The Radio Genie
By Tom M. Morton
Written for the PARC Newsletter, Newport News, VA
In the early twenties, the first Ham communications used equipment that was barely "electronic", just a high voltage spark an LC circuit tuned to an approximate frequency and a galena crystal for a receiver. The next improvement was the oscillator and the regenerative receiver, using an interrupted continuous wave. CW was born. From there various schemes were devised to transmit the human voice, but modulating the continuous wave amplitude with the voice was the most successful. This gave birth to amplitude modulation, and AM became very popular and ruled until the late fifties when single sideband was introduced. As before, many Hams rejected the new technology and complained about the squeaky SSB signal, but the advantages were soon recognized and the genie was out of the bottle.
As the bands became more crowded, the technology genie marched on bringing the transistor, better filters, IF shift, ICs, synthesized frequency generation, more complex receiver design, and eventually digital signal processing. Hams eagerly accepted and demanded these improvements, and the complexity of the transceiver grew exponentially. This created control problems. In the earlier days , all you needed to control your radio was a few switches and a couple of brass shafts with pretty knobs. This approach was useless when controlling digital circuitry, and a dedicated computer hiding behind the front panel took over the job.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a computer!...and it's controlling your radio now...but there is a problem with it...it's too complicated with all the buttons, all those menus, and all those pages in a book that's big enough (but too boring) to be a best seller. That's OK, the genie will save you again if you will let him. Not since the advent of single sideband, have Hams been so resistant to a technology change as they are to the idea of a PC controlled transceiver. Giving up the knob, for many, is a big step, but when it comes to controlling the modern digital circuitry it's as useless as training wheels on a Harley. The genie is hard at work in Arizona and Tennessee. For the last 4 years, hundreds of Hams have taken the next step and are controlling their Kachina 505DSP transceivers with Windows based computers. More recently, Ten Tec has joined the game with the Pegasus and the Jupiter. Hams are enjoying cutting edge transceivers with greatly simplified and faster control, and the books are less than 20 pages long!
The freedom and future possibilities are limitless. The control and the radio no longer have to be in the same box, room, state, or country. With software modifications and computer architecture your radio will not age and be replaced...it will grow with the future. Many improvements will be made just by downloading software from the manufacturer or a third party. N4PY, Carl Moreschi, is writing software for the Pegasus that greatly improves the radio. He comes out with a new version about once a month and E-mails it to his subscribers. Imagine getting a new radio once a month in your Inbox. Since I bought the Pegasus 1 1/2 years ago, I have added a noise blanker, a speech processor, synchronous AM, AM transmit, digital frequency calibration, an ID timer, and numerous level and control features. And, I didn't have to use a screwdriver or a soldering iron! There is a communications professor, Keith Lamonica, W7DXX, who has a Kachina and a Pegasus operating on the Internet in his Boston area home. It is still under development (and probably will always be), but they have been controlled by over 400 Hams in 40 different countries. It is possible for some Ham in Tokyo to talk to a friend in Yokohama, and have it truly be DX. Go to lamonica.com and operate his radios, or kachina-az.com and tentec.com and operate your own.
I have added a computer based audio spectrum analyzer to my radio, and can send graphic traces of a Ham's audio to him via E-mail while I am still talking to him. Apartment bound Hams can now operate the club station from home to take advantage of the tower and beams. Kachina is offering it's new Internet cluster program that monitors and automatically posts your frequency on the cluster nodes. Just like their RF spectrum analyzer, just a click with your mouse and you are talking to him...Oh, it also logs the contact...still think you want a knob?
With the stage set by the PC/TXCVR marriage, the genie is not only out of the bottle, he's soon to be out of this world. If the bands get too crowded, existing spread spectrum technology can now put a thousand more QRM and QRN free QSOs in the same space. All things are possible now, the only limit is the imagination. Got any ideas? Here's one of mine. There could be a program that would have a HW101, a Collins S line, or Drake Twins on the screen with matching characteristics, an antique radio simulator. At least the old-timers would have a picture of a knob even if they have to get a mouse to turn it for them. So next time you buy a radio, or walk down the beach and see a fancy bottle, don't pass up the genie.