Friday, July 24, 2015

What Kind of Listener Are You?

What kind of listener are you? That may seem like a strange kind of question. It might seem obvious at first, but as we will see, it can be any one of many things, or perhaps numerous things.

The term “ DX-er” is really pretty broad. It can encompass all kinds of listening and generally refers to someone who tries to hear or work stations at a great distance. In fact the very term “DX” is an abbreviation for “distance”

But even that can have various meanings. To the Broadcast Band or Medium Wave Listener, it can mean anything beyond the normal range of every day listening. For those who specialize in daytime DX, it can mean anything over 150 miles or that which can be listened to comfortably for recreational purposes. For the night time listener, it can mean anything beyond normal ground wave range.

For the FM or TV DX-er, it can mean anything beyond 75 to 100 miles, or again anything beyond what one would normally see or hear on a “normal” day. Or for some, what can be pulled in with the aid of high gain, outdoor antennas rather than the line cord antenna or a table radio or the whip on a car.

For the SWL or Short Wave Listener, it usually can mean anything out of the country. For the more seasoned DX-er it might mean anything beyond the stations that normally purposely beam signals into his or her particular listening area.

For the Radio Amateur, what is DX can vary from day to day. It can be anything out of the country or off the continent, particularly on the higher bands. On a clear, cool winter night with low noise on the low bands it might mean across the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, but during a regular day or night might be something more nearby.

The term “DX” itself, it seems, can vary in meaning depending on the time or place. Generally, for me, it is defined by being out of the ordinary, whatever “ ordinary” means at that particular time. If I am visiting somewhere away from my home location and have only a portable radio with no external antenna, it can mean anything I can pick up. It becomes like exploring. If I am home with the R-75, SX-96 or the ham transceiver with the larger outdoor antennas, it will mean something totally different, from across the sea to sometimes being limited to a country not already in the log.

Even the term “SWL” can mean many things. There are some Short Wave Listeners who tune mainly to hear programs from other countries. The idea is to hear news from a different angle or point of view or perhaps news of a particular locality. Some may have family roots in the station's area while others may just have a curiosity about such things.

Some may want to hear the music of a particular area. This, then gets into the realm of splitting between listening for broadcasts targeted to foreign listeners and those meant for domestic consumption.

The latter is getting more and more difficult in recent years as many broadcasters drop their broadcasts in the Tropical bands. There was a time when such stations were designed to reach listeners in more distant areas of a country from the metro areas. They used the lower frequencies and higher angle radiating antennas to do so. In tropical areas, the static levels in spring and summer were also high enough that regular broadcast signals did not have the dependable range that they have in higher latitudes and broadcasters used transmitters in the 49 and 31 meter bands to reach outlying audiences in the day and the 120, 90 and 60 meter bands to reach them at night.

There was a time when the old White's Radio Log or World Radio Radio TV Handbook was loaded with stations beginning about 3 mHz that are now all but gone. In those days, up thorugh the sixties and into the early seventies, the lists were loaded with stations from Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and many Caribbean Island nations.

Nowadays, many are gone, replaced by FM stations to overcome the static. Programming is fed to the outlying lower powered FM's by satellite or microwave and listeners hear more pristine sound rather than the often fading and interference laden signals coming through on the lower shortwaves. But that means that the listening targets for SWL's are now greatly diminished.

For many, me particularly, there was something exotic about hearing the music and strange sounding languages from these places. I think the exotic feeling was perhaps enhanced rather than diminished by the occasional fading, particularly the sweeping sound of selective fading that accompanied these signals coming from the loudspeaker!

There are still stations broadcasting on shortwave, just some of the old friends are gone. The possibility of logging them is still there, just diminished somewhat.

Even among the SWL's who tune in the broadcast stations, there are two camps: One camp keeps track of the stations and programs and listens for content, The other camp seeks the weakest, rarest, must difficult to hear stations to run up the country count. This might be considered the hard core DX-er.

For this particular category, the current state of International Broadcasting might almost make things better. The bands are less crowded and the “newer” countries or political entities might still be present on short wave to cover regional areas or to get their ideology outside of their area, to spread it. There are also stations broadcasting into those areas trying to change minds or get ideas in to those behind the new boundaries. Some are learning that dependance on the internet for this is a losing proposition because government entities are learning to control internet flow into and out of their spheres of influence.

Among the “program” listeners, there are some alternatives to shortwave. Discounting the internet, nearby countries can be heard on the standard broadcast band with good antennas and good receivers. Those living within a hundred miles or so of the border might also try FM and TV as a means of getting some neighboring culture.

For the hard core DX-er there have always been other sources of signals to add countries to the “heard” list. Some of those are disappearing as well. The maritime cw shore stations were always good for some of the countries that did not offer readily received broadcast stations. Over the years, they have put countries like Mauritius, Timor, Goa, Macao, India and Pakistan in my log. They have all but disappeared in recent years with the growth of satellite communications.

There are still utility stations that can be heard or received from some rare places. These stations include stations for communicating with aircraft along with other forms of digital communications.

The most available targets for DX-ers wanting to log new countries now are probably found in the amateur bands. Hams are still on the air in most countries or entities of the world, are readily identifiable and are fairly easy to QSL. Almost any SWL DX-er can copy the single sideband signals with even the simpler portable sets available these days. More complicated table top sets used for more serious DX-ing of broadcast stations are more than adequate. The addition of a narrower filter than normally used for AM would be a help.

Amateur signals are now appearing in various digital modes. Any receiver used for copying digital utility stations will be more than adequate for pulling out digital amateur stations.

For those DX-ers who have learned to copy CW for logging some forms of utility stations, there is a veritable gold mine of DX laying in wait on the amateur bands. CW signals punch through where practically nothing else will.

There are some particular techniques for finding, identifying and logging DX in the amateur bands that are somewhat different from hunting for other forms of DX. This is brought about by the more random nature of operating on these bands and the varying conditions for prop on the different bands. We can take a look at some of those in another article.

But we come back to our original question. What kind of listener are you? The answer might be just one category for some folks, but for many of us the answer is something more like “ it depends on the day.” For me, sometimes it just depends on the mood I am in when I sit down in front of the radio. It might depend on conditions for prop or whether there is a lot of noise on some bands. It may depend on whether I have read or heard about a new station broadcasting from a country I need or whether there is an amateur DX-pedition putting a station on the air in an entity I need. It might depend on whether an amateur radio contest is set for the coming weekend that might provide a target rich environment for DX.

The bottom line seems to be, the more areas of interest a listener develops, the more likely that listener will have to find a reason to sit down in front of the radio, put on the headphones or turn up the audio gain for the loudspeaker, and step out on a short walk around the world.

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