22 October 2021

Bloggers I Enjoy

The Amateur radio world is awash with bloggers. Lots of folks out there want to share their experiences, ideas and opinions. Hey, sound like anyone you know?

Many Amateur radio bloggers are quite good. Some run traditional blog sites, others run video blog sites (vlogging), and more than a few run hybrid sites, with some written content, some video content. The whole idea of a blog or vlog is to have other people pay attention to it, so the better bloggers and vloggers put a lot of time into their sites and develop some really good content.

Going forward here I'll refer to written and video blogs by the single term 'blog' or 'blogger'. Just know that blogging can take both forms, and there's often a lot of overlap. Blog writers often make videos, and video bloggers often write.

So what makes a successful blogger? Let's start with the written word. First off,  you have to be interesting - writing about boring stuff, or writing about interesting stuff in a boring way, is the fast path to internet obscurity. You also have to be able to string words together to make sentences, and sentences together to make paragraphs. In short, you have to know how to write. The mechanics of writing - grammar, syntax, spelling, all that. Part of this is also developing a particular style. All successful bloggers have a style of writing that's unique to them. You have to provide clarity - the ability to make the complex simple. You have to be relevant - what you write about needs to be something people actually have an interest in. And last, you have to entertain - people like to enjoy what they are reading. If you can write in an entertaining and approachable way, readers will come back for more. 

The same general rules apply for video blogging. You have to be interesting, relevant and you have to entertain. But while in the written world we talk about the mechanics of writing - grammar, syntax and all that, in the video world it called production values - the ability to produce a quality visual and auditory product. The explosive development of really good yet relatively inexpensive video gear (like the current generation iPhones, GoPros, etc.) and video editing software has allowed talented video amateurs to produce some remarkably good content. 

One style of blogging that puts me off real quick is sensationalism. This is mainly a problem with video bloggers. YouTube is flooded with crappy unboxing videos (if I hear the words "the mailman just dropped this off, let's open it together!" ever again, I think I'll puke), and bloggers titling their crappy reviews with sensationalistic leads like 'This new radio destroys the competition!' (umm... no, it doesn't), or 'Is this antenna the answer to every prepper's dream?' (uhhh... no, it isn't). It's mostly clickbait, because these bloggers use YouTube as a revenue stream. More clicks and likes = more money. Nothing wrong with making a buck or two off of your efforts, but too many bloggers get hooked on the cash flow and end up releasing junk. This is the reason I don't follow some of the more well known Amateur radio video bloggers. They may have a lot of viewers, but most of what they put out is crap.

But a lot of successful bloggers and vloggers put out some really good stuff. Some only post a few times a year. Others, like K4SWL, are blogging machines, putting out almost daily written and video content that is relevant, interesting and entertaining. Most, however, are like me, posting just a few times a month. And sadly, some good bloggers have gone silent - either their interests have shifted or they simply got burned out and have moved on to other things in life.

 So let's take a look at my top favorites.

  • QRPer.com/SWLing.com. Thomas Witherspoon, K4SWL, is the Energizer Bunny of radio blogging, both in the written and video arena, and what he produces is very, very  good. His two sites have somewhat different focuses. QRPer.com is tightly Amateur radio-related, and is a mix of Tom's personal adventures (you can tell by the title he loves operating QRP) and bright ideas that others provide. SWLing.com is more wide ranging, and focuses on short wave listening, shortwave programming, radio reviews, SWL antenna design, 'state of the broadcast industry' reports and other interesting stuff. Tom also a YouTube channel where he highlights a lot of his activities.  As you would expect, there's a lot of cross-pollination between the three sites. Tom does a great job of keeping the content relevant, fresh, and easy to understand. 
  • N6CC - 'Navy 6 Combat Comms'. When I grow up I want to be just like Tim Sammons. Tim is a Navy vet who's taken his love of military communications gear to almost a lifestyle level. Tim is a great writer with a slight tongue-in-cheek approach to his topics. I really like his 'military-esque' blog site layout and his choice of topics. Tim doesn't write all that much. I'd guess he only posts or updates a few times a year, but he's a fun and informative read if you like military communications gear. And I do. And I want his Bronco.
  • KE0OG. Dave Casler is a video-only blogger with a huge presence on YouTube. Dave's forte is breaking complex or confusing Amateur radio topics (like antenna resonance) into easy to understand lessons. Much of his content is designed for beginners, but even cranky old Extras occasionally turn to Dave's for help. Recently, I was putting together a presentation for my local club and needed to come up with an explanation as to why transceivers are designed to work best with a 50 ohm load. Sure enough, Dave has a great video on the topic. If you don't know why something is the way it is in Amateur radio, odds are Dave's already covered it.
  • OH8STN. Like K4SWL (above), Julian is one of the Energizer Bunnies of Amateur radio blogging. Julian is (I believe) an American expat, living and working in Finland. He's both a video blogger, a written blogger and has a fairly significant footprint on Facebook. His main interest is portable off-grid communications, hence the title of his blogs: 'Survival Tech Nord'. Some of his topics can be uber-geeky (like GPS time syncing a Raspberry Pi), but always well done, and he does a good job of stringing topics together to reach a well defined goal, such as off-grid power options or specific radio configurations for emergency comms. If you've ever wondered what it's like to operate an Amateur radio-based emergency communications system completely off the grid, Julian will show you how it's done.
  • CuriousMarc. Marc does nothing with Amateur radio. I doubt he's even got his ticket (although you can occasionally see what looks like an IC-7300 hiding in the background of a few videos). But Marc runs a wonderful and entertaining YouTube site where he explores old electronics. Not real old electronics - almost nothing with tubes. Mac's focus is on classic (and often historic) electronics from the 60's, 70's and 80's  - mainframe computers, early mini and micro-computers, test equipment and desktop computers from HP (he loves HP gear), hobby robotics, and anything electronic with a NASA property sticker on it. Marc is a Frenchman with a PhD in Opto-electronics and runs a 'super secret lab' in Silicon Valley (aka, his well equipped basement). One of Marc's forte's is the collaborative approach he takes on his projects. He's assembled a team of talented and experienced geeks that he regularly brings together to work on projects, with Marc acting as the orchestra conductor. Marc is also a wonderful video producer, and assembles his project videos into well structured episodes that tell a complete story. Marc is famous for his video series on bringing a classic NASA Apollo guidance computer back to life. It started out as a simple 'lets open this up and have a look inside' video, to ultimately refurbishing this 50 year old piece of US manned space history, resurrecting the original Lunar Module flight control software that ran on it, developing all of the sensor inputs to trick the computer into thinking it's controlling a real LM, developing a software interface that mimics the Lunar Module flight control dashboard, and running real-time landing simulations in front of a room full of retired NASA and JPL engineers who worked on the original Apollo guidance computer and software. Epic geek stuff. 
  • Mr Carlson's Lab. Paul Carlson is a talented Canadian electrical engineer who specializes in bringing old electronics, particularly old radio equipment, back to life. Paul's YouTube videos are noted for their exceptional video quality, and his ability to calmly (almost sleepily) describe in detail what's going on inside. Paul likes transistor-based gear, but he loves old tube gear, and watching him bring an old 1930's-era tabletop tube radio back to life is a fun experience. Paul is the only YouTube blogger I pay a small Patreon fee to for access to his more technical content. 
  • EEVBlog. If Paul Carlson's postings are laconic, the Australian blogger, Dave Jones, is almost manic. Dave is an electrical engineer working out of Sydney, and runs a very active video blog site (hence the name EEVBlog - Electrical Engineering Video Blog), a written blog, and manages a fairly large presence on Groups.io. Dave views blogging as a serious business and it provides him a significant revenue stream. But you can't keep this type of business model running for long unless you can provide a steady stream of quality content, and Dave delivers on this front in a high voltage, rapid-fire format. His YouTube channels (he's up to at least three now) and written blog are chocked full of quality content dealing with a wide variety of electronic topics. No, Dave is not a ham. He's even talked a bit negatively about them once or twice, but his content is otherwise great. One of the things Dave is famous for is his multimeter reviews and tear-downs. It's from Dave that I learned that cheap multimeters are not worth the cost at any price, and likewise, expensive meters are cheap at any price. Stick your probes into high voltage mains and one will get you killed, the other will keep you alive.
  • LifeIsTooShortForQRP. I really don't know who this guy is. I think he's German? Maybe? He never shows himself on his own videos. He operates from Florida, down near Naples. And he's got buddies, because he gets a steady supply of some really interesting HF radios, mostly military, commercial and Amateur. His camera setup is very minimalist, probably just a smartphone. But boy, he reviews some neat stuff! Old NATO and Warsaw Pact gear, Rockwell Collins aviation gear, Motorola/Micom gear, Phillips, SEA, SGC, Intek, Hughes, Icom, TenTec, the list goes on and on. If you like gear that is just entering the 'vintage' stage of life - stuff made from the 1960's to the 90's, this is a very interesting channel. A perfect example of the idea that good content doesn't necessarily need strong production values.
  • Robert Nagy, AB5N. Bob just walks into his garden, sits down, pulls out some notes, looks into the camera, and tells you why you should, or should not, buy a particular piece of gear. No hype, no faux drama. Just straightforward and honest reviews. I appreciate that.
  • Guerrilacomm. This is a great example of a video blogger that had some very interesting content that's relevant to emergency communications, but he's essentially ceased blogging on his channel. I followed him for a few years, but never got his name. He either worked for CALFIRE in California, or worked as a communications tech supporting them. His videos were always rough around the edges, and he was prone to ramble on a bit, but it's clear he was in the center of the action with wildfires and knew what he was talking about. I hope he comes back.
Is this a comprehensive list? No, of course not. There are plenty more really good writers and video producers making Amateur radio-related content, but my list above are the ones who's work I particularly enjoy.

I'd love to see your list of Amateur radio or electronics-related bloggers you follow. You might help me expand my list. So, add your comments below!

W8BYH out

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