The late Jerome Holtzman, the Hall of Fame baseball writer who toiled for three Chicago newspapers and later in life became the first official historian for Major League Baseball, wrote a best-selling and iconic book entitled No Cheering in the Press Box. The title speaks to the cardinal rule of journalism, which is to always maintain impartiality. Like a baseball umpire, a journalist must always call 'em as he sees 'em.

I follow this rule with religious fervor — which sometimes lands me temporarily in hot water. I remember well a conversation I had with the executive of a two-way radio vendor shortly after joining this franchise nearly seven years ago. The conversation was about publishing an article contributed by the company. He reminded me in his pitch that the company advertised in the magazine. I replied that I couldn’t care less — which equal parts stunned and irritated him. I explained that while we appreciated the support — let’s be honest, we can’t do what we do without it — the editors and writers work for our readers, and thus make editorial decisions that are in their best interests, not the advertisers’. I also explained why journalistic integrity also is a very good thing for our advertisers. I never again had a problem with him.

All of that said, I must admit that I do have a soft spot for the underdog, the little guy. If I had lived in biblical times, I am certain that my heart — if not my money — would have been with David rather than Goliath. So, while I was in Orlando, Fla., a couple of weeks ago to cover the National Academies of Emergency Dispatch conference, I made a side trip over to West Melbourne to pop in on Relm Wireless.

While there I visited with Tim Vitou and Dave Storey, the company’s marketing V.P. and president, respectively. We yakked about all sorts of stuff, including Storey’s return to the “View from the Top” column in our print edition, which he pioneered. I can’t think of anyone I know who is more aptly named, as Storey is quite the yarn-spinner. Spend a little time with him, and you’ll immediately see what I mean. I’m looking forward to his return.

Storey told me several stories during my visit. One concerned a recent job Relm did for the U.S. Army. The Army wanted a low-cost repeater that would support the portable radios that troops were using in the field. The repeater also needed to mirror the technical specifications of those radios. That seemed simple enough. But there’s always a catch, and in this case it was a nasty one — the Army wanted the repeater ready to ship in 82 days. That wasn’t enough time to develop a circuit board to handle the RF aspect of the device. So, Relm’s engineers thought outside the box and rigged two of its portable radios to a power board and the deadline was met. Sometimes being small and nimble pays dividends.

Another story also involved the Army. Relm was one of three suppliers to provide radios to the 101st and 82nd airborne divisions, which are deployed in Afghanistan. Relm supplied 7,000 of its Wireless Tactical OTAR radio, which can be rekeyed radio to radio, without any network, an important capability given the remoteness of the region. The conditions also are quite harsh — both mountains and desert, with extreme cold and heat, and lots of sand, all off which beat the daylights out of radios.

Nevertheless, Relm’s radios were the only ones that held up to the environment — those provided by much larger suppliers didn’t — according to Vitou. “We’re incredibly proud of that,” he said.

Vitou is a pretty good storyteller in his own right. He acknowledged that Relm is small-time compared with behemoths such as Motorola and Harris. “We have to fight harder — we’re the grunts of the world,” he said. But he also told me that the company has roughly a 65% share of the departments of Agriculture and Interior — primarily the U.S. Forest Service — markets. “We think that’s pretty impressive market share,” Vittou said. “It’s the best-kept secret in land-mobile radio.”

If it’s true, I would agree — certainly it would be an indicator that Relm is doing something right. The only reason I write, “If it’s true,” is that the claim can’t be substantiated. Also, it must be noted that Vittou is paid to sell the company’s products as well as its virtues. And while Storey has the title of president and CEO, anyone who’s ever spent even five minutes with him — at a trade show, in a cab line, wherever — will tell you that his business card should read “Chief Evangelist,” a role that he performs with energetic zeal.

But all of that doesn’t mean the claims aren’t true, either. I’ve known Storey a long time, and I’ve never caught him or any of his people in a fib before. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. If nothing else, like the saga of David versus Goliath, it’s a pretty good story.

*Revised 5/13/10

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