I got the '08 catalog from Ramsey Electronics, and I must say, I'm a little disappointed.
Ramsey has always had the reputation for selling interesting and slightly sketchy electronics kits, and among other things has long been one of the suppliers of choice for American radio pirates (even earning themselves a raid from the FCC a number of years back). That stuff is still in there (though an old joke about one of their products, a robotic bug, is no longer in the catalog), and the catalog is actually quite a bit thicker than last year's. But, interestingly, not with more kits.
No, the big addition has been in the pro audio section. Lots of cool stuff -- high-end, rackmount CD and MP3 players, advanced recording equipment, even a full-on 24-track digital audio workstation for $800. It's all very impressive... and seems to have little or nothing to do with their traditional business.
I'm not sure what to make of this. I'm of a mixed mind regarding pirate radio to begin with; while I do support the need for low-power community radio, there are technical and political issues involved (FM Capture effect, inadequate sideband filtering on home-built gear, religious broadcasting spectrum grabs crowding out other broadcasters) that make an unregulated radio spectrum impossible. And anyone who's ever driven down the street while running an FM transmitter from an MP3 player or satellite radio knows what it's like when a transmitter from a nearby car scrambles your signal. And it's not as if that market is getting slighted -- they don't seem to have actually removed anything from the catalog.
But I do wonder if this is a symptom of the same problem as amateur chemists have -- in the interest of avoiding trouble with the DEA and the DHS, science supply companies have moved over the years to restrict the sale of chemicals and even glassware to those who don't work in scientific fields. Maybe Ramsey is doing something of the same thing -- as the government and hypersensitive litigators continue to try to chip away at freedom of speech, and as the FCC continues to allow large broadcasters such as Clear Channel, Salem, and Infinity to gulp up larger and larger quantities of broadcast spectrum, maybe Ramsey is paving the way for a shift in focus so they don't get raided again. It's pretty sad, especially as most of the new gear, impressive though it may be, is generally out of the cost range of the hobbyists they've catered to over the years.
It's pretty sad when corporate influence and scaremongering raise the barrier to entry on a mere hobby.