Ham's Last Stand

PHOTO: randi silberman

When IEEE Spectrum Senior Associate Editor Stephen Cass [at right in photo] needed a particular antenna cable in order to review a software defined radio system [see ”Hardware for Your Software Radio”], he didn’t think there’d be a problem obtaining one. After all, Spectrum ’s offices are in New York City: if you can get lotus roots, a first edition of Joyce’s Ulysses , or a US $14 000 pair of shoes by hopping on the subway and going to the right shop, how hard could finding a cable be?

To his surprise, Cass soon ran into trouble. ”Electronics stores in New York seem to fall into two camps,” he says. ”There are the ones that sell consumer electronics like TVs and computers, whose staffs couldn’t even fathom what I was looking for. The others are out of business.” A plethora of stores that once catered to the city’s electronics and radio hobbyists have largely vanished from New York, leaving only a trail of disconnected phone numbers. Cass was about to give up, when he came across the number for Barry Electronics: ”A person answered—and they actually understood what I was looking for!”

Barry’s is on the second floor of a small building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Its main business is selling commercial walkie-talkies and other radios, but it also sells amateur radio equipment—the last remaining retailer in Manhattan to do so. With a bit of riffling through cabinets and some trial and error, Barry’s sales manager, Jonathan Siegel [at left in photo], found what Cass needed.

”I was lucky Barry’s is still around,” Cass reflects. ”I could have tried to buy the cable online, but there’s no substitute for being able to examine things in person to make sure you’ve got the right stuff. It’s just a pity Barry’s is all that’s left.”

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