New Computer Device May Revive Radio Hobby

Remember how your Uncle Charlie used to hole up in the basement with his ham radio rig? He'd spend hours down there, tweaking his equipment and chatting in an arcane jargon with fellow hobbyists around the world.

The radio hobby---in its early days, closely allied with the audio hobby---has fallen on hard times in recent years. The personalities who might have been attracted to radio have mostly given themselves over to computers. But a new development from Rosetta Laboratories of Melbourne, Australia, may revive amateur radio and simultaneously introduce it to a whole new generation of cybernuts.

Called the Winradio, the device is a spectrum analyzer and wide-frequency-coverage communications receiver running off a receiver card plugged into a slot in a Wintel machine's motherboard. The Winradio comes as a kit with an antenna and operating software to let the user control it with mouse and keyboard. The operator can pull in stations via a graphic display called Visitune, which lets him or her drag a cursor across a representation of the scanned radio spectrum and click on peaks. According to Wired News' Ted Roberts, it also has a "virtually unlimited memory." Winradio's entry-level model WR1001i is priced at $495 US.

Winradio isn't simply an AM-FM receiver or shortwave setup. It's an extremely wide-band scanner, too, with a usable bandwidth 60 times wider than a car radio's. As an RF spectrum analyzer, it is 25% of the price of the cheapest one on the US market.

Originally developed for military uses, Winradio's sales are now 75% to hobbyists. Rosetta Laboratories also makes higher-end models for scientific, aeronautical, military, and police uses. Grove Enterprises of western North Carolina is Winradio's only US distributor. Further information is available at Winradio's website.