Mounds View amateur radio store prepares to sign

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Minnesota’s only amateur radio store may be on the verge of shutting down.

After more than 30 years selling radio gear, providing advice and serving as a wireless hobby hub across the Midwest, owners Dan and Maline Fish say they are retiring and preparing to unplug Radio City, their store in Mounds View. .

Maline and Dan Fish behind the counter at Radio City, their amateur radio store in Mounds View.

Tim Nelson | MPR News

Dan Fish says it was a frontline seat for the DIY revolution that helped usher in a networked world. Morse code, he jokes, was the original digital communication.

“The concept of wireless communications, Morse code, radio teletype and television, all of those things that you could do in the basement of your house is just very appealing,” Fish said. “Amateur radio operators aren’t particularly convenient, but we’re all trying experimental things. And that’s a great way to do it.”

A collection of used portable radios of 2 meters and 70 centimeters for sale

A showcase in Radio City contains a collection of used 2 meter and 70 centimeter portable radios for sale.

Tim Nelson | MPR News

Dan Fish admits that he was an average enthusiast as an amateur radio operator. He first learned about it from a store teacher in Duluth, where he grew up, but it wasn’t until he and his brother opened a satellite TV store in Blaine that he decided that amateur radio could be a career, at least in part. . He is also an astronomy enthusiast, and the telescopes were later added to the store’s stock.

But Maline Fish says the antennas and cables, radios and sky charts are just part of what made the place vibrate. She and Dan traveled to the Midwest, participate in amateur radio “festivals” in the area and helped broaden the scope of the hobby.

But Maline says it was the community, not the hardware, that really made Radio City special.

“I’ve seen boys who are interested at 13 years old come in. Very soon they went to Afghanistan, then they’re back and they’re married and they have children growing up,” said Maline. “We know them and they know us.”

Morse code practice keys are always lined up on the shelf.

Morse code practice keys are still lined up on the Radio City shelf, even though the FCC lifted the requirement to learn the code for radio amateurs in 2006.

Tim Nelson | MPR News

Yet it is a relatively small community. There are only about 750,000 licensed amateurs in the United States, about 12,000 in Minnesota. It’s old technology, too: hobbyists have been surfing the airwaves – with some notable wartime exceptions, since the early 1900s. Computer and mobile phone technologies capture the imaginations of many who might have taken them. waves years ago.

“Amateur radio has always been a relatively small slice of technology,” said Dan Fish.

But Fish believes there will always be people who want to experiment with wireless. “We are able to do things by learning communications and physics, and we are able to take things from an experimental base to a first base of practical use. Like cell phones. Cell phones are an extension of the walkie talkies that we first experienced years ago. “

Then, he said, maybe we’ll chat with settlers on the Moon or Mars.

Their store is only a few thousand square feet and has about ten employees. Some enthusiasts have told them about keeping the place, but the industry has also consolidated and sales are moving online.

A single sideband radio sits on a shelf in Radio City

A single sideband radio sits on a shelf in Radio City, one of the second-hand radios the store has offered to amateur radio enthusiasts for over 30 years.

Tim Nelson | MPR News

But Maline, at the heart of the retail business, said there would never be a substitute for the hands-on experience of having fun with electronics, trying to make a connection, that whether in your basement or on the other side of the world.

“We sell meters, cables and connectors. There are probably 30 pounds on antennas. You can make your own. We get a huge variety of questions,” Maline said.

This fall, she said, they hope to leave the answers to someone else and, maybe, start traveling a bit.

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