HAMNET Report 10th March 2024

I’d like to use this platform to remark on the passing of an amateur who was huge in the field of audio reproduction and microphone technology. The SARL has not made mention of the death of Bob Heil K9EID.

The man who defined the sound of live rock ‘n’ roll music and brought audio engineering principals into mainstream amateur radio use, Dr. Bob Heil, K9EID, has passed away at the age of 83. A Facebook post from Heil Ham Radio paid tribute to their founder: “Bob fought a valiant, year-long battle with cancer, and passed away peacefully surrounded by his family.”

Heil founded Heil Sound in 1966, through which he created the template for modern concert sound systems for musicians like the Grateful Dead, The Who, Joe Walsh, and Peter Frampton. The talk box used on iconic live record Frampton Comes Alive! was of Heil’s design. His audio engineering products have been featured in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and he was honoured in 2007 with the Parnelli Audio Innovator Award for his impact on the live sound industry. “My life has been about achieving great sound, whether on the concert stage or in the amateur radio world,” Bob Heil recounted in 2022. “I’ve watched Heil Sound go from a regional sound company to a world-class microphone manufacturer. This company has been my passion,” he said.

Parallel to his commercial and artistic success in live music, was his passion for amateur radio. He was active in ham radio from a young age and merged his expertise in audio engineering with his love for radio. Heil Ham Radio was founded to produce microphones, headsets, and other gear for radio amateurs with an emphasis on high-quality audio.

Heil was known for his passion for AM operations. He served for many years as an on-camera host of the Ham Nation podcast. Tributes to Heil have been flooding social media, including from his co-hosts.

ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, said Heil’s passing is a significant loss. “Bob Heil’s technical achievements that brought high-quality audio to amateur radio pale in comparison to his generosity and willingness to help his fellow ham. He’s long been known as someone eager to help mentor and teach. His legacy [to] our hobby will be long-lasting. 

Thanks to the ARRL newsletter for these excerpts from their tribute. Our condolences go to his wife and family.

At its monthly virtual meeting on 6th march, HAMNET Western Cape enjoyed a presentation by Danie ZS1OSS, comparing and contrasting the variety of digital communication methods available to amateur radio, but more importantly, of significance during emergencies or for disaster communications.

The need for simple technology, an easy way to interface a computer with a radio, and an efficient way to send simple one line messages, as well as occasional files or pictures, were stressed. Amongst the digital contenders are Winlink, APRS, VarAC, JS8Call, and QO-100.

In other divisions of HAMNET, some of these data modes are commonly used, but the Western Cape is still finding its feet. The average HAMNET member is either not computer literate enough to take on the challenge, or does not understand the interfaces necessary, or is put off by the expected expense of the ancillary equipment necessary to get their PC’s to talk to their radios. Your writer regards himself as a Neanderthal in this regard!

After some discussion on Wednesday, it was decided that Winlink has the advantage of allowing point-to-point file, picture and message transmission, and that VarAC will become the most widely used point-to-point message transfer system, and that these two should probably be promoted to the Western Cape members.

This opinion was conveyed to the HAMNET National Council members for discussion or rebuttal. Clearly, all divisions must be uniform in the systems they use and are accustomed to, or else they will not be able to provide countrywide communications if called upon to do so.

Personally, I feel that the way to spread the knowledge and experience of digital comms, is to advocate the simplest possible PC-Radio interface, and to encourage VHF communications first, because most if not all HAMNET members have a PC or laptop, and a radio of some sort on their desk for VHF/UHF work. Digital comms on HF can be restricted to headquarter stations or Operation Centres primarily, with the hope that, once familiarity with digital modes has been acquired, the average amateur may be more willing or able to experiment with HF processes.

Now I know most amateurs pay close attention to grounding their antennas and equipment to guarantee a good signal. But what about what is in the ground? I doubt whether you think about worms very much.

It turns out that worms living near the world’s most well-known nuclear disaster zone appear to have developed a ‘super power’. While it may have taken place many years ago, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is still very relevant to this day.

In fact, scientists continue to visit and conduct experiments in the area, with a new study providing some intriguing findings. Recently, experts visited Chernobyl to investigate Nematodes, tiny worms with fairly simple genetic makeup. The worms were gathered from soil samples, rotting fruit and other materials.

While conducting that, the scientists also tested local levels of radiation. They took the worms they gathered to New York University to freeze and study them. And as is often the case with radiation levels in that part of the world, they varied from low levels often recorded in large cities, to high levels found in outer space.

Dr Sophia Tintor, lead author of the study, said: “Chernobyl was a tragedy of incomprehensible scale, but we still don’t have a great grasp of the effects of the disaster on local populations.

“Did the sudden environmental shift select for species, or even individuals within a species, that are naturally more resistant to ionizing radiation?”

The 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant subsequently transformed the nearby surrounding land into the most radioactive on Earth.

Of course, human inhabitants had to leave their homes and everything they loved, but plants and animals were able to stay in the area despite the high levels of radiation.

But nearly 40 years after the disaster, animals living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are typically genetically different from the same species found elsewhere.

This has therefore raised questions surrounding the impact of chronic radiation on DNA.

What is perhaps the most eye-opening part of this latest study is the fact that, despite the obvious high radiation levels, the genomes of the worms were not damaged… AT ALL.

But before you get your hopes up that Chernobyl could be safe for the first time in the best part of four decades, this doesn’t really apply to us.

It appears that the latest study concludes that worms are resilient animals which can withstand extreme conditions. You can say that again.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.