Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Time Being DX

Its one thing tuning the dials and hunting for DX, but it is another thing entirely being the hunted. Both are an adventure but each has its own problems and challenges

Outside of ham radio, my first introduction to the same came early in my first year in broadcasting. In November 1965 I made my first appearance behind a microphone at our local AM broadcast station. I had been hanging round the place for about three years, watching, learning and generally making a pest of myself.

The station was a 1 kilowatt day, 500 watt night facility on 1580 kHz and employed a four tower directional antenna system. As such, at the time this required an operator with a First Class Radiotelephone License to be present to maintain transmitter watch and make transmitter log entries for key meter readings every half hour. Since I had already had an amateur radio General Class license for some time, with a year of intensive study I managed to get a First 'Phone and they had little reason not to put me to work, even though I was still in high school!

In those days, the AM band was much less crowded that it is now, and with 1580 being a Canadian Clear and much more protected than it is now, there were only a handful of stations on the air in the US at night. As I recall, there was us ( KBGO), KLOU in Lake Charles, Lousiana, WCLS somewhere in Georgia and a station in California that I do not recall. There was a strong Mexican station on the frequency with 50 kw in Hermosillo, but it signed off at midnight their local time. Our station stayed on 24 hours ( a relative rarity for small local stations then) meaning for a few hours it was fairly much in the clear.

With the 500 watt night power and the four tower directional array pointed generally West, the signal in that direction was pretty good. Part of my duties included making the weekly ( then) required field intensity readings in the nulls to make sure we were in compliance with our license, and a few times I took some “ extra” readings in the main lobe and figured the effective radiated power was a bit under 2 kw.

Because of the directional resulting in our signal not being very good in the Eastern part of our metro area, the engineer at the time had the modulation really maxed out. Even for the time, we had compressors and limiters that were set at faster recovery times, maximum compression ratios and working pretty hard. The Gates Sta-level was usually in about 20 db compression range with the recovery time on “double” ( the fastest) and the Gates SA-39 limiter was usually working in the 15 db compression range with the rear panel selector switch on the fastest recovery time. There were always fresh tubes in the modulator and PA ( they were 833A's) and switching the modulation monitor between monitoring negative and positive modulation peaks always showed more on positives. We were the loudest thing on the dial locally. We had a young full time engineer and a seasoned part time engineer who taught me early on about the importance of audio processing and coverage.

All of this combined to really help us stand out on the dial. We got many reception reports in those days. Most, of course, came from Western states. There were none from Canada. Since 1580 was a Canadian Clear the antenna had to protect the entire Canadian border.

Before I came to work, it often fell to the program director or the chief engineer to answer reception reports. The PD was more interested in keeping up with his dj staff and doing remote broadcasts than answering letters, and they would stack up on his desk. Sometimes he would hand them off to the engineer who was also just as busy doing an air shift as well as taking care of all of the equipment.

So when it came to light that I was interested in these things, guess who got a pile of letters handed to me ( I had no desk!)? There was often a problem in trying to figure out if the letters came from people who had actually heard the station. Since most of the reports were for the overnight shift, there were few commercials to check the reports against. For checking old program logs for a one two year old letter, I was shown a big stack of program logs in a closet with the admonition not to get them out of date order!

There were some very distinctive song titles from local bands that were useful, but in general song titles didn't mean much because the station kept no records of what was played when. Key slogans like “ Waco's Big Go” or promos for fun club cards or reports of oldies being called KB Goldens or references to new tunes as “ King Climbers”, etc were helpful. The best clue was any reference to news being at ten minutes before the hour and twenty minutes after the hour. Often some of the reports were just so vague that it was very difficult to determine if the reporter had been hearing the station or not.

Some interesting things came to light when I began to notice that a good number of the reports would come right before to right after sunrise. Many of these reports would come right after the change to 1 kilowatt day power with an even tighter directional pattern that resulted in an effective radiated power of almost 4 kw, generally to the West-North-West. For those in the Mountain Time Zone where the local daytime only stations had not yet come in, we would have a pretty good signal, often well above some of the 1 kw or 250 watt non directional daytimers in the Central Zone that would come on at the same time we changed to day power. Most of those reports would come in the quarter hour or so after power and pattern change.

There were some real surprises that winter of 1965-66. I got two reports from Hawaii, one from Japan and three from New Zealand. All of those were easily checked out as being “ for real”. A check through the engineering files showed that there were several reports from New Zealand the first year the station came on the air in 1962. It should be noted that beginning in about mid 1967, a number of stations began staying on after midnight both in Canada and Mexico that pretty much ended our DX target status. A station in California and a 50 kw station in Arizona getting night time status later put the nails in the coffin.

The station did not have QSL cards. To answer reports I managed to grab some letterhead and take it home to hand type each response on my manual Royal typewriter at home. Depending on the time available and how many there were, the letters might be simple, straight forward confirmations, some would have details on the transmitting equipment ( Gates BC-1T transmitter, 4 tower directional, etc). Sometimes I would stuff a rate card or other promo material with a coverage map in with the letter. There was really no consistency to it all. I remember paying the postage myself.

Needless to say, I would be very happy to hear from anyone who logged KBGO on 1580 during the time period from 1962-1969.