Gem from GK Chesterton

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

From The Everlasting Man

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shortwave Radio: One Step Up the Geek Ladder

I'm not climbing the corporate ladder.  I am climbing the geek ladder.  And yesterday I just got a promotion!!!

My son and I went to one of our favorite spots in town today: Mind Port.  Mind Port is worth visiting if you're anywhere within the northwest corner of Washington State.  I wouldn't drive 200 miles to see it.  But I'd drive 100 miles.     There are truckloads of cool hands-on exhibits, many of which are science based.  All of which are either engaging, fun, mentally challenging, odd or a combination of these.  One exhibit was a shortwave radio.  We spent about 30 minutes running through different frequencies to find signals.  We had a blast!  It reminded me of fossil digging: you have to sort through a bunch of garbage to find something of value*.  After getting charged, we wanted to dive a bit deeper so we walked down the street to The American Museum of Radio and Electricity.    The AMRE is worth visiting if you're anywhere in the northwest corner of the United States.  I'd drive 300-400 miles just to see this museum.  There's a huge collection of antique radios and scientific instruments.  Lots of hands-0n exhibits and demonstrations.  See their website to check out all of the goodies.

AMRE also just happens to sell shortwave radios.  My son and I, filled with the radio equivalent of gold rush fever bought a 1970's Kenwood QR-666 shortwave radio.  

Before long, we had an antenna strung up in the kitchen and, I believe, that is when I ascended one rung on the geek ladder.

My "About Me" blurb on the side bar of this blog used to read:

1) Proud father. 
2) Geologist. 
3) Geek. 
4) Writer. 
5) Christian. 
6) Work in progress for numbers 1-5.

But I'm changing that.  It will now be:

1) Proud father. 
2) Geek. 
3) Geologist. 
4) Writer. 
5) Christian. 
6) Work in progress for numbers 1-5.

I'm novice in the shortwave gig so I'd love to hear your feedback, hints, tips, and tricks if you've dipped your toe into this pool. Or jumped into the deep end.  I'm sure the antenna set up can be improved over stringing up a wire in the kitchen.  I remembering hearing about some really strange signals on the shortwave frequency.   Help me out here.  Bring it on!

As an aside, the radio didn't come with a manual.  Fifteen or twenty years ago I'd either be out of luck or about to embark on a journey of weeks (or months?) to track down a manual.  But as the curator of the museum was lamenting the lack of the manual, I told him (without pause) that I'd be able to "geddidonline".   Sure enough, within 3 minutes at home I had a PDF version of the Kenwood QR-666 manual.  If you're looking for out of print electronic equipment manuals, why not start at Tim Roberts?  His site worked wonderfully for me.  And the price was right.  But the astonishing part to me was that I didn't even hesitate to think that I could immediately retrieve this obscure document.  I mean, really.  C'mon.  What is more obscure than QR-666?** 

I'm amazed that "Geddidonline"  has become reflexive for us.  We know with certainty that if there's something we need to learn or find out or buy, we can "geddidonline".  I'm more baffled now if something can't be acquired from the Internet than if it can.  5 Bonus Points for your story about something you search for in vain online.***

As another aside, I'm thoroughly disillusioned by "RadioShack".  I put the name in quotes because I figured that "RadioShack" could help me out with an antenna for my new "radio".  How wrong I was.  Sure I could get a bluetooth headset there, or an Xbox controller, or a Sprint phone plan.  But the actual percentage of "radio" gear occupying the shelves was 1% of the store.    That might be on the generous side.  And, to make matters worse, that percentage was greater than the "radio" expertise of the staff.  He suggested I try another "RadioShack" store, thinking that another "RadioShack" would have more "radio" equipment than this branch.  No thanks. I think I'll just geddidonline.

The Fine Print
*I'm stretching the analogy, because I find the host rocks to fossils of value too and not garbage.

**I'm sure there's plenty, and I'd love to hear your stories fishing the ponds of obscurity.  5 Bonus Points for a great tale in this line.

***Subtract 5 points if you come up with something like "my car keys".  You know what I mean.  Don't be a wiseacre!

Image Credit for Radio:


  1. As a general rule, I can find anything on-line, including books that are out of print and instructions to do 'most anything. However, though I've looked in multiple places, I have found no trace of the first book I ever read, Matilda and her Kittens.

    I have found no indication that such a book exists, but I can remember it in quite good detail, including the useful information that giving chicken bones to kittens is a bad idea.

  2. I don't have quite the same problem as you. The first book I remember reading is Cat in the Hat. There's a few copies of that one floating around.

    I do remember very specifically where I was. I remember the light clicking on and thinking, "I'm reading!"

  3. Brian, I'm still digging in boxes for that little "boost" in reception...

    It will be worth the wait!

  4. JK, I suppose it is never enough, is it? Once you get one boost, you want another, and another...

    Much like eating Chubby Hubby. :)


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