Shortwave Center, August 1998
by Hans Johnson
You have finally escaped that QRM at home and gone on your DXpedition. The logbook is soon filled with all sorts of new stations, but sadly, it has to come to an end after a few days. How does one get those DXpedition conditions every day? Car DXing is the answer.
Car DXing, also known as a micro-DXpedition, is a single listening session from your car. Most of my listening in the last three years has been while Car DXing, so let me share with you some of what I learned along the way.
One of the keys to hearing rare stations is to try for them often. Car DXing must be as easy and convenient as possible, otherwise you aren’t going to go very often because it is too much trouble.
The most important aspect of Car DXing is the location you choose. The idea is to improve upon the conditions you have at home. This is done primarily by finding a location with space for a better antenna, quieter conditions, or a combination of the two. Remember, if it isn’t easy, you aren’t going to do it. A good site five minutes from the house is better than an excellent one an hour away.
A few words of caution. Don’t Car DX close to houses where it might make the locals nervous. Secondly, don’t Car DX from office parking lots or anywhere that is posted. Finally, choose parks with care, avoiding the ones that are rather festive in the evenings (Yes, I have learned all this the hard way).
There are plenty of good spots close to where you live, you simply have to scout around and be willing to try them out. Apartment dwellers, try DXing from your car right on the apartment grounds. It certainly will be quieter than inside the apartment and you might just find plenty of room for some temporary antennas.
Parks can be good, too. DXing from small, neighborhood parks will probably be an improvement on your conditions at home. One of the first things I do when arriving in a new city is to get a good map showing all the parks.
Probably my favorite spot for Car DXing is from what I call “no-man’s land”. These are areas where the roads are, but there aren’t any buildings. It could be a housing development that went bust early or a commercial area that never filled up with buildings. The bottom line is that no one is driving that way because there is nothing in the area for them to drive to. A bonus is that usually all of the trees and brush have been removed from these areas, so stringing antennas is a snap.
The same principles of simplicity and ease apply to antennas, too. I have 500′ of flexible insulated wire on a reel that is used for winding up extension cords on. These reels are available in your local home improvement store for under $10. I drive out to my site and secure the end of the wire in the car door. Making sure I have left enough inside the car to hook up to the radio, I then string the wire out along the ground for the next 500′. When I am ready to go, I wind it back up on the spool in less than two minutes. You could call this antenna a beverage on the ground, but I will just call it my antenna.
My antenna will receive off of either end, but works best if you point it in the direction of the signals you want to hear. So which way are the signals coming from? Here is how I set mine up:
|Your location||Target||Time of day (local)||Point antenna to|
|North America (NA)||Latin America||Anytime||Southeast|
My antenna is sensitive in a 60 degree cone, but use a compass to make sure you are pointing in the right direction (don’t forget to take into account magnetic declination). If you don’t see a particular location and target site listed, then experiment around. That is one of the beauties of my antenna, easy out and easy up.
Some final words on my antenna. You probably won’t get to many 20+9 readings out of it, but the signal to noise ratio is impressive. This is a quiet antenna and it is amazing how weak of a signal you can copy once you take away all that noise. Don’t run it underneath any power lines or other electrical hazards. Having said that, don’t assume that because you see power lines on the horizon a site will be noisy.
I power my Drake R8 right from the cigarette lighter of my car. I have yet to drain the car battery, even when listening for hours when it was -5 F in Colorado. Some folks take along a marine battery just to operate the radio, but I don’t think this is necessary in a listening session that only lasts a few hours.
All my accessories, i.e., books, headphones, tape recorder, paper in pen, all fits into a single canvas bag. When I am ready to go out, I pick up the bag and the radio, and I know that I haven’t forgotten anything.
Choosing a close location, an easy to string antenna, and having my gear organized, means that 5 to 7 minutes from the time I leave my house, I am Car DXing away. An even easier arrangement would be to use a portable radio and/or an active/passive antenna mounted on the car.
Several of the most active DXers in North America are Car DXing on a regular basis. The reason is that they are hearing things from their cars that they never would hear from home. Car DXing is the way to enjoy DXpedition conditions everyday.
Hans’ current shack is a 1996 Honda Civic. This article first appeared in the March 1998 Monitoring Times.