What does the average DX-er do when he or she sits down at the radio? Some may have a plan, a specific program from a specific station they want to hear. There may be a plan to scan a particular band and look for new stations not heard before. There may be desire to log a new country or listen on a band of frequencies not normally tuned at that time of day to see if something unusual is going on. It might be to look for a station posted by a fellow member in a Facebook listening group to see if it makes it to your location or to help the other poster identify something he or she is hearing. There might be a radio contest on the ham bands that might be used to log new countries or just log as much DX as you can in the target rich environment.
Or it just might be no plan at all. It might just be that you sit down at the radio, turn it on, and just pick a spot at random and start tuning to see what happens. I must tell you, that for me, more than half the time, that is exactly what happens. There are currently seven working radios at my main operating position that can be powered up and switched to an antenna at a moment's notice. Sometimes the time of day will have me picking a radio that performs best for the bands that are open that time of the day or night. Sometimes it just might be that for one reason or another, one particular radio has been used almost exclusively for awhile and there is a desire to try something different. Or maybe one particular radio just hasn't been used in awhile and there is a desire to " blow the dust out."
That is pretty much what happened back last September 18. I realized I had been leaning on the Yaesu FT-950 almost exclusively with the Hallicrafters SX-71 sitting right next to it going virtually unnoticed. The Yaesu can be a spectacular radio for pulling out DX especially in the ham bands and on cw. I had picked up the SX-71 mostly for casual listening to shortwave broadcast stations and for medium wave DX. That one evening I was just thinking about seeing what I might be able to dig out on the ham bands on cw. So without much other thought, I switched it on and moved the antenna input lead from it to one of the positions on my antenna switch. ( I have coaxial pigtails running from the inputs of all my receivers up to the area of an antenna switch, which obeying the laws of nature, results in more inputs than positions on the switch. I also have the capabilities or running any antenna either directly to a radio or through either an antenna tuner or an active preselector) Some of the radios run off AC power via a heavy duty power strip behind the desk and the 12 volt radios and other 12 volt accessories all run from a single 30-amp Astron analog supply. No switching supplies to generate noise in this shack!!
Anyway, the evening of September 18, 2020 Texas time, or 0000 GMT, the lights behind the dual slide rule dials of the SX-71 lit up and the aircraft headphones used here plugged in, the S-meter swung up to the right, then down to about S-2 with the ambient noise on the W6LVP Loop that was the antenna selected at that moment and the noise came up in the headphones as they settled over my ears.
Now where to start? The past few nights I had been tuning through 40-meter cw using the FT-950, so the thought was, " let's see what the SX-71 will do in comparison."
There was no way to accurately set the bandspread band edges at the time...no crystal calibrator so the band entries were simply " 7 mHz" instead of the four-digit entries plus two decimal points usually written down for stations tuned in on the '950.
There was a few minutes for the receiver to settle down, before the pitch of the tuned in signals stopped sliding down as the radio drifted during warmup. I figured enough time would just about equal the time needed to grab a fresh cup of real ( no de-caf here!) coffee and sit back down. Starting at the big cluster of FT8 signals and tuning down frequency WA3CKA was heard...then just down frequency a super strong signal totally blew past the BFO reminding me that on these radios, one must ride the RF gain or sensitivity control back to prevent this from happening with strong signals. K4EJU was really barreling in. Turning off the BFO, the Smeter showed S-9 plus 20 db. ( on some of these radios the AGC goes off when the BFO goes on) Tuning down further with the selectivity in the narrowest position and the BFO pitch control set off to one side of the pass band, more stations came up from behind the strong ones " out front". A much weaker signal was heard and with careful tuning it became readable, though it was up and down in level more than the others. Turned out to be NN7CW/M . A mobile cw station! This brought back memories of my days on the road doing broadcast engineering work and running various rigs cw mobile---the best being an SBE-33 and Icom 701, but that whole thing is a story for another day.
OK, so this part of the band was mostly for folks rag chewing. To find some DX, lets go down to the bottom of the band. The bandspread was just turned down frequency until I totally ran out of stations. Since I did not have a good accurate band edge marker at the time, that was the best way I could think to get to the edge...just tune down until there weren't any stations and slowly creep back up until I ran into some. Tune slowly, carefully, turn the rf gain back up and listen carefully. Maybe one would show up. Yep, there one is, working North Americans with them giving their locations just as their states without naming cities ( always a clue they are working DX) After a few minutes of listening, the signal crept up enough to identify. It was ON5EJ from Belgium. There would be DX.
From there, lets tune up and see if we can find some more. Next station up was stronger, but also closer identifying as VE3DXG, not real DX but a good ways from Texas. Going up the band I found several stateside stations that were identified and put into the log ( I log EVERYTHING) WX8J, W6P ( special event station for something?) W0A, K2HYD, K5DX, KA1CDD, another Canadian VA3SZ, then a Cuban CO7JY very strong.
For the next hour it was like that, going up the band logging each station identified, sort of like some folks do when running a band sweep on medium wave. All pretty routine until I ran into a bit of a pile up. Whoa, might be something good at the bottom of the pile. After about ten minutes of listening including the usual frustration when guys trying to work him not getting the rhythm right and calling on top of him, the signal peeped out into the open enough to identify ( I was reminded of a cartoon seen in an old QST or maybe CQ magazine once many years ago that had a drawing of a receiver dial with a big pile of cats in a swirling pile of dust with a little mouse labeled " DX" tip toeing out of the edge of the teeming mass....why do I remember these things? Funny how a mind drifts when doing these things) Oh yes, you are wondering what the station was ( drum roll....) ZS1JX South Africa!!! A jewel found in the big hay pile. There he was, all by himself coming across the Atlantic with very few other DX stations being heard. So strange that it happens that way. Maybe the band was just really long. It was 0150 GMT so it was almost 8 in the morning there. How WAS this happening? Reminder to self for the zillionth time since starting this hobby: why its good to listen and tune and search when the band doesn't necessarily sound all that hot or DX stations are not just hopping out of the woodwork or maybe nothing at all is listed on DX Summit.
The funny thing really was I heard the same station ZS1JX at almost the same time and almost the same frequency the next night. Who knows?
That next night, September 19 beginning at 0100 GMT once again using the SX-71, things started with VE2CSI, again mostly US stations, but a few more Europeans: HB9CVQ from Switzrland ( a real regular on 40 meter cw) DD7CW from Germany, I1YRL from Italy, the aforementioned ZS1JX, CO8OH Cuba, OP5KD Belgium with lots of US stations interspersed. Two pages in the spiral notebook filled up and sleep creeping up by 0300 GMT, I did my usual OCD thing and filled out a page to the bottom, reached up and turned the radio off.
Some nights are better than others, with the big ones often being the ones written about. But this might give you a snapshot of just an ordinary day " walking around the world" in this shack. Hasn't changed much since the first tentative tuning around with a broadcast radio while looking at White's Radio Log back in 1957. What's a typical night at your place? Drop a note in " comments" If enough show up, perhaps a few of them could be gathered up together in a future blog entry.