Why I DX?

…… or as all the locals call it, “Talking to the aliens at the International Space Station.” You might ask yourself, what in the world? Well, I live in a very small, remote bush Alaska village, and my DXing is done outside, yes… even in winter. I’ve been here 3 1/2 years now, and when I first got here, 2 or 3 people seriously thought I was trying to talk to aliens.

I’m kinda “late” to the DXing game… starting seriously in 2014 when I was 30 years old but dabbling in it as young as 5th grade when I thought it was SO COOL I could hear WOWO 1190 Fort Wayne, Indiana, and KDKA 1020 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in central Connecticut clear as a bell at night.

In like 6th grade, my uncle gave me a beautiful tabletop Firestone radio and hooked up a long wire about 100 feet long from my bedroom window to a tree in my yard… wow, WLW 700 Cincinnati every night in Connecticut, I was hooked!

When I discovered how radio waves traveled great distances and at the same time, listening to a really fun oldies station, Big D 103… I was like “This is for me,” and started my quest and desire to work in radio… something about speaking into a radio and being heard 10-20-30-40-50 miles away fascinated me to the umpteenth degree.

That was really before the internet, but I’m 40 now and have been working in radio for 20 years, still DXing mostly every day. Most of my money is spent on food and DXing accouterments.

I’ve had people ask me, especially those who in the small Alaskan village I’m in, “Why, especially in cold weather do you do this?”

I tell them a couple things… I moved up here in part for the hobby, so I’m going to take every advantage I can. There’s too much electrical noise for me to do it from home.

Sitting out here at the park is my “Happy place,” especially after a particularly trying day at work for any number of reasons; this is my place to escape and decompress while being by myself… peace and quiet.

Plus, it’s the magic of how these radio waves travel that got me interested in working in radio. I’ve never lost that childhood magic and wonderment of radio waves and how things work, even though I’m 40. I’m really 40 going on 12 anyways.

I like how when I know when and where to listen, I can hear some amazing things up here in Alaska that many people wouldn’t expect I’d hear at all or as well. There’s something to sitting at the park, especially on a nice summer afternoon, and getting a solid S9+60 or better signal on Radio Nacional de Amazonias 11780 kHz from 12,400 km, opening my radio’s audio filter to 8 kHz bandwidth, and listening to a football match, sounding like I’m right in the stadium or tuned to their music/listener interactive show “Eu de Cá, Você de Lá” hosted by Mauricio Rabelo and sound like I’m tuned in on a 50,000 Watt AM from 50 miles away.

And no, I don’t understand 99.5% of Portuguese, and I only know a few basic words I can speak. I’m way way outside of their target area, but RNA from Brazil being anywhere from “listenable” to “Banging in like a ton of lead bricks” is very common because I’m in just the right place for it.

And I do it all without the internet. Well, OK… I do use the schedule from www.eibispace.de.

All of that combines to fascinate me. And yes, remember… I know how it all works, and I still do a lot of internet streaming, but radio waves continue to fascinate me because it takes some twisting of knobs and fiddling with the antenna to get it just right.

And the fact that it just works and travels through the air is amazing to me.

I live in McGrath, Alaska, which is a community of 275 people that is 355 km NW of Anchorage, completely off the radio system. I manage the daily operations of KSKO Public Radio, an NPR member station, with 8 FM transmitters spread across several hundred miles of Alaska. You can also catch me every Friday on Spaceline Bulgaria’s 5900 kHz transmitter across Europe 2100-2200 UTC with a live relay of my very local KSKO Lunchtime show.

I moved up here for the job, but also knowing that from past experiences living 125 miles north of here 7 years ago, that DX would be amazing. And it’s far exceeded my expectations along with the knowledge and expectations of some of my broadcast engineer friends and station owner friends!

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15 thoughts on “Why I DX?

  1. Wolfgang von Poellnitz

    Hi Paul, just hearing your show on 5900 today 3/5 in the east of Austria. I started with parents old German tube home radios when is was 13 in 1976 inspired by my father and his ‘old radio’ talks and all the city/stations names across AM/MW-band printed on the screen. And how those gleaming tubes are heating and operating were part of dad’s instructions – plus ‘magic eye’, aditionally I was the last in school class where parents bought a first TV (:))). With first weekly cash I gained a Grundig of late 40’s from a flea market, that unit still had steel (!) tubes from WWII, if I remember well about 14 pcs and almost 20 kgs. Now almost 5 decades later my interest is still on, as far as possible on ‘meaningful content’, i.e. target broadcast to hot geopolitical areas incl clandestine. Equipment from Selena to Grundigs, Sonys, Tecsuns, Drakes, HARRIS, JRC – no SDR in my shack. Perfect DX for me a station on a portable, second hand, <50€ investment, good antenna and also testing all what was not affordable 50 years ago! Also donated some units to Ukraine last 2 years
    Nice listening to your show, keep up the spirit! 73 Wolfgang

  2. Gérard Koopal

    Dear Paul, Manyof us can relate to your story. I live in the Netherlands and started my dx whn i was 10 years old with a Philips portable radio with shortwave spread over two bands. Now more than 50 years later i still love radio although many people do not understand my fascination for this hobby.

  3. Tom George

    Hi, Paul.
    Great article, I’m the editor of our local amateur radio group newsletter in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
    You story would be great to put this story in our little tome.
    Can you email me and let me know if it is possible.
    I can email you some previous editions of the Ballarat Amateur Radio Group Newsletter, or you can down load them from the files section of our facebook.

    Thanks.. Tom.. VK3DMK

  4. Mike

    I spent 10 years in the NWT of Canada. DX was great, and had frequent QSOs with the High Arctic Weather Stations.

    Mike VE8YI

  5. Art Jackson

    Nice story Paul.
    Mine is quite similar, except it began 62 years ago (9-10 years old). My mom and dad loved listening to the radio.
    For Xmas in 1961, they bought a 6-Transistor Global AM radio. On a cold clear sunset in Houston Texas, I started hearing clear channel AM stations across the Eastern half of the U.S. and throughout Mexico. The fascination grew during trying times (Cuban Missile Crisis & Kennedy Assassination).
    By 1964 thanks to meeting a SWL (WPE5DNB), I was introduced to Shortwave. In 1966, I got close to becoming a Ham, but the death of a close friend, other friends that had no interest, girls and a bit of trouble delayed that for over 10 years. I never did let the radios go.
    I became an adult and the interests came back. I was a CB’er by 1973. Leased a house from a Ham and got my Novice license in 1979.
    I have been DXing anything I can on any Band since. I have and heard and done things I never imagine I would. My favorite saying is, “I love squeezing blood out of a turnip”. I enjoy keeping it simple.
    I have had the pleasure of DXing out west (AZ and OR) for 9 years and am now making the most Low-Profile in a 55+ HOA infested community back in N. Texas. Still having fun and enjoying the moments.
    73 Art K7DWI

    1. Timothy Marecki

      Great story Paul! I have been an avid DXer since 1977. Back then, I used a Knight Star Roamer bought for $30 from a high school friend. I had many great hours of listening on this receiver! My best catch was UBC Uganda in English on 15325 khz. This was directed to North America and had a very clear signal! I truly miss the days when there were many African stations always available for DXing. Still, at least the hobby prevails.

      Tim New Port Richey, FL

  6. Franco

    Interesting story and your location sounds excellent.
    The comment made me smile because I had a similar comment recently about “talking to the aliens”, also had other comments like the garden looks like Jordrell Bank with all the antennas.
    I’m sure many of us can relate to this.
    It’s a great hobby and a good way to relax. The Dutch pirate Radio Johnny Tobacco recently said “Shortwave is the best medicine”.
    Keep up the good work and good dx to you!
    73 Franco

  7. Andy

    Hi Paul, it’s great to hear your story and I think many of us who ‘listen for the aliens’ could tell a similar tale. And as you say, you don’t necessarily need to speak the language to listen to far-off stations – like you, I’m just happy that I’ve received and confirmed it, and I will stay tuned for hours just to hear the ‘wild waves’ in action. I’m not sure how I’d get on sitting out in the cold to do my listening, but everything else you say chimes with me. One thing you (probably) have going for you is a very low noise level, unlike most of us who have to put up with the hash from local gadgets, computers, LED lighting and TVs. When I started listening in the mid 60’s there was very little noise around and it was possible to hear a station running just a couple of kW at the other end of the country, sadly those days are over. Anyway, good luck and keep the flag flying!

    1. Stan

      Great story. In my single digit years I made a radio from a cardboard tube wrapped with wire scraped down the center to facilitate rudimentary tuning with an 1N34 crystal diode & crystal headphones. Didn’t even need a battery as it was all powered by radio waves. Of course 60 years later I have “real radios” & my ham tickets but the thought of that old home brew radio always stays in mind. All the best Robert & stay well !!!

  8. William, KR8L

    I know what you mean! As a teenager I had a Zenith “Zenette” Royal 100 transistor radio. I was fascinated that I could hear stations in Atlanta, Chicago, and New Orleans. Radio has been a passion of mine ever since. Now I mostly Ham on the HF bands and SWL on shortwave, but I still go back to do a bit of AM DXing from time to time. One thing I come back to occasionally is trying to log stations that are “under” our local AM station. When they switch to their nighttime pattern at sunset I’m in a null and can’t hear them, which gives me a chance to listen for other stations on the frequency.

  9. Frank K4FMH


    You may find interesting my forthcoming article in The Spectrum Monitor. I report on a national survey conducted by RAC where I show how many SWLs are in the ham radio population in Canada. You are in good company!




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