Is DXing a hobby only for the rich?

Since this was originally published, G1VVP has now freshened his perspective in Elitism in the Hobby which offers a comprehensive narrative on this topic. His original opinion piece inspired an entry of this blogger’s own. Further thoughts about the exclusivity prevalent in particular sports & hobbies have followed over the years; this piece originally from 2011 has been revised in December 2013 to reflect that progression. Please see also: Elitism in DXing: a succinct treatise

Stop ‘Helping’ Already is a 2014 narrative published by Todd Dugdale, KD0TLS. In this piece, Todd offers a brilliant insight into ‘mentoring’ practices. He also discusses what could be classified as exclusive marketing techniques, that is the apparent need to spent heaps of money just to try fit in. His refreshingly candid perspective offers broad applicability to all radio-based hobbies, not just amateur radio! 

Controversy keeps us alive. Tonight, we consider this question…

Is DXing a hobby only for the rich?

What distinguishes a ‘dabbler’ from an enthusiast? Is there a place for such elitism in a hobby which is declining in popularity for the X & Y generations? Take this example, and the hundreds worldwide that likely accompany it:

One young hard-core American enthusiast has yielded over 1,600 FM logs (that is, loggings of distant FM radio stations) using a combined VHF/UHF antenna and a rotator.

Does this mean his logs are NOT considered DXing because the antenna used is a combined VHF/UHF antenna, rather than an FM-specific antenna, like the APS 13 element antenna? Some enthusiasts cannot afford a rotator, nor specific antennas for VHF, FM and UHF. Notice the worldwide recession anyone?

 Do we live for controversy? © 2006 Luke Dorny

There is a very small minority of British enthusiasts who frequent hard-core DX forums insinuating that every modern day enthusiast is a fool. Perhaps this is NOT their intention; some enthusiasts may just be inarticulate when they express themselves. Everyone knows how easily written communication can be misinterpreted, and use of telephone and face-to-face communication are less problematic.

However, this blogger and numerous others tend to arrive at that conclusion time and time again. These enthusiasts are world renowned TV DXers. To fail to consider what they are saying would be like putting your head in the sand.

I think the word “DXer” is a bit too grand describe DXing with an aerial intended for totally the wrong frequency…One might as well use a telescopic aerial and be done with it. Possibly “Dabbler” is a better word than “DXer” with this sort of DXing setup. In days of old, one put an antenna up to cover the band required with a rotator if one wanted to DX weak signals properly from all directions.

But are opinions, such as the above quote, accurate? Are the ‘dabblers’ genuinely foolish with the equipment they choose to use? I would argue people are restricted in the hobby. Any hobby. Wouldn’t every renter put up a large antenna if their body corporate allowed them to?

Learning potential

What if someone wanted to venture into the wonderful world of FM DX but couldn’t even afford an indoor antenna?  Remember, this is a hobby that potentially teaches its enthusiasts about:

  • geography,
  • meteorology,
  • propagation,
  • radio markets,
  • overseas languages, current affairs & custom,
  • social networking with peers throughout the world,
  • radio electronics,
  • home maintenance techniques &
  • antenna theory.

…to name just a few of the learning outcomes enthusiasts might look forward to by pursuing DX!

Additional perspectives

Paul Logan is a relatively young enthusiast from Northern Ireland who is taking a stance against this elitism. Logan is NOT a ‘dabbler’. He is an amateur radio operator and world record holder who is actively promoting the use of portable radios through ‘Ultralight techniques’ to revitalize interest in the hobby. Today, Logan even utilizes the Whisper mode to conduct weak signal amateur radio contacts, a ‘bleeding edge’ digital mode favoured amongst the most progressive amateur radio operators.

When the Ultralight AM listening “craze” took off in 2007 thanks to American radio enthusiast Gary De Bock it was only a matter of time before the scaling back of our pursuit would be extended to the FM band.

Tecsun PL-606 with full length monopole  © 2013 Stephen Airy

G1VVP is a club founder and amateur who achieved transatlantic DX amateur radio contacts in 2010.

I get very angry when people take a ‘holier than thou’ attitude and make sweeping statements, dismissing those whom they feel are beneath them. Perhaps there is a reason: I know that ‘some’ DXers and radio amateurs get very upset if they have been missing out on exotic DX. They have invested large amounts of time and money to improve their setup so they become disillusioned to discover that someone down the road with a bucket and a piece of wet string has been hearing far more than they have with their lattice towers and stacked arrays. That is life!

Much stunning DX has been worked or received over the years on very simple equipment. We even have groups for those interested in ‘QRP’ or ‘Ultralight’ which present more challenges to the DXer. Many of these people go on to achieve ‘as much as’ and sometimes ‘more’ than others with elaborate equipment. Why? It could be because of the skill of the operator or because of dogged patience and a little bit of ‘luck’. While it may not ALL be attributed to luck, it is generally agreed that good fortune plays a significant part from time to time. in getting that exotic DX catch.

Elitism or common sense?

Are you an enthusiast your twenties or thirties? A teenager perhaps? What are you doing to stop the elitism infecting your hobby? Is the elitism just another example of bigotry and intolerance seeping into the social environment?

Perhaps you believe that elitism is good for the hobby? Is it a necessary part of every pursuit? After all, even beer drinkers can be tiresomely elitist, says homebrewer Barley Pop Maker in his hilarious satirical piece. Do you recognize yourself in one of his categories?

Perhaps it is NOT elitist to criticize receiving equipment that fails to meet minimum standards of functionality? For example, if one cannot receive a relative abundance of weak signals throughout the year on a portable receiver (probably one of the goals of a DX-based hobby), then criticism of using that particular method by a peer may NOT necessarily represent an elitist attitude, per se. Instead, it may represent an attempt to assist other enthusiasts into sustainable listening habits to avoid long term frustration. That potential frustration could ultimately result in an enthusiast quitting the DX hobby, which in contemporary times is becoming an increasingly difficult pursuit due to band congestion. Valuable talent is lost.

'Kill your Ego' at Burning Man © 2012 John Eikleberry

On the other hand, let’s be realistic about human nature. Status battles form inherently in pursuits that are NOT rewarded by income, but by achievements alone. Go to any sporting or hobbyist club to see this in action!

Politics within clubs

Problems that may exist in some DX enthusiast clubs tend to mirror the widespread problems with amateur radio clubs. As suggested in that excellent article (well worth reading entirely), if politics within any club over the long term is ‘sucking the fun out of’ the hobby, membership may constitute a waste of precious time. At worst, rather than learning anything new, time in a club may be spent arguing about trivial details!

If a ‘higher status’ peer ridicules others primarily because it is fun, the recipient is an easy target (e.g. new entrant or ‘lower status’ in the hierarchy) and the peer’s argument seems to be superficial and devoid of any logic… then perhaps elitism or even subtle bullying may genuinely be at play within a club or forum.

On-line forums might also just as be problematic for sensitive personality types. No one can deny that the world wide web (and in particular, forums) may facilitate a world of social interaction where ‘keyboard jockeys’ can taunt others without fear.

Be yourself

One can easily ‘go it alone’ in the world of DX without membership of a club or forum. The same applies to those  without access to expensive equipment or an acreage-sized rural backyard! Please don’t be afraid to be yourself (maverick or otherwise) in the hobby. As Oingo Boingo sang in the eighties, ‘there is nothing to fear but fear itself’.