Issue #3 - An Innovator of Today, Kenny Martinez
Interview with Kenny Martinez, a Radio Innovator of Today
In Issue #1 of Trials and Errors, I promised to bring you stories of today’s radio innovators. This issue, I’m very happy to have Kenny Martinez featured here, one of the ham world’s premiere designers of solid-state linear amplifiers. His company, KM3KM Electronics, is based out of Florida but has its origins going back to Kenny’s ham days in Cuba. His interview is a fascinating story of entrepreneurship, innovation, and ham radio:
Kenny, your company is now only three years old, but in that time the Mercury amplifier has become known as a workhorse in over a thousand shacks around the world. Since the KM3KM Electronics start, you’ve now rolled out two additional products as well, the Mercury AT antenna tuner, as well as the new full legal limit Mercury LUX. You have certainly established yourself with a piece of the American Dream there in Florida with KM3KM Electronics. Can you please share with T&E readers how you became a ham radio operator, both in Cuba and the States?
“As a child, I had always been very interested in the operation and construction of electronic equipment and I enjoyed visiting many radio and television workshops in Cuba. I was 11 when I met my first ham mentors (or as they are called here, Elmers). They provided me with really old books and pamphlets published by American companies to prepare young radio technicians for the Second World War.”
“I read all that I could and picked up knowledge of how to work with vacuum tubes and transistors, which then allowed me to make and design my own transceivers. It was in the late 1990’s that I got my first radio license, CL6GMK. There were two other class upgrades and tests above that, and I took them to upgrade to my final call in Cuba as CO6KM. Later, I studied industrial electronics at Villa Clara University campuses and worked professionally in Cuban telecommunications until I came to the States where I got my first license as KM4TZN in 2016. Later I applied and changed to the vanity call of KM3KM.”
“Leaving Cuba has always been a challenge for those who are looking for a better life. It’s not easy to leave and look for the promised land that this great country represents, but it certainly has worked out that way for me as I am now an American Citizen. God has given me the opportunity to do what I love and to make a humble living by finding ways to improve radio communications. I have been blessed to work with radio amateurs around the world, a community I love, support, and enjoy serving. Before I go any further, let me dedicate our discussion to ham radio operators around the world, with my thanks.”
How did KM3KM Electronics grow, from the first version of your Mercury amp, to today? Is it any different going to the office now versus the days when no one ever heard of the Mercury amplifier?
“The ease of access to today’s sophisticated technologies has led to worldwide radio amateurs building their own equipment, and I was one of those. In 2017, I was inspired to design my own solid-state amp, which I named Mercury in honor of NASA's aerospace program and the first planet in our solar system. I continued to polish the design, from Mercury I, to Mercury II, and then to the Mercury IIIS, our present product.”
“Ham operator friends in my region were quick to ask me to build a Mercury for them. Then, the word-of-mouth reputation spread and I was asked for Mercury amps by hams from great distances. I thought I could build some efficiencies and design a more affordable solid-state amp for the amateur radio community, so I established my own company to do so and formed KM3KM Electronics LLC.”
“In 2020 I had the privilege of having Angel Ruiz, N2PTB, as a client and I immediately realized his potential. He has managed large departments in design at the hardware and software level and has a “people first” mentality that fits well with what KM3KM is all about. With his background and schooling in this discipline, and his love for Ham Radio, I proposed that he join KM3KM Electronics to help structure and move the company forward. So, to answer your question about how things have changed, we’ve grown and become more sophisticated in what we do, but both Angel and I have found that what Confucius said about work rings true: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’
When you read your stellar reviews on sites like QRZ, eHam and others . . . all of them are so positive. But there are some gripers who focus on the fact that it’s hard to buy one of your products. Let’s face it, you’re almost a year out for people on the waiting list. How do you expect this to go in the future, Kenny? Do you see it easing up at all, or is it just an impossible situation to manage such huge interest when you are building equipment by hand, one at a time?
“When we look at ways to grow the company, we think first about how potential customers see us and ultimately what they would have to say to others about us. We think about our company from the point of view of how we ourselves as operators would like to obtain and operate ham radio gear. While delivery times are important to the end-user – and I don’t discount that – the most important element has always been quality, service, and warranty. It is normal for any electronic equipment to fail, but who among us has not had a hard time with customer service from the larger companies in the amateur radio market!”
“That said, it is a tough situation for deliveries on linear amps. We have been improving our production line processes since 2021 to incorporate automation and mass production methods that will streamline the manufacturing process. This has helped us to counteract the increase in component prices, which are incredibly tenuous because of inflation and supply chain. We no longer build the small details by hand, but that does not mean that we don’t inspect every detail. I am very proud of our quality processes.”
“Given the hundreds of radio amateurs requesting our amps, it was logical to make a waiting list. . . So, yes, the lead times have grown as more hams are requesting one of our amplifiers. But as you’ll recall, we don’t charge anyone to become a member of this list, only when we schedule their amp for production. I think it’s admirable that we have ignored the law of commerce – that is Demand vs. Price. This means that if you are patient we will provide you fair value with an amplifier that you will be proud to use.”
How large a company is KM3KM, if you don’t mind my asking? I know that you’ve moved into the upper rank of sales for linear amplifiers, but I know nothing about how many staff you employ to pull this off?
“We’re a small company with 5 employees, but as you say our production and sales are at the level of other competitors in the market for top-selling linear amplifiers. Our competitors have also begun to parallel our format by using a waiting list and currently several have very long lead times. The difference is that in their case the wait time may be due to the lack of supply for critical components, but in our case, it is due to the demand level. I am very thankful to the ham radio community. As we continue moving forwards we will increase production capacity, but we will do this gradually. . . the training of new employees and our investments in infrastructure always end up affecting the bottom line and quality of the product and those are the things on which we cannot compromise.”
What companies do you admire, from either the ham radio community or from outside our hobby?
“I have always admired companies founded by visionaries. I am proud to say that Ford Motor Company and its founder Henry Ford is my favorite, and one I’ve tried to emulate. I greatly admire his entrepreneurship and way of doing business. It is coincidence, but one of the first Ford car models (“The Gentleman’s Roadster”) was sold for the same current price as the Mercury IIIS. It is also a coincidence that one of their car models was called the Mercury. One of the objectives of Ford Motor Company in Henry’s time was that every American could buy one of his vehicles, a purchase that could be made by a successful businessman but also a worker with minimum salary. I find that admirable.”
Kenny, the large and very successful radio businesses are offshore for the most part. Big guys like Yaesu, Icom and others are Japanese, of course. While we have a couple of younger companies in the USA building ham products (KM3KM Electronics being one of those), why do you think there aren’t more ham radio manufacturers here or in other industrialized nations? Is there anything you think the industry can do to spark more interest in radio communications innovation?
“Maybe a lot of this happens to be personal and not related to the environment as much as you’d imagine. You must be a ‘go and get it’ kind of person. For me, there have been many sleepless nights, vacations that have been moved or missed, and if you are not ready to live and breathe your business maybe it’s not for you. In the beginning, with many unknowns, you must surround yourself with quality people and believe in what you are doing; you must see that product as something you would purchase yourself.”
“The large electronics companies do not look at the amateur radio market because it is a very limited size compared to other consumer products such as smart phones. The electronics required, and especially the components of amplifiers for radio amateurs, are very expensive and require a lot of manual labor in production. I think it is a great challenge for a manufacturer of amateur radio gear here in the USA to maintain a stable profit while providing true value to the operator. I know this from experience!”
Any final thoughts on our topic of radio innovation?
“I don’t believe you can leave Amateur Radio innovation in the hands of companies. After all, this is a unique business where hams are the innovators, and we must help those along who have a concept in their minds. If we can bring a spark to these ideas, then you will see great new ham radio innovations being introduced as they are built in the back rooms and shacks across America and the world.”
Thank you, Kenny. I hope that “Trials and Errors” can become that “spark” you mention to help stimulate innovation into more companies like KM3KM Electronics. I’m sure you’ll continue to impress your users and reviewers with new and exciting innovation down the road.
“Thank you, Dave, and thank you to the ham radio community.”
If readers have questions and/or something I may have missed, please put them in the Forum linked here. I will endeavor to get you the answers to your inquiries. In our forum discussion for this post, please help me for future "innovator" interviews by suggesting names. Also, I have just posted a new Short Takes, with reviews of two nice ham accessories. Please check out that issue here on QRZ.
73 for now,
Click here to Discuss this Article in the Trials & Errors Forum
Dave Jensen, W7DGJ
Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica. He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.
Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ
- Issue #14: Collecting the Classics - March 13, 2023
- Short Takes #6: More CW and Dayton Hamvention - March 8, 2023
- Issue #13: Behind the Curtain of a Secret Language - February 27, 2023
- Short Takes #5: New "Dummies" Book and 3 New Paddles! - February 22, 2023
- Issue #12: From Startup to Market Leader - Martin Jue on Innovation - February 14, 2023
- Issue #11 - Field Day 2023 with the Mountain Topper and Sotabeams Bandhopper - February 1, 2023
- Issue #10 - Logging the Future! Net Control in Interactive Nets - January 25, 2023
- Issue #9- QRO with the Mercury LUX Legal Limit Amplifier - January 18, 2023
- Short Takes #4: Antenna Accessory and Cup Style Mobile Mount - January 18, 2023
- Issue #8 - Kick that Radio Club into Gear! - January 10, 2023
- Issue #7 - For the Love of QRP - January 2, 2023
- Issue #6- Four Things Your Elmer Never Told You About Ham Radio - December 26, 2022
- Short Takes #3: First Look at LUX Amp and New Software for SDR Control - December 25, 2022
- Issue #5- An Expensive 7 Band Dipole - December 19, 2022
- Issue #4 - Tuning Up a Kilowatt - November 30, 2022
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