DX Tests

Carl “Skip” Dabelstein, KØSBV

Perhaps no part of DXing is more fun than listening for DX Tests. DX Tests are radio broadcasts during the early morning experimental period running from Midnight to 6 a.m. local time, conducted on behalf of DX clubs. Stations conducting DX Tests typically are operating at times when they would not otherwise be on the air (i.e. daytime only stations), or are using daytime antenna facilities and power at night. When most all-night stations were off the air on Monday mornings for weekly maintenance, the frequencies were the clearest; thus, that was the preferred day for DX Tests.

DX Tests typically run for thirty minutes with lots of station IDs. To help penetrate interference that might be on the channel at the time of the DX Test, stations will include 1,000 hertz test tones or sweep tones. Music played during a test is usually some form of easily identifiable music such as March Music. For years, Sousa’s National Emblem March was considered the official music for DX Tests conducted on behalf of the National Radio Club. DX Test music also included Polkas, Dixie Land Jazz, and organ music, and also songs by easily identifiable singers such as Johnny Cash. Another tool for penetrating interference used by stations conducting DX Tests, generally when the engineer conducting the test was a ham radio operator, was code ID’s using modulated CW. Such IDs usually consisted of the station’s call letters and perhaps the city of license. Occasionally, stations conducting frequency checks or their annul Proof of Performance Tests would stay on the air after and make it a DX Test. Moreover, a few tests have been conducted by NRC members employed by radio stations.

Quite a few stations running DX Tests would also accept telephone calls during the test and actually put the DXers on the air. Most such calls were prepaid only, but some stations even accepted collect calls.

Over the years, I was successful in arranging more than 100 DX Tests on behalf of the NRC. Getting a station to conduct a DX Test is not an easy chore. In my very best season, I was only able to get 40 stations to consent to a test from the more than 140 request letters sent. When you consider the circumstances, it is easy to understand the difficulty in getting a station to put on a DX Test. In requesting a DX Test, we are asking someone at the station (usually the chief engineer) to get out of bed early in the morning, drive down to the station, put it on the air, run the test, drive back home, and hope to get a little more sleep before putting in a full day of work. Also, in those areas of the Country with cold and snowy winters, the drive to the station to run the test could be very challenging. Finally, if the test is successful, we are asking the person running the test to review reception reports and issue letters of confirmation (easier today with e-mail unless you want a paper trail) . On the whole, this is quite an undertaking for the station and its employee conducting the DX Test.

The first step in arranging DX Tests is identifying possible candidates. Somewhat selfishly, I only contacted stations I needed in my log. One selection method was checking the Verie Signers listings in DX News. If a station was already responding to reception reports, they knew what DXing was all about and could be more receptive to conducting a DX Test. Another source for possible tests were new stations just coming on the air. Writing them to see if they would be interested in seeing just how far their signal could get out might inspire them to run a test. Another method I used related to my being a ham radio operator. Often times when I would be working a ham station in another city, I would ask if they knew of any hams working at their local radio stations. If they did, most likely that individual was the chief engineer, and the person for me to contact. Also useful in selecting stations to contact were identifying those that have successfully conducted tests several years in the past that may want to try it again.

Once the potential testing stations were identified, it was merely a process of writing very friendly, courteous letters to the chief engineers at the respective stations. I would suggest a specific date and time when I felt the channel would be the clearest. I spent most of the summer preparing the letters, but only sent them out eight weeks before the suggested test date. I always included a narrative in my letters explaining the hobby of BCB DXing and the NRC. My letters also included a copy of the respective page from the NRC’s Antenna Patterns book showing any potential interfering stations likely to be on at the time of a test. When any positive response was received, the information was promptly sent to the Club for publishing in the DX Calendar in DX News. Finally a reminder post card was sent to the station bout ten days before the schedule test.

Despite all the hard work, Murphy’s Law is present in the scheduling of DX Tests. There once was a station located on the Eastern Seaboard that ran an entire test before realizing that it had not put the transmitter on the air. There also was an incident occurring in connection with a DX Test conducted by KWBY-1440 in Scottsdale in the early 60’s. After running the test, the chief engineer decided to stop at a nearby café for an early breakfast. While there, the place was robbed and he, along with the café staff, was relieved of their wallets and purses. The verification responses to our reception reports were delayed somewhat, but I did not learn of the robbery until several months later when one of the DJs at KWBY took a job with KOOO-1420 in my hometown of Omaha, and relayed that information to me on a visit to the station.

Unfortunately, over the years, as has also been the case with Frequency Checks and Equipment Tests, the number of DX Tests has declined significantly. This is due to a number of factors, including the FCC requirement that radios stations no longer have to have on-sight engineers, the increase in nighttime power for graveyard stations to 1,000 watts, the disappearance of Monday morning silent periods, and the significant increase in interference as many of the previous daytime only stations began receiving nighttime operating authority. Fortunately, we are still lucky enough to have one or two stations conduct a test each DX season.

Enjoy the accompanying DX tests recorded during my DXing in Nebraska (1961 – 1975), Kansas (1975-1991), Minnesota (1991 – 1996), and Arizona (1996 – 2000). Go to the DX TESTS Index