AM Radio, Radios

How Hard Are You Willing To Work?

03/09/2016

AM-RadioFor some reason I have never been much into FM DXing, and I am not sure why. The best answer I can come up with is the FM signal, because it is so much higher in the RF band, never has a chance to travel very far even with the best of conditions. Of course I am not referring to special propagation conditions like ducting or the like, but just day-to-day listening opportunities. I am an “AM man” through and through.

To be fair, I have never given FM DXing much of a chance because usually the best DX you can get under normal conditions is a few hundred miles if you are lucky. AM DXing can be several thousand miles by contrast. “That’s not a knife; this is a knife!” But I think there is another issue at work here: FM stations either come in or they don’t, relatively speaking. With AM there is a lot more work involved. There is atmospheric noise with which to contend. There is static and electrical noise and hiss and scratchy signals. Amidst all this is a call sign, a traffic location, a sports report which lets you know the origins of the station. And it is exciting.

I remember spending hours with my AM GE clock radio nudging its big dial trying to squeeze out a signal from between two bigger signals. I did not know anything about antennas or propagation or ferrite rods back then; I only knew it was a thrill to get a station in from Kansas when I lived in Ohio.

My transistor radio was even harder to tune, and likely more deaf, but I do not remember any of that. I remember having it pressed to my ear (don’t try this at home, kids!) and ever-so-gently nudging the small, sensitive tuning dial to pull out New York or Chicago or Boston. I even used those truly terrible white plastic earpieces which came with the pocket radio. When using those “audio quality” was an oxymoron! But what a blast!

Some 40+ years later and I cannot shake the AM DXing bug. Oh I do not do as much any more, especially since there is shortwave and amateur radio and scanning and a hundred other radio opportunities. But oddly enough, the bulk of my used radio purchases are still motivated by their AM reception capability. I have some hot AM receivers, let me tell you! I have radios which are 50 years old or more which can still pull out AM better than almost anything modern. They really knew how to make an AM radio back then!

Starting the radio hobby  this way taught me the value of hard work, and the lessons still have meaning today. I do not mind in the least putting on a set of headphones to better hear that weak shortwave or amateur station, and using the full capabilities of my rigs to hear a DX station is still a real thrill. I am willing to work hard for the prize because the reward is worth the effort. I recently added Namibia to my amateur log, one of only a handful of African stations I have been able to work since becoming a ham. And yes, I did my “Logged another great DX dance” and so my wife knew I had caught a good one!

Don’t wait for 5/9 + 10 signals to make the effort to log them. Learn to peek and poke and tweak your radio to catch those stations almost below the audio level — they are the real prize. By all means enjoy strong signals when you are merely listening for the pleasurable experience. But when chasing DX, plan on working hard and savoring the victories! Join in the thrill of the hunt, and then dine on your bounty! The thrill of the chase is the thing, and the stations you snare will become a great memory (and a growing fish tale as the years go by, no doubt!)  73, Robert

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