With four major mobile phone networks in operation today, almost the whole country is carpeted in cell coverage. And if that’s not enough for you, Garmin’s inReach satellite technology allows you to send and receive messages anywhere, from Greenland to the top of Mount Everest (subscription required). And beyond even that, SpaceX has been launching thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites to complete its Starlink constellation and provide internet access to everyone everywhere in the world for what could be entirely reasonable rates.
But it wasn’t always like this.
There was a time when communication in the wilderness just meant meant having a really good radio. For desert racers in the Mojave and along the thousand-mile length of Baja California, that meant having a radio strong enough to reach The Weatherman. The Weatherman was Bob Steinberger, and through his efforts, long before average racers and chase crews had anything like a satellite phone, Steinberger provided a vital link between crews and race trucks and sometimes between accident victims and rescuers.
Steinberger started out as a crew member for racing legend Bill Stroppe in the 1973 Baja 1000. He sat at a remote pit for two days wondering when the race truck was going to arrive (it finally did and Steinberger poured his two big gas cans of fuel into it and it roared off.) But he thought, “There’s got to be a better way.” So the following year at the Mint 400, Steinberger sent aloft a network of weather balloons on 500-foot tethers trailing coaxial cable into the heavens. It worked, and suddenly the crew could communicate with the race team all around the course.
Baja presented its own challenges. With race courses running a thousand miles, you just couldn’t get enough weather balloons to cover it. So Steinberger drove up to the summit of 10,157-foot Picacho del Diablo, the highest mountain in Baja, and started transmitting. From that elevation, racers could reach him and he could relay messages to pit crews. For most of the race, the only source of information was Bob Steinberger, The Weatherman.
He did that for 40 years.
“The lives Bob saved are too many to know,” said champion Baja racer Cameron Steele. “It was like dialing 911, but instead you keyed in to frequency 151.625.”
Steinberger kept up his broadcasts at racing events almost to the end of his life. When there were only a few weeks left, he called his son Scott.
“He knew his time was short,” Scott said. “He made me promise to carry on The Weatherman legacy.”
Steinberger passed away in 2017. His family continues to run Bob’s company, PCI Race Radios, and Scott continues to operate the radio relay at big race events, the voice in the sky, out in the darkness, over the horizon … communicating.
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