I remember taking a ride with my adoptive Dad up to Newport, Vermont one winter day. A friend of his had passed and his widow was selling her husband’s complete Ham radio set-up, including a sixty-foot tower. The man’s name was Noble Craft and he had a trucking company. His Ham radio hobby had always fascinated my Dad. Crafts call sign was W1SAT “The Sour Apple Tree” as he called it. As I recall we loaded some of the smaller equipment into the car, and a truck with a couple of guys was sent to Newport to get the one kilowatt Collins transmitter and the tower a couple of weeks later.
Piece by piece the sixty-foot disassembled galvanized steel tower was stowed in our basement and the gigantic one kilowatt Collins tube transmitter sat upstairs in the furnace room. We hooked up the beautifully made desktop-sized Collins receiver and spent hours listening to Ham radio operators around the globe. It was about this time that my Dad began to experience severe hearing loss. I went off to school and he lost interest in the radio equipment. I have no idea what happened to all of it but I do recall that he gave an oscilloscope to Ron Gadway, the local doctor, a ham operator. I can only guess that the tower was sold for scrap.
In later years when I had a few extra dollars, I purchased a good shortwave radio receiver. I was an occasional listener and I had a few programs that I listened to like the BBC Story Hour. Unfortunately, a friend saw the radio at a get-together at my house and dragged it out to the deck to listen to a Red Sox game, plugged in the adjustable power transformer, turned it to some insane setting, and burned it up. I attempted to fix it but it was never the same after that.
My career in the broadcast industry never included the technical side directly. Sure, I found it interesting and I can easily become drawn into the whole attraction to the gear, but not the in-depth science of it. Nearly 30 years ago I was compelled to do all of my commercial production of broadcast advertisements at home. I did not have the thousands of dollars required to build a studio. One day I asked broadcast engineer Ira Wilner if recording mixing and production could be done on a computer. At the time no one in this area was doing anything of the kind, but Ira gave me a list of the hardware and software I needed. It took a while but I got all of the required elements together, Ira made it all work on my computer and suddenly I had a broadcast quality studio in my home office. I still have one today and use it all the time. Even though radio has been a part of my working career since the beginning I have never tired of simply listening to it in its many forms
The industry has gone through the same changes that just about every industry has in the computer age. When I started I did sound editing with a razor blade and tape. Now I do it on a computer screen and have been for nearly a quarter-century. However, radio listening has always been done on a radio. I recently discovered that you can plug a dongle hooked to an antenna into a USB port on your computer. It is called SDR, or Software Defined Radio.
I bought one of these things recently and got it working with some help from YouTube and the internet. The frequencies and types of radio you can listen to are only limited by your antenna and your software. The software I downloaded is free and the dongle and antenna were 29 bucks. The antenna is a joke but I can soon fix that. The exciting thing is that I got it working. I’m on a steep learning curve with this thing right now but that’s the fun of it. Listening to the world is still interesting and now with SDR, it is more economical than it has ever been.