My first interest in radio came via a friend of my grandparents, Les Cufflin. Les was an Auckland DXer from the 1930s, who had been a member of the RA. By all accounts he was a pretty good DXer too. He used to talk to me about radio. I was curious.
Les eventually gave me his collection of QSL cards, which have, I think, ended up in the Hocken library. The only card I still possess is a rare one. It is for KGIR in Butte, Montana and is printed on a thin copper sheet. Very, very few New Zealand DXers heard it – only Merv Branks, that I know of, and Arthur Cushen went a greenish colour when I told him I had one and innocently asked whether he had one too!
Anyway with ‘Uncle’ Les’s encouragement I first decided to have a go on shortwave. I logged Radio Nederland, sent an aerogramme off addressed simply to Radio Nederland, Holland and received a verification back – a black and white card featuring a photo of Tom Meyer talking to someone in a field of tulips! I was so proud.
However, it was Mediumwave that attracted me. I acquired an old valve radio from an elderly neighbour. Its aerial was a wire up to the chicken mesh under the tin roof of the house. It sounds awful, but I heard quite a bit. An accurate readout from the dial was not really possible, but I got by. The problem I had was that we lived about 1 mile from the Radio New Zealand broadcasting masts in Henderson. Reception was ‘interesting’ to say the least – images absolutely everywhere. I used to be hugely frustrated by John Allchin’s ability to hear Yanks in Remuera, when I couldn’t. 2KM on 530 was my first MW QSL.
I didn’t belong to the League until a bit later, but used to read Arthur Cushen’s articles in The Listener and would write to him seeking addresses. At one stage Arthur sent me the back section of a WRTH to help me out. I also complained that I couldn’t hear Yanks. He patiently told me to stayed tuned to 1ZB (1070 in those days) and when it went off at midnight a Yank should be there. Bingo – problem solved and like Paul Ormandy, KNX was my first Yank QSL. Suddenly there were Yanks everywhere, or so it seemed. I remember waking up at 2am one morning and logging KPNW 1120 (I think) and Vladivostok on 1250 – both were clear as a bell and both yielded a verie.
The old radio finally gave up the ghost and I acquired a ZC1 (much beloved to this day by Frank Glen) and then an old radio that had come from a Wellington bomber – I cannot remember the make, but it was a good set. This was a major step up. I lived with my grandmother after my grandfather died. Her house was 6 up from mine and I had 100 ft of wire strung up in the garden. With this new set I heard a large number of Hawaiians. KGMB 590, The Coconut Wireless Network, was a regular caller. Alan Roycroft was very supportive and his yellow QSL cards always came back with a friendly and informative message on the back.
Off to university in Christchurch – radio and all (not exactly a portable)! In my college I had a room on the top floor and was able to string a wire across the quad. I heard all sorts and Cuba was a regular for a couple of months in 1978 on about 600. I managed to get a verie, much to David Ricquish’s chagrin.
Around this time I won the Young DXer of the Year title and went down to Invercargill to receive it. I was hosted by Ray and Raewyn Crawford, met Paul Aronsen for the first time, as well as Arthur Cushen, of course, Eric McIntosh (what a wonderful gent), Steven Greenyer, Charlie Chester, Lindsay Robinson, Harry Weatherley was visiting and Arthur Williams, at whose place the event was held. I went to Tiwai for the first time. We didn’t hear a lot, but we did have a decent earthquake. It was the first of many visits.
I remember attending an AGM around 1978 in Oamaru. I went down with David Ricquish in his trusty yellow (I think) Morris 1300. We got just the other side of Ashburton when the temperature gauge rose alarmingly and we had to stop. It was early Sunday morning and not a lot was open. It transpired that the radiator had run dry. David hadn’t realised you had to top it up! With makeshift repairs we had to travel at a constant 80 km/h. That is fine until you come to towns. Timaru was traversed at 9am on a Sunday at 80 km/h and we travelled through the long stretch into Oamaru an hour later at a similar speed. We made it. It boiled happily as we pulled up at the Brydone Hotel. Getting home late at night wasn’t as much of a problem!
It was here I met Peter and Jill Grenfell, Ito Tsukigawa and the (in)famous Paul Ormandy. As the AGM was being held a storm hit the south of New Zealand and floodwaters soon appeared. Arthur and Ralda Cushen couldn’t get home. We had some good DX from the clubrooms up the hill, the highlight of which was KATZ 1600. I got a very nice QSL card featuring a rather suave looking cat on it. Ormandy ran around like a mad thing telling us what he thought we were or were not hearing and generally being very excited. Not a lot has changed! I remember going home and logging the YA stations in Alexandra and Queenstown on local programming with flood warnings etc.
On another occasion Ray and I went to Tiwai. We nearly got stuck in a rather large hole full of water on the way in. It rained all night and the only thing we heard apart from a sea of static was a Colombian, which came up and identified itself and then disappeared back into the murk. Three minutes of programming yielded me a verification on a prepared card from Radio Centinela de Pereira 1470. Not a common station. It’s 5kw now, I believe – it was only 2kw then. Ray didn’t get it back.
I went to live in England and began doing some DX there. Quite a bit could be heard from Europe but that isn’t surprising considering it would fit into the Tasman Sea! While there I bought an AOR 7030, later modified to be a 7030+. This changed DXing entirely.
On my return to New Zealand I took to the hobby with a passion. Highlights have included logging Kenya on 1386 at John Bastable’s place in Kingaroy, Qld on a EWE. On the parallel EWE pointing in the opposite direction was Tarana in Auckland blowing everything else off the airwaves at 9am NZ time – the power of the EWE.
Trips to Tiwai, logging the Bahamas, France on LW, Panama and Tasmania (during the day); Waianakarua logging a 133 watter in Florida, Uruguayans, Argentinians and Brazilians. A trip to Greytown staying with Mark Nicholls at Tony King’s place logging low powered X band Yanks peaking as their dawn arrived, on Tony’s BOGs (Beverages on Ground) – wonderful stuff.
On rereading the above, it occurs to me that what is important in this hobby – and it isn’t who has how many veries or who has won what competition, is who your fellow DXers are. I have made some wonderful friends. Among them are Ray Crawford, Paul Aronsen, Sutton Burtenshaw, Steven Greenyer, Bryan Clark, Arthur de Maine, Paul Ormandy, Frank Glen, Mark Nicholls, the late Alastair Stewart and David Ricquish – really good friends. We have had some great times together. All of us come from different backgrounds – an electrician, a postman, a fireman, an airlines exec, a train nut, another electrician, a parson, a Social Welfare exec and an entrepreneur – don’t know what Mark & Sutton did – and me a tool screecher, as Aronsen would say: completely diverse backgrounds united by a common hobby.
I have been DXing for the past 40 years roughly, and can easily envisage 40 more.
The DX League
I first joined in about 1976. In those days you had to mail your contributions off on separate pieces of paper according to what you wanted to contribute, to Wellington. They were then sent out to sub-editors. Mailbags were huge, the list of catches impressive and the ladders very keenly fought.
For a while I did the Ladders for Bryan Clark and then, I think, Arthur de Maine. They were typed onto special sheets, which were then scanned for printing. They were a nuisance when you made a mistake!
When I went to Europe I dropped out of the League and joined the British DX Club – a fine body but not with the same camaraderie. I rejoined in the late 90s. Since then I have assisted where I can with the DX Times. I have edited Over 9 mHz, the Mailbag and the Ladders/ Continents section for the past 12 years. I have also written the odd article.
I have only been to a handful. The first was in Auckland in 1980. I remember listening in awe to Radio Auckland 1 and Radio Auckland 2 on FM. NZ didn’t have FM then. They were pirates and were broadcasting from a van driving around Auckland trying to avoid the Post Officer detectors. I even got them verified. I remember we issued David Ricquish with an honorary QSL from Cuba – because he has never been able to get one! I think we (Aronsen and I) also had a water fight with a fire hose in the toilets area, which did not impress Alice Williams and she let us know about it!
There was a later convention at the end of the Whangaparoa Peninsula, which I also attended. There was the story of the pink panties, but I think that is best left alone. Aronsen will provide the details.
DX was not good at either of these.
The next one I went to was at Camp Iona in Oamaru in 2002. This was also a lot of fun and it was here that Paul Ormandy was deservedly made a life member of the League. Reception was good and I logged quite a few stations. Meeting the legendary late Don Reed was also a highlight. Jack Fox was there as were Dr Adrian Peterson (AWR) and Adrian Sainsbury from RNZI.
We had the ‘Farewell to Tiwai’ mini convention in 2003 as well – again the DX was good and so was the camaraderie, although I did seem to get picked on by Aronsen! There were some good DX catches too. I had to leave it and go to Oamaru for a wedding for a night. Much to my horror, the night I was away was a bumper DX night – typical. However, I managed to get Radio Maria in Panama on MW later.
The gathering in Kingaroy, Qld in 2005 was also excellent. Logging Kenya on MW was the highlight, but the camaraderie was even better. Learning about what could be heard on a crystal set was mind blowing!
Big L, 1134 (ex pirate) commemorative broadcast from a boat tied up at Frinton on Sea, Essex. It was heard during daylight hours in Crowborough about 40 or 50 miles away, broadcasting with 1 watt – yes 1 only. It was intended for a local audience and they couldn’t believe I heard it.
Radio Centinela de Pereira, mentioned above, my first 2 kw Colombian. WRHC in Coral Gables Florida 1550 kHz, 133 watts, this proved Ray Crawford’s old adage – power is nothing, propagation is everything, because it sounded like a local!
The Irish Pirate, Radio Dublin International 9770 & 15155 – hard to hear, but a good verifier and AFN 9590 Antarctica – very hard to hear.