A little barefoot ultralight MW DXing . . . in which my mental status is questioned

By Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

About 10 days ago, the Better Half and I visited my wife’s sister in Sodus, NY, a small town in the western part of the state near the shores of Lake Ontario.

First consideration when packing was – never mind the underwear and the toothpaste – what radios shall I take? I decided to go light . . . just a CCrane Skywave SSB and a Uniden BC125AT analog-only scanner.

In the predawn hours on a handful of mornings, I decided to see what I could hear on medium wave with the diminutive Skywave SSB. The Skywave is an “ultralight” radio – under 20 cubic inches in volume. Because the Skywave’s plastic case is so small, the ferrite antenna within it is very small . . . less than 3 inches long. It is by no means a huge antenna for grabbing signals.

It was Gary DeBock who pioneered ultralight DXing with tiny generally inexpensive radios. As a ham radio operator, he had worked 144 countries using a Heathkit 1-2 watt kit transmitter he had built. In the process, he learned a great deal about propagation.

In 2007, he decided to see what he could do with a cheap pocket radio, a Sony Walkman SRS 59. At 1 am on an autumn night from his home in Washington state, he put propagation and operating skill to work and heard three distant medium-wave stations: a couple from Japan and one from Korea. He posted his results on the internet in November, 2007, and he got a lot skeptical feedback: How could you possibly do this?

His response (in essence): Try it for yourself.

Some people did try for themselves; some with great success. One DXer from Canada logged 300 stations in 30 days. Interest in MW DXing with pocket-sized consumer radios took off, and ultralight DXing was born.

So, in the predawn hours in Sodus, NY, I decided to give ultralight DXing a try . . . barefoot . . . that means with no external antennas or signal boosters . . . just me kicked back in a recliner, the CCrane Skywave SSB, and a pair of headphones. Simple.

Before we proceed, you need to understand that my DXing style might charitably be described as “lazy.” Instead of laboriously turning the tuning knob, I use the seek function on the CCrane Skywave. I simply press and hold for a moment the up or down arrow and wait for the Skywave to stop at the next signal it detects. Then, if I feel that the signal might be enhanced by re-orienting the antenna with respect to the signal, I wiggle the Skywave around in my hand and listen for an improvement in what I am hearing through the headphones.

The results: I logged (among others) Atlanta, Georgia (493 miles) and Charlotte, North Carolina (588 miles) on the CCrane Skywave SSB with its tiny internal antenna. Also received: Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Baltimore, and Toronto and a bunch of unknowns.

One afternoon, I decided to see what distant stations Skywave might receive during the daylight hours. I was kicked back in the recliner with headphones on, doing my usual, waving the Skywave around in the air to optimize the reception. My sister-in-law started laughing. She said I looked like a demented band leader, conducting a silent orchestra! I tried to assure her that my mental status was OK and that I was trying to optimize the signal. I’m not sure it worked.

But one thing is certain: barefoot ultralight MW DXing is fun. All you need is a tiny radio, a bit of darkness, a pair of headphones, and a willingness to be surprised.

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33 thoughts on “A little barefoot ultralight MW DXing . . . in which my mental status is questioned

  1. Hank

    Enjoyable article and comments.

    I am curious about a comparison between the SkyWave SSB and the Tecsun PL-330.

    When tuning around the AM MW band
    and using SSB to find which USB or LSB of an broadcast AM station has less adjacent channel interference,
    which of the two radios is superior?

    Sorry for being delayed in reply

  2. Gene Stewart Tyler

    Enjoyed all comments. I started with a used National SW-54,$22.00 plus shipping in 1958. Many hours of receive DXing. Received halicense later to graduate to an converted ARC 5 on 7 mhz antenna was zip cord strung between two duplexes. It has given me a life time of pleasure. Just purchased an Chineese ART-20 for travel. It us charagabke from my computer. Always enjoy local stations with their colloquialisms. To bad most are now automatically controlled. WA4JUO-Stu

    1. Bob Damon

      My wife and I lived in Long Beach California and enjoyed the 1070 AM station. They had radio plays from 9:00 till 10:00 p.m. We went to Hawaii and while over there which is what 3000 miles we heard that Hawaii had a station with radio plays. We listen to that at 6:30pm. It turned out to be the same 1070 station that we were listening to in Long Beach. We were just enjoying skip and it was coming in very nice and clear. I love dxing on car radios.
      For my birthday my son’s got me the CC train radio that you’re talking about so I take that when I travel and I’ll be doing a lot of dxing from wherever we are. Right now we live in Oregon and we’re going to the coast next weekend so I’ll see what DXing that I can do from there.


    Started MW DXing in about 1960 as a teenager from the Philadelphia, PA area. WOR, Jean Shepherd, was a nightly listen. Also was Wolfman Jack coming out of Del Rio, Texas (or just across the border, actually). WABC-770, Cousin Brucie, et-all.

    In the service in 1967, I was stationed near Tehran, Iran and we used to tune in Radio Luxembourg at night on longwave, using an R-390 receiver, and sometimes an SP-600. The ‘390 kicked butt. Our equipment was time-calibrated and we used to sync to WWV in Ft. Collins with a scope every night when propagation was acceptable. We cranked in 39 milliseconds to account for the travel time from Ft. Collins to Iran, we needed to be that accurate. Those were exciting days for me.

    Bill ’99er

    1. Thomas Cox

      Ah, the great one. Jean Shepherd. Back in the 80s I used to commute between NYC and Boston. I was driving through CT in a blizzard and tuning the car radio when I heard a voice I hadn’t heard in decades. He was being interviewed about his just released movie A Christmas Story. He talked about how he sat in the back of his small town theater just waiting for the reaction of the viewers. Best drive ever. I love listening to the mp3s of his shows.

  4. Chris Hunter

    My MW DXing began in the 1960s, with an Ever Ready “battery portable” from the 1950s – four DAF-series “battery valves” (“tubes”-US) in a two-band superhet circuit. It had an internal frame aerial, which consisted of about 20 turns of fine cloth-insulated wire around the inside of the wooden case.
    Over here in the UK we had the offshore pop pirates at the time, operating from ships dotted around our coast. Between 1964 and 1967 I managed to hear all of them, despite some of them being very “local”, running as little as 500 Watts!
    I also enjoyed listening to all the European stations in their wide range of languages. I remember listening to AFN from Frankfurt (close to 900 miles from home) at entertainment quality, though it did suffer from some skywave/groundwave fading. It was generally audible throughout the night, fading into the noise as dawn arrived.
    More recently we’ve had the French close down all their MW stations, allowing reception of lots of distant stations that used to be inaudible. MW DXing has become fun again!

  5. Aubrey J. Young WK0Y

    Enjoyed the read. I listen to my C.Crane CCSkywave daily with no issues with the radio. Reception fine, quality good. I think my radio is two years old.

    Be Well,


  6. Aubrey

    Enjoyed the read thanks for posting your experience with the radio. I use my C.Crane CCSkywave SSB, nightly and is my main go to SW receiver. I generally just use the onboard antenna. Lastly, I have several C.Crane products and have no complaints.

    In all things, Be Well.


  7. Nate Billings

    I love this post. I have fond memories of fiddling with small radios trying to find some random far off station. I’ve been enjoying your work, and I look forward to reading the new posts!

  8. William

    Cool! An inspiring post and one that brings back memories. My first radio was a Zenith Royal 100 “Zenette”. Discovering that I could hear stations hundreds of miles away on that tiny portable led me to a lifelong hobby of SWLing and Amateur Radio. After reading this I pulled out my CCrane Skywave SSB and, even though it’s 5:00 in the afternoon, I tuned through the AM BCB. I actually logged a local (35 miles away) station that I had never heard before!

  9. Zoltan Liling

    I’ve done pretty much the same at the end of 1990, being in a Middle-East city and succeeded almost every day to get the Hungarian radio nightly news, at 2300 local time. It worked roughly that half hour while the news programme lasted. Used a then affordable analogue walkman radio for that, as that was available. Distance was is roughly 1600km. Hungary then had a very powerful AM transmitter at Solt, 540kHz


  10. Dave Mason

    I love the story, Jack. In 1970 I was stationed (Army) at Hunter Liggett Military Reservation (now Camp Hunter Liggett in Jolon, CA, a suburb of nowhere at the time. My little Zenith transistor radio was similar to what Jon Voight had in “Midnight Cowboy”. It gave me great reception of stations from Salinas, San Francisco, Los Angeles -but one night I tried to see what I could receive. Imagine my delight in receiving WLS from Chicago -and the ultimate – WHAM (1180) from Rochester, NY – a suburb of Sodus Point. I did get a QSL from WHAM. Daytime DXing from Endicott, NY allowed me to hear 250 watt WNYR, 1000 watt WBBF and the usual Syracuse and Scranton stations. That was then…in 2023? Well if you can find a quiet place (away from computers, florescent lights) you can still find some gems. Thanks for the post, Jack.

    1. Jock Elliott


      Thanks for the kind words.

      Nice to hear about your listening adventures.

      Cheers, Jock

  11. Bob Colegrove

    Your blogs are always a delight, Jock. Keep ’em coming.

    My first MW DX began with a GE P755A in the late ’50s. See https://swling.com/blog/2022/02/guest-post-tinkering-with-history/. I’ve been hooked ever since. Here in MD, I’ve been able to bag a few high-powered Europeans and N. Africans over the years.

    I am a newcomer to the C.Crane Skywave SSB 2, having treated myself to one a month or so ago. What a delight. It does everything and does it well. (Hope Thomas got some credit from me having navigated there via his link.) As shown in your picture, a good pair of over-the-ear phones is essential.

    Just got my Sony ICF-2010 back from Dom Laven in Arizona. He performed the 40-year overhaul. What a joy.

    Never been to Sodus Point. As a railroad nut, I know it as the northern terminus of the old Northern Central Railroad (later part of the PRR), which ran out of Baltimore. It was a major coal terminal for transshipping on the Great Lakes.


    1. Jock Elliott


      Thanks for the kind words.

      Sodus Point also has a really cool lighthouse.

      Total agreement on the Skywave SSB2.

      Nice work on the transoceanic catches!

      Cheers, jock

      1. Mark C

        Hey Jock

        Never knew the correct term but yeah barefoot for me as well. I got my ccrane sky wave just over a year ago. Now my fun is to use the 130 feet of 16 gauge copper wire tied to my extended antenna in my back yard.

        It’s refreshing and there are clear nights where I find some rather fun things and golf course the cloudy days I look over my logs and plan the next clear days listening.

        Live in northern va so finding a quiet spot is always a challenge.

      2. Harrison Reed

        Hello, Jock! Read your post with interest. I got an RCA Victor Model 8B41 in 1949, because I was able to pick up Boston on 1030 (WBZ) from Scarsdale, New York at midday. Nearby New York City had powerful 50,000-watters on 1010 and 1050, and on most radios during daylight hours, there was no open space between them. In 1951, whilst visiting my great uncle in Brookline, Massachusets, late at night, I heard KFI – 640 from Los Angeles — and I was hooked. It wasn’t long before I had logged 1,000 M.W. starions. But that RCA, being a portable tube radio, was hard on batteries! I still have it, and it still works. In 1961, I bought a Zenith Royal 500H “pocket” radio, which was close to a match for the RCA. I still use that one. It has an internal “hack” to improve its already excellent sound. From the factory, it came with a 50 mfd. electrolytic bypass condenser, to which I have added 1,000 mfd.: that extended the bass response and added warmth to the sound (also, increased the volume about 20%). But there was a .22 condenser across the output to eliminate the 10kc. “whine” from adjacent channels. I removed it, and that opened-up the high frequencies in the audio. This has made it quite easy to distinctly hear and identify stations in the jumble of 1230, 1240, 1340, 1400, 1450, and 1490! From my current location about 40 miles northwest of Albany, New York, I can hear both WHAM-1180 and CFZM-740 at nidday — though weakly. But a number of Syracuse stations come in quite strongly. I but DESPISE the high definition digital sidebands on A.M., with their drastic white noise! What a disaster.

  12. John VE3IPS

    Back to the basics of MW DXing. I remember being in FT Lauderdale and I was 13 and we stayed at a beach side motel. I never slept as I was listening like crazy but trying to pick up stations from home in Toronto.

    CBC on 740 was loud and clear as the strongest with 1010 CFRB and 680 CFTR coming in as well.

    Of course tons of regionals. I think I sat on graveyard channels for hours spinning the radio around to improve reception.

    Just a radio and headphones and I added 40 feet of speaker wire for shortwave reception tossed out the window,

    Now it would need 3 suitcases of radios and antennas to relive those radio momemts.

    Where is my log from over 40 years ago?

    John VE3IPS

    I have had a blast with those small ultra lite walkmans. Ahhh GE SuperRadio and Barlow Wadley XCR30 rule. Sony 2010 with sideband was my ham band monitoring radio

  13. Rob W4ZNG

    I confess to doing much the same when insomnia takes hold. The seek buttons are particularly welcome in the dark, and the one hour time-out option is a good feature when I finally drift off to sleep.

  14. Alexander, DL4NO

    The lower the frequency, the less important becomes the antenna: On AM it is no problem to build a radio with a small ferrite antenna, where the atmospheric noise is still much louder than the noise of the receiver. The most important key for success is low local noise. Battery operation can help.

    If you want to improve your reception further, you have three possibilities: Reduce the receiver bandwidth, for example by using SSB. Use an antenna with a good directional characteristic. Select surroundings that lead to low elevation angles of the antenna.

    I do a lot of QRP tests on 40m with VarAC between Germany and Maryland/Virginia. For reception, all my antennas are about the same: two off-center fed dipoles for 80/40m and 40/20/10m. and my active receiving antenna whose “radiator” is 1 m long. The difference is in the signal strength they provide to other stations.

  15. Robert Gulley

    This is bringing back some memories of hunting for a Sony Walkman SRS-59 just for that purpose, and then even getting one of the ones given to prisoners (they are transparent so the guards can see there is no contraband being carried in!).
    Ah, the recliner calls . . . . The only addition to your list is the cat will invariably find her way onto my lap despite my “demented band leader” movements!

    1. Jock Elliott


      I don’t know about you, but not long after the warm lap-creature arrives, a nap ensues!

      Cheers, Jock

      1. Tom Scott

        I was in state jail myself and was impressed with those clear case am/fm radios. We took a roll of wire, wrapped it around the radio like a coil then connected the two ends on different slabs of metal like an inductor. Even in metal dorms I could pick up San
        Antonio, Dallas, des moines, and Denver almost nightly from Beaumont, Texas.

  16. Thomas

    Jock, You know you really need a tee shirt with a big “Demented Band Leader” on the front! Ha ha!
    Great post. MW DXing is pure magic and Gary DeBock is the Mad Scientist of that kingdom!


    1. Jock Elliott


      Thanks for the smile!

      When I interviewed DeBock for The Spectrum Monitor, he said, ““I have always been attracted
      by the challenge of doing something no one else had done before.” And now, thanks to him, we have ultralight DXing. Super-nice guy, too.

      Cheers, Jock

    2. 13dka

      Because I’d like a t-shirt like that, I googled “demented band leader”+t-shirt. Thanks to this post, an image search brings up only pics of radio equipment (and one of a band leader)! 🙂


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