Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Changing Face of Retail Amateur Radio

Tough to be a bricks-and-mortar ham radio store.

Reality is where the once 40% on a $400 HT was only just enough to support attending Ham Fests and keeping a store open, the skinny 20% on a $75 HT just doesn’t keep the lights running.

Traditional segmentation of ham radio outlets is changing.

Formerly we had Solid Big Name ham specialty shops with catalogues, mostly featuring lower price point commodity manufacturers sprinkled with a few premium products.

Welcome the New Order  where Discount Imports take a big chunk from both Solid Big Names and even from the lower price point commodity manufacturers who sell direct.

At the same time costs to have a real store are escalating – fuel, insurances, government regulation, … almost every cost a domestic real-store ham radio shop faces is up.

Enter the “Internet Ham Radio Store,” and (we shouldn’t be surprised) now Internet Retailers like  Forget about bricks-and-mortar retail stores, you just log on and buy.

We’re also buying from overseas via eBay and other websites, even if the product is “running naked”  in terms of support and in some cases certifications compared to domestically supported products.

Be certain Discount Import HF rigs will follow soon.

There is a difference – and as long as the measurable quality difference remains between direct import and established regular gear, the Solid Big Name and Premium Products sellers are going to be less impacted than the difficulties the former price-point leading “lower price point commodity manufacturers” will face.

Times they are a changing….



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Age Reversed Elmering – Technology Assistance for the Elder Radio Amateurs

Have you noticed the age-inversion of who is elmering who in Amateur Radio?

We joke about having our kids or grandkids program our smartphones (used to be VCRs we wanted help with programing not so long ago) and other technically involved devices.

Well it is happening all across amateur radio – here are some recent examples that came to my attention:

  • A Caribbean based ham contacted me looking for help on the computer side of his Begali CW Machine, which really was more basic PC hardware/software questions (I hooked him up with a Spanish speaking ham for help.)
  • A Florida based ham looking for basic Linux and Raspberry-Pi help – referred him to a couple young techies who helped him out.
  • A midwest based ham looking for networking help who I referred a young 20-somthing to help out this hame with 60+ years in amateur radio.
  • Another area ham looking for PowerSDR help, who are young Flex user stepped in to help.

These are just a few of the recent older-hams need young techie hams to help them out instances I’ve known about.

One of the old timers said this wasn’t much different than his climbing towers for older hams when he was young.

And it is a real opportunity for the younger to “give back” something to the elder.

I know of one instance where a you Tech Licensed ham was helping an older Extra Class ham with computers, and the elder was am to elmer the younger into sitting his General Class as a return for computer help.

It all works!



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Flex-6700 – Review after Four Months In

My FlexRadio Systems Flex-6700 is radio #11, and arrived as part of their public Beta Program – the SmartSDR Preview Program – third week of June 2013. Software at the time was SmartSDR Preview Edition 0.12.x which was fairly basic.

As I write it is October 2013 and the radio is now on full production release SmartSDR 1.0.0, the Preview program having wrapped up after four-five updates, each which transformed my Flex-6700.

Most importantly SmartSDR 1.0 is the first step on a road map of quarterly updates, each which will bring major additional features to my Flex-6700. By download I’ve got a “New Radio” arriving every three months!!

Flex has implemented an excellent collaboration tool during the Preview Edition program that is staying in use. Combined with their main website’s HelpDesk, ZenDeck (warranty system), KnowledgeBase and Downloads the support is excellent. Their main website is at:

The Preview Edition experience:

It was an absolute privilege to participate and when the technical discussions were outside of my knowledge zone, to be an insider spectator during the forging of the earliest widespread release of SmartSDR into a form that could stand as production. At times I was a bit embarrassed when fellow participants forgot that the Preview Edition software was a work-in-progress. Those who had the big picture view were amazing in the amount of testing, troubleshooting and “what if” challenging they gave a radio-in-progress. I personally learned a lot about our hobby by being part of the process.

Each 2 weeks, provided candidate software passed small group quality checks, an update of “SmartSDR Preview Edition” rolled out. In a few cases the candidate software did not pass FlexRadio Systems small group quality checks and therefore was not released to the Preview Edition group. Some very silly grumbling from some of the Preview Group who moaned they didn’t get an update – as if FlexRadio Systems would ever knowingly distribute software that failed quality checks? In all honesty there were members of the Preview Group who should have not asked to have their radio shipped until the features they felt critical were completed.

A few of the Preview Group struggled with “The Radio is in The Software” capability of the next SmartSDR Preview Edition to transform their radio to the next level. It is worth remembering to check either the SmartSDR software level being reviewed or the date any SmartSDR commentary you read on the internet given the massive improvement achieved in the SmartSDR Preview process and planned with the roadmap taking SmartSDR v 1.0 forward.

Added along the way added has been SmartSDR CAT. SmartSDR CAT can replace other virtual serial port driver software packages, or serve as the Flex-6000 SmartSDR aware additional virtual serial port driver software package. This add-on is slick, making the virtual serial port driver issue very simple. While it comes bundled with SmartSDR it does require a manual Windows Program Uninstall and then Installation when SmartSDR CAT is upgraded. This separate Manual Uninstall/Install is a Microsoft Windows requirement and may be with us on Windows platform clients for some time.

Adding into the integration is v3 of DDUTIL by Steve K5FR –

DDUTIL hooks SmartSDR CAT and SmartSDR into an environment your other radio software and hardware will recognize. In my shack DDUTIL integrates an Expert Amp, Palstar Autotuner, a Green Heron rotor control, and several software packages to my Flex-6700.

The Flex-6700 running SmartSDR version 1.0:

Okay, here is where the rubber hits the road – with the first public release of the SmartSDR software my Flex-6700 is already equal to or better than any other amateur transceiver on the market. At least any that I have had the pleasure of spend time operating. There is a remarkably easy-to-listen-to nature of the received audio and it is a true DX hound.

The receiver is a very good match to the Tennadyne T-8 Log Periodic antenna, making the most of the no-tune nature of the Log.

I’ve been able to leave the Expert Amp on half or lower power with the same effectiveness.

All in all it is a ready to rock-n-roll SSB DX rig. Similar reports speak of sound CW performance. Laggard at this time is the Digital Mode capabilities which are sound provided an external interface and computer sound card audio routing like a black-box transceiver is used, as the full digital implementation is further down the road map. Reports are solid on those using a Flex-6000 for digital in the old school setup.

The ability to pop open panadapters on additional bands and drop receivers to monitor other band segments/bands, is awesome. The features presently released work quite well, with only a few glitches being reported at this stage.

Now what is cool is about every 90 days a new updated version of SmartSDR will be out.

Here is a pdf snapshot of the present (Mid-Oct 2013) roadmap, showing that several features have already been pulled ahead:


The Flex-6700 Future Beyond the Road Map:

Obviously the road map is just a scratch at the surface of unleashing the Flex-6000. SmartSDR is just one of several possible GUIs and non-GUI interfaces. FlexRadio Systems has hinted about add-in modules to Contest, work on other client platforms, link/combine several Flex-6000s, do wide-area diversity and things as users we’ve not likely even thought of.

One has to remember that FlexRadio Systems is building on years of experience with professional grade products, and is distilling down the best of that experience to an amateur radio products.

You can see my pre-launch series of articles for some of the possibilities I had thought up.

What the Flex-6000 Series is NOT:

The Flex-6000 Series is very different than a conventional transceiver. In its present form the Flex-6000 is not:

  • A micro-DXpedition/Mobile ready radio as the radio’s present interfaces are all PC based.
  • A prepper’s primary back-up radio.
  • Ready for the visual impaired (though alternate UI’s are possible).
  • A single-box shack – you need the PC to access the radio.
  • A likely radio for an “Internet Free” QTH unless arrangements were made to get physical media with various upgrades.
  • Simple Plug-n-Play – while SmartSDR is easy to install, if an operator would have trouble installing Microsoft Office they will need help with a Flex-6000.

Like any new technology the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR have attracted naysayers – the vast majority who have an agenda rather than first hand observations to share. Again it is important to date reviews/comments against the SmartSDR Preview Edition version or production roadmap version, as the comments may be of historical interest only given the rapid evolution of the radio.

The Flex-6000 Mindset:

The Flex-6000 is seriously challenging to conceptualize as the hardware/software combination is layered, complex, exceptionally simple at the User Interface while immensely powerful under the hood, elegant, evolving, and vacates concepts like VFO-A/VFO-B architecture.

This is not a comfortable mindset for some users, as their personal concepts of what an amateur radio should be is something different than this brave new world of the Flex-6000. A few SmartSDR Preview Edition participants sold their radios to other hams, or simply put them on the shelf waiting until a general release with the feature they hold dear is available.

The latest generation of technology always stretches the operator. The “Game Changer” of the Flex-6000 series is here, to stay. That doesn’t mean that IC-7800’s, or FT-1000MPs, or TR7s, or Gold Dust Twins – or any other layer of prior technology – is somehow anything less. I have no intention of suddenly selling my favorite older radios because of the Flex-6000 revolution. But I do understand that the new cutting edge has been pushed way ahead – the boundaries of the hobby have suddenly expanded. And I am thrilled to be a participant with radio #11 of the new wave of Flex-6000 technology.

What could be any more fun?!



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The Struggles of (Everyone’s) Radio Club

A while back another club put out an SOS asking for help, and we replied:

We’ve no pat answers, but we have figured a way to facilitate spin-outs of those area hams who wanted to deeply focus on singular aspects of our hobby, of encouraging enough transparency to make the business portions of our club’s meetings less than 10 minutes out of 1-1/2 to 2 hour gatherings, how to put ourselves into financial solvency, how to trim out the hams who wouldn’t/couldn’t maintain a positive approach to the club and/or our hobby, and bascially salvaged a ravished empty shell of a club.

We spent a lot of time listening to hams and prospective hams who are “doers” and “active,” as well as taking sage advice from elders and Elmers – and have been figuring out ways to use the “Elmer in people” while not falling into the trap of repeating the things that never worked for the old timers in the group in the first place.

Did I say we worked hard to end the business side of meetings? Rather we’ve focused on “doing” and specially in the winter months an adult version of “show and tell” with a lot “teach me about it” presentations added.

At its most recent peak our club on the books had 84 members. Well only on paper, as half most of us never could put faces to, another quarter we wished we couldn’t put faces to (everyone has baggage in life, just most of us carry our own rather than inflict it on fellow club members), and then once you take away a very insular inner-clique not much was left – leaving perhaps a dozen or so “regular folk” hams.

Our club is down under to under 30 members – exact number is a bit hard to say as we propped up our finances well enough to have had a long “dues holiday” – so we don’t have membership dues collection to measure at the moment.  We maintain two 2m repeaters for the benefit of the community and a full HF/VHF/UHF club station.

Some of the main lessons learned:

  • Club Members mostly want the Club Benefits, want nothing to do with club duties/business.
  • Young prospectives will seldom return if they attend a meeting that is full of Sour Hams, or meetings that are nothing more than endless club business.
  • The Club is never going to please everyone, so stop trying to please everyone, and do only what your club does well.  Forget the other stuff.
  • “Elders” are largely not “Elmers” – if their past leadership and input hasn’t suceeded in involving more people or building up the club (quick hint – look to see if they have gotten their own families interested & involved in amateur radio) then their present leadership & advice isn’t is likely to work now.
  • Transparency, Transparency, Transparency – especially in matters of money.
  • Don’t repeat habits & techniques that have largely been a failure.
  • Be at peace with those who want to do something else in the “big tent” of this hobby, never take the bait of hecklers, and remember the Club is responsible to its members and is never responsible to outsiders with personality issues.
  • Show & Tell/Education topics need to appeal to those members hungry for knowledge. We’ve run sessions on Raspberry-Pi’s, the absolute basics of digital modes, kit building, on station building/planning on a budget, on Echolink/ILRP, on QRPing, on going to Hamfests/Dayton and other “here and now” topics because the active membership isn’t into DXing, Contesting, or Boatanchors (at least not now).
  • Camaraderie is huge for members attending. Thanking set-up volunteers publicly has led to our club having plenty of help when it is needed.
  • Be happy with what you get – better to have a smaller number active enthusiastic members attend than a fluffed up meeting mostly of folks who never turn on their radios.
  • People are short of time – doing actual “Radio Things” seems to score higher than Brat Frys or even parade patrol (we’re lucky to have a dedicated & separate ARES/RACES group in the area to handle opportunities like those).
  • High Interest Field Trips work – we’re in planning for a return trip to George W9EVT’s Washington Island mega-shack (check it out on QRZ if you aren’t familar with this $1m+ collection).
  • Food Also works – this winter the city put our bulding’s thermostats down cold enough that we met at a Pizzaria instead of the club room. The Club bought Pizza, and even on winter’s worst weathered club nights we had a decent group attend.

Is all this a success? More than we expected! We do have contingency plans to reduce the number of meetings, eliminate other activities, and do other things to preserve our, perhaps for better times – but these plans were not needed as a solid increase in enthusiastic attendance ended our worries.

Interestingly the other club not only really didn’t want our suggestions, but there response was they suggested we should drive 30 miles to attend their business meeting.  Attend a BUSINESS MEETING??!! – which part of what we shared with them did they actually read.   In the end zero follow up from the other club.  Oh and that ARES/RACES Group – seems they can’t field enough people to do parade and event duty, so groups from sounding counties have filled in.  It all works out in the end.

In many places the stereotypical club business driven meeting is all there is out there for radio club meetings  – no wonder radio clubs are facing decline….



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Say ‘HI’ to Juno! – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory requests Radio Amateurs to help Signal to Space Probe

Are you up to a bit of a technical challenge to purposely signal to one of NASA’s space probes?

Say HI to JUNO

NASA’s Juno spacecraft will fly past Earth on October 9, 2013 to receive a gravity assist from our planet, putting it on course for Jupiter. To celebrate this event, the Juno mission is inviting amateur radio operators around the world to say “HI” to Juno in a coordinated Morse Code message. Juno’s radio & plasma wave experiment, called Waves, should be able to detect the message if enough people participate. So please join in, and help spread the word to fellow amateur radio enthusiasts!

via LINK:  Say ‘HI’ to Juno! – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Don’t forget to check out the technical requirements of the experiment, as they are non-trivial.



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Cornbread Road Audio Series by KE9V – Returns with a new Epilogue Episode

Jeff KE9V a few years ago did an awesome ham-novel in audio form – Cornbread Row.

It hasn’t always been easily available, and Jeff KE9V has again posted it on his every evolving website, complete with a new Epilogue episode.

Cornbread Road

This ham radio audio mystery series first hit the Web in 2010. Told in thirteen episodes, with one released each week from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox. Raymond, Eldon and the boys on the farm captured the imagination of radio amateurs around the world.

Now it appears again, as it has every year. The story includes all of the original episodes. And this time, there’s a brand new episode at the very end to catch you up on everything that’s been going on out at Ray’s place since our last visit.

Life is good out in the country. Especially for radio hobbyists. Wide open spaces with no antenna restrictions and the DX flows fast and easy. But don’t let the lazy dogs and idyllic view from the pond fool you. There’s a lot going on out at Ray’s place and dark clouds swirl just beyond the horizon. Events from a long ago war are converging on the new world and for some reason, it’s all happening on Cornbread Road.

You’ve never heard a ham radio podcast like this one. Listen to them in order. And don’t forget to tell your friends.

    Week #1 Finding Paradise [download mp3]
    Week #2 The View from on Top [download mp3]
    Week #3 Secrets at the Anchor [download mp3]
    Week #4 Midnight in the Desert [download mp3]
    Week #5 Lazy Days of Summer [download mp3]
    Week #6 The Heart of the Matter [download mp3]
    Week #7 Getting on Board [download mp3]
    Week #8 The X Factor [download mp3]
    Week #9 Footprints in the Snow [download mp3]
    Week #10 The Onion Relay [download mp3]
    Week #11 Revelation [download mp3]
    Week #12 The Fox Hunt [download mp3]
    Week #13 The Sad Goodbye [download mp3]
    Epilogue Return to Paradise Valley [download mp3]

Download all the MP3’s at LINK –  Cornbread Road | KE9V.



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