On the QSL Card

I’m not chasing QSLs this time around. I’ve said that before and, unless some rare station pops up – say something like the old St. Helena broadcasts – I plan on sticking to that. I may shoot off an email to a station, but gone are the days when I would meticulously record every aspect of a broadcast so I could send the perfect reception report and get that coveted QSL in return.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy pulling out my QSL albums from the 1980s and reviewing my first go-round as an SWL/DXer. On his photography site, Mike Osborn shared this great image and remembrance of his listening days. The Ghana and Togo cards in his picture are two of my personal favorites. I’ll write more about the Ghana card another time.

Photographic Memory

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Clear Path

I’m putting the final touches on my revamped shack today, and hope to write about it later this week.

Last night, though, I experienced one of the great joys of shortwave listening: an opening to a particular geographic region. I was cruising the bands around 0100 UT and kept coming across booming signals from the Middle East and southwestern Asia. Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Kuwait, and various former Soviet republics were dominating the bands. I checked off three new stations and two new countries in an hour or so of listening.

I’m not sure if any of this qualifies as true grey-line DXing, although the sun had just set at my listening post and it was roughly sunrise near each transmitter I heard. While the stations I monitored weren’t exactly tough DX targets, it was my first time having a particular region boom in since my return to listening. It reminded me of nights and mornings in the 1980s when Africans and Indos and Papuan stations I rarely heard would pop up across the bands when conditions were just right. It’s those rare occasions that hooked me on listening 30 years ago.

Trying to Hook a Big One

It was hard enough to explain listening to shortwave radio when I was a kid and it was loaded with international broadcasters booming signals around the world. It’s even harder today when getting information is so much easier.

Bill Husted wrote about this in his column for the Ventura County Star. It’s a nice piece on how retro our little hobby is.

My secret is revealed: I’m an analog guy in a digital world. Shortwave listening, once the drug of choice for nerds, is an unlikely hobby nowadays. After all, that distant station I’m straining to hear probably is also available as a crystal clear audio stream somewhere on the Internet.

Shortwave is Like a Fishing Expedition

Via Thomas at The SWLing Post.

Changes, Part 1

The first of many observations about what has changed since I last was a shortwave radio listener.

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Whether you’ve stuck with it through the years, or you’ve returned to the hobby after a long absence, it’s hard not to look at shortwave radio today and be bummed about some of the changes.

With Radio Canada International being snuffed out in June, yet another giant broadcaster from my early days will be gone. My earliest listening experiences came on a Panasonic boom box that had two shortwave bands on it. Scrolling through them, RCI was one of many big time signals I could count on finding. The BBC, VOA, Radio Moscow, Radio Netherlands, AFRTS, and Deutsche Welle seemed to be everywhere, and at least one frequency was always booming in. WRNO didn’t play music that different from the FM stations I listened to, but the experience of listening to it on shortwave was somehow much cooler.

Today, most of those giants have either disappeared, scaled back their transmissions dramatically, or are just difficult to hear. Perhaps it’s just me and my location, but being an SWLer seems a lot more difficult now than it was in the 1980s.

What is most jarring to me is how quiet the 60 Meter Band is. Once I graduated from SWLing to DXing, the 60 Meter Band was my favorite playground. There was always a wonderful balance of powerful Latins at all hours, Africans late at night and in the afternoons, weaker Latins in the mornings, and a few Asian and Pacific stations that popped up around sunrise.

Today when I roll through the band, it’s mostly American religious stations, Cuba, and static. No up-tempo music from Venezuela or Colombia. No indigenous music from Central America. No morning greetings for African farmers starting their days. Not even Radio Mayak at the bottom of the band.

When I was debating whether to start listening again, that was a big consideration. Was it worth it if there were fewer and fewer of the fun DX signals, and they were harder and harder to hear? While the number of DX targets have certainly been reduced, there are still enough to keep me interested.