Using DLARC, Amateur Radio Operators are Resurrecting Technical Ideas from the Past, Using 21st Century Tech

A Thank You to Internet Archive’s Digital Library of Amateur Radio & Communications
by Steve Stroh N8GNJ

In 2021, I was a member of the committee that recommended approval of a significant grant from Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) to Internet Archive to create the Digital Library of Amateur Radio & Communications (DLARC). I could foresee the potential of DLARC then… but I couldn’t then imagine the scale of what DLARC would become, nor how useful DLARC would prove to be for the entirety of the Amateur (Ham) Radio community worldwide.

In my newsletter Zero Retries, I write about interesting developments in Ham Radio to folks like me whose primary interest in Ham Radio is experimenting with the more advanced technological possibilities of Ham Radio. Such developments include communicating with data modes locally and worldwide (Packet Radio), using Ham Radio satellites and communicating with Ham Radio astronauts on the International Space Station, and developing M17, a new two way radio technology based entirely on open source (to mention just a few).

One of my favorite ways to use the DLARC (nearly 120,000 items now, and still growing) is to re-explore ideas that were proposed or attempted in Ham Radio, but for various reasons, didn’t quite become mainstream. Typically, the technology of earlier eras simply wasn’t up to some proposed ideas. But, with the technology of the 2020s such as cheap, powerful computers and software defined radio technology, many old ideas can be reexamined with perhaps succeed in becoming mainstream now. The problem has been that much of the source material for such “reimagining” has been languishing in file cabinets or bookcases of Ham Radio Operators like me, with nowhere to go. With the grant, IA could hire a dedicated archivist and began receiving, scanning, hosting, and aggregating electronic versions of old Ham Radio material.

One of my favorite examples of maybe we should try this again? is a one page flyer for a radio unit designed for data – the  NW Digital Radio UDRX-440. That radio was a leading-edge idea in 2013, but didn’t become a product. One reason for that fate was that it required a small but powerful computer that NW Digital Radio was forced to develop itself, which was expensive. More than a decade later, the computer that NW Digital Radio required, with a quad-core, 1.8 GHZ processor and 1 GB of RAM is available off-the-shelf – for $35. Perhaps it’s time for an innovative Ham Radio manufacturer to try creating something like the UDRX-440 again. Being able to provide a link to illustrate such a concept, and prove that one manufacturer got as far as the design stage, can be inspirational.

Another example maybe we should try this again? is the PACSAT system, a data-communications protocol and hardware specification for Ham Radio satellites that combined multiple receivers with a single high speed transmitter for more efficient throughput of data. In the 1990s, PACSAT was proposed and several satellites were actually built and put into orbit. But then, PACSAT required dedicated, expensive, specialized hardware suitable only for a satellite. In the 2020s, a PACSAT system could replace a Ham Radio repeater with a software defined receiver (can now listen to multiple frequencies) and a few other off-the-shelf parts. The difference that DLARC makes is that all the original reference material for PACSAT can easily be found in DLARC. If some graduate student were to email me looking for a project, I can suggest that they create a “PACSAT 2025” – and point them to all of the PACSAT material in DLARC.

Many new Ham Radio Operators live in “restricted” living arrangements such as apartments, condominiums, or communities that don’t allow external antennas. Thus, to operate on the Ham Radio “High Frequency – HF” bands (shortwave) bands, some “creativity” is required – a stealthy antenna. One of my favorite collections within DLARC is 73 Magazine which was published monthly for 43 years, with many, many antenna construction articles such as the “compressed W3EDP” HF antenna that would fit into an attic. Unlike current Ham Radio magazines, all 516 issues of 73 Magazine can be browsed, and downloaded, and because Internet Archive does optical character recognition (OCR), every word of every issue is keyword searchable.That, is powerful and ample “food for the imagination” of Ham Radio Operators looking to the past for some interesting projects to tackle.

Those are just a few examples of the utility of DLARC from my perspective. Ham Radio has existed for more than a century, but prior to DLARC, there was no comprehensive online archive of Ham Radio material. There were some personal archives, some Ham Radio clubs and organizations had their newsletters online, but there was no comprehensive online archive of Ham Radio material. DLARC is now the archive that Ham Radio has been missing. Most significantly, unlike some Ham Radio organizations, material in DLARC is free for public access (though some material is subject to Controlled Digital Lending). DLARC includes club newsletters (from all over the world), Ham Radio books and magazines (some from very early in the 20th century), audio recordings, video recordings, conference proceedings… literally a treasure trove of knowledge and ideas and inspiration.

Thank you Internet Archive and Archivist Kay Savetz K6KJN for all the hard work in creating and growing Digital Library of Amateur Radio & Communications – we really appreciate it (and I use it nearly every day).

Steve Stroh
Amateur Radio Operator N8GNJ
Bellingham, Washington, USA

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