Hunting radio near Arctic

CNC
Added On November 25, 2013

DXing is a hobby of receiving and itentifying distant radio or television signals. It used to be very

popular across the world among radio enthusiasts, who call themselves DXers.

Nowadays, their number is far fewer than decades ago. But, there are some still keeping themselves

active with great euthusiasm. We'll take you to meet two of them, in northern Finland, near the Artic

Ocean.

As winter approaches, it takes a huge effort to drive north and to find the tiny DXing cabin in a remote

and snowy Arctic forest. The endeavor may, however, prove worthy.
   
Mika Makelainen and Jim Solatie spent two weeks early November in Aihkiniemi, northern Finland,

listening to medium wave radio programs coming across the oceans and the continents.

Being active DXers for more than 30 years, the two middle aged men would travel 1200 kilometers from

Helsinki to Lapland in late autumn every year.They are cofounders of the Aihkiniemi DXing station,

located about 100 km from the Arctic Ocean.
   
Over the years, they have equipped it with 14 antennas, a valuable facility which they believe could be

the most advanced in the world.

Each about one kilometer long, the antennas are fixed on trees, lifted over one man' s height from

ground, and spread along different directions towards the other side of the globe.

SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): MIKA MAKELAINEN,  DXer
"Actually the cable comes from the cabin goes inside this metal rod here, all the way, up here. This is

so that rabbit won' t start chewing because sometimes they like to eat the cables."
  
The longer the antennas are and the better angles they are placed, the more capable they are of catching

signals that have drifted and bounced over here across huge distances.

Apart from the antennas, there is only one wooden cabin, equipped with a kitchenette, a composting

toilet, a room for two beds and a 13-square meter working room.
   
However, DXers make the working room look more homely by filling it with packages of chocolate, cheese

and berries.

Seated in the room with headphones, we could clearly hear the broadcasts of radio stations far, far

away, like this one from Rizhao, a city in China's eastern Shandong Provinc.

Sunlight is a major factor that affects propagation of radio signals. Mika and Jim wish they could keep

awake every minute, and hear and recognize every word. So they have to take shifts, day and night,

sitting in front of the laptops.

SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH):JIM SOLATIE, DXer
"Let' s see one hour opening when the conditions are really good and we hear lots of Chinese stations

during that one hour. So then there are around 110 different frequencies and if you need to know those

frequencies we need 110 hour to listen to that one hour only. "

SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): MIKA MAKELAINEN, DXer  
"This morning the conditions were very good to towards north America. I think I have caught two stations

which nobody has heard in Finland before."

They really have a lot of work to do -- to identify the frequencies of received channels, their location

and, of course, the languages spoken in the programs.
   
While this seems a mission impossible for most people, Mika and Jim each boast of having recognized and

even received confirmation replies from thousands of radio stations in over 200 countries and regions.
   
SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH):JIM SOLATIE, DXer  
"When the station writes to you back, and you get the E-mail, or the postcard or the letter from the

station and you get the confirmation, so it' s nailed."
   
DXing is a hobby maintained by tens of thousands of fans around the world. The activity first flourished

in the middle of the 20th century, when AM radio stations were more popular than FM stations.

Like sports enthusiasts who compete for speed and strength, DXers compete for the amount of stations

they can recognize.  

Nowadays there are far fewer DXers than decades ago, as AM stations around the world are being replaced

with FM transmitters to improve the technical quality of radio broadcasting.

It is not possible to receive FM signals from quite as far away as AM signals. Moreover, youngsters are

more fond of listening to the radio on the Internet.
   
There are only about 700 members in the Finnish DX Association today, compared with over 2000 in the

1980' s. Among the association members, only a minority are really active DXers, said Mika.

SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH): MIKA MAKELAINEN, DXer 
"It' s difficult to get new people interested in the hobby because, my theory is that you know when I

was young, when we only had one radio station in the country, actually the same company that I work for

nowadays. So as a young person you want to listen to the kind of music that you enjoy, you did' t

necessary hear from the national broadcasting company."

While Mika and Jim admit that the popularity of the hobby has diminished, they both insist that DXing

has been tremendously beneficial and rewarding for both of them.

SOUNDBITE(ENGLISH):JIM SOLATIE, DXer  
"When you hear a new station in your headphones, and you realized immediately wow I have been trying to

hear the station for 25 years and now I got it. So that' s the big moment."
   
The good news is, while European countries shut down more AM transmitters, Nordic DXers can receive more

radio stations in surrounding areas like Asia and Africa.

For instance, the closedown of a nearby AM station in Russia has just opened the way for Mika and Jim to

catch Chinese and Japanese stations on a frequency, which was previously very disturbed due to strong

interference.