Most amateurs make DXing a major aim of their operating at one time or another.
The term "DX" is derived from an old telegraphy abbreviation for
"distance", and means different things to different people. On VHF, for example,
a contact between Johannesburg and Cape Town would definitely be regarded as DX. On
the other hand, the same contact would be regarded as decidedly local.
The serious DXer soon loses interest in mundane contacts with run-of-the-mill countries
like Germany and Russia, and starts to concentrate on chasing rarer stations. Possibly the
most widespread objective, and generally the first objective to be actively pursued, is
the DXCC countries list.
DXCC (DX Century Club) is an award issued by the ARRL for proven contacts with 100 or
more countries. This objective may sound daunting, but accomplished operators soon learn
that 100 countries can be contacted in a single day without undue effort. Possibly more
demanding is the objective of chasing the necessary confirmations (QSL cards), as like
most awards, DXCC requires proof of contacts.
The DXCC countries list contains over 300 entities. While some correspond with the
dictionary definition of a "country", others do not. Possibly the prime example
locally is Marion Island, part of South Africa, but regarded as a separate country because
of its distance from the mainland.
Some countries are obviously easy to work and confirm. Others are very difficult
indeed. Germany, the USA, Spain, Italy, Japan and Canada all fall into the easy category.
The most difficult country to contact is currently North Korea. Only a few dozen stations
have ever contacted this country, as it habitually prohibits amateur radio and only one
legal operation has ever taken place.
Other countries can be hard or easy, depending on the time and your own location. For
example, countries like Swaziland are easy for a South African. However, if you are in the
South Pacific, Swaziland may be one of very few countries you still need. Likewise, we
have trouble with the South Pacific from here, and several semi-rare countries are
virtually impossible to work from South Africa.
Notching up a score of 100 should take no more than a few months of hard work. 200 may
take a bit longer, and when an operator approaches the 300 mark, new countries are few and
far between. In fact, once over the 300 mark, the outstanding countries may all be little
islands and rocks with no resident amateur population, and the DXer becomes dependent on
the occasional DXpedition that goes there. These expeditions could be low-key one man
affairs, or multinational teams with several stations, directional antennas and kilowatt
transmitters. Major DXpeditions now make tens of thousands of contacts in a few days, and
should be relatively easy to contact from anywhere on earth.
Stations needing less than 10 countries are listed on the DXCC Honor Roll. This list is
published annually, and includes a number of South Africans.
Apart from countries, several other entities make good targets for
DXers. Possibly the
most widespread are zones, states and islands.
The Worked All Zones (WAZ) award is sponsored by CQ Magazine, and is
considerably more difficult than DXCC. While one can achieve DXCC by working only one area
of the world (e.g. Europe), WAZ requires contacts with 40 zones. These zones are roughly
equal in size. Obviously, some areas are easy to work, while others are extremely
challenging. Zone 2 is the north-eastern part of North America, and includes Labrador
(VO2), the northern part of Quebec (VE2) and the eastern part of the North-western
Territories (VE8). There is little human habitation in this zone, and it goes without
saying that amateur activity is not exactly abundant! Other difficult zones include 1
(Alaska and environs) and 23 (Mongolia, Tannu Tuva and part of China). Others are
relatively populous, but still difficult because of propagation. An example of the latter
is zone 32, which includes New Zealand, but lies directly across the magnetic south pole
from South Africa.
Worked All States (WAS) is sponsored by the
ARRL. An applicant
requires proof of contact with all 50 states of the US, including Alaska and Hawaii.
Alaska is probably the most difficult from here, but a few others like Idaho, Montana,
Nevada and the Dakotas may prove equally elusive.
Islands on the Air (IOTA) is sponsored by the Radio Society of Great
Britain. There are hundreds of different islands to chase, including several groups off
the South African coast. Information can be obtained directly from G3KMA.
Finally, many DXers start keeping track of their achievements on several bands or modes
separately. There are awards that recognise these achievements, including 5 Band
Band WAS and 5 Band WAZ. Each of these awards requires that the applicant meet the
requirements on each of the traditional HF bands (3,5, 7, 14, 21 and 28 MHz). Depending on
location, some of these bands could be extremely challenging. For example, WAZ on 80 m is
no joke from anywhere on earth, and WAS on 80 m is challenging from South Africa. Many
single band and mode awards are also available, including separate DXCC's for Mixed Modes,
CW, Phone, RTTY, 1,8 MHz, 3,5 MHz, 7 MHz, 28 MHz, 50 MHz and 144 MHz.
In South Africa, the SARL's awards programme includes the opportunity to endorse an
award for a particular mode or band. As far as we know, no-one has ever completed the
requirements for All Africa Award or Worked All ZS on all five bands. As both of these
awards are considerably more difficult than DXCC, either of these achievements would
certainly be a major one!
DXing has wide appeal, and wide support within amateur radio. The linguist can practice
to heart's content. The geographer can look for little islands in the atlas. The physicist
can wonder about the flutter on trans-polar signals. And all of us can savour the
excitement when that new country finds its way into the log.
Try it, you'll like it!