History of DX-ing

History of DX-ing

A DX-pedition is an expedition to what is considered an exotic place by amateur radio operators, perhaps because of its remoteness, access restrictions or  simply because there are very few radio amateurs active from that place. This could be an island, a country, or even a particular spot on a  geographical grid. DX is a telegraphic shorthand for “distance” or “distant”.

Early DX-peditions were simply exploratory and geographical  expeditions in the late 1920s and 1930s, in which one or more radio  amateurs participated in order to provide long distance communications.  At the same time, they communicated with fellow radio amateurs who wanted to contact a new country. Most notable are the Antarctic expeditions of Admiral Byrd. Another example is the voyage of the schooner Kaimiloa, which traveled the South Pacific in 1924. While the ship’s wealthy  owners enjoyed the islands, an amateur radio operator kept contact with, and sent QSL cards to, experimenters in the United States.
The participation of radio amateurs in geographical expeditions was  resumed after World War II, e.g. the participation of Bob Leo, W6PBV, in the Gatti-Hallicrafters expedition in Africa of 1948.

The activity of dedicated DX-peditions was pioneered by one-time ARRL president Robert W. Denniston, W0DX. Mr. Denniston’s 1948 DX-pedition, using call sign VP7NG, was to the Bahamas and was called “Gon-Waki” ala Thor Heyerdahl’s “Kon-Tiki” expedition the previous year.

DX-peditions and awards
DX-peditions are planned and organized to help operators who need to  contact that area to obtain an amateur radio award. There are several  awards sponsored by various organizations based on contacting many  different countries. Perhaps the most famous of these is the DX Century Club (DXCC) award sponsored by the ARRL. The base level of this award involves contacting and confirming 100  distinct geographical entities, usually countries, as defined by the  ARRL

There are currently 340 separate entities recognized  for DXCC award purposes. An “entity” for such purposes is any location that  is either politically separate or physically remote (or both) from other jurisdictions / locations. For example, even though Alaska and Hawaii are politically part of the United States, they are separate DX entities  (physically separate). Small countries, even ones surrounded by larger  ones, such as the Vatican, count as en entity. Other entities include transnational organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union, and the United Nations. These are within their host countries but have distinct ITU prefixes.

Finally, a few areas of historic or special status have been included, such as Sardinia, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Antarctica, and Western Sahara. While the ARRL criteria for new entities were rationalized in 1999,  those entities introduced before that date under relatively lax rules  remain on the list, as long as they satisfy the original criteria.

Other DX-peditions focus on operation from islands with little or no  local radio amateurs, for the Islands on the Air (IOTA) award which is  sponsored by the Radio Society of Great Britain. A small number of DX-peditions focus on activating a specific Maidenhead locator square for the benefit of VHF and UHF operators.

Many DX-peditions take place from locations with adequate access to  power and supplies, often where the country has a small resident amateur population or where licensing is not very difficult. Many Caribbean and Pacific island nations, as well as European micro-states, have very small  populations, but have hotels, reliable power, and supplies, and are easy to gain operating permission in. Therefore, these states are regularly  activated by amateurs, often in combination with a family holiday.

Other jurisdictions take a more stringent view of individual access  to communications equipment, and are rare because very few amateurs are  licensed in those countries and visitors find it difficult or impossible to gain operating permits or import amateur radio equipment. Examples  include North Korea, Mount Athos and Yemen.
Some locations are also rare due to their extreme inaccessibility – examples include Peter I Island, Campbell Island, Clipperton Island, Navassa Island, or Desecheo Island. When amateurs travel to remote locations such as these they must first  obtain permission to operate from that location from whatever political  jurisdiction rules the area they wish to travel to. Even in countries  such as the United States, this permission can be difficult to obtain.

Once operating permission is assured, then transportation must be  arranged. This can be both expensive and dangerous. Some locations are  coral atolls that almost submerged at high tide, such as Scarborough Reef; others are sub-polar islands with inhospitable climates such as Peter I Island. The amateur must also take care of the basic necessities such as food, water, and power.

Equipment and operation
In addition to licensing and survival issues, DX-pedition participants devote much attention to the radio equipment they use. In an extremely rare location for a popular awards program like DXCC, hundreds of stations may be calling the DX-pedition at any one time  (known as a ‘pile-up’). Therefore, DX-peditioners will aim to use high  power and gain antennas on as many bands as practical, in order to achieve a loud signal  worldwide and keep control of the inevitable pileups that occur. 

Operators may also receive and transmit on different frequencies, called split operation, in order to be heard by distant stations without  interference to their signal from the pileup. This can also help the  operation to make a substantial number of contacts with parts of the  planet that have unfavorable propagation from the area visited, lying perhaps in the region on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to its antipodal point. Examples would be the Central Pacific from Europe, or the Caribbean from Japan.

For smaller operations to remote locations, smaller radios which run off of a 12 V DC power supply and antenna systems which are more easily transported are  favored over larger and more difficult to transport equipment. However,  generators are usually used because of the power requirements for  amplifiers and the ease of refueling versus recharging a battery.

When the individual or group arrives at the DX-pedition destination,  they must set up their station and get on the air. DX-peditions are  usually group affairs since the desire is to make as many contacts as  possible from the location. Round-the-clock operations on multiple HF bands simultaneously are typical, which necessitates a group activity. The use of the Internet to upload logs (allowing quick confirmation of questionable contacts) and for QSLs (formal confirmation) has made the process somewhat easier.

Holiday operations from locations where there are few resident  operators are often more leisurely affairs. Nonetheless the operator  will seek to make as many contacts as possible in the operating time  available, with the result that contacts are often extremely brief,  limited just to an exchange of signal reports.

Many DX-peditions are organized around various radio contests that happen throughout the year. This is often done so that the  DX-pedition station can gain an advantage in contests and maximize the  number of contacts that they make during the DX-pedition, since the  radio bands are the most active during contests.