Signs, Symbols, & Other Wonders

55F with rain in the Heartland this morning. Knowing what was coming we worked outside all day yesterday. Raking leaves and power washing the pergola over the patio. Taking advantage of the warm temps and sunny skies while we could. I’m guessing yesterday might be the last really nice day of the year, though I never bet against warm weather. Most of our weather surprises these days tend to be spells of unusually warm weather when it’s supposed to be otherwise. The point being that we got a lot done yesterday and were exhausted by the end of the day. So much so that taking today “off” will be well deserved. Not that there aren’t always more chores requiring attention, but today’s leisure has been earned and we won’t feel at all bad about a little loafing on this Friday.

I spoke with a tech at ICOM’s service center in Michigan yesterday about the display problem with my IC-7610 and made plans to send it to them for repair, but not until after the CQ WW Contest (CW). Despite the fact that it’s a display issue and the serial number of my transceiver is in the group that ICOM agreed to replace all displays at no cost, mine might end up costing $500. The problem I’m experiencing (a single column of dead pixels) isn’t the same problem experienced by many owners (retention & washed out display) so they will have to inspect it first. If they determine it’s not covered under the free replacement policy then the new screen with labor and shipping will add up to about five-hundred bucks. I don’t have much choice, it needs to be fixed in case I ever want to sell or trade it.

Can I tell you a secret? Sometimes I think about selling the 7610, the 9700, and even the 705 and using those funds to buy a new K4D transceiver. I have a much loved K2 that I built (#524) in 1999, a factory assembled KX3, and a new KH1 ordered on October 20th that could show up on the doorstep any day now. The K4D would be a welcome addition to my shack and put me back on a path that I assumed I’d always traverse many years ago. There would still be that closet full of QRP transceivers of questionable lineage, but ignoring those, I would be an Elecraft guy again. It’s just a notion I kick around in my head during the still of the night and will likely never come to pass…

I’m a contrarian by nature so it should come as no surprise that I’m one of the few who has reservations about the FCC action to remove symbol rate restrictions on our HF bands. Everywhere I look all I see are joyful expressions of how this will fix so much of what has been holding the amateur radio service back from achieving its full potential. Good grief, just typing those words feels like a boatload of malarkey. I understand the issue, and can smell what its proponents are shoveling, but I have doubts. In fact, I predict that no stunning new technology will emerge from this action, but that a large increase in interference complaints from HF enthusiasts will be noted. And of course hams will blame ARRL for all this, even though they begged for it, because that’s how hams roll. Blaming Newington for everything that goes wrong – or right – is our standard operating procedure. Mark these words…

I’m off podcasts again. These once were a staple during my drive time, but they were slowly edged out by audio books. Being retired I no longer commute to and from work, but I still spend almost an hour a day walking with air pods stuck in my head. I’m always listening to choice selections from Audible. The latest few books in my library have been the Bernie Taupin biography, Scattershot, the post-World War II scientist expose, Operation Paperclip, and at the moment I’m halfway though the latest Grey Man novel, Burner. Queued up next is the just released UFO: The Inside Story of the US Government’s Search for Alien Life Here—and Out There. Who’s got time to listen to podcasts?

The Worked All States Triple Play Award plaque arrived yesterday and is already on the wall. Working and confirming all 50 states, each using CW, Phone, and Digital was an accomplishment I wouldn’t have thought possible when I was a Novice. A more seasoned operator wouldn’t see it as a difficult achievement, but I found obtaining 150 confirmations via LoTW was no easy task. I was “stuck” at 149 for nearly two years needing a single Phone confirmation from anyone worked in Utah. I decided if and when that ever showed up I would order the plaque, not just the paper certificate, as I felt that was deserved.

Periodical Problems

The Zero Bias editorial in the September 2023 edition of CQ Magazine includes a frequent admission that things aren’t all peachy in the magazine publishing world. Editor Rich Moseson, W2VU is a straight shooter and I’d say ‘fair and balanced’ in his view of our hobby. He begins by detailing the recent moves made by ARRL with regard to membership dues, the cost to print and distribute QST Magazine, and the digital alternative. Lest you think he’s gloating over that sad situation, he points out that CQ Magazine has also been seriously impacted by the disruptions in that industry and acknowledges the publication hasn’t been able to properly service its readers since before the pandemic. That’s particularly interesting because the edition of CQ Magazine I was reading was a free digital download from their web site. I haven’t been a paid subscriber for several years due to the very problems he detailed.

Moseson described how the pandemic hurt his business, but it’s obvious the magazine publishing industry was in a lot of trouble pre-pandemic. Especially for a niche market like amateur radio and even more so when there aren’t alternate streams of income. CQ Magazine strictly sells books and a magazine subscription whereas the folks in Newington at least have member dues to back them up. The problem is, while ARRL has for decades touted membership as being so much more than just QST, and I agree that it is, the magazine showing up in the mailbox each and every month is what attracted so many members for so many years and this couldn’t be a secret.

While there are problems with the rapidly rising cost of paper, printing, and postage, a more formidable challenge is that reading habits have changed rapidly too. I’m tempted to call this generation of hams non-readers who are less literate than those of another era, but that wouldn’t be fair. People simply don’t read like they used to and this has hurt the entire publishing industry. Count me as one of those. I used to devour each edition of QST from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. These days I tend to catch up on that reading months later unless there is some pressing matter or a review that I’m anxious to learn about. While days in the 21st century contain the same number of hours as they did in the 20th century, we seem to suffer from a time deficit and reading a hobby magazine has moved far down the list of things to do with whatever “free” time can be found.

I admit this even as a big fan of QST — I firmly believe it’s the best amateur radio publication available. I’ve no complaints about the articles which I still find to be interesting, educational, and just the right mix of technical and informational. If I were to complain it would be about the silly “staged” cover shots intended to fool people about our hobby. It doesn’t work. Putting photos of minority groups enjoying ham radio on the cover is intended to send a message of diversity, but we remain a hobby of mostly old white men. ARRL would better serve the hobby by making actual changes that make amateur radio more inclusive. Ours could be such a large and marvelous international tent…

The periodical publishing problems will continue to strain ARRL resources unless something is discovered that has yet to be discovered by that entire industry. I stopped buying general magazines off the newsstand when they hit seven bucks and now some are more than ten dollars for a single copy. These publishers can shout into my face about their rising costs and how they are losing money, but I’m not paying that much for a throwaway magazine. ARRL members who don’t consider the other services the League provides will react the same way to the increased cost of receiving a printed copy of QST in postal mail. It’s a death spiral for ARRL membership and the disruption this will cause over the coming decade will be Titanic in its scope and reach.

I don’t believe ham radio can survive in the US without ARRL and radio hams who frequently cheer its demise aren’t clear thinkers. US government officials who regulate the airwaves were bought and sold long ago and the commercialization of every femtometer of RF bandwidth is coveted by someone with eventual plans to take it. At a minimum, ARRL serves as a speed bump against this kind of encroachment.

And don’t kid yourself, ARDC isn’t going to replace the ARRL and fix everything, that level of naïveté isn’t encouraging for any future vision for amateur radio…

Unable to offer any solid advice for how all this can be repaired and ARRL restored to its former glory, I’ll end this with a comment about CQ Magazine. I want them to succeed. We need a vibrant, independent voice for amateur radio and CQ has provided that since its founding in 1945. The hobby needs it to thrive, but the challenges are many and the habits of its potential readers continue to evolve. People who work at CQ and at ARRL would probably appreciate your suggestions and feedback on how they can improve the situation, though I will tell you, if the best you have is for “all content to be free” and unencumbered by any kind of restrictive license, you might keep that to yourself.

No one who sells magazines for a living will hear that.

Early Bird

It was a year ago today that Elon Musk bought Twitter, ruining the service and the brand. At least that’s my view of how things went down. Having been an early adopter and frequent advocate for Twitter as a tool for radio amateurs, I deleted my account some months later and haven’t really looked back. As it turns out, I still have another account. Something I created a few years after my ham radio call sign account. I have re-visited the social network a few times using that other account, but it’s not the same and I don’t really use it. So much water under the bridge that makes me wonder, do hams still use Twitter?

I had this Early Shift Hunter award in my POTA account this morning. It says it’s for “Making 100 QSOs as a hunter during the Early Shift” which isn’t too surprising considering I’m frequently on the air before the sun comes up, but there was nothing to inform me what time the early shift begins and ends?

The W3LPL Propagation Report was prefaced with this today:

“Despite very unusual low sunspot and geomagnetic activity for solar maximum, some of the best HF propagation in 20 years is likely to continue through at least Saturday October 28th by Frank Donovan, W3LPL”

That might be good news for the crowd expected to participate this weekend in the SSB edition of the 2023 CQ World-Wide DX Contest. Or as this week’s editor of the ARRL Contest Update N1ADG wrote, “With propagation on the higher frequencies being some of the best we’ve seen in decades, 10 and 15 meters will be a great place to find multipliers and run, run, run.”

Yeah. Do that!