Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Worldwide, DXpeditions Hunt Elusive Radio Signals

DXers seek out distant signals at remote campsites

DXers Alfredo Locatelli and Horacio Nigro (R) on 1980s DXpedition in Uruguay

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Uruguay’s Horacio Nigro is an amateur radio operator (call sign CX3BZ), an international shortwave radio listener/blogger , and an avid fan of “DXpeditions.”

Either alone or accompanied by other radio enthusiasts, DXpeditions are journeys to sparsely populated, low-interference zones — requiring supplies such as high-end radio equipment and long wire antennas. As for the expression “DXpedition,” DX is an old Morse Code term for the word “distance,” and a “DXer” is the radio hobbyist who seeks distant radio signals. “I started my own saga of personal DXpeditions going to Valizas, a seaside village in the Atlantic coast of Uruguay, with a Kenwood R600 communications receiver and my first Beverage antenna,” said Nigro. A Beverage antenna is a very large and sensitive horizontal wire antenna, requiring hundreds of feet of linear space for optimal deployment.

Mika Mäkeläinen’s DX Camp in Northern Finland REMOTE SIGNALS
“It was essential to catch the first medium-wave stations across the Atlantic and also the Middle East.” Nigro was also able to receive distant faint FM signals from Puerto Rico, Chile and Venezuela carried far beyond their normal line-of-sight range by rare conditions in the ionosphere overhead. “Collectively, these are unforgettable moments of my career as a DXer,” he said. Finnish journalist Mika Mäkeläinen is another DXpeditioner/radio enthusiast, who is best known for his authoritative radio listening site. “I’ve been a DXer since the late 1970s, when shortwave radio to me was a window to the world,” he said. With the advent of satellite TV and the Internet, shortwave radio’s status as the average person’s only source of international broadcasts was supplanted; motivating Mäkeläinen to start chasing remote radio signals to keep his DXing passion stoked and satisfied.

Horacio Nigro at Valizas, Uruguay in recent times
“Depending on how you count, I have collected verifications from about 4,400 AM and shortwave broadcast stations from around the world, almost 90 percent of which are from outside Europe,” he said. “Every winter I spend a week or two up in Lapland, northern Finland — above the Arctic Circle — on DXpeditions, which to me are the annual highlights of the hobby.” Prithwiraj Purkayastha of Assam, India, is also a dedicated DXer; so much so that he has gone from merely listening to producing/hosting “Indian DX Report” on worldwide shortwave service Adventist World Radio and KBS World Radio, a shortwave station broadcasting from South Korea. In January 2012, Purkayastha travelled nearly 1,000 kilometers from Assam for a DXpedition in Mandarmoni — on the southern tip of India’s West Bengal coastline — along with fellow members of the Indian DX Club International in January 2012.

“We not only heard stations from Brazil, but heard signals from international radio stations from Laos, Indonesia, UAE, the United States, Peru, Madagascar, Oman, Bahrain, Botswana, Armenia, Mali, Israel, Sudan, Zambia, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Germany, and Romania,” he said. Purkayastha has posted a report about this DXpedition at Like service clubs and team sports, DXpeditions can be a good excuse to get away for a weekend. But unlike clubs and sports, DXpeditions give radio hobbyists a chance to “bag the big ones” — the signals they can’t receive at home due to interfering signals and electrical power noise, and the lack of space to set up long, long wire antennas. As well, being able to spend a few dedicated days listening to distant signals allows them to take advantage of occasional changes in the ionosphere that enhance signal propagation. To make their catches, DXpeditioners take radios, antenna tuners, and lots of antenna wire with them when they hit the road. The radios can range from the most sophisticated direct-entry push button digital radios to old tube sets with big dials, hot tubes, and a heftiness that makes them anything but portable.

Mika Mäkeläinen Outside in Northern Finland, in DXing country Cheap-and-cheerful radios are also welcome, since a DXpedition is a great time to test the radios’ actual performance in comparison to each other. More than one DXer has been surprised to learn that their cheaper set does, in some cases, perform better than their premium-priced receiver. Food, beverages (often of alcoholic origin) and bedding are also musts, as is protective clothing. This is because the best DXing sites are often the most forbidding, such as Mäkeläinen’s DX collective’s Lapland camp (with a heated two-room cabin) above the Arctic Circle.

An outdoor antenna strung up during the 2012 Mandarmani, India DXpedition. “It has about a dozen kilometers of highly directional Beverage antennas and loads of technical stuff, even laptop computers starting next season, so we’ve really tried to make it as easy as possible for anyone to enjoy this aspect of the hobby,” he said. “International visitors are welcome as well, we’ve already had one, and expect a few more this coming season.” Details can be found here.

Actually, most DX sites are temporary camps, requiring tents and other living supplies to be brought in. Smart DXers are known to favor seaside beaches in warmer climates — the ocean being a good path for long distance signals — where swimming and sun tanning are options as well as radio listening.

Catching rare signals isn’t enough — true DXers send proof of their reception successes to the stations they picked up, to get written confirmations back. Such a confirmation report, traditionally a post card, is known as a “QSL.” In the past, written reports detailing what was heard and station IDs were considered to be a must, along with details of how well the signal was received. Today, “if you record the station ID and send it to the station, it is sufficient proof of picking up the signal, even if you’re only able to hear the signal for 20–30 seconds,” said Mäkeläinen. So what kind of DX catches have these DXpeditioners achieved? In Finland, “catching WCNB from Connersville, Ind., on 1580 AM with 4.6 watts of power — confirmed by the chief engineer of the station, who himself is a Dxer — was a very nice surprise back in 1995,” said Mäkeläinen.

Mandarmani DXpeditioners tuning into the world. “Another memorable one was hearing Tonga on 1017 kHz in 1998, after which Scandinavian DXers seriously started to hunt for even the smallest Pacific islands. Some other stations are memorable because of their verifications, such as Bolivian shortwave station Radio Eco, which long ago sent me a small stuffed alligator!” “I have received a reply from ‘Volcano Radio’ in Ascension Island, replying to my listening report and heard while a local station was silent for maintenance for some hours,” said Nigro. “I also have in my collection QSL cards that came as a reply from Radio Valladolid in Spain, Radio Monte Carlo and Switzerland.” Today, in the Internet Age, DXpeditions remain alluring to radio enthusiasts for the same reason that “trying to catch the big one” is an ongoing motivation for fishing fans. “Even after dozens of DXpeditions, I still encounter something interesting every time I go up to Lapland,” said Mäkeläinen. “For instance, last season we found a bunch of AM stations from East African countries that had never before been heard in Europe!”

James Careless is a regular contributor to Radio World in Ottawa, Ontario, and a DXer. His most prized catch is All India Radio, which he captured at a Canadian campsite using a $40 Sangean shortwave receiver and one-meter of wire connected to an aluminum tent pole.