Radio! Radio!

When I was a kid—3rd or 4th grade, I think—some guys in my class went around telling a joke with the punchline, “Radio! Radio!” I don’t remember anything else about the joke—except it may have had a penguin in it. But it wasn’t really a joke, it a childish test to ferret out phonies. The idea was that if you laughed at the joke, which was not funny, then you were a phony. Boys and men often obsess over things, and these boys were obsessed with finding phonies. I don’t know why. Not sure what they would have done if they found a phony. I never heard that anyone ever laughed at the joke.

It seems like a twisted variant of the candle that the philosopher Diogenes used to seek truth. As with those kids, I don’t know if Diogenes ever found truth, and I don’t know what he would have done with it if he did find truth.

Which reminds me of a limerick:

A philosopher who came from Duluth,
Was a seeker of wisdom and truth.

After traveling near and far,
He found his answer in a bar,

In a glass full of gin and vermouth.

And here I thought Diogenes was Greek, not a Dulusian.

The Radio! Radio! tale came to mind as I was thinking about our mounted VHF radio. Before cruising off into the wild, dark Superior we decided to address intermittent radio communications problems while we’re in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Sometimes our VHF worked fine; other times it was overrun with static. Sometimes it didn’t work at all. A field test with a friend’s equipment indicated that the wiring and antenna were in working order, and per numerous suggestions, we clamped ferrites on every cable behind the panel. This explains why your ferrite stock values shot up recently.

We concluded that the radio itself was faulty. An unreliable VHF radio is a potentially hazardous thing in case of an onboard emergency anywhere, let alone in the wild and remote regions along the Canadian shore of Lake Superior.

Calls to West Marine, the brand of the radio, and Uniden, its maker, were unproductive. So we called Quattra SCS Ltd. Quattra is a radio communications business a few blocks from the Bondar Marina. They told us to bring the radio in for a look. I pulled the radio from the navigation station and we took it and its wireless remote to Quattra. One of their techs inspected the radio and the remote and pronounced both to be in good working order – this included smacking it upside the box a few times for good measure. As a precaution, he created a backup antenna for us to use in case the problem was in the cabling between the radio and the antenna at the top of the mast.

I reinstalled the radio and continued to get static, even with the backup antenna. At one point, Julie went ashore with a handheld VHF radio. It worked fairly well until I turned on our Raytheon chartplotter, which shares the same panel on the navigation station. The radio noise exploded. We decided to call Quattra and have the tech come to the boat.

Kim, the tech, arrived a little before noon the next day. Using the backup antenna he fashioned the day before, he passed it along the various electronic components mounted in the navigation station. The antenna could be used to detect electronic noise! He waved it by the air conditioner control, the Tank Tender, LED light fixtures, the bilge pump switch, the battery monitor. The radio noise shot up when he ran the antenna by the battery monitor. LINK! I thought our issues with that little rascal were behind us.

Turns out, LINK does put out a lot of radio noise—as does the chartplotter, but the problem wasn’t the devices; more ferrites would not help. The problem was the VHF radio cable connections. Nearly every connection was not properly shielded. In one case, the cable was not even properly attached to the connector, which forced a signal jump from the cable to the connector!

After overcoming some dated technology challenges, Kim got our radio up and running–and reliable for the trek into Superior.  And we still have his magic antenna as a backup for signals and for troubleshooting.

So if someone tells you a penguin joke with the punchline, Radio! Radio!, tell that idiot where he can stick his phony joke and see if it transmits better.

BTW, I do know a really funny penguin joke, but it’s not suitable for this blog.

What every boat should have - a backup antenna
What every boat should have – a backup antenna

August 2-6, 2015     46° 20.547’N  84° 11.407’W     658.2 Nautical Miles

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