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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Radio Shack (1921-2015)

According to reports, RadioShack is about to file for Bankruptcy, selling 1/3 of it's stores to Sprint Corporation, the remaining stored being liquidated.

The bankruptcy filing may occur as soon as just a few hours, ending a legacy that was both a resort for ham operators and experimenters and a near-parody of its former self by moving away from its radio, computer, and maker roots and gravitating towards cell phone sales and satellite TV and radio that focused less on the tech and more on the bottom line.

From Bloomberg:
RadioShack Corp. is closing in on an agreement with creditors and other parties that would put the retailer in bankruptcy as soon as Wednesday night or Thursday morning, people with knowledge of the discussions said.

As part of the deal being completed, RadioShack would sell leases on as many as 2,000 stores to Sprint Corp. and Standard General, its largest shareholder, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The rest of the electronics chain’s more than 4,000 U.S. locations are expected to be closed, the people said. The filing could be delayed as the parties hammer out final details. 
I was in RadioShack this past weekend and went to almost all of the stores in Knoxville, seeing what was left as many of the stores clearanced out their inventory (I think they shipped their scanners to stores that were surviving) and many of the stores were already picked through.

Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III
I would still patronize the stores (albeit less frequently over time) and the way the stores looked in the 1980's versus the 2000's are like apples and oranges. I can remember going to West Town Mall and walking into the back of the store and tinker with the TRS-80's (affectionately called "Trash-80's") that were on sale. I'd have loved to own one, but the $2500 price tag (in 1980's dollars, remember) was beyond my price range, or that of many people I knew.

One time I was in the mall and my mother turned me loose in Radio Shack (back when it was TWO words) while she looked for boring stuff in other stores (clothes...UGH...what boy under 14 wanted to shop for THAT?) and I spent 2 hours playing a poker and blackjack on a TRS-80. I got so involved (and no salesman could try to sell anything to a 12-year-old kid) that eventually my mother came up to me yelling "WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!?!?!?". She apparently had been madly searching for me all over the mall for about an hour, and because I had been in the back corner of the Radio Shack, out of view of anyone looking in from the mall entrance, she'd thought I had taken off to the arcade (another favorite hangout of mine) and when I wasn't at either place she panicked. I think she was 10 steps from calling the cops, because if she hadn't taken those 10 steps to the back of the store, then I am certain that my face would have ended up on milk cartons.

TRS-80 Color Computer 2
Playing with that TRS-80 got me into computers. Playing with Apple II's in school furthered that addiction. One Christmas, Santa Claus got us a TRS-80 Color Computer II. It was, for me at least, a dream come true. I spent my Christmas vacation in Speedwell, TN at my grandparents house toying with that "CoCo" on my "monitor", a new color TV, a glorious Zenith 12" with wood paneling and rabbit ears. The whole time I was in Speedwell, I think I was in the upstairs attic/bedroom learning BASIC programming on that thing. And if I rebooted or turned it off, everything I worked on for HOURS was gone...because there was no storage device. There were no hard drives in the CoCo, and if I wanted to save anything, a cassette tape drive was over $100. I mainly used it for playing cartridge games and tinkering with BASIC.

Over the years, I would visit whenever we made a trip to the mall, and when I got my driver's license, the visits got more frequent. When I had a technical issue, almost every employee had an answer that was right. They knew their stuff, and they were helpful. When I got interested in ham radio, my first rig was an HTX-202 2 meter radio.

I had a minor run-in with a couple of RadioShack employees while I was waiting to get my license in the mail (this was in 1993, right before they had electronic filing and fast turnarounds. I was waiting for 2 months before I got my license). While I was looking over an HTX-202, one of the salespeople said that I couldn't purchase a radio until I was able to show my license, so that they could verify I was using it legally. He did let me put it on layaway, which I was planning to do anyway since I didn't have the entire $199 to buy it. 

As I waited...and waited...........aaaaand waited for my license in the mail, I went to a meeting at the local radio club and met some new friends. As we talked, I mentioned I was waiting to get my license so that I could get my HTX-202 out of layaway, and when they asked why, I told them what I was told. All of them hit the roof, wondering who in the hell would tell me that. It turns out I could buy a ham radio whenever, I just couldn't transmit on one.

Maybe it was misunderstanding on my part, or on the salesperson's part, but they all wanted to raise tee-total hell on whoever would keep me from getting a radio. I tried to keep it low-key and said not to worry about it. When I FINALLY got my license in the mail, I headed to Radio Shack to get my new rig. When I approached the salesperson and asked to pick up my radio, he mumbled "'s YOU!" and ran to the back. I still to this day don't know how he meant it, if it was because somebody called and chewed the store manager out, or if the guy remembered me putting it in layaway. Or both.

An electronics experimenters kit like this was sold
in the 80s at Radio Shack. I lost count the number
of times I begged for one.
I've owned 3 Radio Shack rigs over the years. A mobile 2-meter (HTX-212) rig and the HTX-10 10-meter rig. All of them have been rock-solid and worth the money I paid (either retail or hamfest prices) and they were true workhorses. 

Unfortunately, it was in the mid-90's when things changed drastically for "the Shack". When I was a kid, I remember getting a catalog and all the gadgets and gizmos were amazing to look at. I can remember putting so many products on my wish list for Christmas. A remote controlled tank, an electronics experimenter's kit (to make an AM radio!), the talking Atomic Robot, all sorts of electrical toys and products to waste time with, and over the years, the experiment toys and gadgets went away one at a time. Toys to tinker with trickled down. As I would come into a store to look for parts for my ham radio addiction, the knowledge level of some salespeople drastically declined. 

Case in point: I needed RG-58 coax for my mobile and asked the salesperson where the "coax" (as in, co-AXE) was, and he had the "deer in headlights" stare and asked me what I needed an axe for. I said "no, coaxial CABLE" and he directed me to where the cable was. And he tried to sell me on RG-59 (cable TV coax) and I said "no, I need RG-58 for my ham radio" and he tried to sell me on the RG-59 "because it was a later version". Who knew that coaxial cable could be upgraded to new versions?!?!?

Retro logo
Over the years, the questions I would ask about solder, connectors, and antennas would go unanswered, except by the occasional employee who either was a ham themselves or was in college at a technical institute to earn a degree, and they were the diamonds in the rough. The ones that didn't know would just try to turn the conversation into a sales pitch for a cell phone or Sirius radio. I would often leave in disgust because they went from "You got questions, we got answers" to "You got q...BUY THIS PRODUCT YOU DON'T NEED!"

As I made my rounds in the different RadioShack stores last weekend, it was obvious the situation from the way that the store looked, to the way the employees behaved. There was a sense of unattached attitudes and the salespeople didn't seem to want to be there. Don't get me wrong, others were helpful, in that way that Wallace Hartley and his band played "Nearer, My God, to Thee" as the Titanic sank in the cold north Atlantic. I did purchase some items that were being clearanced out. I have a mount for a mast on the side of the house and some scanner items, such as an antenna and a programming cable for one of my handhelds. I even picked up a mini-RC helicopter I've been torturing the dogs with around the house. 

So as I wrap this up, let me just say that it was a great store for tech geeks and makers to get their goods and at an affordable price. Mostly. Unless you wanted a TRS-80 in 1980, that is. Otherwise, they were good to go to in a pinch for spare parts and stuff you already knew you needed. Also, police scanners had a business thanks to RadioShack. I hope to catch a sweet deal on a digital scanner but I'm not holding my breath. I think that the "high end" stuff got moved to the stores that weren't currently closing. But I'll keep looking, being the vulture that I am.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

1500' climb straight up (filmed from a quadcopter)

How many tower climbers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one...with bigger brass ones than I have:

The view, taken via a quadcopter RC remote, gives an amazing view of what it's like climbing a (now defunct analog) TV tower in South Dakota to change a light bulb. Even though the tower is no longer used since the FCC made the mandatory change to digital from analog and leaving some TV transmitter towers simply landmarks until they can either be torn down or get a new tenant, the lighting has to be maintained in order to comply with FCC and FAA regulations so that aircraft aren't at risk.

It's a pretty neat video. They did an amazing job filming a job that takes a lot of "moxie" to do. I hope they pay him well.

If that weren't impressive, the company that filmed this also filmed a 300' tower being taken down in Jackson, MN from ABOVE the tower. 

I'd like to know how in the world that they were able to film sound without the propeller noise drowning out everything?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Jason Roach, KF4VDX, SK

Jason Roach, KF4VDX, and his wife Kris
This is a post I've been dreading to publish for awhile now. One of my best friends ever, Jason Roach, KF4VDX, became a "silent key" this past Thursday after an 18-month battle with prostate cancer. 

I don't know why he was called to Heaven so soon (he's my age) but there must've been a good reason. He was never one to turn his back on a friend in need and up until a few weeks ago was still making trips to the mountain top to work on his repeaters as well as that of a friend's. Any time I needed someone to help me with an issue he was ready and willing to offer his support.

It's been almost 2 years since another friend of ours, Tom Ogle, passed away (also from prostate cancer) and while we were attending the burial, Jason commented how he was having stomach cramps and pain. None of us put much thought into it at the time, but over the next few weeks he seemed to continue having issues. Whenever we talked on the radio, he kept complaining of "problems", but never elaborated, other than heartburn and cramps in his stomach.

He finally went to see a doctor and he received the news that he had prostate cancer, stage 4. But, unlike Tom, there was a sense of hope. His doctors seemed more optimistic and proceeded to work on getting his tumor removed. However, setbacks seemed to always occur. He was set to have surgery to remove the tumor, but during surgery, the doctor couldn't because it was too big to extract. Then, a "spot" was found on his liver. Then the chemo didn't affect the tumor. The list goes on.

I tried to be there for him, but at the same time let him fight his battle without getting in the way. Every time I talked with him, on the phone or on ham radio, it always seemed to be something causing a setback or delay in getting treatment. He was in and out of the hospital several times, but never gave up hope, even as the weight came off and his strength waned. He fought until his last breath.

I never gave up hope, either, but at the same time I saw the toll it was taking physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially. In the back of my mind, I could tell over the last few months there wouldn't be much time left unless a miracle happened. Sadly, that miracle never came.

I've known him for about as long as I've been married. He really enjoyed weather, the same as I do. As East Tennessee SKYWARN grew into a well-respected community, Jason, Tom, our friend Chuck, and many others including myself comprised a team of people who helped relay severe weather reports to the National Weather Service in Morristown. We all became a well-oiled machine and provided reliable information to the NWS when called upon.

During a "dark period", which I will not discuss, there were a lot of people who turned their back on me, believing that I was the bad guy. But a few hams showed me who my true friends really were, and both Jason and Tom were right there by my side. There were others, absolutely, but Jason was more than vocal about letting people know why he was my friend. There were times I felt completely isolated and alone, and Jason was always there to talk to me on the radio and the phone when he was able to do so.

When people began to "see the light", and I got back in to SKYWARN, Jason helped me pick up where we left off, getting (most of) the so-called "band" back together. I never forgot that act of kindness, and I always worked to show him my eternal gratitude.

His knowledge of electronics, radio, and music was incredible. Like me, he was an 80s kinda guy, although he preferred hair bands, where as I've always enjoyed new wave and synth pop more, but we both did crank up AC/DC without hesitation.

We enjoyed Field Day, SKYWARN, and just talking on the radio in general, whether it was on one of his repeaters or on simplex, or even 10 meters. He'd message me whenever there was a band opening, and I would join him if I had the time.

The night before I left for vacation last month, I ran by the hospital to see him. He was noticeably weak, his voice was gone to barely above a whisper, and he was frail. That's probably the first time I truly saw the seriousness of his illness. I stayed for just a few minutes, as his son was there, and I felt like he needed that time together. I told him I needed him to get out of the hospital to help me set up my tower and get my hamshack remodeled, and he'd have to climb the damned tower. He just rolled his eyes at me. I did say I planned to take him to Dayton someday for Hamvention, because I wanted to go back (I've not been up there since 1999). He'd never been and seemed to like the thought of going up there. Whatever I thought would raise his spirits, I did my best to say.

However, that would be, in effect, the last time we had a conversation where he was coherent and alert. I'd gone to see him several more times in the last few weeks, but he was always in and out, heavily medicated, and it pained me when he would talk and I couldn't understand him.

Thursday night, I saw a message on Facebook and had an awful feeling. I told my wife and we rushed to the hospital. He was not conscious, shallow breathing, and his heart rate was in decline. We said our goodbyes, shed our tears, and as I took Jes home, I called our friend Chuck, who wanted to see him, and so I rushed him back to the hospital. As another friend (Josh) arrived, his heart rate dropped sharply, and when Chuck and I got to the room, he was gone.

It tore me up to see him wear away to practically nothing because of cancer. He was 44. Medical experts say that men shouldn't have to worry about having a prostate exam or colonoscopy until they hit 50. I would STRONGLY encourage all men to have an exam if they hit 50, but be aware of any issues with your digestive system no matter what age you are. I had my gallbladder taken out at 40 and just a few months ago had a colonoscopy after a test came back recommending one, even though I am "too young". Fortunately my colonoscopy came back negative, but it was a nervous time for me. It certainly made Jason feel at ease when I told him I had a clean bill of health.

I'd like to conclude with a story about how much of a sense of humor Jason had. He could be a prankster, both on the air and in person. One night on the radio I was testing out a new MFJ desk mic and trying to calibrate it so that my audio wasn't too "hot". Jason and another friend of ours, Eddie, kept having me do 10-counts, adjustments to the mic, etc. At one point Jason asked me where the radio was in relation to the room, saying he thought he heard an echo, and wasn't sure the source, and I told him I was in the far corner, across from where the closet was. Jason asked me what was in the closet, and I told him in contained the boxes my radios and microphone came in. He then instructed me to press the "lock" on the mic, and go back to the closet and get the box, and talk while I did so, in order to test the microphone's sensitivity. I did as instructed, telling them in elaborate detail where I was in the room and talking loudly, then quietly, and trying to give them a good idea how sensitive the microphone was. When I un-keyed the microphone, Jason replied (with a great sense of pride I might add), "Congratulations, Greg, on coming out of the closet!". This became one of his favorite inside jokes I'd occasionally get reminded of, whether I wanted to be reminded of it, or not...

Thanks, Jason, for being my friend. Now and always, you will be missed.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A decade of decline?

I found this interesting while checking out Google Trends.

If you enter certain search terms, you can see the amount of traffic generated by the search terms going back to 2004.

So I tried "ham radio" and "amateur radio" for comparison:

Check out the full report and see what you think.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Keep Austin weird...

Steven Anthony Garza
An Austin man is facing charges after police say he tossed a drone and a ham radio over the fence because he was tired of his neighbor “getting in his head.”

Steven Anthony Garza faces an assault charge in connection with the incident. According to the arrest affidavit filed by Austin Police, Garza stormed into Matthew Hammons’ yard while Hammons was using his amateur radio equipment to talk with his father. Hammons told police Garza charged him while making gestures indicating he was looking to fight. Hammons told officers Garza first broke his radio’s antenna and then headbutted him; Hammons went inside.

While inside his home, Hammons told police he watched as Garza threw his Yaesu 857-D radio and a personal DJI Phantom drone over the fence causing $4,000 in damage.

More of the story here:

Monday, January 6, 2014 no longer selling (some) Wouxun radios

It seems that US/China relations are a bit rocky for Import Communications, the distributor for Wouxun radios...until now.

PD0AC reports that Ed Griffin (W4KMA) at Import Communications has been unhappy with the support that the Wouxun - pronounced "Oh-sheng" - folks have provided (or rather haven't provided) concerning an issue with the HT's apparently losing their memories at random, among other issues. As a result, he's no longer selling new inventory of Wouxun radios and will be replacing them with AnyTone products, but still under the competitor's site's name.

The (less-than-flattering) message on's web site
Griffin reports that the Wouxun dual-band models lose memory without warning and that he has replaced approximately 500 radios out of pocket because Wouxun refuses to honor warranties or fix the issue, or replace the defective radios.

What you see when clicking on the KG-UV6D page on

When you go to you get a couple of less-than-flattering messages with a message stating that Wouxun radios will no long be sold, but accessories will. The prices that are supposedly "closeout" are about the same prices I paid when I bought my 2 KG-UV2D radios at 2 different hamfests.

While there is no clear distinction as to whether the memory issue is exclusively with the handheld radios or also with their mobile radios, I did notice that the dual-band mobile is no longer offered on the site. The high price might have had a bit to do with that. Considering the relatively low price of the HT's, I thought that the dual-band mobile radio would have been under $200, but the $360+ price tag kept me away. I could buy plenty of other mobile radios for a lot less. Their quad-band mobile is also not appearing on the site, although the KG-UVA1 dual-band amateur/public service radio is still being offered, as is the KG-703E single-band VHF radio.

While I can sympathize with Griffin if indeed the radios are defective, the graphics used on the site are a bit over the top when trying to make a statement. But then again, I probably would be doing the same thing if the Chinese counterparts I relied on for service and support were treating me the same way.

PD0AC updated that a European distributor of Wouxun radios sold about 500 radios and only had 1 radio with the issue that Import Communications is reporting.

Wouxun came onto the scene a few years ago offering new radios at remarkably low prices, about $110 give or take $10. However, the last few hamfests I've attended, nary a Wouxun was in sight, replaced instead by an even lower-priced Baofeng radio series that has been offering many of the same features for about $50. The only reason I didn't buy one was because they had 2m/440, and not 2m/220.

I own 2 of the KG-UV2D radios with 2m/220 capability and the only problem I've encountered has been that one of the battery packs is now not holding a charge. Other than that I've had no issues with the radios. I don't know if this is isolated to a certain batch of radios that came of the assembly line or with an entire product line, but as this plays out I'm sure we'll find out more about this issue.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

RIP Comet ISON (2012-2013)

It appears that the much-hyped Comet ISON (officially designated C/2012 S1) that was expected to put on a spectacular nighttime show for the last few weeks of 2013 will not occur, as the nearly mile-wide comet has all but completely disintegrated after its flyby past the Sun on Thanksgiving Day.

Passing 684,000 miles from the sun, not even the immense size was enough to keep it intact as it sped past the Sun last Thursday. 

As it flew away, ISON was thought to have been disintegrated but then gave observers a glimpse of hope as it grew brighter moving farther from the Sun. However, it began to quickly fade yet again the further it went.

Time-lapse of ISON's flyby
of the Sun (
Some scientists had predicted that ISON could have been the "comet of the century", perhaps even brighter than the moon...if it survived its flyby, that is.

After 2011's flyby of Comet Lovejoy (C/2011 W3) gave viewers in the southern hemisphere a spectacular show for weeks afterward, hopes were high that ISON (named after a Russian observatory that discovered it in 2012) would be a spectacle for viewers in the northern hemisphere.

Comet ISON came from the Oort Cloud, an icy body of comet material far outside the boundaries of our solar system. Comets coming from this cloud may take thousands of years to orbit the Sun, or possibly never return.

So while ISON may have not survived its fiery plunge into our star, there is another comet that is around to give you a show. Another comet also named Lovejoy (C/2013 R1, not the one that passed in 2011) is visible in the northeast sky near dawn. So wake up early, grab some binoculars, and put on a jacket and take a glimpse.

Comet Lovejoy's path through December (