WFMU‘s the Professor has been writing a series of posts about his late night AM and shortwave radio listening, documenting both his approach and his finds in a breezy, fun style that stands in stark opposition to the typical DXing logs you find.
He also includes MP3s of his finds, so that you can DX vicariously via the professor.
For those of you who haven’t heard of DXing, it’s the hobby of listening for distant and hard-to-find radio signals. Most DXers work on AM and shortwave since those signals can propagate for thousands of miles under certain conditions, making the practice more of an adventure, especially when you encounter a far off signal. Typically they keep a log of the stations they’ve received, and often share them with other DXers.
Like most hard-core enthusiasts, hard-core DXers can spend thousands of dollars on receivers and antennas, and kill many an evening glued to their radios. But, as the Professor points out, all that gear isn’t necessary — there are quite a few basic radios that will yield pretty satisfactory results.
I would classify myself as a softcore DXer. I own a pile of radios, and keep at least one in every room of the house. Only occasionally do I sit up late tuning around the dial, but it is something I like to do when I have the time. Whenever I’m traveling by car at night I tune up and down the AM dial, partially just to keep myself awake. And I almost always travel with some kind of radio, the choice depending on how much space I have in my luggage.
The Professor’s posts make me want to start chronicling some of my listening here — which I may do, provided I don’t bore the crap out of most readers.
As a side note, DXers and radio pirates often have a strange co-dependent relationship fraught with conflict. On the shortwave band many DXers will work hard to find pirates making short hour-long broadcasts on weekend nights. Both other DXers see themselves as Dudley Do-Rights policing the airwaves for nefarious activity.
DXers who focus on the FM band can be the most hostile to pirates. Pirates choose frequencies that are relatively empty in their local area, since truly empty space on the dial can be hard to find. A rabid DXer with expensive receiving equipment might still be able to pick up stations as far as 100 miles away in those spaces that are filled with static for all the normal folks out there. But they get pissed when a pirate foils their ability to pick up the same 40 songs broadcast from a distant Clear Channel station, and so DXers often can be the source of complaints to the FCC.
I don’t mean to paint all DXers as nerdy hall monitors — well, it is a nerdy pasttime, but there not everyone is a wannabe FCC agent. Cool AM and FM DXers also get excited about finding pirate stations, although the circulation of those logs can lead to unwanted attention for the pirate.
You can’t deny that it is cool to tune into a distant radio signal from thousands of miles away and hear things that weren’t necessarily intended for your ears.