Saturday, October 4, 2008

Fact-Checking Harry Helms

Well, somebody's gotta do it, so it might as well be me.

I do searches for my name on engines like Google, Yahoo, etc., and just a couple of days ago discovered a "prediction" page I created back in 1999 is still up and active. It's my "farewell address" upon selling a web site I created,, to Universal Radio back in 1999. As you can see, the site dealt with topics in shortwave and ham radio as well as general personal communications topics.

The page that is the subject of this post can be found here. So how accurate were my predictions, given the hindsight afforded by nine years and four months? I'll address each using the same heading ("WHAT," etc.) that I used back in 1999.

WHAT: Pretty much self-explanatory, and Fred Osterman and the gang at Universal have done a terrific job with the site.

WHY: Things took a different turn than I projected here as my role with LLH proved more time-consuming than I expected. It also proved more lucrative than expected; we moved into the RF/wireless market at exactly the right time with such titles as Short Range Wireless Communications and RF Engineering for Wireless Networks. Not only did these sell well, they attracted the attention of Elsevier and culminated in our acquisition by them in August, 2001. I never got beyond a prototype for the hobby electronics site, and my plans to self-publish my own books under the Trephination Media imprint were postponed indefinitely due to LLH demands. After we were acquired, I have to admit I lost a good bit of my drive and need to constantly be doing stuff; it was like I had climbed my mountain and didn't feel like I had to prove anything more to myself or others. I was burned out from all the 60+ hour weeks, and the cash from the sale meant I could coast for a while. All that is a roundabout way of admitting I got lazy for a couple of years after the sale to Elsevier! But hey, that's why I have all these cool ghost town, etc., photos on this blog; instead of working on a book or web site, I went looking for stuff in the Big Empty of the American west. There is something to be said for taking a couple of years off from the rat race and simply pursuing your interests, wherever they may lead you. I'm glad I did!

HOW DID IT DO: Yes, was actually a profitable site for me. It would probably be even more profitable today through such programs as Google's Adwords, etc.

WHY UNIVERSAL: Let me add that Universal is the only place I would buy a high end (say, over $300) item of shortwave or ham radio gear. I've been a happy customer of theirs since the 1980s.

MY THANKS TO: Yes, those people I cited were instrumental in the success of I am still grateful to them. And, yes, there was really someone in the "Office of the POTUS" (president of the United States) who was a regular visitor to the site! I had originating domain resolution software installed on my server, and the "Office of the POTUS" domain meant that visitor was using a computer in the White House, New Executive Office Building, or Old Executive Office Building. So who was it???

SHORTWAVE RADIO AND THE CALIFORNIA RAILROAD MUSEUM: My prediction here have largely been borne out, although satellite radio certainly has not taken off outside the U.S./Canada as I expected. The announcement a couple of weeks ago that Radio Netherlands is ending its English broadcasting to North America is just the latest nail in the coffin of international shortwave broadcasting to developed countries. One thing I totally missed was how rapidly wireless broadband has grown and become relatively commonplace and not that expensive; that is going to be the real "killer app' replacing terrestrial radio, not satellite radio.

WILL SHORTWAVE RADIO DIE SOON? No it didn't, but it is still doing a prolonged fade into irrelevance. It will never totally disappear, much like movies did not totally replace live theater, but it will become a very niche medium with only a fraction of the audience it had in the 1960s and 1970s.

PRIVATE SHORTWAVE BROADCASTING IN THE UNITED STATES: They are secular religious fanatics, and, like religious religious fanatics, are beyond the reach of logic or reason. There is even a moonbat idea circulating to use the 26 MHz band for digital broadcasting in the United States. Whatever. . . . .

WHAT ABOUT HAM RADIO? Despite removing all Morse code requirements for any class of ham license, growth essentially remains stalled. Since ham licenses are issued for ten years and a one year grace period for renewal following expiration, I suspect the total number of living hams, as opposed to "active" licenses, might be declining!

WHAT ABOUT PIRATE RADIO? It's over, and has been for some time. It's interesting to hear a pirate station from a strictly DXing perspective, but really creative people are developing programs for delivery via internet streaming, not shortwave.

THE Y2K STUFF: Did I nail that or what? But such hysterias are a constant part of American life, as witnessed by the supposed financial apocalypse of the past two weeks. Here's a hint, boys and girls; it was all a fraud concocted by financial institutions to get you-----that's right, you, the average taxpaying schlub-----to bail them out of a lot of terrible lending decisions over the past decade. In fact, it was almost like Joe Hill arrived on Wall Street and organized a strike: give us $700 billion, or we banks won't lend you any more money! And, of course, the assorted mountebanks and jackasses that overrun Washington, including presidents-to-be John "Grandpa Rambo" McCain and Barrack Obama, went along with this nonsense. Screw it all, says I; sell the country to the Chinese and let's get it over with.

But here's one more prediction on the communications front: a decade from now, most of us will be using something very similar to today's iPhone, a sort of mobile universal communications device. It will be a telephone, have wireless broadband internet access, be a MP3 and video player, and will store your contacts, photos, home video clips, etc., and maybe even have some sort of improved text/eBook reader. And every car will have a docking station for it. This is already starting to happen; our new Scion Xd has a built-in iPod port that not only plays music from an iPod/iPhone but also recharges it (I've tested it with my iPod Touch and it works great). These devices will be the killing blows for much of terrestrial and satellite radio, especially for U.S. broadcasting. For decades, their business model has been premised on government-sanctioned scarcity-----only so many radio stations can broadcast in a given area, and if you don't like what's on the dial locally in, say, New York you didn't have the alternative of listening to stations in Los Angeles. That's all going to change once these mobile universal communications devices become commonplace. Indeed, new "radio stations" will not use "radio" but instead rely on IP streaming via the internet. Anyone anywhere in the world with a PC, the appropriate software, and a broadband connection will be in the broadcasting business. This shift is already underway with the growth of internet radio listening at fixed locations like home and work, but when wireless broadband becomes common, and listening can move to cars and mobile devices, it will really rocket into the stratosphere. It's going to be an interesting "radio" world in another decade!

Anyway, bookmark this post and check back in 2017 to see how I did!