NewLogo.gif (2987 bytes) Comments by Harry Helms, AK6C

Thoughts At The End Of The Journey


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WHAT: DXing.com has been sold to Universal Radio. Effective June 1, 1999, ownership will be transferred from Trephination Media to Universal. I'll be assisting Fred Osterman and his crew in the transition and will also be available to help as needed for a few weeks after June 1.

WHY? I have recently resumed an active role with LLH Technology Publishing; I'm now working with authors to develop books on embedded hardware design, PCI bus intefacing, peripheral device control using Visual Basic, and PIC microcontrollers. I am also developing LLH's Hobby Electronics site with the assistance of my associate editor Kelly Johnson. I am writing a book on MP3 audio systems. Trephination Media (ISBN 1-892891-xx-x) is preparing to publish its first group of books on such topics as FEMA, secret military programs, and weird science (did you know the National Science Foundation is funding research into mind/matter interaction?). Something had to go, and DXing.com was it!

HOW DID IT DO? DXing.com did produce a modest net profit in 1998. As I like to say, its profit was several millions of dollars greater than Amazon's! But DXing.com was the least profitable of my business activities, although the experience it let me gain in Web site development and management was invaluable.

WHY UNIVERSAL? LLH sold the HighText line of radio books to Universal Radio in June, 1997. That was a pleasant transaction, and Fred has done an outstanding job with those titles. Given that Universal is the leading shortwave equipment dealer in North America, they were a natural fit for DXing.com.

MY THANKS TO Glenn Hauser for his support of DXing.com since its inception, first with his weekly SW/DX reports and later with his "Continent of Media" program available here in Real Audio. I have known and communicated with Glenn for about three decades now, but our only face-to-face meeting was in 1978 in Atlanta! Similar thanks go to Don Schimmel for his terrific "Radio Intrigue" column each month. Don and I have been corresponding about various radio mysteries for over 15 years; I feel he is a good friend even though we've never met! Happily, Fred wants both to continue their contributions to DXing.com. Thanks also go to Bob Crane of C. Crane Company; their ads in "Newsroom" each month during 1998 were a big reason why DXing.com turned a profit last year! Regular contributors, such as Shawn Axelrod, Lee Silva, and Anita McCormick, graciously shared their information with me. And I especially want to thank the over 12,000 unique visitors DXing.com has averaged each month since last October. I just wish I knew the identity of that person who keeps visiting from the Office of the President of the United States---meaning someone in the White House, Old Executive Office Building, or New Executive Office Building. Bill, is that you? Hillary? Al? Chelsea??? Socks???????

WHY IS INTERNATIONAL BROADCASTING LIKE THE CALIFORNIA STATE RAILROAD MUSEUM? The California State Railroad Museum is the only reason I can think of to visit Sacramento. It's worth it, too; by far, it's the best railroad museum in America. I recently made a return visit, and as a I inspected some classic Pullman sleeper cars it struck me how much passenger railroads had in common with international broadcasting.

The passenger railroad business was wiped out in a few years after World War II by the rise of passenger airlines. As the museum exhibits show, the railroads tried to compete by offering better food in the dining cars, more porters in the sleepers, etc., but they couldn't compete with the rapidity and convenience of air travel.

There was no reason why the passenger railroads couldn't have entered the passenger aviation business; there was no reason why Union Pacific couldn't have dominated the West Coast air travel market the way Southwest Airlines does today. But the passenger railroads made a big mistake. They thought they were in the railroad business, but they were actually in the transportation business.

International broadcasters think they're in the shortwave broadcasting business, but they're in the communication business. Their new competition is the Web and direct broadcast satellites. And those two technologies are going to eat shortwave broadcasting's lunch.

Back during the Gulf War and collapse of the Soviet Union, shortwave radio was the only to go directly to the source for news and information about events in a distant land. Today? Well, I've been following the events in Yugoslavia and Kosovo mainly via the Web, and I suspect a lot of you are doing the same. The one advantage shortwave had---the ability to access international information quickly and cheaply---has now been trumped by the Web. In addition to audio, the Web also offers colors graphics, video, and text. And, unlike shortwave, there's no quirky ionosphere to deal with nor interference to fight.

People who feel the future of shortwave broadcasting is bright like to point out the low bandwidth of the Web, high access charges for the Web, cost of PCs, etc. But these people are making a classic mistake: they are assuming tomorrow will be like today. Guess what? Bandwidth is getting incredibly broad (I'm now using a cable modem via TCI and you can't believe how fast the Web is with one!), internet access is getting cheaper, and PCs are now getting cheaper than most television sets. Yes, I know Web access costs more in Japan and many European nations, but that's because of government quasi-monopolies and regulations. Very soon those nations will realize that fast, cheap Web access is a fundamental requirement of a twenty-first century economy and relent. . . . and if they don't, the economy of the United States will just grow at an even more amazing rate compared to the rest of the world. Eventually, fast and cheap Web access will be like electricity and safe drinking water---that is, one of the things you can take for granted in any developed nation.

Are you using Internet Explorer 5.0? Or RealGuide from Real Networks? As I write this, I'm listening to Brazil's Radio Globo. But I'm not listening to it on 11805 kHz shortwave. . . . I'm listening to it via Real Audio thanks to RealGuide. And you know something? Despite the limitations of current streaming audio technology, I'm getting better reception now via the Web than I get at the same time on my Drake R8! That, my friends, is how the Web will impact international broadcasters.

And direct satellite broadcasting might prove to be ultimately a bigger threat than the Web. Yes, I know many shortwave advocates have been pooh-poohing direct satellite broadcasting, but it will arrive sometime in the coming decade and it will be huge in the developed world. What listener in his/her right mind will put with the noise, fading, and interference of shortwave when CD-quality audio is available via satellite?

SO SHORTWAVE LISTENING WILL DIE SOON? No! Moving the bulk of high power international broadcasting to the Web and satellites will reduce interference and congestion, allowing lower power stations in the Third World to be more widely heard. And there will always be people who will relish the challenge of pulling a weak signal out of atmospheric noise and a quirky ionosphere. DXing will never be mainstream, or even as big as it was around the time of the Gulf War, but it will be a thriving niche activity, much like model railroading.

BUT PRIVATE SHORTWAVE BROADCASTING IN THE UNITED STATES. . . .  As much as I admire the spirit and determination of people like Jeff White of WRMI and Al Weiner of WBCQ, private shortwave broadcasting in the United States is an idea whose time has come and gone.

WHAT ABOUT HAM RADIO? Regardless of how ham radio is restructured or whether the Morse code requirement is eliminated for all licenses, ham radio, especially on frequencies below 30 MHz, will continue to shrink due to competition from the internet. The thing that turned me on to ham radio as a kid---being able to talk somebody on the other side of the world---can now be done more easily, less expensively, and more reliablly via the Web using internet telephony and video technologies such as CU/See-Me. If I were a kid today, I don't think I would ever get interested in ham radio. The closed, insular nature of ham radio that actively discourages newcomers doesn't help either. It's strange; I recently got new California auto plates bearing my call letters, AK6C, but I feel less interested in ham radio than I have since getting my first license over three decades ago. Any other long-time hams feel the same way?

WHAT ABOUT PIRATE RADIO? I've soured on pirate radio over the past few years. While I still fully support the concept of giving the people frequency space on the AM, FM, and shortwave bands for non-commercial free radio, I am disillusioned at how petty some pirate operators are (especially those teeing off on Al Weiner via libelous e-mail campaigns) and how pirate broadcasting is not as creative and innovative as it once was. The most interesting "free radio" today isn't even on radio; it's on the Web using MP3 technology. Visit Shoutcast to see what I mean.

WHAT'S GOING WITH THAT Y2K STUFF? Not radio-related, but I had to comment on this. Here's what will happen with that Y2K business: some checks will arrive late, but that will be offset by bills that will arrive late. After a couple of weeks, everything will be straightened out. Yeah, some computers in the Third World/former USSR will crap out, but computers in those places crap out all the time for other reasons. No biggie. What is fascinating about the Y2K hype is how it has become a touchstone for various people and groups who hate our technological society and want it to be destroyed. Eric Utne and the idiots who take his Utne Reader seriously are anxiously looking forward to a Y2K catastrophe, but so is evangelist James Dobson and his idiot followers. The far right and the far left have much more in common that they're able to admit!

ANYTHING ELSE? Just another "thank you!" to a contributors and visitors to DXing.com! You folks are what made this so much fun since it came on-line in July, 1997. I hope to see all of you again somewhere down the road; I hope you drop by Hobby Electronics from time to time and say hello! Since I will no longer be the editor of DXing.com, you can best reach me at my personal e-mail of harryh@citycom.com. For the last time. . . . . 73 and good DX to all!


Entire contents copyright 1999 by Trephination Media. All rights reserved.