Monday, February 16, 2009

Economy takes a dive; amateur radio vendors fail to notice

You'd have to be living in a cave to not know what's going on with the economy, or at least what Washington D.C. is trying to terrify us into thinking is going on. Setting aside this Recession vs Depression debate for the moment; it's clear that the economy is struggling at some level. We're seeing home values drop sharply, credit is hard to obtain, auto dealers in some parts of the country offering 2-for-1 deals, etc. One need only visit your local Best Buy, Fry's, etc to find smoking hot deals on consumer electronic equipment. A buyer's market you say? Apparently not for amateur radio.

Recently I decided to buckle down and learn CW aka Morse Code. I've been using various tools, including a great online trainer called LCWO (Learn CW Online). I've also been using W6TJP's Code Quick; good for getting the sound-alikes for each character but my advice would be to save your money on the optional software and focus on sites like LCWO.

Needing a paddle/key in order to practice sending CW I decided to stop by Ham Radio Outlet (aka "the candy store" and buy the Bencher BY-1 for what their printed catalog said was $99. I pulled up in front of the store and the parking lot (normally full of vehicles festooned with antennae) was so empty I had a momentary thought that maybe it was a holiday and I'd just forgotten. I walked into the candy store (normally full of amateurs festooned with antennae) and was greeted by one lonely salesman. Recession? Depression? Clearly business is slow.

Inquiring about the Bencher paddle I found it was in stock...and that it cost $109. Ex-squeeze me? Catalog says $99. Yes, but the price went up. Since when? Since the catalog was last printed, apparently. I see... So other retailers are slashing prices, people are spending less, your store is completely empty for the first time I can recall...and you're raising prices.

To his credit my friend gave me the catalog price. Normally I'd also get a discount for being a member of the Cactus Intertie group, but not this time. It started me thinking that I've not really seen prices fall on amateur radio equipment the same way that mass-market consumer electronics have fallen. For example; I've been saying that I'll buy an IC-7000 once the sale price drops below $1,000. And yet the price remains above $1,300 and from some retailers seems (like my Bencher paddle) that the price have actually increased.

Is amateur radio immune to economic downturns? Sure seems like the manufacturers and retailers think they are.