By: Spike Nesmith, Executive Producer, Coffee Anyone Chief Editor, Your Buckhannon
Posted: March 19, 2020 | 03:32AM EST
“A companion, unobtrusive Plays that song that's so elusive”
When I was a kid, I used to love scanning around the radio dial at night to see what I could pick up. Distant stations were the best, there was something exotic about picking up something through static that wasn't targeted at you, that talked about far away places like Leith, or Grangemouth. As i got older, my interest in “DXing” - receiving distant transmissions - only increased. I installed two antennas in my attic so I could pick up stations from all over the place instead of just where my single antenna had been pointed. Radio Forth RFM, Central FM, Dumbarton Festival Radio all came booming in, stations that a little handheld radio would have had trouble picking up with its telescopic antenna, but were no challenge to my little array of antennas.
And then came the red hot summer of 1995. Relentless heat, but manna from heaven for a DXer, thanks to an unusually heavy dose of sky wave propagation, an atmospheric anomaly that allows radio signals to travel greater distances than normal by bouncing off the ionosphere rather than through line-of-sight, which is how traditional FM is received. My friends and I marveled at what was coming in from seemingly impossible distances. One particular station we picked up, a Spanish one, coming in so strong and so clear that it even displayed digital Radio Data System information. Bear in mind that Europe isn’t a tiny continent. Scotland and Spain are roughly 1,500 miles apart, but here was a Spanish station being received so well, it was as if we were parked under its transmitter.
It would be some years later that I discovered shortwave. Where AM’s signals follow the curve of the earth and FM is received through line of sight, shortwave, or SW, bounces off the ionosphere, much like how sky wave propagation works. This allows transmission from literally all around the world to be received, and is the communication method of choice for active radio amateurs. Cruising the dial, not knowing what you’re going to hit is just as exciting now as it was 25 years ago. SW is home to Spanish programming, end times preacher programming, and - my favorite - numbers stations. But we’ll learn more about those mysterious, ominous transmissions another time.
Fast forward far too many years and - thanks to the gift of the internet - here I sit, on my porch, still listening to radio from far away. This time, it's from intriguing places like Gauteng and Tauranga, and it's coming in crystal clear. No static at all. DXing has gone digital, and now it’s easier than ever to listen to “alien” programming with simply a phone and an app. Tonight, I'm listening to a call-in discussion about changing the New Zealand flag, and it's bloody fascinating.
What an amazing world we live in, and how funny that radio, when done well, can hold your attention, even if it’s Spanish, preachers, or Spanish preachers. Regardless of how relevant the subject is to you and regardless of what glamorous location it's being beamed from, it just goes to show you that content is still king.
God, I love radio.