Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dahlak Island Adventure-9F3USA/P1

      In 1972-73 while assigned to Kagnew Station in Asmara,  Ethiopia ( now Eritrea) I had some great opportunities for SWL and Ham DX.  As part of the radio club there, I had the opportunity to operate the club station ET3USA.  The club had a block of callsigns assigned to it that allowed a limited number of hams to operate under the license off post, using the callsigns ET3USB-ET3USF.  This was in the early 1970's. Some of that activity will be the subject of future columns.
       Early in the Spring of 1973 I was approached by Mike Durbin, WA5TKC, with an invitation to join him and KP4CKX who also worked at facilities in Asmara in what he termed a " mini-field day" operation he had planned. Turned out, it was what amounted to a short DX-pedition to an island in the Red Sea.
       The plan was to go in late May to one of the islands in the Dahlak Archipeligo off the Ethiopian Coast near the port of Massawa.  Mike worked the details out with the local government authorities, which was no mean feat given the political situation at the time.  There was rebel activity in Eritrea at the time and any use of radios out in the field might have been suspect.
       All the hurdles appeared to have been cleared and early on a Friday morning, a group of us caravanned down the 72-hundred foot mountain to Massawa to catch our ride to the island.  That drive was always an adventure in itself, being on a two lane paved road that would not exactly be considered a highway. It was a 110 kilometer drive containing 27 switchback turns.
       In addition to the three of us who would operate the radios, a group of a half dozen others were going along to go fishing.  That helped spread out the cost of chartering the boat and also would cut down on the provisions we would have to take. The operation was going to basically be a long weekend,  and would be nothing like the heavily financed trips taken by groups these days.  I think we figured the total cost of the trip, including gas to drive up and down the mountain was about $300 US!
       All of the equipment taken fit inside one small footlocker.  The radios were two Heathkit HW-101's, tube type rigs that ran about 100 watts out. There were two rolls of wire, some nylon rope, mikes and keys and paper for logging. ( No computers!!!). There was a 1 kw gasoline powered generator. Outside the footlocker, we carried three Jerry cans for fuels, a couple cans of oil and the antenna, which was a 14AVQ trap vertical that covered 40-10 meters. There were also a half dozen or so short poles that would make up a short mast.
       The plans were to operate one station at a time on 40-10 and to string an 80 meter wire for communication back to Asmara.  Our ride out to the island would be on a 40 foot Arab fishing dhow powered by sail and small inboard engine. It would be about a four hour trip from the harbor to our destination. This would not be a luxury trip. Seating was flat on the open deck.  Any cooking on board would be in a small sand pit on the forward deck!
       The first problem came after all the gear was loaded on the boat in the harbor.  Government officials came by and wanted to inspect everything again.  They wanted to do so out of our sight, so we went to a nearby restaurant and had an unscheduled early lunch break, followed by ice cream ( which for me turned out to not be a good thing later!!)
       About two hours later, we were finally able to leave the harbor. Water was smooth in the harbor, but not so much when we got out in the open water. Seas were a little rough, and for awhile it was great fun to stand in the bow of the boat and have the spray hit me in the face. About an hour later, the trouble came when I went back amidships to sit down on the deck. Then the effects of the spicy meal and ice cream hit along with the first signs of queasiness.  Someone told me not to look at the horizon, but to look only at the deck to stall off the seasickness. I tried that, but the movement of shadows from the rigging moving back and forth on the deck finally did me in!  I had no sea legs!
       It was a miserable couple more hours until we reached the smoother waters near the coast of the island. I was still a bit queasy as we made our approach, but all that ended when a minor disaster struck. The small boat ran aground!  The boat's operator did not seem too concerned, saying we should just unload there.
       We all went over the side and found the water to be about neck deep.  It was time to lower the equipment over the side and carefully carry it over our heads to shore. Somehow we got everything ashore with nothing getting wet, not even the logging paper!
       It was then that we got our first look at our operating situation.  There was a small shelter made of driftwood already in place that provided a little shade. There were higher dunes about 100 feet back from the water line.
       The first order of business was to get the generator started and checked out. It was set up a hundred feet from the shelter to keep the noise down a little. The whole expedition almost became just a fishing trip at that point as the generator simply refused to start.  Murphy's Law was in full force.  The generator that had started many times on the first pull back up on the mountain was being cantankerous at sea level.



       Mike and one of the fishermen did some kind of magic that also appeared to be some kicking, then playing with the carburetor that finally got it going.  I am guessing that perhaps some adjustment on the engine to make it operate in the thin air on the mountain top might have been the problem.
      The next step was to get the antenna put up.  That ended up being about a fifteen minute operation...just stacking the tubing for the vertical together, driving some stakes into the sand, standing it up and guying it off.  Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the antenna, but there are some pictures of the antenna and the boat in either the July or August 1973 QST magazine DX column.
The vertical was set up right at the water's edge with radials running off into the water.  We did not have enough coax by just a few feet to have the antenna out in the water itself at low tide.
       It was now time to set up the gear.  The operating tables were two portable tables that we set up under small shelter, running the coax out to the vertical and firing up.  An end fed wire was strung from the shelter up to the small mast that we put on top of the nearest sand dune. It would be for our 80 meter link back to Asmara about 120 miles away. We tuned up one of the HW-101's into the wire first.  There was no antenna tuner, one of the advantages of old school tube type radios.  The Heath radios had a pretty wide range pi-network output circuit and we did not even worry about the match. The plate current dipped and loaded and that was that! Communications was established with ET3USF and our safety line was secured.
       The other HW-101 was loaded up into the vertical.  It appeared to load up easily,  without too many dips and loading adjustments. We were set to go, almost on our planned schedule.  We had put out the word via the ARRL that we would be on the air by 1600 GMT.  The delay at the harbor and the increased time to unload along with the problem with the generator had pushed us right up to that time with nothing to spare.  Our local time was GMT plus three, so it was 1900 our time. 
        I really don't remember if we had announced a frequency on which to look for us or not,  but we found a clear spot below 14300 as I recall and put out a CQ, signing the callsign for the expedition,
9F3USA/P1  (" Nine Fox Three Uniform Sierra Alpha Stroke Papa One" a real mouthful!)  I don't know what we expected from that one short three-by-three call. Maybe we thought the world would fall in on us right away,  so it was a disappointment when there was silence. It was the same after three such calls.  Then Mike made a rather lengthy CQ call and unkeyed. After a short silence, a tentative call came back: I8HH.  I remember that call well being the first that we worked.  The exchange was a little longer than the usual expedition contact being the first and the fact that there was no crowd.  I remember he repeated our call a few times, perhaps thinking it would attract attention to us.  It did.
       When Mike cleared the contact, there were three stations calling.  He worked those quickly, and then the roof fell in. The pileup was on.  We worked a string of Europeans, then one JA who said he was going to announce our presence on a two meter repeater there in Tokyo.  Things got really heavy after that with several pages of JA's worked in quick succession!



       The pictures are a little faded with age, but here you see WA5TKC ( on the right) and myself (WA5IEX) on the left.  The covers were off the '101's ( and us!).  There was no concern about RFI or TVI out there and the temperature on the beach was about 130 degrees F.


       There were no computers on this trip!  All logging was by hand,  with one operating, and the other logging most of the time.  When one person alone was operating, it was quite a juggling act. Note the "small paperweight" used to hold down the log sheets in the sea breeze!
       Most of the operating was on twenty meters during the day.  Forty meter operation at night was tough because we had no way to operate split and had to stay below 7100 because that was the top of the band for us. Than meant no US contacts on 40 meters,  which left a lot of folks unhappy.  A few did call us on CW on our operating frequency which was fine with us, but that apparently did not occur to many.  While we had taken a key with us to operate CW, the QSO rate was so great on phone that we never got around to that.  There was some fifteen meter operation Saturday afternoon.
       Twenty meters was open well into the night with hundreds of US stations worked.  At one point the crowd got a bit boisterous and as we tried to work by call areas, folks were calling out of turn and it was getting impossible to pick out callsigns. At one point we got some great help from Bill, W2ONV who could hear us very well at his Saddlebrook, New Jersey QTH to try to calm the pile down a bit.  The fact that we were running only 100 watts to a vertical made things a bit more difficult because the roaring hoard could not hear us under the thunder of the pileup when we tried to answer someone.  It was incredible!
       The next day, about mid afternoon, something happened that I will never forget.  We were working mostly African and Asian stations on 20 meters and in quick succession worked HS4, XW8 and A2C stations, then a few YU's. Callsigns were in the log that most of us would have lusted after at our home QTH's.  A few minutes later the XW8 called again to say we were still very strong there and that " it must be nice to have an exotic callsign like that"!  Whoa!!!
       That Saturday and Sunday morning were a blur.  Again, compared to the big DX-peditions of today it was really small potatoes but it was a real trip for us. Sunday was packout day for the return trip. Because of security concerns and our military curfews for being on the road, we had to be back on the mountaintop before dark Sunday.  Travel on roads outside the city after dark was prohibited.
       The trip back up the mountain was something.  It was hard to believe that it had come and gone.  The biggest thought was how we would ever top this later in our ham careers. This fear was pretty much allayed the very next time we were on the air from the club station and the pileup on the ET3 callsign was still heavy by anyone's standards.
       The one disappointing thing was that the trip did not count as a separate country.  The IOTA or Islands on the Air program was either in its infancy or not begun at the time. But still, it was quite something to hear and HS4 and XW8 calling us at the same time!
       There had been no major problems after the early problem with getting the generator started. Oil consumption was a little high and we went through our spare cans, but the boat captain leant us enough to keep the generator going through Sunday morning.  We ran out of beer Saturday about midday.  But the fresh fish cooked on the beach over driftwood was fabulous.  And if it got too hot behind the radios it was just a quick run across " hot sand, hot sand " for a dip in the Red Sea to cool off.  What more could you ask for??
       But if there were fears that this little experience would leave us jaded to any "ordinary"activity in the future have proven groundless. There is still the same thrill of working a new one today, the adrenalin still pumps during the CQWW DX Test and there is still the same thrill at hearing a JA on 80 or 160 meters as the first time.
       If nothing else, the experience gives some appreciation for those who go on the truly difficult trips, spending thousands of dollars to put some rare spot on the air.  The thought that what they are doing is many multiples of what we went through that time brings that about.  It also brings some appreciation for what folks on the other end of the pileups go through.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Loop Project

       I have mentioned the use of loops in the past under the heading " Loop the Loop".  This past week in one of my Facebook Groups there was a question about Low Frequency Reception and the use of loops.  I posted a picture of a loop my father and I built and since there was considerable interest in the group I thought I would put the information here.
       This loop was build back in 1990 and has seen considerable use.  It is a box loop or some would call a solenoid loop that is three feet across and tuned with a three gang variable capacitor. It tunes form roughly 180 to 1500 kHz.  By tapping the coil and selecting one, two or three gangs of the capacitor, the tuning range can be varied.
       A tuned loop is actually a very simple device,  with the difficulties being not in the electrical design but in the mechanics.  This loop was made of wood and designed to be rotated in azimuth and tilted in elevation.
       To keep the loop from tilting over,  my father who worked with me on the project,  made the base from a salvaged solid core door.  Now it must be mentioned that this loop is not small and is not light.  The base must be heavy to make sure the loop is stable and will not fall over or try to move when its turned or tilted.
       The basic idea of any tuned loop is that it consists of a parallel tuned circuit.  The loop is actually the coil part of an L-C circuit. It resonates at the frequency for which it is being used.  A variable capacitor connected across the winding takes care of that chore. The one thing that is important if deep and clean nulls are to be obtained is that all connections should be very short.  For that reason, we chose to mount the variable capacitor right in the center of the loop itself. This is not a remotely tuned device ( one must  often chose between convenience and performance!!) It should be noted that no other connection is made to this parallel tuned circuit.  It stands completely alone.
       The connection to the receiver is made through a two turn link wound a couple inches away from the main winding and connected to a short piece of coaxial cable that then runs to the receiver.      A simple loop could be made simply by winding wire around a cardboard box or a plastic trash can and connecting the capacitor across the main winding and the link winding to the receiver.  I have used similar arrangements many times,  but this project came about with a desire to have something permanent and nice looking.
This is the loop sitting on a table in the back yard of my home.  The cross arms are three feet in length, with wooden plates on the ends that support the windings.  Additional wood pieces around the edges prevent the tension of the wire windings from puling the loop out of shape.  This was a feature that was added after that problem showed up and resulted in an almost complete redesign of the antenna!


 
       This view shows the mounting of the variable capacitor in the center of the loop. An alligator clip allows connection to one, two or three gangs of the capacitor as needed to change the tuning range.

                                                                             
 
This view shows the windings...In this case there are thirteen turns on the loop.  They are spaced about a quarter inch apart.  The two turn link is to the right.
 
 
Another view of the loop in my back yard looking toward the house and showing the tuning capacitor.
 
 
Another view of the loop with my forty foot vertical in the background.  This loop is a little large for permanent use in the house at my location, so I generally use it when operating out in the yard at this table or portable at other locations.  I have used it with a Radio Shack DX-440, My Icom R-75, Hallicrafters SX-96 and my MacKay low frequency radio.  I do not seem to need a preamp with it.  I have used it portable at Galveston and at various locations in the Texas Hill Country, usually just trying to find an electrically quiet spot. It has brought in NDB's from all over the United States and Canada, several from Cuba,  ZBB from Bimini, many from Mexico and Central America and even some from South America,  best NDB DX being from Ecuador.  I have also received broadcast stations from Europe and Morocco while visiting at Galveston.  I have found that the ability to null interfering stations to allow many stations otherwise unloggable being captured. It also helps in nulling noise. The lobes are much broader than the nulls, which are very sharp and deep,  I can totally eliminate local broadcast stations with it. Tilting the loop in the elevation plane can also allow reception of stations at different distances in the same azimuth direction. Tuning of the loop is very sharp, especially on the lower frequencies.
 
 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My First Shortwave Receiver

       Everyone will always remember the first receiver that took them into the shortwave bands. I found mine in storage at my folk's house this week, retrieved it and brought it home.  I thought it would be interesting to share what got me started.
       It was a homebrew receiver built from parts that had been part of lab experiments that came with a radio-tv repair correspondence course that my father had taken in the early 1950's.  It was, in fact, watching him solder and work on assignments that first stirred my interest in radio.
       After he completed the course, the materials, including parts and printed lessons were stored away in a closet and when he figured I was old enough to know what to do with them,  I was given the boxes of goodies. I was eleven years old at the time and already DX-ing with table radios and had begun poking around in them, trying to improve performance and hoping to get something going that would tune the short wave bands.
       Among the boxes of parts and papers there were chassis with holes punched and chapters on designs for various circuits used in superhet receivers.  It was a matter of putting the pieces together to get the receiver transferred from sections of lessons to being an operating radio.  There was one experiment that detailed making an H.F Converter to tune from about 6-18 MHz that would convert those signals to be tuned in by a regular broadcast receiver tuned to just above the high end of the broadcast band. That design became the front end of my first receiver to tune higher than the 160 meter amateur band ( I had previously gotten a standard broadcast receiver to go that high by pulling out the tuning slugs and loosening the trimmer capacitors as far as they would go).
       With the help of the head tech and owner of Lawson's Radio and TV repair shop I managed to get the thing assembled and working. I am not sure how many times I had the chassis in the basket of my bicycle for the two mile ride from our house to his shop, but with his help and parts from his parts stash and junk box,  the radio became a working reality.
       The basic radio was a six tube superhet that tuned the broadcast band with one RF stage and one IF stage.  It had an AC/DC power supply with a double section capacitor and choke filter.  The RF stage was modified with a double tuned input aligned to 1650 kHz with another fixed tuned circuit on its output.  The HF converter consisted of a 12K8 pentagrid converter circuit with its own filament transformer supply that lifted B+ voltage from the basic radio.  The converter had its own two gang variable capacitor with the original radio set up fix-tuned to 1650 kHz.



      
Front and top view of the chassis of the receiver. The main broadcast band tuning capacitor is behind the large drum to the left with the HF converter variable capacitor that provided tuning for the short wave range is on the right. other controls volume, tone and power on-off switch.

Top view of receiver chassis At top left is the edgewise S-meter.  This was actually a milliammeter reading plate current of the 455 kHz IF amplifier stage.  The stronger the signal, the greater AGC voltage applied to the stage and resulting in lower  plate current for the 12SK7 IF amplifier tube.  Thus the S-meter actually read backwards.  The stronger the signal, the lower the plate current indication. To make the meter read correctly,  it was simply mounted upside down! The glass tube to the upper right is the 35L6 audio output tube.  The metal tube to the upper left is the 12SQ7 triode-dual diode tube that served as detector, agc and first AF amplifier.  The glass tube at mid rear of the chassis is the 12SK7 455 kHz amplifier.  The metal tube behind the upper variable capacitor is the 12SA7 Second converter stage. The metal tube below the upper variable capacitor is the 12SK7 RF amplifier for the original BCB set redesigned with fixed coil tuning that became the 1650 khz IF amplifier stage. The glass tube at the rear of the main chassis is the 35Z4 rectifier tube. The metal tube with the grid cap connection above the lower variable capacitor is the 12K8 first converter. The lower variable capacitor tuned the HF converter and was the one used for selecting the shortwave frequency desired.

 
Under chassis wiring of the receiver. The HF converter chassis is to the left.

Close detail of the upper part of the HF converter stage showing the 12K8 Pentagrid Converter tube, the variable capacitor and the input tuning coil.

 
Closer top view showing the chassis top near the tuning capacitor for the base BCB portion of the receiver. The coil to the left of the larger variable capacitor is part of the fix-tuned 1650 khz IF circuit.  The two silver cans are the electrolytic power supply filters. The clips on the rear of the chassis are the connections for antenna and ground.  The small transformer on the rear of the HF converter chassis is for filament voltage for the 12K8 converter stage. The other six filaments are in series and operate like a conventional  AC/DC receiver.
 
Under chassis detail of the HF Converter stage. The large coil is the oscillator coil for the 12K8 pentagrid converter. The small coil to the upper left is one of three tuned circuits between the converter and the rest of the receiver tuned to 1650 khz.

Detail of IF amplifier stage showing the home made IF transformers. Windings were taken from discarded IF transformer cans, slipped over wood dowels and mounted horizontally to allow them to be placed farther apart than originally made to provide looser coupling in an attempt to get better selectivity.  Fixed regeneration was also introduced into the stage to improve selectivity of the stage. Tuning was accomplished with mica trimmer capacitors below the coil and reachable by screwdriver through holes in the chassis from below.

The receiver was not the highest performing beast on the planet,  but it did provide me with a method of listening in on the hitherto un available shortwave  frequencies.  It served for about three years as a way to explore my new world.  I learned a lot about receivers from the project.  In later years, I learned a lot that could have been done to improve it, including such things as converting the AC/DC supply to a transformer supply, which would have required another small chassis to handled the transformer. Voltage regulation could have improved stability.  A manually tuned preselector  could have eliminated the aggravating images that appeared on some places on the dial.  The addition of a 1650 khz crystal between the two tuned circuits between the converter and the rest of the receiver could have greatly improved selectivity. The addition of a beat frequency oscillator could have improved cw reception that was obtained in the original by simply increasing the IF regeneration until the 455 khz stage went into oscillation.  And a Q-multiplier added to the 455 khz IF could have finished the job of making the tuning really sharp.  But that is probably just day dreaming " what-if's"...though to this day I wonder how it would have turned out had I known that at the time and actually made it happen.  In any event,  this receiver which probably looks a little crude to most was the source of many great hours of listening and adventures in the wilds of the short waves.

 
 

Is the Band really Dead? Ten Meter Test and More

       I hope this edition will not be two disjointed because it will cover multiple points, but at least as I begin to write, they are all connected.
       This past weekend was the ARRL Ten Meter DX Contest. This is not one of the " Biggies" but is one that is usually lots of fun and almost always provides some surprises.  it is also a good one for SWL's because it is both phone and CW on the same weekend,  meaning all can tune in and experience some of the same prop( any many of the same stations) whether they copy CW or not.
       For hams,  having both modes on the same weekend gives activity even when the band appears to be " worked out", because when one starts running into the same stations with no new ones, one can just go to the other mode.  Its also fun to run into the same station or ops on both modes because all of the other guys are doing the same thing.
       Which leads me to the question in this edition's title: " Is band really dead?"  I never cease to be amazed by ten, and to a lesser extent, six meters. I so often hear or read on internet posts that the bands are dead and that there is nothing to hear,  but upon tuning slowly and carefully, often find there is something there.  There are times on ten meters particularly that when I hear no activity from operators, I can tune up into the  " beacon band" ( roughly 28180-28300) I can hear the QRP beacons identifying their little heads off.  The band is open, just nobody's home.
       Sometimes I think for hams,  the band being dead becomes a self fulfilling prophecy as a result of folks expecting the band to be dead and not even checking it. Also, even if the band is inactive but open for the beacons, nobody finds anybody because all are just listening.  This is one time that the idea of " listen, listen, listen and THEN call" should be abandoned, When the beacons are in and the background noise is up a bit, then is the time to call CQ, not just once, but several times.  It might also be a time to self post one's self on DX Summit to try to attract attention ( though some might discourage self posting this might be an exception)  If not wanting to post yourself,  at least pot beacons being heard.  Either might attract other folks, maybe even DX, to the band.
       In either event, it was with a little trepidation that I tuned up on the band Saturday morning. But I should have known that there is nothing better to open a "dead" band than a good contest.  At 1352 GMT ( 0752 local CST) I immediately ran into HT7C coming into Central Texas at 28019.3 from Nicaragua with a pretty good signal. Only minutes later, a Special Event station from Chile was in at 28005.5 XR90IARU.  The morning was filled with logging Central and South American stations. Interestingly, North American stations were absent.  I could hear the South Americans working them, but they were for the most part inaudible here in Waco.  I did hear K5NA, but that signal was obviously coming in via backscatter.  One European, YT9X from Serbia, propped in at 1444 GMT.
       About  midday, things got a bit more interesting.  Stations from  Eastern Canada began to come in, but the band also opened to the Pacific.  Beginning shortly before noon, several Hawaiians were heard along with the catch of the day, 5W1SA from Somoa who was audible most of the afternoon with signals ranging from S-5 to S-9. No Australians were heard but did hear ZM1A from New Zealand on 28040 at 2227 with a signal just above the noise. About 2315 ( 1715 Local CST) the band snapped shut like the slamming of a door.
       Sunday was almost a repeat, with the exception that by mid morning many US stations were heard.  By noon, a few African stations were coming in, including 6W1SR from Senegal  at 1846.  A couple South Africans were heard.  I am not sure if the band was not open or this particular contest just did not attract that much attention from the continent. I heard US stations working Europeans but heard few myself.  Once again, there were numerous Hawaiians coming in.  By noon,  the Northeast US stations were booming in with amazing signals, quite unlike the day before. Many pushed the S-meter will above S-9.
      All in all, a band that was supposed to be dead was simply unoccupied until the contesters showed up.  I think many times hams, who as a group should know better, don't check the higher bands because they might take a look at some of the Facebook pages and see postings of "bands terrible" and don't turn on the radio.  Some may even fall into the trap of thinking that we are on the down side of the sunspot cycle and the bands are expected to be bad. Sometimes even DX Summit can give one the feeling that nobody's home.  But if we all do that, nobody will really know that the ionosphere is there waiting to be used! Besides, someone has the be the first to post something to SX Summit!!
       The same goes for SWL-ing.  I have really enjoyed the Facebook groups I have discovered in recent days.  They members are fun, they are sharing the love of the hobby with several diverse interests showing up.  With members in different parts of the globe, it is particularly interesting to read about prop from " the other end of the path."
       But often, I will notice posts of " band dead, hearing nothing," or that one of the usual strong band occupants of 31 meters or some other band is not there. You can almost hear the disappointment and the feeling is that the poster will go off and do something else, perhaps missing a real nugget!
        There are times when some of the semi-local stations like Radio Havana, WRMI, WBCQ and others may be weak, fluttery, or almost non-existent.  But then is not the time to turn off the radio and turn on the TV! Before doing that, it is a good thing to check around and see what else is going on down " in the weeds".
       When I see that posted on the groups,  the first thing I do is go check the WWV frequencies.  If on 10 and 15 MHz WWV is weak but WWVH is strong or even covering it, the band is far from dead...just open really, really long! Then is the time to turn on the BFO and start trolling 31 meters for carriers,  then when one is spotted, go back to the AM mode and try to pull something out. Chances are, down in the grass will be a fluttery signal that will have the S-meter dancing a bouncy dance or maybe not even moving.  There those of us in North America will find regional Chinese stations,  All India Radio long path, Vietnamese stations, maybe even some of the big boys broadcasting to somewhere other than North America.  If a semi local station is weak and fluttery or marked with echo, chances are you are hearing it back scatter or multi path. That is not the time to turn the radio off,  but instead time to fill the coffee cup ( or other drink glass!) and pull on the headphones and pull out some new ones!
       If the upper bands are not showing much, keep dropping down to lower and lower bands until you find something.  I usually start the evening with a sweep of the WWV and CHU frequencies and end up with a de-facto prop chart in the log.  A look at the signal strengths for WWV,  WWVH and CHU on 2.5, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 MHz and 3.33, 7.68 and 14.67 MHz respectively  gives a pretty good picture of what is happening on the bands.  Then I start with the higher bands and work my way down until I start finding the goodies.  Sometimes a weak signal from WWV does not indicate a dead band, but one that has its legs stretched out long. ( at least for here in Texas...at your location, things might be different but you can learn over time what it all means)
       One of the other things I have noticed in the Facebook groups, particularly among relative newcomers to the hobby,  its the notion that a simple short piece of wire thrown up along a fence or around a room is adequate for listening.  In a way that is true, at least for casual listening to the power house stations targeting your listening area.  Others in the groups will post suggestions that such is all they need,  and that is true up to a point.
       However,  I think this leads to some of the disappointed postings about the bands being in poor shape. If signals are just a few DB above the local noise level,  if the bands take a shift,  those signals might drop below the threshold of what that indoor or low horizontal wire might be able to deliver above the local noise. Or, a low horizontal antenna might not respond to DX signals arriving at a low vertical angle.   For the new guys,  I would suggest that that for beginning, those kinds of antennas are good for getting your feet wet,  but nothing beats a good outdoor antenna at a decent height.  Old CB antennas can deliver pretty good signals from stations pushing over a million watts of effective radiated power toward you,  but won't do much for hearing a 10 kw station from Africa or Asia if you are in the US. The problem is not sensitivity of the radios, with many of the new ones having really good sensitivity.  Its the ratio of the desired signal to the noise.  Getting your antenna away from the noise and having enough up there to have a decent amount of voltage induced in it by a passing signal is the true answer. 
       And the oft forgotten part is the all critical angle of radiation.  A low, horizontal antenna will respond most to signals arriving at a high angle. Some low angle signals will be heard, but there will be a much weaker voltage induced by that passing signal. Horizontal antennas higher off the ground will respond to lower and lower angle arriving signals. A wire in the clear and not running though tree limbs or foliage will do much better.  Wires running through trees also suffer the danger of having noise picked up by the trees that may be near power lines with other parts of their canopies.
        Vertical antennas or inverted L's will also do much better with the low angle arriving signals.  The ionosphere acts according to the same laws of physics as does a mirror.  The angle of reflection equals the angle of incidence. Signals from a greater distance arrive at a much lower angle than nearby signals. 
       Often when a given band is just about to close, the effective height of the ionosphere is the greatest,  meaning that signals from a greater distance will be coming in. This means that being there for the opening and the closing of a band might be the best time for getting the real DX!
       Speaking of the web, Facebook groups and other things,  a big thank you goes out to Bob Padula in Australia for accepting my article on receivers used through the years and posting it on his excellent site The Mount Evelyn DX Report at medxr.BlogSpot.com.au    I think I have links he posted there for many of you finding this site.  The increasing number of DX groups brings a new aspect to the hobby, including the sharing of what is going on in real time.
       As always, I welcome comments and other ideas for articles and even DX tips.
       73 and good DX!

Monday, November 30, 2015

CQ Worldwide DX Contest 2015

       Well this year's CW Worldwide DX CW Contest has come and gone. Thousands probably slept the sleep of the dead after being deprived of rest over the 48-hour contest period, eyes bloodshot from staring at receiver dials, stomachs aching from the acid of too much coffee and loads of snacks eaten in lieu of taking time for full meals and the ionosphere healing itself after being assaulted and heated by many times its usual portion of RF launched from backyards around the world. Ears are sore from headphones being pushed tightly over ears as if that would help a weak signal to be heard and foreheads may be raw from being held down on operating desks as if the operators could somehow concentrate more deeply on pulling callsigns out of the noise in an attempt to use sheer willpower to pull a signal up just one more db.  Muscles are sore from tightening as keyboards were tapped or keying paddles swung as if that extra effort would add to the strength of the RF to push signals through massive pileups.  Fingers are raw from keying with writing fingers on those of us who still use pen and scratch paper to write down tentative callsign identifications now having a callous not seen since high school days of writing term papers  before computers.
       The CQWW is a massive collective effort to heat the ionosphere and get as many callsigns, zones and DX entities in a log in one weekend as possible. For many, it also involved  the usual preparation of checking antennas, maybe putting up "temporary" antennas with wives assured they would come down and return the yard to its previous uncluttered state " after the contest" with the operator hoping he could stretch that long enough so the temporary structure would be considered part of the " new normal".  For still others, it had meant months of planning trips to isolated areas to become the sought one in the bottom of those massive pileups.
       For some of us who would spend the weekend listening in the SWL mode without being able or desiring to transmit it would mean many of these same things, with the concentration just on listening.  For all, there is the hope of logging all 40 zones, hundreds of countries and running up a score in the millions,  with the secret hope that in addition to the glory of the weekend, perhaps  a few missing entities would be added to the total overall country list, or at the very least, to the list of countries for a given band.
       The weekend was marked with particularly good prop with low noise on the lower bands, at least here in Texas.  Friday night saw the high bands hot for the first hour, with DX being logged here from the Pacific on both ten and fifteen meters.  The promise was short lived, however, as both bands folded up like a cheap tent the first hour, with 20 meters starting to fail shortly thereafter.
       Any frowns of disappointment were wiped out, however, by phenomenal conditions on forty meters.  Listening in the search mode starting at the bottom of the band turned up great signals from Europe and the Middle East early, many pushing through the big gun US East Coast stations at the bottom of the band,  leading to it taking well over an hour to get above the bottom 25 kHz of the band logging many great catches. Signals extended above 7100.  After that,  80 meters was just as good, as any left over absorption in the D layer of the ionosphere faded away allowing even Mid East signals to come through with the energy often reserved for  10 or 15 meters.  I ended up spending so much time on 40 and 80 that by the time I got down to 160 meters, the sun was already rising in Europe and I perhaps missed some opportunities.
       After a two and a half hour nap, I got back in front of the dials Saturday morning Texas Time checking the low bands for Pacific and Asia signals and they were there in force.  Interestingly, some Asian stations were logged only on 80 or 40 for the weekend. The one disappointment was no Australian signals on 80 meters. Signals from both East and West Malaysia were logged on 40, with some Asian signals coming in as late as 9 AM local time with the sun well up.
       When the last of the JA's had dropped to the noise level on 40,  a check of the upper bands showed ten meters already hot to Europe.  Like the low bands the night before, the signals just kept pouring in, with the  band being refused to be " worked out" until well after noon. Signals of unbelievable signal strength from Europe, Western Asia and Africa pushed the S meters of the FT-757GX, Icom R-75 and the venerable Drake 2B I used for the weekend well above S-9.  In fact, by the time ten began to yield few new callsigns, 15 and 20 had shifted away from Europe and to South America and the Pacific.  It would mean a shift in strategy for the next morning to start with 15 and 20 after the low bands folded to get the needed Europeans on those two bands.
       Saturday night turned out not to be a repeat of Friday night on the low bands, with 40 and 80 not being nearly as hot and 160 disappointing without a lot of good copyable European signals.
       All in all, from an SWL standpoint it was a highly successful weekend., with two new overall countries being added to the master " heard " list and several new band-countries added on 40 and 80.  The big thrill of the weekend came with the logging of A52R from Bhutan on 15 meters about 2100 GMT Sunday.  There is always something special about hearing signals from that part of the world that gives one a sense of wonder and mental pictures of the exotic.
       This was a weekend not for the faint of heart or those turning on the radio for listening to programs.  It is a weekend for digging in the dirt of noise and pushing through the crowds to pull out a new one, or to log DX from JA and other entities until the log is gorged. It is a weekend for those who know how to copy CW to put things into the log that those who listen to broadcasts can but hope and dream about.  It is about a shameless wallowing in a veritable sea of DX, picking them off in a target rich environment. It is a weekend with so much over indulgence in RF that one will almost not want to turn on the radio for days.Well, almost.
       For me, it means being very pleased with a special new vertical antenna put up " just for the weekend"  that got an extra good ground from a weekend of rain that provided the grounding without lightning and static.  The vertical provided the great loggings on 40 and 20 meters, being 5/8's wave high on 20 and just a little too long  for 40, but nothing the Dentron Super Super tuner could not handled matching.  The slopers and ground planes provided the RF for the receivers on 160,80, 15 and 10 meters.
       Stats are still being worked out, but initially it looks like over 1500 stations logged in 127 countries ( or "DX entities" for the purists) and 37 zones. Well, I did my best to create an RF "low pressure zone" in the neighborhood by pulling in as much RF as possible to protect the neighbors from the excess RF being launched into the air by all those amateur stations transmitting over the weekend.
       Was the indulgence in one of the primo DX contests of the year enough to assuage the appetite for DX and playing with the radios for at least awhile?  I guess so.  But then there are a few DXpeditions planned for the holidays coming up, there is the new schedule of broadcast stations to check out. And there is the 160 meter contest next month and the ARRL DX contest early next year...

       73 and good DX!!

DX entities logged  with notations on which bands they were heard.

Japan 160, 80, 40,20, 15,10
New Zealand 40, 15
Madeira Island 10,20
Canada 160,80.40,20,15,10
Senegal 80,20,40
Brazil 10,15,20,40
Peru 10,20
Uruguay 10, 15,20
South Africa 10,15,20
Hungary 40,20,15,10
Slovenia 80,40,20,15,10
Canary Islands 80,40,20,15,10
Aruba 160,80,40,20,15,10
Spain 80,40,20,15,10
Germany 80,40,20,15,10
Slovak Republic 80,40,20,15,10
Russia ( European) 40,20,15,10
Azores Islands 40,15
Moldova 40
France 80,40,20,15,10
Cyprus 40,20
Czech Republic 80,40,20,15,10
Belgium 40,20
Scotland 40,20
Ireland 20
Poland 80,40,20
Serbia 80,40,20
Bulgaria 40, 20
Switzerland 80,40,20
Cuba 80,40,20,15,10
Albania 15, 40
Italy 80,40,20,15,10
Wales 40
Iceland 15, 20
Croatia 80,40,20,15
Morocco 10, 40
Gibralter 40
England 80,40,20,15,10
Corsica 80, 10
Montenegro 20, 40
Greece 40
Venezuela 20, 15
Hawaii 160, 80,40, 20, 15, 10
Puerto Rico 40,20,15,10
Curacao 160, 80,40,20,15,10
Sweden 15, 20, 80
Netherlands 80, 40, 20
Dominican Republic 80,15,10
Shetland Islands 40
Portugal 10,20,80
Bonaire 160,80,40,20,15,10
Mexico 160,80,40,20,15,10
Marianas Islands 80, 15
Philippines 80
Asiatic Russia 80,40,20,15,10
China 80,40,20
Hong Kong 40,20
Kazakhstan 40
Vietnam 40
Thailand 40,20
Georgia 40
East Malaysia 40
West Malaysia 40
Colombia 10
Mozambique 15
Cayman Islands 15, 20
Martinique 10,15,20
Cape Verde 20,15,10
Madagascar 15,10
Barbados 10
Finland 10,15,20
Argentina 10,15,20
Belize 20,15,10
Suriname 10,15
Zambia 10
Costa Rica 10, 15
Chile 10
Ascension Island 10, 15, 20
Rodriguez Island 15
Virgin Islands 15
Australia 15, 20, 40
Guadalupe Island 15, 20
Anguilla 15
French Polynesia 15
Trinidad 15
Honduras 15
Aland Island 20
Alaska 20,15
Fiji 15
Guam 15,20
French Guiana 20
Maldives 20
Norway 20
Bahamas 20, 80
Bermuda 160, 20
Turks and Caicos 15
Svalbard 20
San Andres 20
Antarctica 20
Oman 20
Qatar 20
Micronesia 80
South Korea 80
Romania 20
Ukraine 20
Denmark 20
Lithuania 20
Jordan 20
Israel 20
Latvia 20
Bosnia 20
Kuwait 20
Belarus 15
Grenada 15
Northern Ireland 15
Estonia 15
Luxembourg 15
Paraguay 15
Rwanda 15
Nicaragua 10
Saba & St Eustatius 10
Easter Island 15
St Lucia 15
St Kitts 10
Saudi Arabia 20
Greenland 15
Bhutan 15


Thursday, November 26, 2015

A First Big Antenna Project Adventure


Everyone has had their first “ big antenna project.” Some are carefully planned out, some are haphazard and some turn into great adventures. My first “B.A P” came when I was thirteen years old. I had been a shortwave listener for a few years, had obtained my Novice Amateur Radio License and had taken my General Class exam and passed.

While waiting for the General Class License to appear, I began thinking about new antenna possibilities. The antennnas up in our yard consisted of two longwires suspended between twenty-foot-high masts made of 2X4's. The wires were seventy feet long and supported by three foot long hardwood spreaders, running parallel between the masts, one for transmit and one for receive.

I knew that the twin longwires I had would work at least passibly. I had used them for shortwave listening and had made numerous contacts in the Novice Bands, including a fair amount of DX. But I had also been reading that antennas needed to be up higher to get a lower angle of radiation. At the same time I knew that my dad had mandated “ no guy wires in the yard” and the yard had to be uncluttered.

A tower was out of the question cost-wise. Masts would require guy wires. So what was I to do?

The answer came a few days later after an accident down the street resulted in a utility pole being broken. The Texas Power and Light Company crew came and replaced the pole, but left the old one that had been broken off at ground level lying in the ditch.

My dad and I got the idea about the same time. If that pole were left lying there for very long, it might just get a new home! After a week, he called a friend of his with TP&L and asked if the pole was going to be picked up and he was told they would when they could, but that if it were to “disappear” it would save them the trouble of disposing of it.

The problem was getting it home. It was about three or four blocks away down Harrison Street where we lived at the time in a suburb on the east side of Waco in Central Texas. My dad was not one to be deterred once he got an idea. It was fairly late on a Monday night when he told me to get in the station wagon and take a ride with him.

At that time he was driving a '57 Chevy station wagon for a work car. He loaded a long, heavy chain in the back and off we went. He turned around in the street and backed up to where the pole was in the ditch. The two of us managed to lift one end of the pole off the ground and propped it up on a concrete block he also had brought. He looped the chain around the pole a few times and hooked the free end into a link. He then ran the other end of the chain under the back of the station wagon and hooked it to the frame of the car.

My eyes were getting a little big about this time. We were actually going to drag the thing home? At 10:30 at night, there was virtually no traffic on our semi-rural street. He told me to ride in the back and watch to make sure nothing was coming lose and he cranked up the Chevy and eased forward.

The chain tightened and the loop snugged up around the pole. There was much groaning and vibrating of the chain as the load came on it. With great care and a little slipping of the clutch he then slowly got the Chevy rolling with the pole dragging behind us. He managed to get into second gear and we were soon going up the street at about ten miles per hour with the pole dragging behind us. Once or twice he had to slow down or stop when the lower end of th4e pole started swaying back and forth across the road a bit. The heavy end of the pole dragging on the street made quite a noise and I could just imagine they residents of the street coming out to see what was going on and maybe calling the police! After what seemed like an eternity and much gnashing of teeth it appeared we would make it to our house without incident. Luckily we did not meet any cars coming toward us as my dad was driving in the middle of the road, trying to keep the end of the pole from swinging into a ditch or hanging on a culvert or mailbox. Somehow, things went ok and we got home without a crash..

Instead of pulling into the drive, he parked alongside the yard on the street and got a dolly and a

small wagon. We unhooked the chain and lifted the small end of the pole onto the wagon and tied it firmly in place with a short piece of rope. He then got the dolly under the large end and we began the slow process of getting the pole off the street and into the back yard.

He already had in mind where he wanted to put it in the back, right corner of the yard. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the bottom or larger end of the pole into the right spot. The pole did not want to stay in place on the wagon and at one point during the turning and backing process we gave that up and just lifted it by hand and moved it a foot or two at a time. ( it was HEAVY!!) Sometimes it was more lift and roll than carry. There was a lot of sliding and rolling of this thing because it was not only heavy but over 40 feet long. We got it into the back yard before we realized we had to reverse ends with it to get the large end in the corner. That meant making a sharp bend to miss clothesline poles and a fence. It was about an hour long job to get it in place.

We got it in place parallel to the side fence with the bottom about ten feet from the back fence when it occurred to me that I didn't know how we were going to get something back there to dig the hole. My dad said we were going to have to dig the hole by hand. He wanted about eight feet of the forty-five foot long pole in the ground and it would be my job to do most of the digging! If I wanted a DX Pole, I would have to do the work!

After all the work it took to get it in place, I found myself full of doubts and questions. How would we ever be able to lift the heavy pole into a vertical position when we could barely move it into the back yard? How would we get a hole dug for it when there was not a way to get a tractor with an auger into the back yard? We certainly could not afford to pay anyone to do it! Most importantly, how would I ever get any antennas on it after it was up because there were no climbing steps on the pole. They had apparently been removed by the power company after they cut it down.

As usual, my dad already had a plan. He probably had it all worked out before we even drove down the street to drag the thing home. He was a carpenter and had come from a farm background and was expert at working out ways to do things in a way that would substitute manual labor and ingenuity for expense in getting a job done.

The “manual labor” would be mine. The ingenuity would be his.

I would dig the hole. We would start with our regular manual post hole digger. This was basically a small auger with a four foot stem and wooden handle. You made it work by putting the auger end down and turning the handle round and round. It would eventually “bite” into the ground but it required not only turning, but downward pressure.

It would not dig a hole nearly big enough around to accommodate the pole. It would cut a hole only about ten inches in diameter and the bottom of the pole was was almost two feet across. But my dad said that “would not be a problem.” I would use a heavy chiseling pole and a sharpshooter shovel to cave the sides in once the hole was started, then use the post hole digger to haul out the lose dirt. I could see a lot of work in my young future!

It was not long before I would learn just how big a job this would be.. The first afternoon, I got the hole down about three and a half feet. His plan worked well. Dig down with the auger, pull out the loose dirt. Cave in the sides, dig out the loose dirt. Then cave the sides in some more and lift out the loose dirt. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

When he got home from work that next day, my dad told me I needed to round out the hole even more to make sure the pole would not only fit in it, but slide down without problems. He also noted that the hole was not nearly deep enough, even though at the depth it now was, the handles of the post hole digger were just about scraping the ground. It turns out he already had a plan for that.

With a pipe wrench, he unscrewed the handle off the pipe stem of the post hole digger and with a heavy coupling, put a five foot extension of heavy duty water pipe on the shaft and then screwed the handle back on the top of that. It would mean I would have to stand on top of a small platform to be able to turn it until the hole was deeper, but “ that should not be a problem for you”.

The next morning I got up early and started digging. It took all day of climbing on top of the platform, dropping the post hole digger down into the hole, turning it until it filled up, then lifting it out hand-over-hand to dump it out. Then there was the caving off of the hole and removing the loose dirt. I don't know how many times I actually dug and redug that hole before it appeared to be ready!

But there was till the question of how we were going to lift the pole and how I was going to get the antennas on it. That question was partially answered when my dad got home from work that day to inspect and pass on the hole.

He had brought with him a couple of lengths of used water pipe salvaged off a remodel job he was working on. He had somewhere obtained a couple dozen large, 18-inch long lag bolts and rummaged through his massive collection of used hardware and dug out a couple dozen large washers.

He figured that about nine inches of lag bolt going into the side of the pole would be enough to support our weight. My job for the next day would be to cut the water pipe into six-inch-long pieces. The large washers would be put under the heads of the lag bolts, the pipe slipped over the bolts to provide foot rests and the lag bolts screwed into the side of the pole. Instant climbers! Actual climbing steps such as appeared on regular utility poles would have cost a small fortune. I am sure that even the lag bolts were probably not cheap, but I am betting he bought them at a used and salvaged materials store in town where he often bought lumber for projects and I am sure he got a good deal on them!

He set me up with a pipe vise and a couple of saw horses to use in cutting the pipe and left me with a hack saw and some spare blades. The next day was spent cutting, assembling and screwing the lag bolts into the pole at intervals of about 18 inches.

The attaching was not as easy as one might imagine. I had to drill a small pilot hole to get started, then get the large lag bolts screwed in. The wood in the pole was creosote treated, aged and tough. Of course this was a good thing, because it meant that the bolts would be well anchored and not be liable to slip out or loosen when one's weight was applied. This would be a good thing when one is over thirty feet in the air! There was more than a little bruising of knuckles using a large crescent wrench for the final tightening. The washers on the ends were to provide a stop to prevent the climber's foot from slipping off the ends of the climbers.

The question of raising the pole was still open. That day after work my dad came home and we moved the bottom of the pole away from the pole a couple of feet. This confused me a moment until the shovels once again came out and we began digging a small ditch just a bit bigger than the width of the pole along its length. The ditch went from a depth of about 18 inches at the edge of the hole and sloped up to ground level over about five feet. This resulted in a little loose dirt once again falling into the hole and more digging of it out.

While I was doing this, my dad was cutting up some two by fours and two by sixes of different lengths and nailing them into “x” shapes of varying lengths. We got the pole moved back over with the bottom extending over the top of the hole and lying in the freshly dug ditch.

Part of the plan became evident in a few minutes when one of my uncles and a neighbor showed up. We began by lifting the small end of the pole up and slipping the smallest of the “x's” under the end. The pole would be lifted a little and the “x” scooted up a little more, raising the end of the pole about a foot off the ground. Then a slightly larger “x” was placed under the end and both scooted up. This continued until there were four or five braces under the pole. Two ropes were tied to the pole about two-thirds of the way up and a long heavy chain attached a little higher.

My dad then cranked up his station wagon and drove down to the neighbor's place whose field backed up to our house. The houses on our street lay in a single line with a large open field behind them all where the one neighbor ran cattle and horses.

My dad drove out into the field and backed up to the fence. The plan soon became clear. The chain was hooked to the frame of the car, my uncle and the neighbor got on the ends of the two other ropes, stretching them out in opposite directions at right angles to the pole. I was told to “ stay out of the way”.

As he slowly began to drive forward, the chain tightened. The pole began to lift. The bottom hit the back of the hole and could not slide forward any more. The chain tightened more and began to vibrate, the pole lifted and the x-braces fell away. There was no turning back now. The two men on the ropes pulled against one another keeping the pole straight while the lift-chain stretched and creaked. The pole lifted to about 45 degrees, then seemed not to want to go farther. My dad gunned the engine in the station wagon, the rear wheels began to spin and for a moment I thought it wasn't going to make it.

The pole moved up and as it came to near vertical, the two men on the ropes both moved back toward the house to pull against the rise a bit, I am assuming to keep it from going over and falling onto the station wagon. The pole reached vertical and stood there. It wiggled . It did not drop into the hole. The neighbor and my uncle yanked on the ropes and my dad worked the clutch in the station wagon, working the pole back and forth and finally with a loud “thunk” it sank into the hole.

Never to leave anything to less than perfection, my dad came back to supervise the filling in of the dirt, holding a level to the pole in several places to make sure it was plumb. Slight adjustments were made by filling in dirt more on one side or the other and jamming the heavy chisel pole as a tamping tool along the sides. Then as more dirt was filled in, the garden hose was brought in and the hole was soaked while more tamping and filling went on.

The tools were picked up, everything cleaned up and the men took a Pearl Beer break. I even got a small glass.

The directions for the next day were to continue to soak the hole and as the dirt settled to tamp more on top. No climbing was to be attempted for a week until everything settled. The job was done in a way that I am sure some government safety organization would have had a hissy fit over. ( OSHA did not exist in those days!!)

The DX pole was up. The planning of the first project for my expanding “antenna farm” was underway.





Thursday, November 19, 2015

DX-ing as a Magical Adventure

             Someone on one of the SWL Facebook groups  of which I am a member said something in a post about one of his "adventures " being magical.  It seems he had heard a station on his main rig, then listened to the same station on a portable while he worked doing something else.  It seemed like magic to him.  There followed several posts echoing that idea.
       That struck a strong chord with me because I have felt the same thing many times over the past fifty plus years of spinning the dials.  Even before I began listening to weak signals through my own first crystal set going back to the times I, as a child, listened to kid's stories broadcast by one of our local stations back in the early fifties, adventure seemed to pour out of that small wood box with lights inside.
       There were radio dramas that let the story play out on the stage inside the mind.  It was limitless. Whether it be The Lone Ranger, Rocky Jones, Space Cadet or even Little Orphan Annie.  I still remember the children's stories broadcast by long defunct KMLW and the wonderful performance of Peter and the Wolf that first introduced me to classical music as a child. ( I still laugh when I see a bassoon!)
       The adventure changed somewhat when my dad was taking a radio-tv repair correspondence course.  He built radios that brought in stations from all over. These were only AM broadcast stations at the time, but the idea of listening to The Grand Ol' Oprey via WSM in Nashville or The Louisiana Hayride from ( I believe) KWKH in Shreveport in our living room just outside Waco, Texas was amazing to the then seven year old.
       As I learned ( and was allowed) to turn the dials of our old standup Silvertone radio I was able to find music and programs that kept me busy on hot afternoons on our small farm.  The radio transported me beyond the confines of that room.  And I must admit, the sounds of that radio along with the drone of the big evaporative cooler that fought the Texas heat long before we could even dream of air conditioning often lulled me into sleep and real dreams,  sometimes guided by what was on the radio.
       But most of all it was the sound of the distant stations brought in at night that really fired my imagination. Maybe it was the exotic sound of the selective fading.  Sometimes there was a bit of angst as the station would fade and my dad would say,
       " Don't worry,  it will fade back up. It will be back in a minute."
       A little later as I sat with my Bell headphones clamped tightly over my ears listening to the faint sounds coming from the Remco crystal set kit the hook was really and truly set. Those faint signals, particularly those I strained to hear after our local stations signed off at midnight, fired the imagination. Somehow, some way what was going on in that distant studio was leaping into the air, traveling miles and miles through the air and being snagged by the wire strung between the peak of the roof of our house to the tall water pipe mast my dad had erected at the back of our garden.
       When I would ask if we could get stronger signals or more distant stations, he would say we might if we added more wire.  So we added more wire along the side of the house and further out beyond the garden to the chicken houses.   We must have had over 250 feet of wire ranging from about 20 feet to maybe 35 feet high.
       While adding the wire seemed to aggravate the situation of making the local stations spread out on the dial of the crystal set,  it did help the signals coming into the six tube radio he had built as a kit that came with his training course.  And after the local stations signed off,  when I would sneak the headphones onto my head in the midst of the night,  there were more stations to be heard on my little Remco.  The ones I remember were WOAI from San Antonio, KRLD and WFAA from Dallas and WBAP from Fort Worth.  There were others I just don't remember and at seven or eight years old I had no concept of logging.
       Every time I would put on those headphones,  the idea that sound was coming from them that was sent from some distant place was being transmitted to my ears was truly magic. Even if the stations were the same as the ones heard before,  it was still the same.
       The level of magic increased over the years. First it was listening to my Watterson table radio that had belonged to my grandfather,  hearing stations from Dallas, Houston or San Antonio.  Then listening at night to signals from Chicago, St Louis, Cincinnati and various points in Mexico.  Then came the shortwave days with the sounds of England, Spain, Switzerland, Ecuador, Australia.
       On a Facebook post in one of the groups made up of short wave listeners I have recently joined, someone noted that same thing.  A distant station was heard on a receiver that was on an outdoor antenna that was later heard on a small portable while he was doing something around the house.  He noted that it seemed magical that he could be hearing something from a distant land with no intervening wires.  Others soon posted on the same entry of their similar feelings.
       What is it about radio that brings these feelings?  Perhaps it is not just the radio itself,  but something that still lives within some of us.  A sense of wonder at something special,  the ability to recognize and enjoy something for its own value, and somehow not become jaded to its reappearance over time.
       There are some in the amateur radio community who work DX and contests and such.  I am among them.  But some have approached the ham radio hobby, and perhaps the SWL hobby in a big rush and work or log countries in a hurry, win contests, collect QSL cards,  trade equipment it seems every other week and burn out on it quickly, losing interest. 
       Others seem to savor the experiences, listening for programs,  studying the prop, finding things to tune for even when the bands are poor. I think perhaps there is a difference within people in how they react to experiences in general,  not just the radio hobby, that has something to do with it. It is not a "competition" except perhaps with one's own skill level.  It is an enjoyment of what is!
       There is nothing to match the thrill of being a kid and hearing Tokyo for the first time on 25 meters on a morning before school. The difference for some is that it is noted, then tossed aside with no interest in doing it again.  But for some of us, every time that signal comes out of a speaker or headphones,  some of that thrill comes rushing back.
       The same goes with working DX or hearing it on the ham bands.  There are literally thousands and thousands of hams in Japan,  but somehow hearing a JA or JH or JO station come back when my hand pulls back from the key never diminishes.  Even just the idea of pulling a signal that someone launched into the air from their backyard with a small box in their home has never lost that shine.
       From the other side,  I had a moment while working at my first radio station back in the 1960's. I had been playing records on the radio on a Saturday afternoon, answering the request line, "playing the hits" when I happened to turn and look out the back window of the control room and saw two of the four towers of the station's antenna array in a new light.  What I was doing in that control room where the meters were dancing, the phone lights were flashing and Rock and Roll was coming out of the monitor speaker at a level that was probably near the pain threshold was being sent from that room into the transmitter room through the window to my left, the glowing tubes were generating the signal that was going to the towers outside, where it was leaping into space and reaching out to touch those very people who had been calling on the phone asking for their song.  It was also reaching out and touching hundreds, perhaps thousands as far as 150 miles away.  It was both a sobering and wonderful moment.
       Its something to think about when we spin the dials. There is indeed a magic in what we experience.  Somewhere, in a distant place,  what we are hearing is being created by someone in a studio or spoken into a microphone or keyed into a transmitter in a home somewhere.  It is leaping into the air, flying through space, bouncing around and sweeping by our antenna leaving a little mark of its passage as it continues to fly yet farther. What could be more magical than that? 
       No matter what the content of the program from a broadcast station  or transmission from the radio amateur, the effect is the same.  Something created in a distant land has come to us. Those who recognize it are blessed with a true experience.  Those who note it and let it go miss part of it.
       There are other wonders that come along with our hobby.  Someone else noted when commenting on a kit receiver someone had purchased and was enjoying that looking inside it was sort of like looking at the person who wired it.  Listening to a song is like looking inside of the person who wrote it or sang it.  Looking at a painting like looking into the soul of the artist.  Reading a story or a poem is like hearing the thoughts of a writer.
       Perhaps all of this is not so much just about radio or cold, technical facts.  The enjoyment of the hobby is just like the enjoyment folks get from actually " seeing" or "hearing" anything that goes on around us in the form of art or just life.  Perhaps we should be thankful we were given the ability to see what others might just pass over.
      Perhaps a little philosophy has crept into what some would see as a cold, technical geeky hobby!
Good DX and Happy Listening.