Monday, 23 March 2009

How I Started DXing

A few lines to explain the series of events which got me into this fascinating yet sometimes frustrating hobby. 

My first seeds in the hobby were sown at a very tender age - in my early teens and I have fond memories or our our television going on the blink, shortly followed by a visit from the TV engineer who would come along with his soldering iron and fix it. I would probably be around 10 or 11 years old. While he was making adjustments, I remember seeing him turning the dial and, to my amazement, new TV stations would appear. I became curious as the programmes were different. Where were these TV stations coming from? 

This would be the early 70s, when the three TV stations would broadcast a test card for much of the day. The IBA (now ITV) regional stations had separate programmes. The old VHF (band 1) TV system was in use and stations would only broadcast for a few hours each day, from late afternoon until late evening. I remember the short engineering test programmes which would air before regular programming began. There was one about the design of oil tankers. 

One day, an aerial contractor had called to install a new aerial as our old one had seen better days. I couldn't wait for him to leave as I was keen to see if I could receive any new stations. Yes I could! Anglia and Tyne Tees. I was fascinated and wondered how many other stations might be on that dial. 

It wasn't long before I realised that some days would offer better reception than others. I was now regularly tuning that big rotary knob and discovered duplicates of our nearest regional TV station which were obviously other relays, though I wouldn't have been aware of this fact at the time. I remember one day seeing pictures from Ulster TV - my first encounter with tropospheric propagation. I probably wouldn't have even been able to pronounce that!

Over the months which followed I witnessed further propagation events where I recall seeing interference to our existing TV services. It wasn't long before I realised that the interference was a sign that reception conditions were enhanced and these were the times when distant TV stations stood a better chance of being received. I also began to see foreign television stations, no doubt brought on by sporadic E propagation during the summer months. Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know why such distant signals could be received. I was still in my early teens! 

For one of my birthdays around this time I received a Binatone transistor radio. I was overjoyed to receive such a fantastic gift and I have fond memories tuning around medium wave to see what distant stations I could receive. The bug was really biting now. I soon discovered that I could receive foreign radio stations on the medium wave band at night yet oddly these stations were not there in the daytime. How could this be? 

Frequent power cuts were commonplace at this time due to industrial action in the mining industry. Staff at electricity power stations would strike in sympathy with the miners, resulting in regular interruption to the mains power supply. For a few hours each evening we would have no electricity and therefore could not watch the television. During these candlelit times I would bring out my transistor radio and demonstrate to my parents just how many foreign stations I had discovered across the medium wave dial. I took great pride in demonstrating reception of Radio Luxembourg and the pirate radio stations of the day. I also enjoyed listening to the music from overseas radio stations. My fascination with being able receive distant radio stations continued to grow. 

My mother and father were wireless operators in the RAF during the second world war. Move ahead now to the mid seventies when my father was keen to study for his Amateur Radio Licence. Having spent several years as a morse code operator at Bawtry Hall, near Doncaster, he felt that he was almost was half way to becoming a 'radio ham' and wanted to take the Radio Amateur's Examination. He never achieved this as it happened, but I realised that I too wanted to learn more about this in the hope that I might become licenced myself one day. 

My father contacted the local amateur radio society and we met several radio enthusiasts, some of whom visited our house and gave us copies of RadCom, Shortwave Magazine and various sample examination papers so we could learn more about the licence requirements. It fascinated me to look through the pages and see advertisements for sophisticated receiving and transmitting equipment, the likes of which I never thought I would be able to afford. "Look at all those knobs and switches!" I felt this was well out of my reach at the time. 

One day, I took the Midland General bus with my father to Chesterfield to visit Jack Tweedy's amateur radio shop, underneath the railway arches, where he bought a Trio 9R59D communications receiver. This covered 0.5 to 30MHz. You can imagine the fun I was going to have with this and my father actually used to let me tune the bands, listening to the short-waves and amateur radio transmissions! Yet another exciting new radio world was unfolding before my eyes.

The next stage in my DXing career was to discover DX clubs. These would be advertised in monthly radio magazines such as Practical Wireless. I found the World DX Club in the late seventies, closely followed by the Medium Wave Circle. I joined both as soon as I had found them and became a regular contributor to the magazines of both clubs. Now I was beginning to see exactly where I was going with this wonderful hobby. 

Getting involved in TV DX was the next stage. This would have been right at the end of the seventies, at a time when the MUF (Maximum Usable Frequency) was very high and daily reception of Zimbabwe was possible in the afternoons via F2 propagation. 

This story will close along similar lines to how it began - with a TV engineer calling to the house one day in the early eighties, again to fix another problem on our television. I remember this very well as I had been enjoying sporadic E reception on band 1 to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on my modified dual standard Baird TV upstairs in my bedroom only minutes before his visit. As the the TV engineer was fumbling around in the back of the TV I took great pride in telling him how I had just been watching TV pictures from Yugoslavia using only a crossed dipole which was leaning against my bedroom wall. Then came his unexpected response, which took me by surprise: "That's not possible. We have enough trouble receiving ATV in these parts, let alone Yugoslavia". TV Engineers! How little some of them know!

John, G1VVP