BECAUSE WE'RE ALL ABOUT RADIO

Getting Started in DXing

As long as there has been radio, there have been DXers. 

 

The call of the chase for elusive and exotic signals has snared many an unsuspecting person.  Now, you are ready to count yourself among that number.  Congratulations, welcome to the family and get comfy.  There is a lot to learn!

Do not fear, though.  This isn’t the kind of thing where you have to learn everything just to be able to enjoy the hobby.  It’s not like learning a new instrument where the learning and skill curve is so steep, that people just give up after a short amount of time.

In fact, some of you reading this may even be experienced DXers looking to either brush up their knowledge or pick up a tip or trick that you hadn’t been using before. 

The art and skill of DX is one that allows you to learn at your pace.  You decide your comfort level and how deeply down the rabbit hole you want to go.  There is no set timeline, there is no pressure.  This is supposed to be fun!

Here at DX Central, we want to provide a loose outline of knowledge to allow a new or even veteran DXer to determine their own interest level and established skillset and go from there.  While it will be designed with a new DXer in mind, therefore it makes the most sense to start from phase I and work your way from there,  you can skip around at your leisure.  I

 

f you run across a term you are unfamiliar with, be sure to check out our Glossary of Commonly Used DX Terms for help!

DX is a hobby you can do at any skill level, from anywhere.  Here, the author checks out local AM radio conditions from a hotel balcony in Pensacola, FL.  You can travel to distant locations and get a glimpse at life that would otherwise be hidden simply by turning on your radio!

The author's first "radio" shack (left) consisted of a small boombox and a black and white TV.  From those early beginnings, a lifelong passion and interest in the radio hobby was born.   While in the most current iteration of the shack (right) things have become much more advanced, the thrill of the chase of exotic DX is still as powerful and a fundamental part of the hobby as ever.

A car radio makes an excellent first radio for either AM or FM DX!  This is more true of stock radios than aftermarket ones, though.

PHASE I:  Getting acclimated

YOUR FIRST RADIO - This is probably a radio you already own and may be the radio that helped spark your interest in DX in the first place!  For most DXers starting out, there is no need to rush out and buy any expensive equipment, what you have on hand is likely good enough to get you started!

  • A bedside clock radio (how the author got his start)

  • A small portable radio (could be a “Walkman” style, something you carry outdoors (beach, poolside, etc.) or something you might have in a home office, etc.)

  • Your car radio

  • Home stereo system

WHAT TYPE OF DXER DO YOU WANT TO BE? - Don't worry, you can always change your mind later if you want.  However, somewhere early in your DX career you will want to decide what you are looking to get out of this hobby.  There are really four different types of DXers and you may even find that you exhibit characteristics or have interests from multiple types of DXers and that is OK too!  Remember, this is YOUR hobby, you choose how you want to do it!

  • A casual content/programming listener:  This type of DXer is here solely for the content.  They aren't interested in filling logbooks with exotic DX catches or obtain QSls.  They don't care about keeping stats or deep analysis.  They are just here to find content from radio stations outside of their area.  Maybe they enjoy listening to local news or traffic reports?  Maybe they like the lively "morning zoo" morning shows from half the country away (or across the ocean, if they are lucky).  Most of these types of DXers have really gravitated towards streaming audio as they now have an entire world of radio stations to choose from. Still, there are content DXers that spin the dials, looking for something they have never heard before.​

  • A casual logger:  The casual logger actually wants to keep track of the stations they have heard in a logbook, but more for the ability to have that record, not really for the thrill of the chase or increasing their "numbers".  A casual logger might chase QSls to an extent, but they aren't overzealous about it.

  • The number cruncher:  This type of DXer wants to know how many stations they have heard on each frequency, from each state, from each country (and how many countries they have

Deciding early on what kind of DXer you want to be is an important step in getting you started on your DX journey.  You can always change your mind later, but knowing what your initial interests are with DX will help you to stay motivated to continue hitting the dials!

heard).  They will likely be chasing QSls or at the very least a healthy collection of recordings with IDs from DX catchers.  This is usually the level of DXing where a DXer will want to start upgrading their equipment such as a more advanced radio, an outside antenna or adding a piece of equipment such as a phaser to their signal path.  

 

  • The hardcore DXer:  This type of DXer chases DX any time, any where, any way they can.  They have sophisticated antenna setups, advanced radios and likely even homebrew equipment they use to help them pull in DX.  They may travel to remote locations solely for the purposes of DXing in a noise-free or enhanced signal environment (such as a coastal location or DXpedition to a remote island).  Hardcore DXers can spin the dial and tell you on any frequency at any time of the day the station you are most likely to hear from their location, without having to think about it.  The hardcore DXer is always looking for a new way to maximize their DX pursuits whether that be through technology, skill or resource.  They comb the Internet researching everything from equipment reviews and propagation to antenna theory and what other DXers are hearing. 

WHEN TO LISTEN - Both AM and FM have times when DX will be more likely than at other times.  It is important to understand the basics of radio propagation on these bands so you can focus your time and effort on those times when the DX you are searching for will be there!  For both AM and FM radio, it is important to establish a level of "deadband conditions".  This means understanding what you can expect to hear on each frequency day in, day out.

  • AM DX:  Daytime signals will be limited to those stations in your local area out to about 150-200 miles away.  During sunset​ signals begin to come in from father away and this increases through the nighttime hours.  During sunrise, local signals and closer in stations begin to take back over.  It is a good idea to do a full bandscan (start at the beginning of the band and write down every station you hear on each frequency all the way to the top) for Sunrise, Daytime, Sunset and Nighttime, to establish your deadband baseline.

  • FM DX:  For most of the year, most DXers are going to be limited to those stations that are in their local or very close range (50-100 miles) from their location.  Some DXers, especially those that live near coastal areas, may get enhancements during morning and evening/overnight hours under certain conditions (such as tropospheric ducting).  The peak time of the year for FM DX is during the summer months when long range reception through Sporadic Es propagation is possible.  To know when the FM band is open, it is important to establish a baseline "deadband" list of stations you can hear from your location on any given day.

1020 kHz - KDKA - Pittsburgh, PA - 12/2/19
00:00 / 00:35

AM SKYWAVE DX:  At night, the atmosphere allows AM radio signals to travel much further.  Here, KDKA on 1020 kHz from Pittsburgh is received in Charleston, SC.  This is a full, legal, top-of-the-hour ID, the most consistent and effective way to positively identify a station being received.

KGLA - Norco, LA - 2/24/20
00:00 / 00:22

AM GROUNDWAVE DX:  During the day, the atmosphere is heated by the sun and creates layers that keep AM radio signals from traveling long distances.  As such, a station's groundwave signal (the one that travels along the ground itself) is what is heard.  This results in only stations nearby a receiving location to be heard.  Here, KGLA in Norco, LA was received in New Orleans, LA with their dual legal, top-of-the-hour ID both in Spanish and in English (even if a US station broadcasts in Spanish, they are legally required to ID in English as well at the top-of-the-hour).  

WEDR - 99 Jamz - Miami, FL - 3/29/20
00:00 / 00:13

FM TROPOSPHERIC DX:  During certain weather conditions, FM radio signals will refract in the atmosphere causing them to travel much further than usual.  Here, WEDR in Miami, FL was heard during a Tropo opening in Charleston, SC.  Coastal locations are much more likely to experience regular tropo DX, though it can occur anywhere.

WHERE TO LISTEN – Start by logging/listening to all of your local stations (if you have any, or nearby stations if not).  This will get you acclimated to the cadence of radio programming such as when commercial breaks occur, when a station will identify itself, etc.  It will also tell you where the ‘holes’ are that can lead to receiving distant stations when conditions are right.  Further, during nighttime on AM radio, find your loudest stations and start from there.  If you struggle to hear a dominant station on a frequency, come back later, let’s start by knocking out the easy stuff first.  On FM radio, check the frequencies where you do not have a local station.  Maybe you have a weak station or only static.  These frequencies will be your go-to to determine if conditions are right for DX.  During summer months, is a good idea with FM to start at the low end of the band as some long-distance propagation methods will start at the low end of the band and move up.

WHAT TO LISTEN FOR – Anything that will positively identify the station you are listening to.  The best way is by getting their call letters (if they use them, all US stations do but some outside of the US do not) which are usually provided at the top of the hour.  Next best is some sort of unique slogan or branding such as “Hits 99.1” or “Newsradio 1120”.  Be careful, though, as sometimes more than one station on a frequency may be using that same branding/slogan.  If you are not able to capture the call letters, it is best to use multiple other clues from what you are hearing to assist:

  • Phone numbers and business names – Hear a local phone number given out during a commercial or even better, a local business name?  Hit a quick Web search to see what comes up, it may help you narrow down what station you are hearing!

  • Location – again, be careful, because with the prevalence of network programming and news broadcasts talking about various locations, just because you heard “Memphis’ doesn’t mean the station is in Memphis.  Listen to the local commercials, are they mentioning clues such as “the tri-state area” or “Southern Florida’s best roofers..” etc.?  Look for these very specific indicators of the location to help narrow down.  Another good clue can come in public service announcements, as some (not all) will include a line that says “the [insert state] association of broadcasters”.  Hearing that means you are hearing a station in that state, which can help you narrow down your targets. 

  • Format – be super careful here, formats can change in an instant.  Recently, I was reading an email from a DX group I belong to where there was suddenly a station on 1680 kHz broadcasting country music.  There were no known stations in that format at the time on that frequency.  Through diligent research, it was discovered the station was KRJO in Monroe, Louisiana who had overnight changed formats from a Hot AC station to Classic Country.  They went from 99.7 My FM as their branding to 99.7 “The Legend”.   Formats can help you narrow down your list, but be ready for curveballs.  Further, things like sporting events can occur on stations that do not normally carry a sports format; you can hear the news on a station with music formatting and many talk radio shows use popular music coming out of a commercial break. 

CFZM - "Zoomer Radio" - Toronto, ON -12/2/19
00:00 / 00:34

A NON-FULL ID  Sometimes getting a full legal ID just isn't possible. Either because the station fades out before you get one or they just never do it (can happen with non-US stations a lot).  Here, 740 kHz CFZM IDs as "Zoomer Radio" and you also hear an advertisement for a local business and a local weather report with degrees Celsius.  These are good indicators that CFZM is the station we are receiving.  

HJKH - RCN - Colombia 12/2/2019
00:00 / 00:37

LOCATION:  Even if you do not speak the language, sometimes you can use clues to help you narrow down the station you are receiving.  Here, we know there is a station on 650 kHz in Colombia, Radio Cadena Nacional.  Near the top of the hour, the station broadcasted this ID, with mentions of Colombia.  While this isn't always a 100% method, it can at least help you narrow down your options.

Radio Progresso - CUBA - 12/2/2019
00:00 / 00:39

CONDITIONS (AM):  From time to time, conditions to a certain region will open up on the AM band.  A common occurrence in the United States, especially in the South, is for openings to Latin America.  Here, Radio Progresso in Cuba was coming in very strong, even stronger than usual.  This was a good indication to check for other Latin American stations to see if conditions were favorable for them as well.   This was the same morning the station in Colombia, above, was heard, validating the theory.

PARALLEL STREAM:  Sometimes, you can use an online stream to compare what you are hearing with their broadcast signal.

CJBC - Toronto, ON 860 kHz - 12/2/2019
00:00 / 00:44

FORMAT:  Sometimes all you have to go by is a format to narrow down who you are hearing.  Here, there is one French station on 860 kHz, and it is located in Canada.  

  • Conditions – this is where time in the seat is helpful to know what to expect on the bands.  When I first started as a DXer, the idea that I could be hearing a station from Alaska or Hawaii while I was sitting in New Orleans, Louisiana was within the realm of possibility.  Technically, it could be possible, but it is highly unlikely and very rare.  This goes back to getting to know your typical “deadband” conditions.  For AM DXers in the US, DXers further to the East typically do not hear many stations West of the Mississippi River and likewise, DXers further to the West have a hard time hearing many Southern and Northeastern states.  The best rule of thumb I can give you is to start by estimating the station you are hearing is the closest one located to you on that frequency and go from there until proven otherwise.  You may be right or you may be pleasantly surprised to find it is a much further catch!  A good example of this was the night I thought a station I was hearing on 1140 kHz from my home in North Carolina was a small station in Alabama but was really CHRB in High River, Alberta!  On FM, when there are openings, if you are hearing one station from Oklahoma, there are likely more and may even be some from Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, etc. 

  • Using an online stream or Web SDR – This is one of the most popular methods that people will use to help them verify the station they are hearing.  They will pull up the online stream of what station they think it might be and then listen for what is called a parallel, where you notice the same programming on both the radio reception and the stream.  Here is another one you want to be very careful with, though, as syndicated/network programming will obviously sound the same on any station that is carrying it.  So, just because you think you have an ESPN station and you checked the stream and verified it is the same ESPN content of what you are hearing, doesn’t mean it is necessarily the same station.  If there are other ESPN stations on that frequency, it could be them too!  Also, note that most stations will not stream their over-the-air commercial breaks, and instead have online-only advertisements that run during commercial breaks.  So, if you are trying to match up content during a commercial break, keep that in mind.  Web SDRs from specific locations (such as trying to find one near the target/assumed station) is another popular method and can be used to great effect to narrow down suspected stations you might be hearing!

  • RDS – Radio Data System – A small bit of digital information embedded within the broadcast signals of some FM radio stations.  Will usually provide information on Title/Artist of songs playing or of the program airing.  Most importantly for FM DXers, RDS will usually contain ID information such as station call letters or slogan.  They also transmit a PI Code, which is a unique code that is tied to that specific station.  Even if the call letters or slogan are not visible, you can still search for that unique PI Code on certain Web sites and it will provide you information on what station it is!

Radio Data Systems (RDS) can be an easy way to help identify FM radio stations you are receiving.  Not all stations transmit RDS information and some don't transmit anything other than song/artist name.  For those stations that do transmit identifying information, they can prove invaluable in helping to solidify the identity of the station you are hearing.  

WHAT TO DO WITH WHAT YOU HEAR – Depending on what type of DXer you are (which again, you can change your mind about later), you probably want to at least write down what you are hearing.  We will talk more about getting organized in the next phase of DXing, but even early on, you can at least grab some basic information of what you hear.  You will probably want to have this information as you progress into more serious DXing.  You log a station the first time you hear them and enter them into your log.  After that, if you hear them again, you would only ‘relog’ them if they have changed call letters or frequency (changing format, branding, power, etc. does not constitute grounds for re-logging).  We will cover statistics tracking in Phase II.

  • Call letters of the station heard

  • Location of station heard (such as City, State/Province, Country if it outside of your own)

  • Date heard (include year)

  • Time heard (don’t forget the AM/PM, or you can use 24-hour time)

  • Frequency heard on

  • Some basic details of what you heard including any specific verbiage used to identiffy the station (slogans, branding, etc.)

PHASE II:  Getting organized

YOUR LOGBOOK – Your logbook can be as simple as a spiral notebook, a piece of paper, a small journal or even a spreadsheet or database you keep on your computer.  You can also purchase one from the ARRL (this is what I have used for nearly 30 years, though I do now also keep a database for stat tracking) or from some of the radio clubs.  A basic radio log should contain the fields mentioned in the above section in addition to any additional data a DXer wants to track for themselves.  It can be a paper log or can be computerized in a spreadsheet, database or dedicated logging program.. 

  • Another logging tool that many DXers, myself included, use is a ‘master log’.  You get a large 3 or 5-subject notebook and you put a single frequency on each page.  Then, when you log a station, you add that station to a running total for that frequency.  This will help you as you accumulate more station logs to know if you have logged a station previously (without having to search through your logbook).  If you include some basic details such as date/time heard and format/branding information, it can help you identify if the station you are hearing is one you have heard before. 

A logbook is an important part of any DXer's shack.  This is where you store details on stations heard.  In addition to allowing a DXer to track their receptions, it can be rewarding to review previous DX catches and reminisce!

PHASE III:  Getting Serious

A DEDICATED COMM RECEIVER/SDR - As you continue to advance with your knowledge and interest in the hobby, it is likely you might be interested in obtaining a more advanced receiver to be used specifically for DX purposes.  How advanced depends largely on your budget, there are models that run anywhere from $100-$200 all the way to $1000 or more!  Some things to consider:

  • A software-defined radio (SDR) is something that DXers are increasingly relying on as a catch-all solution for their DX needs.  The advancements in this specific niche of the industry has increased performance while keeping costs very low.  Depending on the model you choose, these often have wide frequency coverages (including both AM AND FM radio most of the time) and are compact and increasingly affordable.  For an SDR on the market today that runs in the $150-$250 range​, you can equal of exceed the performance of SDRs that used to cost well over $1000!  When you add in the recording capabilities of SDRs and the ability to grab an entire AM band at once or a large portion of an FM band at once, for later thorough review, an SDR is often the clear choice for a DXer to have in their collection.

  • If you still prefer the knobs and buttons of a traditional communications receiver, you can find many great solutions on eBay that will suit your needs.  Check out our Receiver Roundup section of both the AM DXing and FM DXing pages for some recommendations.

  • For FM DXers, this may be an SDR or can be a specific FM high-performance receiver such as the Sony XDR-F1HD.  These high performing FM radios usually come at a price premium but their performance is legendary!

ESSENTIAL TOOLS - In addition to your logbook, the following tools can be an essential part of any AM or FM DXers DX pursuits.  You may find other elements to be essential and every DXer has their own preferences, but the following are widely used and considered essential by most DXers:

  • National Radio Club's NRC AM Log​ - For more than 40 years, this has been THE go-to for every AM DXer for a comprehensive listing of AM radio stations in the United Staes, Canada and Puerto Rico.  While general station listings can be found elsewhere online, etc. there is no single source that provides the depth of information that you will find in the NRC Log.  Simply put, I cannot AM DX without it.

  • One area to consider is what to do when you move to a new location.  Most DXers will keep what is called a “lifetime” total if they have lived in multiple locations throughout their DX career.  Myself, I have been a DXer (and have logs) from New Orleans, Louisiana; Brasstown, North Carolina; Cullowhee, North Carolina; Greenville, South Carolina and now Charleston, South Carolina.  With these moves, I will re-log stations I have already logged at previous locations but do not count those towards my “lifetime” totals.  For instance, I have logged WWL-870 kHz at each of the locations I have lived.  I logged the station in each location, but only count it once in my ‘lifetime’ total.   Generally speaking, if your move is within a certain distance (200 miles or so for AM DX, 50 miles or so for FM), you would not need to ‘reset’ your log.  One exception to this is if your move gives you a distinctly different propagation path.  For instance, when I moved from Brasstown to Cullowhee, North Carolina, it was only a move of roughly 40 miles.  However, my new location opened up a whole new propagation path due to a different mountain terrain. In the new location, stations to my east, southeast and south that were blocked by mountains in Brasstown, were available in Cullowhee.  Now that I am coastal, the saltwater gives me distinct propagation advantages over my previous location in Greenville, so even if the move was a short one, I would look at it as a new location to DX from.

  • A rule of thumb is to only consider a location a “home” location towards your lifetime totals if you have actually lived at that location and had a local address.  Vacations or DXpeditions generally speaking would not count towards the lifetime totals (though some DXers do and that is completely up to them!) unless it is a location that is frequented or a former home location (when I recently vacationed to New Orleans and DXed, I counted new logs towards my old NOLA totals and in my lifetime numbers too, since I used to live there).

The National Radio Club's NRC AM Log, released annually, is practically required for every AM DXer.  It lists each AM radio station in the US, Canada, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. It contains information you cannot find in a single source anywhere else including format information, networks, address information, power, antenna patterns and more.  

  • MWList / FMList - Online resource for AM or FM station listings worldwide.  Includes links to station Web sites, streams and more.  Essential for any DXer that is trying to DX outside of their own country.  

  • WTFDA Database - Quit simply THE authority for North American FM radio stations.  There isn't a better single source for FM station information that I can find.  This is especially true for the DXer-minded methods that are available for searching for stations within the database.  It is built like a DXer thinks!

SETTING GOALS – Once they start getting some logs in their logbook, many DXers will start setting goals for themselves.  A common first goal for an AM/FM DXer is to log at least one station on every frequency (540, 550, 98.1, 99.7, etc.).  Once they do this, many will try to log 2, 3 or more stations on every frequency.  Another common goal is to log at least one station from every state/province (admittedly, this can be a tricky goal based on geographical limits) or to at least add as many states to their log as they can.  As a DXer advances, they start wanting to add new countries to their log.  Setting reasonable goals for yourself can help you stay motivated and excited to continue exploring the dials. 

YOUR FIRST COUNTRIES – Depending on your location, logging other countries may be very easy if you are surrounded by other countries such as in Europe, the Caribbean, South America, etc.) or require a bit more effort (such as DXers in the United States).  A US AM DXer likely will have for their first foreign country logged either  Canada, Cuba or Mexico.  Most of the US should be able to log at least two of those countries if not all three.  Beyond that, a US AM DXer will have to dig a bit more to hear true DX.  In the Eastern and Southern US, the Caribbean can be a great place to look.  Depending on your location countries such as Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic and Haiti can be accessible.  South American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela are also on the easier end for most Southern/Eastern US AM DXers.  Transoceanic AM DX can be achieved somewhat easily for DXers on the Atlantic or Pacific Coasts, though DXers with more advanced setups in the middle of the US do log transoceanic DX (sometimes from either side).  For FM DXers, especially those in the US/Canada, hearing other countries can be much more difficult depending on your location.  Stations near the Mexican/Canadian border, or those in Florida or other parts of the extreme Southeast coast will have better luck than those landlocked in the middle of the continent. 

BASIC ANTENNAS – Depending on what you have been using for your first radio, the idea of enhancing your antennas will eventually cross your mind. 

  • If you are using a portable radio or your car radio, your built-in antenna is doing a great job for you.  You can see an enhancement in most cases by using a tuned loop such as a Terk AM Antenna or Kaito AN-100 that essentially can boost the signal of your built-in antenna (for AM radio). Another good option is a Select-A-Tenna, if you can find a used one.

  • If you are using a radio that has an option for an external antenna, you are probably wondering what will work the best for you?  The good news, is that especially as you get started, you don’t have to break the bank or have a ton of land for antennas.  While living in an apartment, I used a portable radio that had an external antenna jack on it.  From there, I used speaker wire I purchased at my local electronics store for under $10 and I tacked it around the edge of my ceiling all around my apartment.  With this set up, I logged more than 150 stations in that apartment on AM radio.  My parents once used a stretched out slinky for an antenna.  You can get by with purchasing a bit of wire from a hardware store (a single strand of insulated copper wire 12-14 gauge works perfectly) and run it out of a nearby window into a tree in your yard (or along the top of a fence).  At this stage, it doesn’t matter if it is a short antenna or how high it is off the ground (make it as long and as high as you can and get as much of it away from your house as you can), anything you put outside will be an improvement over what you have indoors.

  • For FM DX, the telescopic whip on your radio (if there is one) will usually do the trick especially during Tropo or Sporadic Es openings.  However, you may want to look into some sort of basic outdoor antenna if at all possible.  The outdoor FM antenna market isn't as robust as it used to be, especially for the serious FM DXer.  There are though acceptable options for a DXer in this early phase of learning.

For AM radio, a bit of copper wire (top) or one of the tunable loops such as the Select-A-Tenna (bottom) that are available on the used market can provide a boost to signal strength and flexibility of your AM radio.

A MORE ADVANCED ANTENNA - While you are upgrading your receiver, this is also when most DXers choose (or are forced to) upgrade their antennas. A more robust outdoor antenna can increase signal gain or directionality for a DXer, allowing them to have increased success at pulling in weak signals.  Some great options include:

  • AM | Loop antenna - This can be a magnetic loop such as the W6LVP loop, the Wellbrook series of loops or a passive loop such as the YouLoop.  This can also be an air-core such as the venerable old Kiwa Loop or a box loop you make at home.  Plans and videos abound online to demonstrate these various types of antennas.  

  • AM | Longer/more sophisticated longwire antenna - When I was getting serious in my own DXing, I made the leap from a 150' longwire antenna to a 350' longwire and it made a HUGE difference.  The very first night I urned on the radio after installing this antenna, which I had oriented roughly NE/SW from my Brasstown, NC home, I pulled in 1150-WDEL in Wilmington, DE (a station I had been chasing for years to no avail up to that point).  If you have the real estate, this can be an outstanding option!  

  • FM | Yagi antenna - A highly directional and high-gain yagi beam antenna, mounted high enough off the ground, can provide an FM DXer with a significant edge in their DX pursuits compared to a smaller or undoor antenna.  Add an antenna rotator to this beam antenna with a controller at your radio listening position and you can have a 360 degree view (barring any obstacles) of the FM radio band!

QSLs AND RECEPTION REPORTS - At some point, most DXers will want to take their hobby to the next level and collect verifications from the stations they are hearing. These verifications called "QSls" serve as verification that the station received was indeed the one logged and can be anything from something received in the mail to an email from a station.  The stations provides this verification after the DXer sends in (again through mail or email, usually) a "Reception Report" that details all of the programming details observed during the listening session.  Some tips for reception reports:

  • Be as detailed as possible.  Don't just say something like "0900:  Station ID".  Actually include what was said "0900:  station IDed as "Southern Virginia's home for Rush Limbaugh and weather and traffic together every 20 minutes, this is News Talk 1100 WAAA, Norfolk. It's 9:00."​

  • Include as much information that ties the specific locality of the station.  Local business names, local addresses and phone numbers, local announcer names, etc.  The more specific information you are able to provide, the more likely the station is to provide verification since they will have no doubt they were the station you heard.

  • Anything that could be memorable will be helpful.  A breaking local news story, coverage of a local news event...these will likely stick out in the memory of the person reviewing your report and will help to confirm reception.

  • Again, remember that many stations will broadcast a completely different commercial break for their online stream, local commercials are fantastic ways to validate you heard the actual station broadcast.  Jingles, business names, Web sites, addresses, phone numbers....these are all great details to include.  If the commercial was promoting an event, definitely include those details and any identifying remarks that tie it back to the station "Rock 104 and Tom's Body Shop bring you the third annual Meals and Wheels Rock-a-thon ithis Friday, April 10th at 7pm at Wilson Park.  Listen for your chance to win free tickets by being caller number 5 when you hear the engine rev up (sound of revving engine) Classic cars and great eats from some of the best food trucks in all of Kansas City including Lotsadough Pizza, Bacon Me Crazy Burgers and Me More Pacific Seafood.  The Meals and Wheels Rock-a-thon from Tom's Body Shop and your home for KC's best rock, Rock 104.""

  • If you have a recording of what you hear that you are able to include (this is pretty much a requirement if you are sending an email) this is a HUGE help, because the station can actually hear what you heard, which also helps them know not only that it was them but how their signal sounded at your location.  This is where an SDR with recording capabilities is incredibly helpful.

  • BE POLITE!  Do not make demands in your reach out.  If you do not hear back from the station do not give them attitude.  They are under no obligation to even acknowledge your report, much less respond.  Courtesy goes a long way towards helping increase your response rate as well as giving the hobby as a whole a better perception amongst broadcasters.

Traditionally, many AM DXers will opt for a dedicated communications receiver at some point as they begin to get more experience with DX, out of a desire to increase the performance of their DX radio.  Radios such as the Drake R-8 (top, on the left) have achieved legendary status amongst DXers for their ability to pull in weak signals and reject adjacent channel interference.  In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable shift towards software-defined radios (SDR) for AM and FM DXers a like, as they can provide similar performance at a greatly reduced price.  Another added bonus is that they offer integrated recording options so that receptions can be stored and reviewed at a later date, allowing a DXer to pull out specific recordings of IDs from receptions (above, bottom).

As a DXer becomes more serious, they may want to find room in their budget to purchase a more advanced antenna For AM DXers, this may mean building or buying something such as a Loop antenna which allows a DXer to null out troublesome local stations and pull in weaker DX.  Above is a Quantum Loop produced by Radio Plus.  For nearly three decades, the Quantum Loop has helped many a DXer resolve noise issues while allowing them to catch many more DX catches!

PHASE IV:  The “Hardcore” DXer

ADVANCED EQUIPMENT - Many DXers when they get to this phase already have an established foundation and knowledge and have knocked out the 'easy stuff' in their logbooks.  Now, they are likely searching for more difficult and exotic DX.  As a result, they are usually looking to add new equipment into the shack to give them an increased edge and opportunity at the "good" stuff:

  • Phaser - This was one of the absolute best pieces of equipment I have ever added to my collection.  It takes the inbound signal of two antennas and allows you to adjust their level and phase relative to each other.  In doing so, you can obtain a steerable null​ that allows you to null (eliminate or reduce the presence of) local stations or noise or even boost signals from a certain direction.  There are phasers available for both AM or FM DX and you can even build your own!

  • Pre-amplifier - Both AM and FM DXers use these to boost the incoming signals from their antenna to their radio.  Be careful to note that a pre-amp will boost ANYTHING in the signal path and this includes noise.

  • Tuner - Mostly used in AM DXing, will allow you to "tune" the radio to the frequency you are receiving which should boost the sensitivity of the receiver as a whole.  Is put in the signal path between the antenna and the radio.  

  • Antenna switch - Have multiple antennas you want to use with one radio?  An antenna switch can help!  Some are directly in the listening location (meaning all feedlines from antennas come in to the listening location and the switch is installed there) or can be remote (a single feedline goes to an external switch, and all antenna feedlines stay outside.  An indoor controller allows switching between the antennas

  • Speakers/Headphones - Many DXers will want to upgrade the audio quality of the stations they are receiving as well as allow for additional filtering.  There are specific DX/communications speakers that allow for this that can be purchased.  In addition, it may be beneficial to find a pair of communications headphones or even ones designed for broadcast use.  I use a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones I used to use when I was a broadcaster and they work wonders for me!

ADVANCED ANTENNAS - At this stage, a DXer will likely start looking for a more advanced antenna from even an outdoor loop or longwire.  Some examples:

  • AM | Beverage antennas - Can include the ​500'+ traditional Beverage as well as Beverage-on-the-Ground style antennas.  Super-long antennas with incredible amounts of both gain and directionality.  

  • AM | Flags, EWE, Kaz, Phased Arrays, etc. - Specialty antennas for AM reception.  Can require a bit of real estate (or at least an understanding HOA) but can provide excellent results

  • FM | Stackable Yagis/Phased Arrays - Taking more than one Yagi FM antenna and putting them on top of each other and combining their gain.  Can be a bit expensive but "big guns" report exotic FM catches with these that no one else can hear.  They create their own openings!

TRANSOCEANIC DX - Much more common for AM DX than FM DX, Transoceanic DX represents the pinnacle for many DXers in their exotic DX pursuits.  A coastal location is obviously an advantage but even in the middle of a country such as the United States/Canada DXers with the equipment and know-how are able to report Transoceanic DX (sometimes from either or both sides!).Trans-Atlantic DX tends to be strongest in the late afternoon/evening while Trans-Pacific DX tends to peak in the early morning hours.

STAYING MOTIVATED - DXers at this phase likely have many stations in their logbook and therefore, new ones can be hard to come by.  It is important to continue to find ways to keep yourself motivated and searching for DX at this stage.  Targeting specific stations/countries/states/provinces can be rewarding and challenging.  Completing in-depth bandscans for various months and times of day can be helpful.  In general, breaking out of your routine or focusing on things that perhaps you haven't looked at in a while can sometimes help keep things interesting!

For FM DX, a more advanced antenna usually means some sort of Yagi beam antenna.  This allows an FM DXer to focus the directionality of the antenna on a specific area, increasing the amount of signal gain and rejecting other stations not in the targeted area.  The higher you can get the antenna, the more effective it will be!  Above is the author's own creation using an amateur radio Buddipole antenna to create a 3-element FM yagi antenna. 

As a DXer becomes even more serious, they will start to branch out into other equipment that will give them an edge in trying to pull out elusive DX.  Above, is a Quantum Phaser, produced by Radio Plus, which allows the input of two separate antennas and the DXer can adjust the phase between the two to allow for a steerable null.  This allows the DXer to reduce or completely eliminate bothersome local stations or even a domestic station in search of a DX station!  

Many DXers will chase after QSLs, written verifications from the station itself that provide verification that they were the station received.  In return, DXers provide reception reports to let stations know how and where their signal is being herard.  Pictured above is the author's most prized QSL, from 1140-CHRB in High River, Alberta, received from Brasstown, North Carolina.

If a DXer has the available real estate, there are few antennas that can come even remotely close to the performance of a Beverage antenna for AM DX.  They are essentially extremely long longwire antennas (500-100 feet or so) with a terminating resistor (such as the one found in the device, shown above) which helps to provide the extreme directionality of the antenna.  Beverages are revered by hardcore AM DXers around the world and are practically required equipment for any serious AM DXpedition.

While the best set of headphones is the one you already have, a DXer should have headphones that are comfortable, especially after hours sitting at the radio listening.  While it may be pleasing to the ear to have a pair of headphones that provide tremendous bass response, this can muddy up the air signal and make identifying characteristics more difficult to hear.  A good flat response, such as that found in the author's old broadcast headphones, the Sony MDR-7506 shown above, will do just fine.

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Copyright © 2020 Loyd Van Horn