When considering an investment in technology, the first thing to know is that you buy the Sizzle, Not the Steak.
What does that mean?
If you drive past a steak house, you will undoubtedly smell mesquite smoke or some other aroma to stir the juices accompanying that reward center of your brain. A wise entrepreneur will attempt to use all the senses as bait. The sizzle is the bait. Regarding steak, the payoff is delivering it to you exactly as you expect.
Theatres use popcorn. The fragrance will trigger memories. Possibly you are at the mall to look for clothes but, the scent, along with signs and lines of patrons, will trigger a diversion in many who are not on a tight schedule. The sizzle is reliving the memory even if the movie and company are different. The first time you enjoy a movie with popcorn and friends is precious and becomes part of who you are.
Technology is loaded with promise. Unfortunately, it is also packed with inexpensive microcomputers and software with a finite lifetime.
Case in point and the reason for this article.
I collect and restore vintage radios. As long as the case is in good shape, I will consider the rest of the process of laying out cash for something that has little practical value in this world today. Why does only the case matter?
The components in that radio are still available.
My original entry into this hobby was Amateur Radio. The sizzle for me is to restore a radio and have it functional. The memory of when that radio was new transports me to an earlier time. Many purchase things on eBay for the same reason. The sizzle is that connection to a time when you sat on Grandma’s lap as she read to you. Perhaps it was that first easy bake oven or set of Legos.
With me, it was listening to a baseball game with my grandfather. The old floor model Zenith with that prominent speaker transported him and me to the game. This event was a magical time and a fond memory.
Without beleaguering the point, my first expensive transceiver (A Swan 350D) still works. Yes, I have had to replace parts along the way but, I can still get them. That radio was the first hybrid to incorporate tubes, transistors, and some digital technology.
From HeathKit to Collins, even today, if you buy one at a swap meet, the odds are great; you will be able to find what you need to get it back on the air.
While technology marches on and offers us more whistles and bells, conversely, it takes longevity away.
In my closet is a costly modern radio. Built-in the 1990’s, this radio performed well, until one day it didn’t. Not only was the radio a solid performer, but it also looked nice. Some would argue that the FT 990 was one of the best radio’s Yaesu ever built.
Once I narrowed it down, I knew what I needed; there was a catch. The manufacturer no longer has the parts. Purchasing parts on eBay and other online sources is a crapshoot, as I found out.
Some people buy radios like mine, cannibalize them, much like the junkyards of old did with cars, and sell it one piece at a time. The part I ordered was butchered in the process and was worthless when it got to me.
As radio enthusiasts, I say all that to say this: we might need to shift our mindset, including how we spend our money.
In the 80’s I began the process of learning about computers. As an engineer, I saw the transition in progress. Electronic devices were becoming something one used and trashed when they malfunctioned. Televisions are a perfect example
When asked about a contract on that new TV, ‘just in case,’ my response was ‘hell no.” Firstly, it is wasted money, and secondly, when the thing dies, it will be time for something newer.
In the early days of home computers, a device with less power than your smartwatch costs a bundle. Five hundred dollars for sixteen meg of ram was the going price. That ram was soon outdated, as was the entire computer.
Even back in the day, we should have realized we had purchased the sizzle. What could we do with that PC then? Word processors were indeed a novelty, as were spreadsheets.
Today, we have redesigned the radio to resemble a radio of old, but that ends with its appearance.
Menus instead of knobs and displays instead of an S meter which can be daunting to the older ham. There are also multiple ways to integrate your radio with your computer. All of this ‘sizzle’ depends upon how long there are parts available, and your level of interest.
When you purchase a used radio, that mindset shift needs to include it’s age.
Much like an old car, it can only go so many miles. The radio is only viable as long as the replacement parts are available. The clock starts ticking the day it leaves the factory.
My Yaesu FT 990 is worthless as a radio; what about the other vendors? My Kenwood TS 520S, along with the 830 S, still works perfectly. They are both much older than the FT 990. What if I purchased a used, but newer Kenwood of the same age as the FT 990? I suspect that parts for it might also be an issue.
My Alinco DX 70 went silent one day. Alinco no longer carries that little speaker it uses. My point is not to bash the vendors. If you are like me and enjoy the soft glow of a dial light along with watching an S-meter lazily sway with the QSB, consider only buying a new radio, not used.
Either stick with the vintage equipment you know you can get parts for or spend the dollars on a radio with warranty and longevity.
Research part availability before you invest your money and time in a new old radio.
The Chinese have sent a message to the world via products like the Baofeng.
I realize that many speak poorly of that radio but, I have several expensive handhelds that the replacement battery will cost more than a new radio with a battery.
Perhaps the cost of this radio is about what we should be paying for software-defined products with little longevity.
My name-brand handheld radios perform no better than the thirty-dollar version. Again, the only difference that I can see is the interface to program the radio.
If the Chinese radio stops working, I am not going to worry about finding parts. If my radio’s that cost a small fortune falter, I will invest the time and energy to repair them. Either the name brand manufacturers need to acquire the mindset that Hams value the radio as more than just a commodity, or the off-brand manufacturers can continue to design and sell radio’s that we can all agree are disposable once they die.
The message is clear. If you want to sell a handheld or other product for hundreds of dollars more than the Chinese counterpart, the vendor’s mindset also needs to change.
We keep our radios and value them not as a commodity but as something we could pass on to our kids. Stocking replacement parts for expensive radios would benefit the community, and it would be a selling point.
While radios are not the only technology to suffer the fate of progress, we also see how the automobile industry is suffering because of the lack of computer chips.
If I were Ford, I would offer a ‘back to basics’ automobile. You would genuinely need to sell it and have people interested, but in truth, I would love to have a (new old car) with three on the tree, roll-up windows, and an AM radio with half a dozen presets. We don’t need chips to run the damned thing; we need a spark, gas, compression and air mixed and timed with points that need adjusting every so often.
Can you tell me what the sizzle might be?