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Issue #1 – Trials and Errors – Intro to Trials and Errors

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

I hope the Victorian artwork used in my logo for the new column has convinced you to give me a few minutes of your time to make my case for Trials and Errors, a regular piece published exclusively here on QRZ. It’s from the end of that Victorian era – 1895 to 1910 – that radio had its beginnings, and it’s there I find my inspiration to write and speak about the hobby that we love today. When I write, I recall those early radio experimenters. It may have begun with Marconi, Tesla, Fessenden and others, but there were a great number who came afterwards, all of them tapping into ‘wireless’ through endless trials and errors. Yes, some became famous names, but far more remain unsung heroes of radio.

The Telimco Complete Station
Photo Credit: rarenewspapers.com
I would like to dedicate my column to Hugo Gernsback, the first entrepreneur to manufacture and sell a complete radio package for the amateur. His company, the Electro Importing Company, advertised and sold in 1905 a complete package of wireless telegraph transmitter and receiver (the “Telimco” complete station, with a guaranteed range of one mile.)

Hugo was also responsible for starting the first association of Amateur Radio operators, the Wireless Association of America, which grew quickly into nearly 15,000 members. A few years later, Hugo founded radio station WRNY out of New York City. In short, this guy was a part of radio history that should be celebrated.

Hugo Gernsbeck and Isolator HoodWas everything a “win” for our early experimenters? Of course not. What makes Gernsback a model citizen for my column is that he was an innovator and an entrepreneur, the first to sell a commercial transmitter to amateurs. Did every project work out for Hugo? Of course not – in the world of trials and errors, most projects fall into the latter category. Look at the photo of Gernsback with his “Isolator Hood” as one example – a device to instill focus by feeding the brain pure oxygen while allowing no distractions. If that looks to you like the stuff of Victorian science fiction, you’re right. (Today, when Sci-Fi writers get their top award, it’s the Hugo Award . . . Hugo Gernsback is also known as the father of science fiction.)

This column, Trials and Errors, will feature new issues several times a month on a loosely defined schedule. Keep coming back and you’ll see something new in each issue . . . it could be a product review, an interview with an innovator of today, a trip report from a recent Hamfest or POTA activation, or even an editorial. As you’ll see, the column includes its own forum where you can add commentary, advise others of your own user experiences with a product I’ve reviewed, or even gripe about the author to your heart’s content. (That’s OK, I can take it. Griping is a regular practice for the Amateur Radio operator).

But where I really need your input lies in your suggestions for future ham radio products that can make their way into these pages. My mission is to always place an emphasis on products that are sold outside of the amateur radio dealer network. So, to kick things off, my first editorial comment is that our hobby depends too much on the distribution that has developed over the years. The current system means that it is very difficult for smaller companies to compete. In my view, finding a way to promote innovation – the T&E mission – is essential if we want to build a healthy cadre of world-class amateur radio innovators. Hugo Gernsback is a great example, but who are the Hugo’s of today? How do we find them and uncover their cool innovations? I’ll be writing about this extensively.

If a small company makes a great hex beam, or a world-changing ham gizmo, it’s only logical to want that product on the shelves of the major dealers. I understand that because good dealers are critical in their own way. When I got back into radio after a too-long absence, I called one of the big USA distributors and was blessed with an acquaintance whom I still count on today (thank you to W8BBQ); I know the value of a good dealer rep. And as an example of how distribution serves our community, I’m sure you’ve read about the QRZ and GigaParts collaboration on radios for new hams. Talk about giving back to the operators they serve!

But it’s not always possible to tap into that distribution network while you are building a new venture. Imagine how it would have affected Hugo Gernsback if he had opted to sell his radios through Sears and Roebuck instead of direct-to-users . . . perhaps his $8 radio would have been a $40 or $50 investment, cutting way back on his intended ‘amateur’ market. Today, a $600 antenna becomes a cool grand, and a $2900 linear amplifier becomes a $5K+ investment when they are marketed through dealers. While I won’t miss the chance to point out a great dealer product from an ICOM or Yaesu, you’ll see reviews here of amateur radio gear made by boutique innovators as the Internet has made direct sales possible. Accessory items (from sources like Amazon, eBay, Etsy or even IKEA) will also find their way into these pages if they’re worthy of discussion.

What makes a product “worthy of discussion” in Trials and Errors? First and foremost, it must do its job as described. While the products showcased here in the future will not have “Sherwood style” reviews with a lab bench and exhaustive testing, they will be rated for their user experience value in real-life shacks through fellow hams whom you will meet in these pages. They become worthy by improving our ability to communicate. An antenna that gets us out further, which pushes the boundaries of our station, or gives us coverage that we didn’t have before . . . a linear amp that follows us like a puppy dog as we change frequencies and move across the bands, or a key that just takes a pounding daily and keeps coming back for more. While there will always be differences of opinions, the core of a well-reviewed product on T&E will be its user experience value.

I’m anxious to start writing for you regularly. Please drop me a note in the forum below about your suggestions on products or topics for discussion. In closure for this issue, I’d like to introduce you to a regular feature called “Short Takes.” These small nuggets about gadgets or accessories won’t fit into my typical column format but they may still be of interest. Every now and again I will gather a few of these items that I’ve discovered and bring them together in “Short Takes” format for your enjoyment.

73 for now,

Dave W7DGJ

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