Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Courage Kenny Handiham World Weekly E-Letter for the week of Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Welcome to Handiham World.

Change is in the wind.

Allied catalog page from 1968 showing Ocean Hopper shortwave receiver kit
I'm looking at a page from a 1968 Allied Radio Knight-Kit catalog, and reminding myself what it was like in the heyday of short-wave listening.  The "Ocean Hopper" said it all right in its name, which conjured up dreams of far-off places around the globe.  On the same page there is the "Space Spanner" 2-band receiver kit, which would let you "thrill to broadcasts from Moscow, Rome, and Havana".
Yes, those were heady days for a young guy who just got his General Class license.  Like many ham radio enthusiasts of the day I had begun my exploration of the science and art of electronics by listening to the radio.  First it was AM broadcast, which I discovered would serve up distant stations late at night.  We had an old RCA Victor radio, and I discovered that it had something called "short-wave".  After figuring out that there was a place to connect a wire antenna I discovered that there was an entirely new world of radio out there, and one didn't need to stay up late into the night to hear stations from around the world!  Back then, all nations considered having an official short-wave service a necessity, and if they could afford to set one up, they did.  Havana put a stout signal into cold, wintery Minnesota and made me think about palm trees and Caribbean beaches. Radio Moscow had an air of dangerous intrigue - a propaganda outlet for Communism, for heaven's sake!  The BBC was a stalwart, highbrow source for world news.
When I visited the ARRL website, as I do every day, I spotted a story about good old short-wave listening: Voice of Russia — former “Radio Moscow” — to End Shortwave Broadcasts.  Yes, another international service has bitten the dust.  Not, mind you, that I would have even noticed had it not been for the ARRL story.  Like most of us, I get my news and information from many different sources, all of which have access to world-wide stories.  The Internet has made world-wide communication so ubiquitous that I rarely even stop to consider that it's the reason I actually listen more to the BBC now than I did back in the days of short-wave.  The BBC is carried on my local public radio service, Minnesota Public Radio, and is available as an Internet stream as well as on the FM broadcast band.  Unlike the Ocean Hopper, my FM radios and my Grace WI-FI radio serve up a perfect signal anytime without regard to the vagaries of short-wave propagation.
Is this good? Or bad? 
I guess the only answer is "yes" because it is really both.  It's good to have more reliable, clear reception.  It is there when I want to listen, and I don't have to put up with fading and interference. On the other hand, Internet-dependent radio is also a potentially brittle technological confabulation, mostly reliable and getting more so, but still potentially breakable.  It's just that there are so many points at which the break can happen:
  • Your home network could fail or reassign IP addresses, interrupting connectivity.
  • Your ISP could experience an outage for many reasons - equipment failure, overload, or damage to infrastructure, such as when a fiber optic cable gets cut by an excavating crew or storm damage cuts an overhead cable or topples a tower.
  • Bad guys could mount an attack on a web service, interrupting streaming.
  • A government could deem a service to be undesirable and block it.  So could an employer, if you listen at work.
  • A computer problem at your own PC could disrupt streaming.  We all know that our home computers are complicated and depend on hardware and software dancing together perfectly!
Short of losing power or having a solar storm, short-wave is going to be there for you.  It's simpler and therefore less "brittle", and less likely to break.  In fact, the same thing is true for Amateur Radio in general, assuming that the Internet is not a link in a radio system.  This ability to stand alone without complicated infrastructure is one of our features!
But, as we suggested, change is in the wind.  Short-wave broadcasting has been declining in importance for a long time, and the world has become increasingly dependent on Internet communications.  To me, that makes our unique ability to carry on standalone communications even more valuable!  If the power goes down, I can get going again on emergency power.  I can't say the same thing about an Internet outage.  I like the Internet and use if for lots of things, even ham radio applications like logging, remote base operation, and VoIP services like Echolink and IRLP.  But here's the thing:  I may embrace the changes that made these services possible, but I have not - and will not - forget about short-wave and its unique advantages.  I'll enjoy the BBC on  an Internet radio, but I won't set aside my HF station. 
You just never know when you'll need to "ocean hop" without a smartphone or computer.
Patrick Tice, WA0TDA
Courage Kenny Handiham Coordinator

Read or listen to the entire newsletter this week.