What On Earth Is DXing?

An Introduction to Long Distance Radio Listening


Maybe you've stumbled across this website, and you're wondering just what the letters "DX" stand for. Or maybe you have actually been DXing for a little while without knowing it, interested to find out if anyone else actually shares your interest in picking up Long Distance Radio Stations. Whatever, please read on!

DX is an old radio term for "distance." The radio enthusiast uses it in connection with the reception of long-distance radio signals as they fly through the ether.

In the very early years of telecommunications, messages by wire or radio were sent in what is known as "Morse Code" as speech transmission had not yet been invented. Morse is made up of a series of dots and dashes which are used to represent the letters of the alphabet. The speed at which a whole sentence of text could be sent was considerably slower than normal voice communication. By reducing some of the common words to short "code words," the message could be sent more quickly. "DX" is one such abbreviation.

So in answering the question, "What on earth is DXing?", as such radio signals travel through the Ether it could actually be said to have as much to do with the heavens as with the earth!

Gone Fishing…

So, what is a "DXer"? A DXer is possibly the radio equivalent of an angler. When he goes "fishing", he uses his "rod" (radio) and "tackle" (antenna) to catch his "fish" (radio stations) from an "ethereal stream or river." Depending on location, equipment, skill, time of day, the season, and so on, DXers have thousands of radio catches just waiting to be fished out of the Ether.

For some time now radio has been a common feature of modern life. DXers listen beyond the local and national radio stations that most of us can expect to hear, searching between them to pick up signals from further afield. For the average radio listener, interested in one or two favourite stations, the other noises that we tune through on our way through the radio wavebands are just interference. The DXer, on the other hand, loves to trawl through the "interference" in the hope of picking up something new, something different, something that they have not heard before.

The Wonderful World Of Radio

Radio signals are transmitted on what are known as "frequencies." These are the "house numbers" of the radio stations, and groups of these frequencies — "bands" — are the streets that these frequencies live on. To make sensible use of the various frequencies available for radio, these wavebands tend to be grouped for use for particular purposes. There are wavebands for television, for police radio, for aircraft and so on. Large ranges of frequencies are often also known as just "bands."

DXers may be interested in all sorts of radio signals, but only one kind are sanctioned officially for listening to by the general public in UK law. These are the normal public licenced radio stations - what we call the "Broadcast Band" stations. Everything else in theory requires a special reception licence.

Broadcast Bands

The different broadcast bands all have differing reception characteristics, and the challenge of long-distance radio reception differs according to which waveband is being tuned. Receiving a station from New Zealand on short-wave in the British Isles is probably as long-distance as "DX" gets, but the reception of a local FM radio station a couple of hundred miles away from the transmitter - relatively local in distance - would equally be regarded as "DX."

The wavebands that broadcast DXers listen in are as follows - from the lowest to the highest:

(* Mediumwave is known as the "Broadcast Band" or "AM" in North America and generally extends to around 1700kHz)

A relatively new dxing possibility open to the DXer is Digital Radio. The most common digital radio transmissions in the UK use the DAB transmission system which broadcasts on what is known as Band III (around 225MHz).

What Do You Need?

While it is true that the better the equipment used the better the chances of DX reception, amazing results can often be obtained by DX'ers with the simplest of equipment. Many DXers began with just a portable radio. Short-wave offers the best chance for the beginner to try the hobby out and to pick up long-distance radio stations with very little effort.

What do people see in it? Some enjoy long-distance radio reception for the chance to travel - in a radio sense of course - and to get a taste of different cultures and music, or perhaps to hear news from another viewpoint. Others like the challenge of hearing something new, and collect confirmation cards ("QSL" cards) from the radio stations they have heard, just as some collect stamps.

DXers often take up the hobby thinking that they are the only one with this interest, and the opportunities to share the excitement of a radio catch with someone are denied them - until, that is, they discover that - actually - they are not alone!

Find out more about the BDXC by reading our Introduction page

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Updated: 17 June 2006