What is DXing
DXing is a very interesting radio hobby. As it is, sometimes it is very hard to explain exactly what one’s hobby is. Radio listening does not really sound like a hobby, and if you emphasize the technical side, people think you are a ham radio operator or a CBer. There are a lot of special technical words used in the radio listening hobby. Most of these words are abbreviations which go back to the days of telegraphy. When the telegraph first started and every letter had to be correctly keyed and sent out, telegraphers introduced many abbreviations, to save time and reduce their work. To abbreviate the word distance they choose the letters DX. That is all that DX means, distance. Some people think that the X stands for “the unknown”, but it does not. So when applied to radio, DX means distant radio stations. A person who hunts distant stations is then a DXer.
Short-wave: Although DXing can be practiced on every band (FM, long wave, medium wave, …) most of the DXing is done on short wave. Not everybody who listens to short-wave is always hunting DX of course. Most listeners spend some time actually listening to favourite programmes, and many prefer Programme listening to station hunting.
But why short-wave, what is it and why should we listen to it ?
Short-wave is per definition that part of the radio spectrum between 3 and 30 Megahertz. The bands above are called VHF (Very High Frequency), UHF (Ultra High Frequency), and so on. The bands below are medium and long wave.
In the Earth’s atmosphere there is a layer called the ionosphere. It is charged by the sun, thus having the ability to reflect some radio waves, like a giant mirror in the sky. Not all radio frequencies will reflect. Those that are too low are absorbed. Those that are too high go right through the ionosphere. These upper and lower limits are constantly varying, depending on various factors. Generally it is short-wave which reflects. That is why short-wave is used for radio communication over long distances.
There are many reasons to listen to the various radio stations on short-wave. It is an excellent way of keeping up-to-date with international news. You can also learn a lot about other countries, as most countries have an international radio station which informs you about their culture, politics and other information. Short-wave is also a source of unusual and entertaining music. And listening to foreign stations provides practice for people studying foreign languages.
How to get started :The most important tool for a radio listener is the receiver. The first thing that needs to be said is that often it is not the receiver but the amount of experience one has that is most important. Radio listening experts can often uncover all sorts of stations on the most basic receivers. They know what to look for and when to look for it. That said, a receiver with advanced features can make things a lot easier, for both the beginner and the experienced listener.
The next important piece of equipment is the antenna. Fortunately, current receivers are often so sensitive that they often work well with a built-in whip antenna. Of course if you live inside a concrete and steel building -and in many other cases-, you will definitely want something outdoors. The basic rule with antennas is to string up a wire as long and as high as possible. The most important thing to remember is to keep your antenna away from power and telephone lines. The simplest thing to do is to throw a couple of meters of wire outside a window.
Writing to stations: While most radio communication is two-way, radio broadcasting is generally a one-way activity. The broadcasters make programmes, we listen. Fortunately, there are means for listeners to contact stations, by mail, fax or -nowadays- even e-mail. If there is a station you want to listen to, or if you hear a broadcast and want to know the entire time and frequency schedule, the easiest thing to do is to write the station and ask for a schedule. International broadcasters are usually delighted to send you one, and may even put you on the mailing list to receive regular copies. Stations usually give their addresses on the air. Otherwise you can consult one of the international books. To know what book is best for your personal use, please consult booklist page.
QSL cards: When short-wave broadcasting began, it was hard for stations to know if they were being heard. They encouraged listeners to send reception reports, and these were usually rewarded by letters or cards known as QSL cards. QSL is an old telegraphy abbreviation for I confirm, and QSL cards confirm that you the listener have indeed heard a particular station. Nowadays, with monitors and monitoring agencies to advise the stations, the need for reception reports is far less. A number of stations have discontinued sending QSLs in order to save money, but most continue to provide them as a courtesy to listeners. Nevertheless, many smaller and independent stations still want reception reports, and QSL cards may be needed for contests or DX diplomas.
What else is there on short-wave? If you have been spending much time exploring the radio bands, you have probably noticed that there is a lot more to listen to than just international broadcasters like Radio Vlaanderen International and the BBC. The bands are filled with fascinating signals. There are for example the unofficial stations, the pirates and underground broadcasters. There are domestic radio stations, the so-called utility stations like airplanes, ships, embassies, even international telephone links. Among them are strange beeping noises. This is radio teletype. Beside embassy and military communications, this includes news transmissions from various international and national press agencies. To interpret these you will need a special device to hook up to your receiver. And there is much, much more. But you will have to find that out for yourself. Much help can be found in the numerous DX clubs of the world.
Many pleasant listening and hunting hours,
(This text is an adoption of Radio Sweden’s Beginner’s Guide to DXing.)