Sometimes the past gives way stubbornly. Sometimes it takes muscle, Liquid Wrench, cussing and more Liquid Wrench. Sometimes it takes Dave...
Sometimes the past gives way stubbornly.
Sometimes it takes muscle, Liquid Wrench, cussing and more Liquid Wrench. Sometimes it takes Dave Aronovitz, a man who provides palliative care for the artifacts of a fading, if not dying, form of communication.
Aronovitz is a self-made expert in the art of disassembling the soaring steel towers that support home-based ham-radio antennas. Today he is 35 feet up in the air, harnessed to a tower working like a dog to tear it down.
The Menlo Park, Calif., house to which it is attached is going on the market and the real-estate agent says the homely steel structure is a curb-appeal crusher.
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“Twenty years ago, that would have been a selling point,” says Rich Shapiro, a handyman working across the street. “Now it’s an eyesore.”
Pretty much. Unless, like Aronovitz, you see beauty in the tower. Or beauty in what it represents.
Without the tower, you have no place for your antenna. Without an antenna, your transmitter is no good. Without your transmitter, you can’t get on your ham set and talk to someone down the block or around the world.
The tower, adorned with a nonfunctional TV antenna and a couple of radio antennas, has a space-age look, which mostly serves as a reminder that the space age dawned a generation ago. The contraption and others in other back yards stand as monuments to communication before Wi-Fi, cellphones, DirecTV and the Internet.
Amateur radio was where it was at, the place to reach out to old acquaintances and new friends. The instant messenger of its time.
Back on the ground for a break, Aronovitz tells his radio story. Bought his first in 1956 at the local Radio Shack. A Hallicrafter SX 99. Saved for an eternity, mowing lawns, shoveling snow, working at the grocery for 90 cents an hour.
All for those nights as a 12-year-old in the basement of his Massachusetts home. Tubes glowing. The hum, static and whistle of the set.
“There is something about those old analog radios,” Aronovitz, 60, says, “and the experience of tuning them in.”
Like the world, the radios have gone digital.
Laid off from Sun Microsystems four years ago, Aronovitz now hunts for the old models on the Web and elsewhere.
“When they are fully restored,” he says, “they are almost works of art.”
He started selling the rehabs on eBay. Those sales led some to ask whether he’d be interested in old towers.
Some asking were widows of old hams who had died. Some were old hams themselves — plenty young when they put the towers up, but not so young now.
He sells those he can. Junks the others. This one, he thinks, might work for the West Valley Amateur Radio Association, his club.
“Ham is going through a transformation,” Aronovitz says.
About 680,000 people hold amateur-radio licenses in the United States, says the American Radio Relay League. But the ham population is aging. And the number of new applications for licenses is down, says the Federal Communication Commission.
The towering antennas are no longer welcome in some planned developments. Working people no longer have the time to sit in front of the ham set. The Internet has become the gateway to the world for many.
And so from time to time, Aronovitz is called on to deliver us from our past.
Mike Cassidy is a columnist at the San Jose Mercury News.