makes Amateur Radio an interesting hobby in the context of our taken-for-granted always-on hyper global connectivity available to anyone with a smart phone  and the issue of their membership which shows a clear generational preference.

This is from ARRL CEO David Summer K1ZZ posted on the ARRL website:

Mr. Sumner reported on his research into “state of the art” strategic planning by large membership associations. Perhaps because of the negative impact of the financial upheavals of 2008 and the revolution in electronic publishing, at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it. The ARRL Board last updated the organization’s strategic plan in 2009 and normally would conduct an in-depth review three to five years later. The committee discussed the perceived shortcomings of past strategic planning efforts along with possible improvements. Without taking a formal decision the committee concluded that while strategic planning remains important to the ARRL, planning for a successful Centennial celebration in 2014 is the current priority. A fresh approach to strategic planning should be taken immediately afterward.

In 2014 the ARRL will celebrate its 100th anniversary.  One would wonder if the ARRL  Centennial celebration – its current organizational priority – is primarily a look back or a look forward.  If it’s a look forward then can the ARRL afford a delay in the Strategic Plan that sets its course for the future in the context of its membership which is in a generational bubble and modern taken-for-granted hyper-connectivity global communications technology available to anyone with a smart phone – not just those with an Amateur Radio license.

“at this time there appears to be no consensus among associations as to the value of strategic planning or the best way for associations to go about it“… is that what happened to the newspaper business in general and The Times-Picayune in particular?

Read more…

NASA: What to do after Mission Accomplished?

Written by frrl

January 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm

aHappyDeal: Direct from China with love & The Heart of Walmart

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“The China price.” They are the three scariest words in U.S. industry. In general, it means 30% to 50% less than what you can possibly make something for in the U.S. In the worst cases, it means below your cost of materials. Makers of apparel, footware, electric appliances, and plastics products, which have been shutting U.S. factories for decades, know well the futility of trying to match the China price. It has been a big factor in the loss of 2.7 million manufacturing jobs since 2000. Meanwhile, America’s deficit with China keeps soaring to new records. It is likely to pass $150 billion this year.

A while ago I wrote about the age of disposable amateur radios (read it).  At the time, I thought that the price of about $100 was the right range to be considered “disposable”.  That is, if the product breaks, falls into the water while camping, or gets vibrated to death on a motorcycle, well, who cares… just but another one.

The new improved “China Price” for Amateur Radio

While pursuing the internet I found a new and improved “China Price” for a hand-held Amateur Radio.  A few months ago, for me, the anchor price was $100.  Now, China has outdone themselves.  The new China Price for a hand-held amateur radio is $35.82.  And that is a radio with more features than the one I reviewed at the old “China Price” of $100.

So, as far as this particular category of product (hand-held Amateur Radio)  for the same $100 US you can now get almost 3 times as much stuff.

And isn’t more stuff better than less stuff ? … keeping in mind that the end goal of all production is consumption.

Destroying the Heart

I try, as much as possible, to avoid watching South Park.  But there are moments of weakness.  Many of the South Park episodes have a not-to-subtle message.

In a particular episode the kids want to kill the local WalMart store because it is destroying business in the town.  They are told that every WalMart store has a heart.  They are told that the heart is usually in the back of the store by the Television sets next to the cell-phones.  If they can destroy the heart they will kill WalMart.  They get to the back of the store and meet an entity that can take many forms…  they are just a few steps from the heart which they are intent on destroying…

See what happens in these 3 clips from the episode

Then visit

Ask yourself if this on-line store also a heart by the Television sets next to the cell-phones.

And, if you don’t like products from China destroying US Industry, do you now know what to do?

Written by frrl

August 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Amateur Radio: National Traffic System (NTS) – When all else fails. Or, When Twitter is down!

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There are a lot of people who read this blog that know nothing about Amateur Radio. Perhaps some of you are wondering about the doomsday scenario – no doubt to befall us at the end of the Mayan calendar in December 2012. Or perhaps it’s a lesser event, such as a hurricane or some other disaster.

No more global communication for you…

So what do you do when your smartphone is down? You know, that global communication device in your pocket. If you lose that no more texting, no more twittering, you can’t send a photograph, you won’t know your GPS location, you won’t be able to stream a movie. If you lose the capability of that smartphone device you won’t be able to pay for the mocha latte at Starbucks. If you lose the capability of that device you won’t be able to have a video chat with aunt Mary to see if she is OK. Forget the face-time video, you won’t even be able to talk to her.  Given this new situation, you won’t be able to update your Facebook status and alert your friends of your situation.  Surely,  in the context of our always-connected digital life, the world has ended.

In short, your global communication device and all the infrastructure that has to be working to support it – is gone.  What now?

Amateur Radio National Traffic System

Never fear. Amateur Radio has something called the National Traffic System (NTS). In brief (there are a lot of links to detailed info below) Amateur Radio operators, using a network of point to point private radio systems will get your all important message to just about anywhere in the world.

The NTS  is “idling” when not in use for the Mayan end of the world or a local or national disaster. Amateur Radio operators are sending self-generated messages to constantly ensure that the network of volunteer operators, the network, and the radio equipment is up and working.

How it works…

The Wikipedia has a somewhat colorful example of how the Amateur Radio National Traffic System works. Here it is:

This process is best explained by an example. Let’s say that someone in Minnesota wants to send a birthday greeting to Aunt Mary in California. They telephone their local ham friend and give him the message.

At 6:30 local time, the Minnesota ham attends (“checks in to”) the Minnesota Section net. One station there has been designated to accept all outgoing messages, and Aunt Mary’s message is sent to that station.
At 7:45, the station who received the message checks in to the Region net. This net consists of representatives from all the section nets in the region, and one station has been designated to accept all traffic that flows out of the region. Aunt Mary’s greeting will be sent to this station.
At 8:30, the station from the region checks into the Area net and sends Aunt Mary’s greeting to the designated representative from the Pacific area.
At 8:30 Pacific Time, the Pacific Area net meets. (All the area nets meet at 8:30 local time; since they are in different time zones there is no overlap.) At this point the process is repeated in the opposite order
The area representative sends the message to the appropriate region representative,
The region representative meets a later session of the region net and sends the message to the appropriate section representative,
The section representative meets a later section net and sends the message to the closest operator to Aunt Mary’s home
The final recipient calls Aunt Mary on the telephone and delivers the greeting.

Perhaps this sounds rather complex, but it really isn’t. Each net uses the same procedure and operating techniques, so as novice operators gain experience they can “graduate” from section to region to area nets. Every message is placed into the same format. The operation is disciplined but not unduly complex.

The NTS uses a variety of modes of Amateur Radio communication to transmit your message. Of special interest is the Brass Pounders. These are folks, that, with a bit of nostalgia, use Morse code and (brass) telegraph keys to transmit the message.

Try it for yourself…

You, the private citizen might want to try this NTS system out by contacting a local amateur radio operator and having them send a “Radiogram”.

What says “Happy Birthday” to Aunt Mary better than a Radiogram sent through the Amateur Radio National Traffic System and perhaps handled by a Brass Pounder? That, for sure, beats an e-Card from Hallmark or even a talking birthday card sent through the postal mail.

Read (lots) more

You can find out what the NTS is all about in this presentation.

Below are lots of references where you can read more about the NTS

What is the government doing to ensure survivability of communications – Presidential Executive Order

Written by frrl

July 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm

Main Trading Company – A Success Story

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In the past, I purchased some items from Main Trading Company.  I first found them on e-bay.  They had what I wanted at the right price.  So I made my purchase. I received more than what I expected, it was packed well, and the shipping was free on an item with a competitive price. Good for me; good for them.

From time to time they send me an e-mail telling me about new products or special deals. They do not overwhelm my e-mail box to the point that I un-subscribe to their mailings. All in all – A++. I would buy from them again and recommend them to others.

So, big deal. I am a happy customer, and they are selling stuff and making money. Case closed.

Adversity as Opportunity

But today I got another e-mail from them. This time it was different.

Richard Lenoir-KI5DX, the owner of Main Trading Company sent an e-mail to his customers with a success story.

It was his success story of how he, along with his wife, started a new business Main Trading Company after losing thier jobs.

I know this message is way too long and if I have not lost you so far I hope it doesn’t sound like we are bragging. We are not. This is just one amazing story and it has to be shared. We stand amazed every day. With all the negative stuff around us, we just feel we have to share this.

At the end of the email I wanted to name many folks that have helped us and made this business possible. The truth is, I cant. Every time I think I am at the bottom of the list , we come up with a few more. We have some pretty amazing friends, family and customers. Thank you so much for sharing this and making this ride possible. Without you it could have never happened.

So, I am posting this story, because I agree with Richard, that even though the economy is down and you may have lost your job, there is always a way to get back on your feet if you have an idea, drive, motivation, friends, and business sense. When faced with a job loss some people just give up, get depressed, or try to work the entitlement system living off other people’s wealth and labor. Other people use adversity as opportunity. I think “adversity as opportunity” is the story of Main Trading Company.

So, if you need a little inspiration, and the proof that it can be accomplished, here it is

Hello Friends!

Don’t click away just yet! We are not selling anything! We just wanted to take a minute to say thanks. It was three years ago today that we turned the lock for the first time and turned the first home made sign around at MTC. Many of you have been with us from the very beginning when we first started in the little restaurant building downtown. . Do you remember? We couldn’t afford a sign, shelving or anything. How we started is quite a long story as many of you know already. I hate to tell it again but it is really worth telling. We are amazed and very thankful to you, our customer.

In February 2009 I (Richard Lenoir) lost my job in sales. With the terrible local economy we didn’t know exactly what to do. We started buying a little surplus from home and putting it on ebay. Our ebay user name was maintradingcompany. Kind of a goofy name huh? I was going to DFW maybe once a week bring back a load of stuff to sell locally and on the net.

Many locals looked forward to me getting back to dig through the fun. Christy, my wife, worked in radio at the time and would help me unload the pick-up onto the patio. When she and the kids would leave for work and school in the morning our living room would be transformed into a warehouse. I would list all of the stuff and then pack and ship everything that sold the night before.

Packing peanuts get really messy. We still find them at times when we move something. I started bidding on several pallets at a time and was shocked when we won our first 8 pallet load. We ran into our first problem. How do we get eight pallets from DFW to our patio? We hired a moving company to move them. We continued to use the moving company for over a year to move the freight until we found out how to hire freight companies. We really thought we were big time when the driver showed up at our house and lowered the pallets down and rolled them up under our patio! I think Christy was actually having second thoughts although she never said a word. We sold all of that first load and got another. We then thought it would be a good idea, or at least I did, to put in a store front to let people look through the stuff before it went to ebay. After looking we found the perfect spot. It was the old Tropicana Restaurant Downtown Paris. It was just a little bigger than our living room. The owner agreed to rent it to us very cheap.

Christy and I had $2500, that is it. We were broke. We bought a few shelves, a computer and since we already had the assumed name certificate of Main Trading Company, we used that. We had some lettering done on the window and on June fourth we opened for business. Being a ham radio operator I wanted to carry a little used ham gear in the store too. As we sold our surplus we put the money back in inventory and equipment. We cut our living expenses way back. We prayed allot. We needed a little more capital. My parents helped out and I went to see our banker at the best local bank in town. I told him what we were doing and asked for a small loan. For some reason he let us have it. We were in big business now! With more product we started getting more walk in business.

Next step was the website. We had to have one. We got the site up and running and started putting our wares online. I remembered I had several hundred email address from promoting the Paris Hamfest so I started emailing many of you back then. Our business grew. We are not business people at all but we believe in treating

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Written by frrl

June 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Saturday Night Live on Amateur Radio

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A thousand television channels and nothing to watch?  A million movies on Netflix and nothing interesting?  Every track of music every recorded available to you on-demand and nothing you want to listen to?

Why not listen to the Amateur Radio Liberty Net?  Don’t have a radio?  – not a problem.  Not available when it’s on live on Saturday night? – not a problem, you can listen to recordings of past Liberty Nets anytime.

Check out The Liberty Net – live on Saturday night.  Not a ham?  That’s good, listen anyway.  Participate over the internet via live chat.

The rise of wireless also set off a popular movement to democratize media, as hundreds of thousands of “amateur operators” took to the airwaves. It was the original blogosphere. “On every night after dinner,” wrote Francis Collins in the 1912 book Wireless Man, “the entire country becomes a vast whispering gallery.”

Here’s your chance to listen to the legacy of the  wireless “whispering gallery” of Amateur Radio that Collins wrote about 100 years ago.

Written by frrl

May 6, 2012 at 3:25 am

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The Answers: Why pay $1,300 for an unbuilt Heathkit? Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

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The Human side of Technology

Behind those people who have a passion for what they do – be that engineering or otherwise – there is sometimes a very human story. It’s too bad that education in electronics and engineering do not tell any human stories of the people behind engineering.

You can find these stories but they are not in the books that engineers typically read or the education that is provided in formal engineering courses.

Why would anyone pay $1300 for an un-built Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver ?

So, on my perusal of e-bay one day I saw that someone bid in excess of $700 for a un-built Heathkit radio. Up for bid was a Heathkit GR-54 General Coverage Communications Receiver. I picked up that same radio for $25. Why would anyone bid $700+ for a 40+ year old box parts?

Well, the e-bay auction closed with a winning bid of $1,378.57.

I posted an article about the auction on this site. The winning bidder of the Heathkit GR-54 found us.

So, do you want to know why someone would pay $1,300+ for a box of parts?

Here is the explanation of the winning bidder, Mark Grandy WD8RJJ, on why he bought the radio. It’s a great story

I am surprised to find comments regarding the GR-54 which I purchased a few years ago. Yes, I’m the guy who paid almost $1400.00 for a box of parts…. I thought you’d like to know why.

Read the entire article and Mark’s story here

Why be a Broadcast Engineer?

That question was posed to me this afternoon by a coworker. It is, indeed, a good question. Certainly, broadcast engineering is more of a vocation than a career, especially where it concerns radio stations. Why would anyone work for low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.

Further, in this risk adverse, zero defect, micromanaged environment, what is the upside to being a radio, RF or broadcast engineer?

Another great question.  And, another great answer from Paul Thurst

Read Paul’s reason  here and visit his excellent website here:

Too bad books on electronics engineering do not tell the human side of technology. Too bad many engineers don’t seek out these stories and preserve them.  Too bad that executives as well as society and media sometimes casts engineering into the stereotype of geek and nerds (read) (read)

What could be learned if more engineers could tell stories like Mark and Paul?  There is more to engineering than a passion for technology and this is the reason that certain people persist in vocations, careers, and jobs even, in some cases, as Paul puts it “[they work for] low wages, long hours, little or no recognition, 24/7 on call, and or unappreciative management.  Or, even as Mark demonstrated, they pay $1300+ for an old box of parts.  For Mark the Heathkit which he bought has far more value as emotion and remembrance than simply a box of parts from a once great company.  The value, in non-technical terms, is the difference between what he paid ($1,300) and the salvage value of the parts, perhaps $25.

Where are the rest of these stories of passion, dedication, and a drive for excellence?

Written by frrl

March 31, 2012 at 4:02 pm

When all else fails

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Part of the relevancy of Amateur Radio in the 21st Century is the idea that “When all else fails” Amateur Radio will be there.

From the ARRL

Despite the complexity of modern commercial communications – or perhaps BECAUSE they are so complex – Amateur Radio operators are regularly called upon to provide communications when other systems are down or overloaded.

You can check out what the ARRL has to say here:

What is the “else” in…When all else fails?

Did you ever wonder what has to fail? Curiosity led me to find the Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan for my state – Illinois

Here is the scope of that plan

The Statewide Communications Interoperability Plan, or SCIP, serves as the operational blueprint for the conceptualization, procurement, implementation, and usage of interoperable communications by Illinois’ public safety agencies and non- governmental/private organizations. The development of the SCIP was a cooperative effort by a consortium of federal, state, and local public safety practitioners working through the Illinois Terrorism Task Force’s Communications Committee and the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee. Annual reviews/updates to the SCIP will be conducted under the auspices of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The SCIP is much more than a user’s guide to radio communications. The plan outlines Illinois’ interoperability vision, its mission, and the goals, objectives, and strategic initiatives that will be employed to achieve that vision. It establishes standard operating procedures that will be followed by public safety practitioners when responding to disasters or significant incidents and underscores Illinois’ adherence to the tenets of the National Incident Management System. The plan sets forth the methodology that will be used to assess Illinois’ current interoperable capabilities, defines the governance role of the Statewide Interoperability Executive Committee, and details funding strategies to achieve Illinois’ interoperability vision.,, Most importantly, however, the SCIP demonstrates Illinois’ uncompromising commitment to bring communications interoperability to all of its governmental/non- governmental public safety agencies.

It’s a fascinating read.  In this plan you will find tons of frequencies providing the opportunity to “listen in” on drills and actual emergency communications  (link)

The Bigger Picture

The bigger picture, for Illinois, is located here

Illinois Emergency Management Agency

Disaster Preparedness, Response & Recovery

And then there is FEMA.

Check out the National Response Framework

FEMA offers more than 100 training courses on-line for free

So how does all this fit in with Amateur Radio?

Read the Public Service Communications Manual from the ARRL

Here are some resources from an Illinois ARES group

Mystery Projects – FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters

And finally, this  article from the Radio Engineering Blog

What is the deal with those FEMA/DHS AM backup transmitters?

Back last February, it was reported that FEMA/Department of Homeland Security was mysteriously constructing prepackaged AM transmitter buildings at various PEP (Primary Entry Point) transmitter sites across the country as something call “Primary Entry Point Expansion.” These buildings contain a 5 KW Nautel AM transmitter, EAS gear, satellite equipment (the exact equipment list is undisclosed) and a backup generator all in a shielded (Faraday Cage), prefabricated building placed inside of a fenced in compound at the station’s transmitter site. The buildings are being put in place, but not connected to anything in the outside world. They are planning to have about 80 (the number keeps increasing) of these structures in place when the project is completed by mid 2013.

Read the entire posting here –

The Take

If all the above is the “else” … and  “If all else fails” I’m not sure I want to be around. Or perhaps, if all else fails, none of us may have a choice to be around or not.

Read a related article on this site –

Written by frrl

February 4, 2012 at 7:44 am

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Engineering Radio

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For those interested the technical aspects of Radio… and the really big stuff of commercial broadcast transmitters… and radio history … and some editorial comments thrown in for good measure… then this is a heck of a good find… and a tremendous effort by Paul Thurst…

Check out this web site –

Written by frrl

February 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm

A 1960’s Astatic D-104 Mic in the 21’st century – a real baby boomer

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I made a pass through my basement to see what “valuable radio artifacts” (some call it junk) I could unearth.  I discovered a couple of Astatic D-104 Microphones.  (See more old Mics).  These Mics were made a long time ago and Astatic has a rich history going  back to 1933.

Here is a bit of history from the Wikipedia on Astatic and the D-104

Introduced in 1933, the Astatic model D-104 was popular for its high frequency response which resulted in very intelligible audio.

Its high output voltage was characteristic of crystal elements and its high impedance allowed for direct grid input. The early D-104 mikes used a 1″ thick case and have a large ID tag along with tapped holes for “ring & spring” mounts. The case thickness was reduced in April 1937 and smaller tags were then used and the ring holes eliminated. The “grip” switch stand (“G” Stand) was introduced in January 1938 but didn’t become popular until much later. The early “G” stand bases were gloss black with metal ID tag.

The D-104 continued in production with little change until the 1960s when a solid-state amplifier was added to the “G” stand. In 1976, an eagle and shield was added to the rear cover to commemorate the US Bicentennial. Other variations appeared from time to time until 2001, when production ceased, 68 years after the first D-104 was offered. [4]

The D-104 is often used by CB radio hobbyists and vintage amateur radio enthusiasts as part of their operating activities.

I bought the D-104’s about 5 years ago for use with my collection of vintage Kenwood (see them) and Heathkit (see them) radios.

It Worked the last time I used it !!

Once unearthed I found that one of the D-104’s worked and one did not.  “It worked that last time I used it” is a familiar phrase well known by all  who attend hamfests or flea markets.  At a hamfest or flea market the seller wants to dispose of items in the most expedient way possible.  To say that it worked the last time they used it is a good use of plausibility deniability for the seller (but bad for you the buyer).  If you’re a seller, don’t test the item.  Ignorance is bliss… and this blissful strategy could make a fast sale.  If you are a buyer, don’t forget to ask the seller about the 30/30 guarantee – 30 feet or 30 seconds.  Doubtful you will get any more than this.

But, both D-104’s really did work that last time I used it.  Really, no kidding. So I have plans for both of these D-104 microphones.  Use one.  Gut one and find out why it doesn’t work – (stay tuned for a posting on this)

The D-104 on a modern radio – the Yaesu FT-7800

The Astatic D-104 was designed in the age of tube radios which require a high impedance microphone.  High impedance is usually 5,000 – 10,000 ohms.  Modern solid state radios generally want a microphone of about 600 ohms impedance.

Would the Astatic D-104’s work with my modern Yaesu FT-7800 dual band VHF/UHF radio?   (read my review of this radio)

Nothing like giving it a try.

Spit and Bailing Wire

Since I was not sure if it would work I jury rigged a setup using a terminal strip, alligator clips, a telephone extension cable, and some paper clips.  It took about 10 minutes to set this up.

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Written by frrl

January 28, 2012 at 8:24 am

700,000 Amateur Radio Operators in the US? Perhaps the real number is 157,000

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700,000 Licensed Amateur Radio Operators… ??

So, at the start of 2012 there are supposedly 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the United States. Let’s ask some questions…  Is this more or less than in previous years?  What are the historical trends over the past decade? Over that past few decades?  How do certain events affect the number of licensed operators?  What about dropping the code requirement in 2007 – what measurable effect did that have?  What about other countries – Australia, Germany, Japan, and so on.  How large is the population of Amateur Radio operators in those countries and how do those numbers and trends compare with the United States?

If you are a stakeholder with the ARRL then you can ask even more questions… What are the trends in the ARRL sections and ARRL divisions?  How well do the ARRL membership numbers track the growth or decline of licensed amateur radio operators in the US?  What percent of the amateur radio operator population does the ARRL capture as members?  Can you measure the success of the ARRL by comparing the number of members against the number of licensed amateur radio operators in the US?

What other questions can you ask and answer if you had a load of historical amateur radio licensing data and some good statistical analysis?

Tons of Amateur Radio license data at your fingertips

There’s an informative website that provides detailed statistical analysis of Amateur Radio licenses

Some of the ready-made reports are:

  • Australian Amateur Statistics (thru 30 June 2010)
  • German Amateur Radio Statistics (thru 31 December 2008)
  • Japanese Amateur Statistics (thru 31 March 2009)
  • Spanish Amateur Statistics (thru 31 December 2008)
  • U.K. Amateur Statistics (thru 31 March 2009)
  • U.S. Amateur Statistics (thru 16 January 2012)
  • U.S. Amateur Radio Licensing Trends
  • Average Life Table
  • US Totals

For US Amateur Radio, you can drill down into ARRL Divisions and Sections

  • Geographical Charts: Aug 1999 → Jun-2011
  • ARRL Divisions Map
  • ARRL Sections Map
  • States Map

So, if you want the skinny on the statistics of Amateur Radio licensing sliced and diced in all sorts of ways plus the capability of doing you own data mining and reporting then the site URL above is for you.

Discovery, Insight, and Decision making – Turning data into information

Having the raw  data on licensing along with the statistical analysis might give insight into answering some interesting questions and pose some new questions.  It’s all about discovery and turning raw numbers (data) into information that can inform decisions and provide insights.

700,000 Licensed Amateur Radio Operators – What does it really signify?

As of the beginning of 2012 there were 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators in the US. An amateur radio license is good for 10 years before expires.  If the license is not renewed then your are off the list and are not counted in the 700,000.

But this number of 700,000 may be misleading depending on what you think it signifies.  This number does not represent the number of active amateur radio operators – and it’s the active people that matter- not the inactive.  Many people may have gotten a license for the Amateur Radio service, gave Amateur Radio a run around the block, and then lost interest after a short period of time.

This loss of interest, the fact that they have no intention to renew the license, and the 10 year longevity of the license means that this 700,000 number,  if taken to represent that number of people active in Amateur Radio, would be misleading.

The 700,000 number really does not mean a lot if the majority of them have lost interest. It may be of benefit to some to quote large numbers – 700,000 in this case – to try to make a case for significance.  But when it comes to “boots on the ground”, “showing up”, and “making a difference” it’s only the active people that count.

So, if the number is not 700,000 (a best case high-water mark) then what is it?

The ARRL as the only (national) game in town

One clue on how to find the number of active Amateurs in the US might be to look at the membership of the ARRL. The ARRL is the American Radio Relay League. The ARRL is the “only game in town” as a national organization incorporated as a 501 C(3) charity that is dedicated exclusively to the advancement of Amateur Radio.

According to the ARRL’s strategic plan its mission is:

To promote and advance the art, science and enjoyment of Amateur Radio.

And the ARRL has a Big Hairy Audacious Goal:

Amateur Radio will be recognized as a valuable, innovative, technical and public service avocation.

The ARRL, as a national organization, is the public face of Amateur Radio in the United States.  This is the value proposition from the 2006 Strategic Plan:

  • Develop strategic alliances, coalitions, and relationships with a varied of public, private, and not-for-profit organizations to advance Amateur Radio.
  • Maintain personalized relationships with key, government decision- makers and agencies at the national, state and local level.
  • Build a strong strategic position and wide recognition as the credible source of Amateur Radio information.
  • Develop positions on key issues of interests and importance to members and the Amateur Radio community.
  • Become branded for being a powerful advocate and voice for Amateur Radio.

You can read more about the ARRL on their web site:

So, of the 700,000 licensed Amateur Radio operators can we get a clue as to the number of active licensee’s from additional statistics based on ARRL membership? Since the ARRL is the only (national) game in town then the hypothesis is that active hams gravitate to the ARRL – there is seemingly little other choice in the United States.

ARRL Membership Statistics

The ARRL publishes membership statistics in its Annual Reports.  These Annual Reports are available on their web site back to 2002.  So, based on the number of licensed operators in the US (from the first web site mentioned above) and the membership of the ARRL (as reported in their Annual Reports) perhaps we can combine the two sets of data and mine some interesting information and ask some new questions.

Here are our current questions

  1. How many of the 700,000 license amateur radio operators are actually active?
  2. Does the membership numbers of the ARRL give us an insight into the true number of active amateur radio operators?

Here is the analysis based on the data provided on the web site above and data gleaned from the ARRL Annual Reports.

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Written by frrl

January 21, 2012 at 5:53 am

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Amateur Radio – Reality Check from the Wife

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I snagged this on YouTube


The above video was created by K6FRC.  Web site –
This must be a tolerant wife (cache web site pages) –

Written by frrl

December 29, 2011 at 2:33 am

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Resources for learning about electronics

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Folks learning about electronics on their own might want to check out this great site.

You’ll find theory, practice, experiments, video’s, and a very active discussion forum

Folks interested in Radio might want to check this specific link inside the site above (Radio and Communications)

Written by frrl

September 10, 2011 at 12:41 am

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Pedagogy: Learning – and failing to learn – about Electronics

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I always like this quote from major league baseball player and manager Yogi Berra –

“You can see a lot just by observing.”

Many people say the world isn’t  interesting.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The world is full of interesting things – if you just take the time to look.

For some, electronics is a hobby.  For these folks, they are not professionals; they do not have four-year college degrees in electronics or electrical engineering.  They just want to learn about electronics as a hobby.  Over the years I’ve watched individuals (including myself) learn about electronics as a hobby.  Generally, they try to do it on their own, outside a classroom setting – flying by the seat of their pants.

How do the variety of individual go about learning about electronics?  Here is where I appeal to Yogi Berra – “You can see a lot just by observing.”

By careful unscientific and ad hoc observation, this is what I’ve observed over the years regarding people trying to learn about electronics outside a traditional classroom setting.

1. Lost-in-time Thomas Edison approach.  Thomas Edison said, “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.”  For this set of individuals, learning about electronics is more about doing rather than thinking.  They have the “lets see what happens” approach.  They try one thing then another thing and observe the results.  This is what Thomas Edison did when he was trying to find what would work as a filament in a light bulb.  From Edison, “Before I got through, I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material.”

I call this approach by those trying to learn electronics as the “Lost-in-time” Thomas Edison approach because, 100+ years later, electronics is a mature disciple.  At the level of pedagogy, there is no real need to “experiment” at a very basic level,  For example, if you want to learn how to bias a transistor for a simple class A audio amplifier do you really want to just try combinations of resistors until it works?  How many combinations will you try?  “Before I got through, I tested no fewer than 6,000…”

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Written by frrl

September 4, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Review: KG-UV Commander – Free programming software for the Wouxun

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Read a related posting –

Software is also available for Yaesu and ICOM – click for more information –

If you have a WOUXON radio you will definitely want to download and take a look at KG-UV Commander from Jim Mitchell KC8UNJ. This program is free to use and available at

At the time of this writing, there are two big advantages of KG-UV Commander over the software provided (free) from WOUXUN

  1. The ability to import/export frequency lists in standard CSV (Comma Separated Values) format. There are two obvious implications of this. First, you can save/archive different frequency lists ready for upload “at the click of a button”. Second, CSV is a standard format that can be manipulated by standard spreadsheet programs – such as EXCEL and Open Office (free).
  2. The ability to set the band limits for the radio

Using KG-UV Commander is a snap

Note:  This posting is primarily directed to an Amateur Radio audience.  No technical background will be given

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Written by frrl

September 3, 2011 at 7:05 am

Review: Wouxun KGUVD1P dual band radio – the age of disposable amateur radios?

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Are we entering the age of throw away hand-held Amateur Radio’s?

At a price of about $100 the dual band Wouxun radios look like throw-away’s. There is a place for a these cheap radios just like there is a place and a market for cheap (inexpensive) cameras, cell-phones, and any other consumer electronics device that one might want to use in high risk situations.

For example, you might want to take an inexpensive camera on a camping or fishing trip. You might make a decision to put a $100 camera at risk but not a $1500 digital SLR. You might want to listen to music when you workout at a health club or running.  But perhaps you leave your $400 Apple iPod Touch at home and take the $30 generic MP3 player instead –  just in case it gets dropped, smashed, or otherwise destroyed.

The same idea can be applied to the Wouxun family of dual-band hand-held radios. At about $100 these are nearly disposable radios that can provide some good functionality at low-cost. These are radios that you can take on camping trips, fishing trips, base jumping or any other activity where the outcome and risk to consumer electronics devices might be uncertain – at best.

Note: This posting is primarily directed to an amateur radio audience.  No technical background information is given.

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Written by frrl

August 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm

FLDigi: Decode HF Digital modes with no cables and maybe no radio

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I heard  a few people talking about a program called FLDigi.  So I thought I would see what it’s all about.

The good news is that FLDigi runs on lots of platforms – FreeBSD™; Linux™, OS X™ and Windows™.  The better news, if you just want to listen/decode the digital modes, is that you might not even need any messy connections between your PC and your radio.  And, if you are really clever, you might not even need a radio.  So, “in the best of all possible worlds”, Dr. Pangloss, you can decode real-time digital activity on the HF bands without even having a radio.  Imagine that!

Note:  This posting is primarily for Amateur Radio folks.  No technical background on digital HF modes is provided

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Written by frrl

August 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Review: La Crosse Technology BC-9009 AlphaPower Battery Charger

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Update: 20 Aug 2011:  This charger has the pesky under-voltage/reverse-charged problem.  That is, if you put in a battery that is below a certain threshold voltage the charger shows “null” in the LCD display and will not charge the cell.  The solution that I found that works is to use a “dumb” charger and put a charge on the cell (about 10 min) then put it in the BC-9009.  Smarter charger will pulse charge the cell at very low current.  If the cell takes a charge beyond some threshold then a standard charge cycle will begin.

You probably have a collection of old battery chargers around.  I bought a new charger each time I acquired some sort of unique battery technology.  For example, I have a collection of Rayovac 15 minute charge 2000 ma batteries; those require a special charger.  Nothing like pumping massive amounts of current into a battery.  I have a collection of 1 hr charge Duracell batteries  and that came with a special charger.  And then I have a whole history of Ni-Cad technology batteries and chargers.  I have a drawer full of battery chargers.

All the chargers I have a pretty much do the job but they do it secretly and silently.  They don’t tell you much about anything.

So, when I bought some new Sanyo Eneloop batteries I thought I might upgrade my charger.  When I ordered the Eneloop batteries from, Amazon was johnny on the spot with a few recommendations.  One of the recommendations was the La Crosse Technology BC-9009 AlphaPower Battery Charger.  Now here is a charger that wants to tell you things.

At a price point of $45 you get a lot of stuff.  Not only do you get the battery charger but you get a collection of batteries, battery holders, and a nice bag.

Included with the package is four AA 2600 mA batteries, four AAA 1000 mA batteries and 8 Battery carriers for C and D cells.  The advantage of the carriers is that it allows you to use an AA battery in a C or D battery form factor.

My GE Super Radio wants four D cells.  I could never bring myself to buy rechargeable D-cells so the radio has only run on AC power.  Now, with the D-cell carriers included with this charger I can put the (included) 2600 mA AA batteries in the GE Super Radio using these carriers.

Did I mention the bag?  Nice bag.  I think I will use it to carry by digital camera and accessories.

So what’s the big deal with the La Crosse Technology BC-9009 AlphaPower Battery Charger?

The big deal is that at a $45 price point you get this

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Written by frrl

August 14, 2011 at 4:38 am

Radio Society of Great Britain – Survey

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Stumbled upon this 2011 survey done by RSGB

Very interesting profile of Amateur Radio operators in GB

The beef –

The site –

Get a free issue of RSGB’s monthly magazine –

What the heck is Amateur Radio? –

Written by frrl

July 26, 2011 at 5:07 pm

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FUNCube Dongle and the Entrepreneurial Adventure

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The FUNcube Dongle is a USB-based Software Defined Radio capable of reception of 64MHz to 1.7GHz.

Far more interesting (or equally interesting) is the entrepreneurial story behind this product.

Entrepreneurs should check the archives on the blog site below going back to October 2010. Reading the history of this product gives you an insight into how products unfold from design to manufacture.  There are also some great pictures of the elements that go into the manufacturing process.

Just a few sample’s

The main site –

Which is a larger part of this –

Dave of EEVBlog did a great video on the manufacturing of short runs of prototype products like this leading to full production runs.  Very long, and detailed, but worth the watch if you are an entrepreneur manufacturing a product or if you want to see how this all works.

More Resources

Watch some videos

Forum Discussions

Written by frrl

July 20, 2011 at 5:53 am

The question of the Millennium for Amateur Radio

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I stumbled on this in an amateur radio discussion forum

The question –

I don’t get it. I know people, friends even, who shrug their shoulders when I talk about having talked to somebody in another country. “Big deal, I can do that on the Internet”. Well sure, anyone can do it on the Internet, but can you say that you sent a radio signal directly from your house? They insist that ham radio is obsolete, that cell phones are way better, and that we don’t do anything useful. I try to tell them about Skywarn, about public services I’ve helped out with, and they still just act like it’s no big deal. I just leave them with “Well, if we’re so useless, then what were hams doing during 9/11? The police and fire repeaters went down with the towers, as well as cellular services. Hams were helping out with communications.”. They still just shrug their shoulders. Then again, these same people shrug their shoulders when I say I make my own beer. “Big deal, you can get beer at the grocery store”. (faceplant)

A response posted in the same forum –

My hands-down favorite description of Amateur Radio is three paragraphs by Ernest Lehman, K6DXK (SK July 5, 2005) from his novel “The French Atlantic Affair”. The following breathless prose about the wonder of Amateur Radio is the opening of Chapter Seven of the novel. Memorize it and then recite it with appropriate passion when someone asks what you like about Amateur Radio.

Yes, Dr. Berlin, but what do you hams talk about? Is what they usually said to him, and he’d realize then that they’d never understand, and he’d change the subject. But sometimes, though rarely, he’d come across someone who really dug his hobby, and then you couldn’t get him off. He’d go on and on about the feeling it gave him of being able to move himself through time and space, annihilating time and distance, his mind, his body, his consciousness out there roaming the planet like some cosmic spirit, and the sense of power, benign power, not the evil kind, knowing that his voice was rattling a loudspeaker in a far-off room in Bombay, or going out through an open window in Johannesburg to someone walking by on the street outside, or filling a room carved out of ice below the frozen wastes at the South Pole.

The here and now, the physical and geographical limitations that all beings are stuck with, would fall away from him as he immersed himself in the action on twenty meters on a good night in spring when the sunspots were dancing and the ionosphere was in a reflective mood and the short path was open to Europe and the Middle East and the Antarctic and Australia, and maybe Africa would come sneaking in the other way around, and later the Far East and Indonesia, you never knew what. He’d close his eyes, or gaze hypnotized at the speaker, and he’d listen to them and talk to them, voices in the night, his night, that is, with the moon shining into the den through the great beam antenna that rose from the lawn outside…

…And while it was his night in California, it was tomorrow morning in Oslo and Hil was getting ready to shovel the snow from in front of the garage so he could go to work, and in Brisbane it was late tomorrow afternoon and Tommy had just gotten home from a rainy day at the lab, and Toshi in Kyoto had just finished tomorrow’s dinner, and then later, Phil was talking to him from his car speeding through the Malaysian jungles to pick up Margaret at her French lesson in Penang, and Phil would lower the car window and let him hear the street noises of Penang even as he sat in his den in the house in Bel Air while the guy right next door was listening to the eleven o’clock news on Channel 2, …

… for God’s sake, and you ask me what do we talk about? We don’t talk about a [darned] thing and it’s terrific.

So, what are we to make of this?

Why does the Millennial generation have a hard time understanding Amateur Radio?

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Written by frrl

July 17, 2011 at 3:00 am

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Fire Bottles: The 1928 RCA Radiola 18 and the Tuned Radio Frequency Design

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 So, what are some of the historic events of 1928?

  • February 25 – Charles Jenkins Laboratories of Washington, D.C. becomes the first holder of a television license from the Federal Radio Commission.
  • March 21 – Charles Lindbergh is presented the Medal of Honor for his first trans– Atlantic flight. 
  • April 12–April 14 – The first ever east–west transatlantic aeroplane flight takes place from Dublin, Ireland, to Greenly Island, Canada, using German Junkers W33 Bremen.
  • June 17 – Aviator Amelia Earhart starts her attempt to become the first woman to successfully cross the Atlantic Ocean (she succeeds the next day). Wilmer Stultz was the pilot.
  • September 25 – Paul Galvin and his brother Joseph incorporate the Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (now known as Motorola).
  • September 11 – Kenmore’s WMAK station starts broadcasting in Buffalo, New York.
  • November 18 – Mickey Mouse appears in Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey Mouse cartoon released, but the first sound film.
  • December 21 – The U.S. Congress approves the construction of Boulder Dam, later renamed Hoover Dam.

Oh yes, and the RCA Corporation built and sold the RCA Radiola 18 Tuned Radio Frequency Receiver

Were you around in 1928?  Probably not.  But the antique radio I just acquired was there to hear it all.  You can just imagine a family, “watching the radio”, as they listened to the news of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Boulder Dam, and of course Mickey Mouse.  1928 was just a few years after the first radio broadcasts.  You an imagine that radio broadcasting was as exciting and full of possibilities as was the beginning of the public Internet in the mid 1990’s.

If you own one of these older radio’s you have at least three things.  First, you have a piece of history.  Second, you have an example of early radio receiver design that is not around any more.  And third, you have a usable radio that you can use everyday.  The AM broadcast spectrum has not changed much since 1928 so your vintage radio will still be able to receive the AM broadcast band as it exists today.

What people are willing to pay for these radio’s… well… depends on how much you value history.  There is a link below of a mint condition RCA Radiola 18 for sale for $450.  Lucky for me, I was able to get my fully restored and working RCA Radiola 18 and matching speaker for just $50.

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Written by frrl

June 23, 2011 at 2:00 am

Check it out – Electronics Engineering Video Blog

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Check out this blog –

David L. Jones is an electronics design engineer based in Sydney Australia.

In this blog he shares some of his 20 years experience in the electronics design industry in his unique non-scripted naturally overly enthusiastic and passionate style.

Dave started out in hobby electronics over 30 years ago and since then has worked in such diverse areas as design engineering, production engineering, test engineering, electro-mechanical engineering, that wacky ISO quality stuff, field service, concept design, underwater acoustics, ceramic sensors, military sonar systems, red tape, endless paperwork trails, environmental testing, embedded firmware and software application design, PCB design (he’s CID certified), power distribution systems, ultra low noise and low power design, high speed digital design, telemetry systems, and too much other stuff he usually doesn’t talk about.

He has been published in various magazines including: Electronic Today International, Electronics Australia, Silicon Chip, Elektor, Everyday Practical Electronics (EPE), Make, and ReNew.

Few people know Dave is also a world renowned expert and author on Internet Dating, a qualified fitness instructor, geocacher, canyoner, and environmentalist.



Written by frrl

June 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

uBeam – a new take on Wireless Electricity. Tesla 100 years later

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“Instead of depending on electrodynamic induction at a distance to light the tube . . . [the] ideal way of lighting a hall or room would . . . be to produce such a condition in it that an illuminating device could be moved and put anywhere, and that it is lighted, no matter where it is put and without being electrically connected to anything.

I have been able to produce such a condition by creating in the room a powerful, rapidly alternating electrostatic field. For this purpose I suspend a sheet of metal a distance from the ceiling on insulating cords and connect it to one terminal of the induction coil, the other terminal being preferably connected to the ground. Or else I suspend two sheets . . . each sheet being connected with one of the terminals of the coil, and their size being carefully determined. An exhausted tube may then be carried in the hand anywhere between the sheets or placed anywhere, even a certain distance beyond them; it remains always luminous.” – Nikola Tesla

Wireless electricity.  Wouldn’t that be great?  You could put a lamp anyplace in the room without having to plug it in the wall.

How about charging a cell phone just by placing it anywhere in a room.   Another use for wireless electricity.

How about wireless electricity at public places?  Starbucks, for example  Suppose that just by being inside the Starbucks store you could charge your laptop, cell phone, tablet, or other  device that you just happened to lay on a table or chair?

Nikola Tesla had the vision of this capability more than 100 years ago.

So a couple of recent women graduates (undergrads) from University of Pennsylvania  came up with a proof of concept of how this could work and become a commercial product.

But, as you will see, these gals came up with a novel approach.  While Tesla tried to do wireless electricity through the “direct route” these undergrads took sort of a detour making use of something that is hidden in plain sight to assist with the transmission.  But, the end result is the same – delivering electricity over a distance without wires.

Take a look at the video showing the proof of concept of uBeam


Bonus – Schematic diagrams included.  Build at your own risk!
Spending too much money on natural gas to heat your home?  From General Electric Research 1934

Previous research at MIT

Written by frrl

June 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Radio is dead; Long live radio

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Radio is officially dead, especially when wireless internet access comes to your car.
–Seth Godin

When disruptive technologies comes along it sometimes requires us to look more deeply at the traditional concepts we have and the terms (words) that we use to describe these concepts.  There are many changes taking place simultaneously having complex interactions that no one can predict in advance.  Complicating all this is human reflexivity in response to technology and cultural changes.  What’s happening?  We are all living in a maelstrom of change.  For some, it is the biggest opportunity of their lives.  For others, it is nothing but fear, trepidation, and avoidance.  Change initiates the great sorting out of people and companies – an act of differentiating individuals and companies, one from another.

So what about Radio?  What is “radio” anyway?

Seth wrote the above in the context of Podcasting back in 2005.  There is a segment of the time of day that each of us prefers to listen to media that is limited to an aural presentation.  One of these places is your car.  When the wireless internet comes to your car will “radio” be dead?

When wireless internet comes to your car in a “taken for granted reality” sort of way what will take a hit for sure is your traditional AM/FM radio.  What will also take a hit is your local radio stations.  Local radio stations along with the traditional delivery mechanism of limited reach (transmitters, antennas, and power) may be in a fight for their life.  The FCC granted your local radio station a license to operate at a certain frequency within a certain limited spectrum of available frequencies.  They (your local radio station) have a privileged position due to scarcity of available frequency spectrum and the reach of the traditional distribution mechanism.  You (the consumer; the listener) don’t have much of a choice when listening to your AM/FM radio in the car.  Locality and limited choices may trump content as a preference for your listening.

What if the spectrum of  available frequencies for AM/FM radio was infinite?  And what if no one needed a license from the FCC to broadcast into that radio in your car?  What if the reach of your radio was not just the local stations but stations anywhere in the world?  What if, as a listener, you had infinite choices?

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Written by frrl

April 8, 2011 at 10:11 pm

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Internet Delivery of Radio in the UK

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I used to be an avid Shortwave listener – and I actually used a device called a “radio”.  But that has all changed, especially when I got my Apple iPod Touch.  Using the iPod Touch along with my home wireless network I have access to thousands of “radio” stations.  “There’s an app for that.”  In fact there are dozens of apps for that.

Best of all there is the long tail of radio content that is archived and available for delivery on demand.

Finally there is clarity on message vs medium.  I wonder how many traditional shortwave listeners will listen on the internet now that content is clearly separated from the traditional delivery medium of RF.  Do traditional shortwave listeners listen to the medium or the message?

Check out what is going on in the UK with radio delivered over the internet

Check out the video –

Here is the site where you can listen to UK radio –

Check out some radio broadcast history –

The story of radio from the BBC –

The skinny on what is happening:

As of the start of 2011, only 2% of radio listening in the UK is through the PC using software like the BBC iPlayer. This is despite the fact that 75% of UK households have some sort of broadband – certainly broad enough to listen to audio.

Michael Hill leads a cross-industry group that is working on a way to make radio easier to access via the PC platform. It is also going to be important for putting next generation radio players onto the PS3, XBox, and the tablets. In this interview, made at the recent Radio Festival in Salford, UK, I asked Michael Hill what the Radioplayer will mean to all radio stations in the UK (including community and student stations). The good news is that everyone is involved. is the place to go to get details of how the radio player design has been thought through. With over 150 stations live already and 100s more to follow in coming weeks, Radioplayer is set to become the primary way of listening to UK radio online. Radioplayer offers all the simplicity of a traditional radio, with the benefits of digital, including search functionality and bookmarking.

Written by frrl

April 3, 2011 at 7:26 am

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