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A Solid Wall of RF

When I find something that works, I buy a lifetime supply

When I find something that works, I buy a lifetime supply. One of those rare things was a small FM transmitter with digital readout.

You might remember these little transmitters. Before streaming was cool, one could take a laptop with a wireless network card (EVDO in those pre-LTE days), tune in Wisconsin Public Radio and transmit it on an open FM frequency to the car radio as one drove down �the 101� (that�s California-speak, where all highways begin with �the�).

Not a bad trick�listening to a pseudo-radio playing the cheesehead informational hits while cursing the LA traffic.

You really needed to pull over to �tune� it, but I do know that it would not disconnect from San Diego to Santa Barbara � a run of about 200 miles, give or take.

One of the neat things was that there were only a few open �slots� on the FM dial, so when I shut the little transmitter off, I could hear an endless string of cars on the highway dip in and dip out with whatever tape or iPod-type device they were listening to.

Within a few years, the open slots weren�t so open, especially when a Franken FM took that magic 87.7-87.9 slot.

My listening habits were saved, at least temporarily, when one manufacturer produced a high-quality (read: more than Part 15 power level) device that would kind of blow a hole open on the dial. One could hear these a block away, so of course, some broadcaster called foul, and magically, the imports stopped. I thought I had bought a lifetime supply, but alas, poor construction and design limited the device�s lifetime.

In the end, it made more sense to buy cars with USB slots, two outlets � one always on, one not � a mini-plug and Bluetooth. Today, I really don�t want to drive a car that doesn�t have those.

When it comes to rental cars, half the time they don�t have all of that stuff, and the other half of the time they block the Bluetooth; that means I have to consume radio like a �normal� person.

And that is easier said than done.

I�ve taken to making a checklist: Adjust the mirrors, check for damage, make sure there is gas in it �and then set up the radio and familiarize myself with its quirks.

Some of these radios really did have me reading the manual and googling �how-to-dos.� The last time I rented a car, I chose the same model as the car I own, just so I didn�t have to learn how to use the radio � but even that didn�t work! The model year change incorporated a completely different user interface.

I can�t believe I just said �radio� and �user interface� in the same sentence.

Two knobs and a dial do a pretty good job. Nested menus and mixing tactile and touch screen controls give you access to lots of features, but all I want to hear is a traffic report and maybe scan to see if there is something interesting, like a reggae station. Listening to the radio should never be this hard.

The Wandering Engineer is an industry stalwart who has been in broadcasting since the days of Marconi and Tesla. He gives his thoughts on the current state of broadcast engineering and the broadcast engineer.