FineWare is essentially me, Mark J. Fine. I first became interested in the Shortwave hobby quite by accident. Dating myself, this obsession first began circa 1974, as a freshman at Marlboro High School, Marlboro, NJ. I was always interested in trying to receive distant radio stations, basically to hear sports or music programs and looked for ways to increase the range of the AM and FM sections on my el-cheapo stereo. Having built a battery eliminator in Electronics Shop, I thought that it helped to increase the range of a walkie talkie (a toy) that I had laying about.
Being an ignorant neophyte in electronics at the time, I decided to try to attach it in some way to the stereo. As fate would have it (and kids, please don't try this at home) I connected the output of the battery eliminator across the gang tuner of the stereo's AM tuner. The battery eliminator was not plugged in, but I switched on the tuner to see what I could hear. What I heard was a ticking sort of sound. Before I was able to turn the tuner off, thinking that I had screwed something up, a man announced the time. I was astonished at my very first SW reception (ad hoc as it was) of WWV.
Before long I was tuning up and down the dial finding various English and foreign language radio stations. When I mentioned to my shop teacher (a Ham Radio operator) what I had done, he told me that I had stumbled onto Shortwave Radio. He recommended that I get a copy of Popular Electronics, which had a quarterly shortwave guide in it. I then learned that you could write reception reports to the stations and get some pretty neat stuff in the mail.
I was hooked. I grew out of my barely-calibrated mock-up of a shortwave radio and bought an Archer regenerative kit from Radio Shack. Little did I know the real meaning of barely-calibrated. Regenerative radios are even more hit-or-miss than my original rig, which essentially consisted of two 2000µF filter capacitors I had chunked in parallel across the 365µF AM gang tuner in my stereo. The regen didn't last long, and I soon graduated up to a DX-160. It seemed to take almost a millenium as I waited for the radio to be back-ordered by the Radio Shack in nearby Freehold, NJ. The DX-160 lasted almost through my college years, while living at the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), in Newark, NJ; and working as a cooperative student Electrical Engineer at the Communications Electronics Command (CECOM) at Fort Monmouth, NJ.
I graduated as an EE, specializing in radio communications from NJIT in 1982, and bought my first portable receiver with a digital readout - a Sony ICF-2001. The 2001 went just about everywhere: to work (I continued on at Fort Monmouth as a GS-0855) and to the beach at Avon, where my wife LuAnn and I were weekend regulars (we were married in May 1983 in Hackettstown, NJ). Back then you could listen to news and music on AFRTS, WUSA, WRNO and the BBC World Service.
Between work and other things in the early to mid-80s I took a long sabbatical from shortwave. I had already stopped sending reception reports to stations in 1984 since they were becoming harder and more frustrating to get. Like some people I was getting more and more interested in the Personal Computer phenomenon and bought a Commodore 64. On the C-64 I taught myself programming in it's native Basic and 6510 Assembler/Machine code. The C-64 led to an original IBM PC-I with two full-height 360k 5¼-inch floppies, 640k RAM, and a BIOS extension for a 10Mb Hardcard - more memory than anyone could need in 1986.
In April 1987 (after my NY Mets won an absolutely amazing World Series, my NY Giants won the Super Bowl, and Lou Holtz was beginning to rejuvenate the football program at Notre Dame), I took a management reassignment down to Vint Hill Farms Station in Warrenton, VA. On February 9, 1988 my daughter Rachael Ann was born in Fairfax Hospital. LuAnn and I are still wondering where she gets her talents in scholastics, singing and dance. Rachael was Clara for the second year in a row in Fredricksburg School of the Performing Art's production of The Nutcracker, Dec 2000 [right], and has also appeared as a Snow Angel in Joffrey's version of The Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Now, in 2002, Rachael is enrolled as a freshman in Liberty High School, Bealeton, VA. This is an interesting story in itself. This past Summer she tried out for cheerleading and was placed on the Junior Varsity squad. After practicing for two weeks, the coaches decided that wasn't good enough and promoted her to Varsity [below]. Oh, and she's still dancing, but now at Ricardo Porter's Orange School of Performing Arts in Orange, VA.
Back to shortwave... In 1988 I became interested in computer graphics, electronic mapping and the sort, and had built what I perceived to be one of the first PC-based mapping tools built entirely in Turbo Pascal. It was at this time that FineWare was first created as a half-serious joke with some of my colleagues, with the release of Map v1.10 (which never really went anywhere). If you want to thank someone for FineWare, thank SFC Gray Shockley who still periodically appears in rec.radio.shortwave. Map was followed by an attempt to create a real-time receive-only RTTY terminal for the AEA CP-1 interface, an item I purchased from Gray after becoming interested in general utility and digital signals. TTY Reader is a DOS product that we no longer carry, since technology has long passed it by.
Having a Colonial-style house and enough land to string a fairly decent longwire antenna in back-woods Remington, VA, my interest in shortwave radio was reborn. I purchased a Drake R8 shortly after it was first released in 1991/1992. Being in the Data Fusion field at the time I decided to try to "fuse" the concepts of time, frequency and automated receiver control. Essentially, I had tied the receiver's tuned frequency to a home-grown database of shortwave broadcasts to try to identify what I was listening to at any given time. Smart R8 Control was born as a DOS product after someone suggested I put it on a BBS as shareware for general consumption in January, 1993. The first registered copy of Smart R8 Control was shipped within the following two weeks and it's been an extremely popular item ever since.
With the impending closure of Vint Hill Farms I decided to separate from Civil Service after a total of 17 continuous years. In April 1996 I went to work for Mystech Associates, which is now known as (and I'll spare you the three other company names due to the merger-craziness of the late 90's) Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, and have built up a modest office of over 20 personnel in Charlottesville, VA.
The Smart Control concept has since expanded to a total of four receiver control packages for various popular receivers and a new integrated "testbed" concept, named the Radio Listener's Database (RLDB). I'm continually amazed at how much fun this ride has been, meeting people from all over the globe and experiencing new facets of the hobby.
Smart R8 Control entered it's 12th year in 2004 as the premier receiver control for the Drake R8. It has stood the test of time, surviving numerous changes in PC operating systems. Despite the creation of Smart Control v4, we have been unsuccessful in finding the time to complete it. Such is the case for most other FineWare activities. Therefore, the time has come to shut down the commercial side of FineWare. As of 30 April 2004, we will no longer continue the sales of any software and will completely discontinue updating SWBC Schedules entirely. This decision does not come lightly and has been an extremely hard one to make. The problem is this has become way too much of a business and not enough time to DX. Our plate hath finally overflown. We will continue running this site as a source of general information and the exploration of new technologies (such as DRM) after April 2004, as time permits.
Folks, it's been one hell of a ride... Thank you!
To Be Continued (at some point)...
FineWare is an independent entity, and has no relationship whatsoever with Fineware Systems, Inc.