Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What's the frequency, CJ?

(CJ's note: I have to apologize for the lack of real "flow" in this post - I have a migraine coming on, so I've taken a few T3s and am getting a bit loopy. Good thing it's a slow day here at work!)

I have a(nother) new hobby. I've dived headfirst into the world of DXing - essentially trying to find distant stations on my radio.

I've toyed with the idea for a few years now, initially when I discovered my favourite radio show was available over shortwave in addition to the internet. I opted to listen via live stream or podcast instead, and enjoyed it immensely. Of course, that option is no longer available to me, now that I no longer have an internet connection at home (unless I wait for my neighbours to go away for the weekend, so I can use their WIFI connection surreptitiously... heh heh heh!).

Not long ago, my good buddy Jim revealed that he's been DXing the AM band for thirty years. I filed his post away in the back of my mind, and put it to good use this weekend.

For the last couple of months, I've been trolling the second-hand and thrift stores for a used shortwave radio and, while I haven't had any luck, this weekend I found an odd AM/FM radio can also tune the aviation, public, and weather bands... all for $3.99! So, I took a chance, took the radio home, extended the antennae, plugged it in and... static-y voices. I was tuned into a Catholic talk radio channel originating in North Dakota. It was nearing the top of the hour, so I waited a couple of minutes for the station identification. It was 1370 KWTL in Grand Forks. I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and noted the frequency, call sign, and city, then slowly started turning the dial...

I did this for a couple of hours (the reception on this radio is nothing short of phenomenal!), and ended up falling asleep to AM 1500 (KSTP) in St. Paul, MN, who were replaying older broadcasts (circa 1995) of a talk show whose name escapes me.

I'm hooked.

I've been DXing whenever I have a spare bit of time, and have been solidly entertained. In the absence of (ethical) internet access, I gotta do something to stay informed. Despite being a music buff, I find myself listening to a lot of talk radio. Weird.

Knowing me as well as I do, though, I'll be as bored of the American perspective as I am of the Canadian perspective (concerning current world issues) in short order. Thus, I purchased an inexpensive shortwave receiver from one of my reliably dodgy Hong Kong contacts (for $15 shipped) so I can hear things from an international perspective... in a limited capacity, until I can afford a more powerful receiver... and antenna... and amplifier... and so on...

Now, I wouldn't dive headfirst into hitherto unknown territory without doing my own due diligence.

I've been reading a couple of blogs related to shortwave listening (SWLing), as well as a couple of print magazines dedicated to the activity. I've learned a few very basic concepts, and have a pretty good idea of what I'm getting myself into, and perhaps most importantly how much I can expect to spend.

A decent shortwave receiver (new) will likely set me back a couple hundred bucks, while an antenna won't likely set me back much, as I can probably bastardize something myself with minimal financial outlay. However, at a time when money is tight (most of my incoming funds are earmarked for a certain project), I suspect I'll be making do with the el cheapo unit I bought from Hong Kong for at least another year. No biggie, as I'm not sure how serious I want to take SWLing.

I certainly have no intention of becoming an amateur radio hobbyist (HAM radio), I'm solely interested in different cultures, and "the foreign perspective" concerning today's world. I'm sick of TV and the internet (and bored with computers in general), so I figured "Why not take a step back in time, and do what your average hobbyist/geek did in the days before personal computers?"

Besides, it'll give me something to do when I'm not writing, chasing women, drinking, and/or working on the Speakeasy...