Friday, June 14, 2013

DX-ing With What You Have

For some, DX-ing requires the best possible receiver or frustration sets in. For others of us, its possible to DX with what ever falls into our hands. For me, the temptation is to tune around with whatever device is available.

During a vacation to the Bahamas several years ago, I had no opportunity to take a good receiver ( actually I was a little concerned about losing it in baggage to theft or to the hands over an overzealous TSA agent!) In the hotel room was a small clock radio provided as a courtesy for the guests. It was a pretty dinky thing, with poor selectivity and only a small loopstick antenna, but soon I found myself in the default DX mode: starting at the bottom of the broadcast band and working my way up.

There must be some part of my mind that is always on DX because when I was packing, I stuffed the latest edition of the World Radio TV Handbook in the bag. It goes with me everywhere, and while it is not the most detailed or up to date source especially for Broadcast Band usage, its something.

With the help of the trusty WRTH, which was more than adequate even with its listing of only the more powerful stations given the receiver situation, I was soon making entries in a spiral notebook that had also been stuffed in the bag. ( DX-ers of opportunity ALWAYS have something to log on!)

I had no illusions about logging a raft of Europeans, but I was soon getting many Floridians and Cubans I would never hear at home in Texas. And soon they were joined on the page by several Caribbean and South American stations.

The adventure was still there, within the context of the situation. I have seen people make amazing loggings with simple gear. Often its the skill of the hand on the knob and the filters between the ears that can make all the difference. I had a friend who could hear more with a Knight-kit Span Master regenerative receiver than another friend could hear on a Hallicrafters SX-100 ( this was back in the early sixties). Some folks expect the latest hot receiver to pull the DX out for them, and while the fancy rig does make it easier, the skill and patience still must be there. Imagine what my friend with the Span Master could have heard if he could have had his hands on the SX-100?

But back on the subject. I have found myself logging stations almost anywhere there is a receiver and opportunity. One need not have the best gear for adventure, just the ability to take the situation for what it is and work within that. Often driving on the road, either on vacation or on engineering road trips, I have done bandscans on the side of the road or in motel parking lots, oftentimes finding new stations, or otherwise running across old friends. Car/truck radios have traditionally been pretty good for these things, though I must say that the AM sides of more recent car radios are not as high performance as in the old days. There will NEVER be anything like an old tube type General Motors car radio...I believe they were made by Delco.

Early on, these bandscans took longer than they do now. Over fifty years of DX-ing, it has become easy to quickly identify some stations by frequency and “sound”. One example of such stop-and-log sessions was a trip to Eagle Pass, Texas in 1991 for a studio rebuild of a station there. On the way back, I found a quiet spot along the highway where I could safely pull off and started at 540 and worked my way through the took about an hour and a half, starting with XEWA and running through XEAE (540-1600).

During another trip to Eagle Pass, I spent a few hours running through the low frequency band to pick out non directional beacons with a DX-440 by Radio Shack, picking up a few new ones with just the internal antenna. I didn't let not having my large tuned, amplified loop with me prevent me from having fun.

The most unusual receiver of opportunity I have used for DX-ing was a broadcast Field Intensity Meter, of the type used to make field readings on AM directional antenna systems. There were several nights I had to sit with the transmitter at KVOZ in Laredo during a period when we were not able to read the phase monitor by remote control that I broke up the boredom of hourly meter readings and staying awake by using the Potomac FIM-21 to scan the bands. Even inside the transmitter room it had enough selectivity and directional characteristics to log some pretty good DX all across the band except within about 30 kHz of the 890 frequency the station operated on. Stations from as far away as Canada and several Cuban and other Caribbean stations were put in the log there, along with some low power stations on the local or “graveyard” frequencies.

This brings me to the subject of my very early DX-ing days. The first radio I remember tuning the bands with specifically for logging stations was an AC/DC/Battery three-way portable Silvertone This was used while living in Coleman in West Texas back in the late fifties. This was a simple five tube superhet set with the one-volt filament tubes ( 1R4, 1T4, 1S4,117Z3  etc) that had a very good loop antenna built into the lid of the portable. It opened like a lunchbox, with the loop of red wire that doubled as the inductor for the front end tuned circuit in the lid flipped open above the radio when operating. In fact the whole radio looked like a lunchbox. It was not exactly a high performance unit, but I didn't know it at the time and that did not stop me from logging a large number of stations from pretty good distances during the daylight hours and having a lot of fun.

The next receiver was my grandfather's old Watterson table radio in a wood case that I remember listening to the Lone Ranger, Tom Corbett Space Cadet and X-Minus-One on as a younger kid. That simple 5 tube AC/DC radio of the “All American Five” design would serve as my “main” DX receiver for several years. It could not have been more basic. It had no RF stage, and had 12SA7 converter, 12SK7 IF, 12SQ7 detector/AVC/first audio, 50L6 audio out and 35Z5 rectifier. It also had a built in loop antenna that also doubled as the inductor for input tuning, but it had a connection for an outside antenna. Even with this simple receiver over the years I logged stations from the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. But more on that part of my DX life in another post!

I guess the lesson is, don't let not having the newest chrome-and-plastic super radio keep you from enjoying the hobby. The main thing is to develop the skill for listening, knowing when the bands are open and to where, adapting where you listen and for what you listen to the times that are available.Each time you listen, you will stretch your and the radio's capabilities to drag in more. You will find that the challenge is doing more each session with the device that is available, competing not so much with other DX-ers, but with yourself and previous loggings. If you have a limited frequency range to tune, learn to adapt when you listen to make the best of that. There are SO many parallels between DX-ing and fishing! The best fishing tackle often does not lead to the best catch!

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