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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Radio roared back

In the early 1980s it seemed like radio technology was passé. CDs were a big hit, and FM radio was beginning to lose listeners. Aside from sports, news, and talk, everyone had quit listening to AM the decade before. AM Stereo was dead on arrival. Most households in the U.S. signed up for cable TV, no longer depending on over-the-air reception of television which is just another kind of radio. Most people used telephones with wires. The CB craze had come and gone. Outside of certain trades and professions such as physicians, few people had pagers.

Today your Samsung or Apple smartphone has so many radios inside that it requires at least five antennas. Many people use Bluetooth headsets or earpieces. You open your car door and garage door while still several feet away. If you have retained wireline service at home, you're likely to have at least one cordless phone on the line. You might have a GPS receiver in your car, and there's one in your smartphone. Your laptop and tablet depend on a WiFi router or access point. Your desktop PC might have a cordless keyboard and mouse. The door to your office, the gate at your employer's parking lot, and increasingly your hotel room require a badge or keycard that is read without physical contact. Your passport can be read without contact, too. If you haven't yet used contactless payment such as for a subway line, you soon will. Within ten years almost everything for sale in a retail store will be RFID-tagged.

All those things happen by radio. In fact, the number of radio receivers in use has never been higher — and with the forthcoming Internet of Things, there could be 50 or more active radios for every person living in the developed world. Today, not the 1930s, is the Golden Age of Radio. Advances in computing hardware and software would be of far less value and usefulness without radio technology.

And this is one reason why I've reentered ham radio after a long absence.