Part One: A Bunch of Individuals
The New Zealand Radio DX League Oamaru Convention Address 2008 – Presented by Frank Glen
This address is to the memory of Eric McIntosh who died six weeks ago in Invercargill and who during his lifetime was a loyal and enthusiastic member of the Southland Branch. Eric was the last Southlander to possess the corporate memory of the beginning of the League in Southland and whose friendship was a close one with the larger than life apostolic legends and pioneers of the hobby. From his hospital bed a week before he passed away he gave the title for the address and together we outlined what its contents ought to be and chuckled at the humours memories of those now long gone. We both realised this 60 th
Anniversary is a watershed for our hobby for what we do as Dxers now shapes our future survival or the maintenance of our present position as we tentatively enter into the 21 st century. Our ability to change and to contemporise our reporting style to the nature of electronic radio signals of today that could result in continued and greater verifications presents still an incredible opportunity and challenge for the hobbyist.
Ray Crawford, Peter Grenfell, Don Reed, Paul Aronsen have provided much of the material herein and along with many others who have left records of our history over the past fifty years this paper represents a simply non definitive overview of the past 60 years. We actually begin further back beyond 1948 where memory is now dimmed. The interpretation of the events is entirely my own as I was told or researched it, or sometimes imagined might well have been. Pretensions to truth are not claimed in every case, but fifty years on many of the tales have defied the odds of time and persist in our mythology and culture.
The DXers, rough hewn and individual. In the high days of the birth of the NZ Radio DX League Albert Stanton a stationer from Dunedin led the charge as one of New Zealand’s most experienced Dxers with 1300 Broadcast verifications on the July 1950 ladder, while Arthur Cushen led on shortwave with 1171 and Dave Thompson of Dargaville was well ahead with 3795 utilities.
Somewhere I was warned in this address I had to be consistent and use some Latin for there have been a clutch of members who have chased the Latin stations, among them Arthur Cushen who for some time was the radio observer
for Radio Vatican. Perhaps the proverb ‘omne ignotum pro magnfico’ aptly describes the 250 Watt North American Broadcast stations whose frequencies were monitored ‘adnausium’ because as the proverb says ‘everything unknown
is believed magnificent.’ The constant rivalry in those high days of searching the for the 250 watt frequencies to capture that whisper of signal had many rewards frustrations and failures.
I am reliably informed that in the 1940s about the time of the sinking by a German mine of the Niagara of the North Auckland peninsular Onehunga beach was considered a cracking 250 watt site and attracted members with portable or car radios. Some members of the Auckland Branch not only attended the dances but also managed good catches on Waiheke Island. A nameless keen Dxer on this particular evening, resplendent with headphones and determined look, pencil poised, eyes focused was logging furiously his third 250 Watter on the 1450 Khz channel. Suddenly torches flashed, dark uniforms emerged and the door of his car was wrenched open and there stood a sergeant of police displaying in hand the statutory baton drawn in the posture of one about to drop a villain if there was any hint of nonsense. ‘Get out of the car’ ordered the harsh command. The locals had reported the DXers presence over several occasions noting that just on dark he was acting suspiciously, headphones, furtive light from his torch, note book and there till midnight. Spies, traitors and collaborators by November 1940 were even considered a possibility in New Zealand. The ‘unknown’ was far from magnificent at that point for the Dxer concerned who took four hours to explain to the police why he was there, why he was dxing, and explaining what dxing was all about. He later volunteered for the RNZAF and became an aircrew wireless operator.
Dxers are odd balls at any time, but Keith Robinson was observed fifty years past wandering about with a wheelbarrow resplendent with radio and battery. His object was to find the best reception for the equipment he had and the means
of finding that was to wheel the radio around. Neighbours wagged their heads and tut-tutted, but eventually he settled on the Waituna Lagoon and shifted his caravan and radio gear there. The rewards were legion.
A younger member who shall remain unnamed had built for himself a Hikers One. Having learned how effective this single valve set was as a receiver as well as being immune from noise, had set the radio on the handles of his bicycle. He
had fastened and insulated a number eight wire aerial and complete with headphones biked off down the road. Darkness had overtaken his enthusiasm and concentrating every 25 meters to register the strength of the signals he was simply not in this world. A ‘yank’ was heard on a 250 watt channel and he decided to halt his ride and copy the programme. His attention was drawn to a torch being waved in his face that was owned by a stern voice of a city traffic officer who ordering him to stop his bike and dismount. Astounded the young
man discovered that not only was he committing an offence by riding on the footpath but that he was compounding that offence by not having a bicycle light. He was ‘failing to throw a beam of light forwardly visible for 300 yards whilst the bicycle was in motion…etc etc.’ The traffic officer was not in the least interested it the explanation that there was a 250 Watter on air and ordered the young man to walk home afterwards. The policeman enquired did he have a radio licence for that ‘thing’ on the handle bars, and there was no reply from the lad. The court fined him thirty shillings on the charge of riding on the footpath and a further twenty shillings for not ‘throwing a visible beam of light etc.’ To add insult to injury the court costs of ten shillings were added making a total of three pounds or for this lad a weeks wages. Then he missed logging the 250 Watter and was broke for a month and had to live down the newspaper headline ‘Youth rides bike with headphones and no night light’ Nor did he hear the 250 Watter again.
Conventions and camps, DXpeditions as we call them these days, were perhaps more common in days past. At such functions with men food is always important and even in times of rationing during WW2 much care was exercised in the selection of what meals were to be prepared. Don Reed tells the story that at one such expedition Jack Fox and Frank Wilson were designated cooks. In that capacity they naturally wanted to prepare food that would be eaten so they enquired of the group what they wanted, in particular asking Arthur Cushen what his favourite was. In his modest reply Arthur requested if it was not too much trouble just a little salad and meat would be a satisfactory lunch for him. He was then served with a freshly dug worm and several blades of grass to go with it. There was much laughter.
It may well have been at the same gathering that Don Reed made his equally definitive remark that runs parallel with Mervyn Branks definition of a DXer. Don was heard to say with more than a modicum of conviction, ‘DXers don’t sleep at conventions.’ As in the case surrounding the suspicion of the character on the Onehunga beach who was anxious to log a bagful of 250 watters that same suspicion can also work in ones favour. During a Canterbury gathering sometime in the 1940s when few cars were available to Dxers and with what petrol rationing would allow, they gathered at one of their member’s each front batches. The Dxers were disturbed by a number of hoons appearing in vehicles who gave every indication of being hell bent on making a noise, disturbing the peace and generally wreaking the tranquilly of the weekend. It transpired, as the evening went by, that the DXers, with lights flashing and radios bellowing moved deliberately and without hesitation towards the mob that was causing the problems. The result was electric; they fled in their vehicles to a man. No doubt they were firmly convinced that they were being pursued by the recently upgraded police vehicles. At least they recognized they were guilty and took off leaving Don and his companions to a good DX weekend.
Tiwai may well take pride of place in the history of listening posts but I have been told that Ken Mackey and George Beardsmore in company with Murray Lamont constructed a number of beverage aerials on the Spit and at Dunedin’s
Long Beach. Memories of the remarkable reception at these isolated locations of the 1940s ought not to be dimmed by the more recent and equally fine setup at Tiwai. Perhaps today’s smaller DXpeditions at the latter site gave rise to the recent behavour of elderly Dxers who livings through their youthful days of the past now annually gather at Tiwai. Paul Aronsen is the life long caretaker of Tiwai and he can speak from experience as he watched two elderly 70 year plus old former Compulsory Military Trainees of the 1950s raise the national Flag with all the pomp and ceremony of a royal or national occasion. Indeed, this has been reordered on video and I’m lead to believe that Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame was so impressed with the video trailer that he is thinking of offering these elderly DXers leading parts in his next film. His flim is to be the Dances of a Valkeries and it is as a dancing valkeries that these gentleman are sought as actors. Tiwai is famous for many things in history from the times of nineteenth century Maori battles, to whaling and sealing but it has had to wait over 35 years as a DX listening post to produce the aged talent now tragically so lately recognised.
A Dxer of national note many years ago went the extra mile and stayed on the job all night into the late morning because the reception was exceptional and he had made some magnificent scoops. He really pulled in some fine signals and could see the best of the month cup appearing with regularity for some time to come. As he put the headphones down, looked at his watch and saw that the sun was just about the rise he was alarmed to see a fleeting running figure dash past the unblinded window. There had been some burglaries in the area in recent times and being a fit individual always game for a challenge he took off out of the house after the running figure. He quickly overtook the villain and with a mighty thrust fell onto him bringing him to the ground with a thud. There was of course another sound that alerted him instantly to the startling fact that all was not as he thought. There was a crashing of glass and breaking of glass and milk spilt all over the footpath. He had tackled the local milkman. It needs little imagination to work out how the conversation went from that moment onward.
The various branch newsletters as well as the national Times during the heyday when there was nationally over 800 members regularly carried social news. Family occasions were attended by other Dxers who represented the branch to which the particular individual belonged. There was more than a nascent sense of family among them. The following is quotation taken from a publication 50 years past. There is little question the tongue of the ‘Congratulations to Lofty Gardiner on the birth of twin sons on April 18. Also our apologies to Lofty for omitting him from the honourable mentions in the final of the ladder competition. He had an addition of 103 loggings in the past six months. Is it any
wonder Lofty had time either to log or notice the omissions? It is this final sentence or the editorial after thought which lacks subtlety and no politically correct understanding of today. ‘Our congrats also to Mrs Lofty.’ I’m wondering if the historian of the future will not ponder the nuances in this par. Is this a reference to a double virgin birth? Or a wise crack attempt at humour on the bed room antics of the couple, or does it simply reflected a time when feminists were unheard of?
Mervyn Branks is a strong DX pioneer figure that history still projects into the present day. He died in 1979 aged 72 but his influence on the lives of the once young men in Southland has been one which they have carried with them all of their lives. These were members of the Boy’s Brigade Movement and the Southland Branch of the NZ Radio DX League and extant photographs of him show him always with a smile on his face. He had a hesitant tentative manner that quickly vanished as he gathered his confidence in conversation. You never heard him swear- ‘such words as gosh, golly blow or hang’ were common, but never a word out of place. This reflected his upbringing in Central Southland in a strong Presbyterian culture where he was part of the first Boy’s Brigade Company to be established in New Zealand. Rumours had it that he had knocked off going to Church because he had a muscular difference of opinion with his Church on a matter now lost in history. His loyalty to his Christian convictions took him to the top of the Southland executive office of the Boy’s Brigade in Southland. He met me when I was seven years old, barely old enough to join the junior corps of the BB. This was a point of contact he had with all ages and if anybody could ‘deal with’ or ‘cope with’ Arthur Thomas Cushen full marks always went to Merv. His ability to act as the broker and to be the peacemaker among his peers was a natural characteristic of his quiet personality. His definition of a Dxer is a classic, ‘A person who is prepared to get out of bed at any time and log the difficult stations.’
The stories of his 6 x3 Dxing shack at Riverton Rocks are legion. On one occasion after a hard time at the 6×3 Trevor Service, the son of a pillar of Methodism and the grandson of a Methodist Minister, and who I think was taught in Sunday school by my wife Margret, found half a dozen bottles of beer among the flax bushes. These bushes abounded about the 6×3. There was little excitement but much anticipation by the clutch of Dxers who back at Merv’s crib cracked open the bottles and began a harmless ‘drinkies session.’ Trevor no doubt freeof his tee total parents was feeling quite happy. Merv then appeared around the corner of the crib and observed his lads enjoying the quite drink. He said nothing, his face did the speaking and he quietly walked away.
While recalling Merv’s 6×3, there is a story repeated through the years of two curious individuals who stumbled upon the shack early one morning. Merv had been Dxing until early in the wee small hours and finally weariness had overcome him and he slept. He was woken by the voices of his two explorers. He listened to their conversation for they were quite unaware there was anyone inside this rough hewn structure. ‘What on earth is it?’ questioned one, and the other answered ‘Could be something to do with generating electricity, look at all those wires and insulators’ replied the other. ‘Perhaps’ suggested his companion, ‘it is an electric fence’ His associate pondered the idea and then replied that the insulators where pretty hight off the ground for that. The companion then made the thoughtful and no doubt reasoned reply that if that was the case then perhaps they farmed ‘giraffes?’ They then wandered slowly off and Merv decided it was time to get up and greet the day.
I was not keen to mention the name of the individual responsible for this particular part of the narrative, but I’m informed on good authority that Des Frampton rode in the boot of a motor car to the 6×3 rather worse for the wear from the demon in the bottle. That evening there were more people DXing than drinking resulting in a bell tent was erected to provide the bedding for the overflow of bodies. Although the imagination boggles I am reliably informed Des was given the task of holding the tent prop up because of inclement windy weather. A task he did for the remainder of the evening with not the slightest memory of it as a sun rose.
A youthful Eric McIntosh was equally very keen to get to the 6×3 and log KMTH on broadcast. The station was presenting a special DX programme to New Zealand and was to be an excellent catch. Merv had arranged to pick Eric up and drive him to the Rocks a distance of some 25 miles. For some reason Eric missed him and Merv anxious not to be late for the special went off on his own. Eric was not a powerfully built man, but slight of frame and not always in good health. Disappointed but still enthusiastic Eric biked the 25 odd miles to the Rocks and arrived at the 6×3 just in time to log the special. Enthusiasm, good fellowship and physical effort all went to make the logging possible.
The DX Times 60 years ago was not only a record of loggings, but it was also interspersed with wedding bells, 21 st birthday greetings and personal celebrations. Eric McIntosh and Phyllis’s wedding was recorded in the Times on 2 June 1950 and a life time of association will be remembered when Eric’s obituary appears later this months.
Margret and I returned to Invercargill in 1976 after serving as an inland flying padre and an RAAF Padre. We had come home because there was no where else to go. Margret was unwell and my career was in tatters. Within ten days or so Merv poked his head around, my office door, grinned and simply said ‘There’s DX meeting at Arthur’s on Thursday night Frank – and you will be there. You just be there.’ On the evening at Arthur’s home he greeted me genuinely and warmly and was the beginning of a new friendship that lasted until his death. Two years ago at Tiwai with Paul Aronsen and Peter Grenfell we re-erected an aerial and named it the Mervyn Branks Memorial Aerial. For what its worth it was a serious gesture and hopefully will remain for years yet to come.
In many ways Merv epitomised the character of the DX League where all sorts of conditions of men and women gathered and shared their hobby. He reminded those jugdmentalists of whom there were few, that everyone was welcome. Many of us have examples from his quite vast and historical radio library of DX material that was auctioned after his death. Much of it some 30 years later quite priceless and historically of considerable value as the hobby enters its eight decade. At this time Merv we remember sand once again salute you.
There have been achievers who have been honoured members of the League. One example comes to mind and at a time such as we are celebrating he ought not to be forgotten. Lloyd Warburton served in the RNZAF during WW2 and returned to Invercargill to his business as a jeweller and watchmaker. He was a remarkable DXer, but also a remarkable and very fit mountaineer. He led the New Zealand Expedition to South America and sadly died of a heart attack before middle age. There was Charlie Chester who was a graduate of an English
University with a degree in literature. I first met him at the DX meetings in Invercargill and then professionally as the Salvation Army officer of the court who represented Alcoholics Anomous. Charlie’s night job was as the telephonist in Kew Hospital and he with his faithful ‘Barlow Wadley’ is worthily remembered. Charlie was a man who tragically suffered the impact of WW2 and who with courage and bravery reinvented his life. He too died long before his three score and ten. One wonders what became of people like Bing Harris who 50 years ago was a member or George Griffiths, who was responsible
for getting me interested in DXing. He lived over the road from me and looked after his Father who was a Gallipoli veteran. Then there was Peter Chin the younger, the father of the present mayor of Dunedin who came to NZ in 1938 from Canton as a refugee. Peter later qualified as a dentist and took up practise in Dunedin.
While we are remembering the humourous events and recalling the fun and the frolic among our late and present members it is appropriate to recall and to reflect upon the more serious factors that members have experienced. As Eric McIntosh and I spoke together just a few days before he died we both agreed that we might well be a great mob, but we were also individuals. Dxers, without exception, are for the most part strong minded, inner directed and self driven
individuals. They are focused largely on their hobby, for when they lose that focus they cease to write reports.
With so many individuals with contrasting characters and personalities it is little wonder that at times there have been agreements and strains. One such major difference was the cause of the NZ Radio DX League separating from the NZ Radio DX Club back in 1948. I learned recently that in one branch there was a serious division over accepting back into the branch an individual who had fallen foul of the law. He was a farmer somewhere in central Southland and had for many years led the charge in climbing the ladders. The debate went head to
head and finally he was accepted back and there he remained until his death. There were times in the past when observers wondered if one nationally known member was the only Dxer in New Zealand, but little did we know that were it not for another well known member who kept him regularly humble, it might well have become an actuality! There were checks and balances as well as excitements and fun.
DXers seem also to fall into the category of inveterate collectors, some are philatelists, and others collect Billy Bunter comics or some other form of laughing literature. The odd one or two are book collectors while most seem to own a sense of history and almost all have a good knowledge of world events and where the countries of the world can be found on the map. We come from a wide, extremely wide net of life’s experience. There are school teachers, store keepers, plenty of electricians, many self employed, and a good representation of the various professions. In the membership list of 1973 I noticed two army officers, one a major and other a Colonel.
The single most important factor that arises from the great mob of individuals is that they all know they are part of the mob, and they also know they have a place in the mob as individuals. They are also accepted as individuals in the mob. There is no threshold of financial equality, nor any educational threshold or community status that determines ones place in the mob. If there is a pecking order it used to be where one was placed on the verification ladder, that’s changed in recent years. The problem today is that hardly anyone moves up the
ladder or if they do they do, everyone moves at the same pace and in effect there is little change in their individual placing.
The descriptive word for the mob and its individuals is that there is a spirit of egalitarianism, jack is as good as his master – in the DX world to which we have claimed a place there is neither master nor Jack. We are bound by a common stimulus and excitement of the chase and the common satisfaction of having once hunted the signal down to the point it where it becomes a verification that is satisfaction enough. It never ceases to amaze me that for the most part DXers can remember where they were and who they were with and from which receiver they heard this or that particular signal.
The individuality within the mob ought to be the key to the survival of the hobby for therein lies diversity of skills and personal gifts of how to persue the hobby in a changing world. Unless that comes about fairly soon there may well
be individuals, but the mob will have passed, the DX mob will have ceased to exist. Let us learn from the past 60 years of the history of the League and the almost 90 years of the hobby and develop into today’s electronic world a new style of reporting and responses to the changes of radio that gives an assurance the hobby will survive. If we can do this then we shall have fulfilled an important task in preserving into, and for another generation, one of the most fascinating and challenging hobbies of our era. It is fun, it is demanding and for it to remain so we must change, our individuality is the key and the survival of the hobby is within the mob.
Part two: The Dxers of the New Zealand Radio DX League
The History of Radio Dxing in New Zealand and the roots of the NZ Radio DX
Part two of this address about radio and Dxing in New Zealand is an attempt at the impossible by providing a brief historical overview in the nature of a potted history of the generic development of the NZ Radio DX League. It is my hope that someone in the future could find this compilation as a beginning of a more definitive history of Radio Dxing in New Zealand. At the outset it does not pretend to be a definitive biographical record of those who pioneered the development of the hobby or who in their lifetime via the medium of contemporary radio in New Zealand have become national or international figures. The bibliographical location for the basic historiography is provided in the footnotes while it will direct a researcher towards more accessible records where there is an ample unrecorded, although a somewhat cluttered mountain of biographical and narrative information germane to the League’s history. The primary task in this paper is to make available to those members of the League attending the Oamaru 2008 60 th Anniversary an overview of how the League was born, has matured and is continuing to influence the lives of those dedicated to the hobby.
Dxing as we know it today was conceived when radio transmissions in New Zealand began experimentally in 1919 by Dr Robert Jack, 1 then professor of physics at Otago University. He successfully transmitted the first radio telephone system in this country that was among the pioneer broadcasts of the world from the University to the home of Mr E L Meinung in Forth Street Dunedin. Further advances were made in November 1921 when Dr Jack and his associates transmitted the first radio programme and radio broadcasting in its technical infancy was born in New Zealand. On 1 August 1922 the Otago Radio Association was formed with popular local appeal resulting in a transmitter being built in Dunedin and allotted the call sign DN. 2
One wonders how many reception cards or verifications with this call sign exist today. DN was the first serious public radio station that over the following decades into the present time has gone through a series of changes of call sign
1. Patrick Day. The Radio Years. A History of Broadcasting in New Zealand. (Auckland University Press & Broadcasting Trust) Auckland 1994. Vol. 1. Pp. 39-42. Photo of Professor Jack.
2. There were 572 holders of radio listeners permits in 1922. e.g. from DN, 4AB, 4ZB, 4ZD, 4XRJ, and is now living with its longest designated call sign 4XD (3) .
The Otago Radio Association is still in existence and is one of the oldest radio stations in the world for its continuous transmission with public and community involvement.The first serious radio publication available to the New Zealand listening community was the New Zealand Radio (4) that commenced publication on 31 st May 1926. The weekly journal encouraged the first Dxers to report their listening, share with readers their verification experience and pin point the frequencies of interesting overseas transmissions. The newspaper the Evening Star was another media vehicle where the growing number of radio listener’s regularly reported their log findings and informed the public of the various frequencies that were active on their dials. One correspondent ‘Neutron’ writing of his experience with a 5 valve neutrodyne radio was jubilant at the clarity of reception on the broadcast- band of North American, Asian and Australian stations. The emergence of a frequencies chart or handbook publishing known transmitting stations appeared as the Scott Radio Handbook in 1923, although another authority suggests such a publication did not appear until much later in 1930. The evidence for the earlier date seems more compelling for prior to 1930 there existed alongside the sales and development of broadcasting the little known NZ Shortwave Club that came into existence in 1929. (5)
It seems likely Mr F. W. Sellens of Wellington was president for at least two years with branches in the south and north island with an estimated membership of at least 200. We know little about this club but they were obviously enthusiastic shortwave listeners and verification hunters as the Radio Record published reports of their dxing activities and information gleaned for publishing frequency transmission lists. (6)
The ‘Radio Record’
In common with today’s requirements reception reports of the 1920-30s were obligatory in reporting accurate details identifying stations, times of transmission, frequencies and programme details. The needs of the hobby were
amply reflected by the hobbyists themselves in the columns of the Radio Record to the degree that the editor opened a dedicated section of the magazine titled ‘Our Mail Bag’. It must not be forgotten that in 1928, another publication emerged The DX Club News & Views where the nationally growing number of Dxers could collate and share their knowledge of the active frequencies. The first DX trophy, known as the DX Cup was presented by the Radio Publishing Company and was likely first offered in July 1930 to encourage the growing movement of 500 members. One year later on the 19 June 1931 during the hard times of economic collapse and the great depression the Dxers of Wellington met at the 3 rd Wellington Radio Exhibition and formed the NZ DX Club. The claim was made at the time they were the first constituted DX Club in the then British Empire. (7)
The eminently successful Radio Record was purchased by the New Zealand Listener and following the amalgamation the Dxing information was incorporated into the Listeners columns. DXing was an established hobby by 1934, the hobbyists identifying themselves with a RAHOB (8) prefix, their Club or branch membership number. Closely associated with the first DX enthusiasts were the original radio hams and during the years of economic depression of 1929-34 there was a natural co-operation between Dxers and the amateur broadcasters. The growing band of DXers were encouraged by the hams to report on their signals and responded to their reports with verifications. These reports were of significant technical value to the hams as DXers were scattered (like pepper and salt) all over the country. The reports enabled the hams to gain clear indications of the worth of their 5 to 25 watts transmission into the empty spaces of New Zealand.
The DXers on the other hand were frankly encouraged to become licensed operators and become qualified amateur radio operators as well as DXers. This cooperation and encouragement that resulted in double skilled radio buffs was
not uncommon among DXers in the early 1930s. It would be interesting to make some statistical comparisons among contemporary DXers of the present day as anecdotal evidence suggests a return to this position.
The depression years did little to enhance the growth or development of DXing, but clubs were established in Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury, Otago and Southland. The first of the separations of DX groups then occurred in 1933 when the Otago and Canterbury Branches severed their connection with the NZ DX Club and on the 17 November formed a regional NZ DX Radio Association. To understand the reasons for the breaking from the parent DX body the reader has to view the event contextually. The parent of the NZ Radio DX Club was the Radio Record during which time its management had kept a firm commercial grip on the hobby but it was impossible to disguise the fact that the commercial interests of National Magazines Ltd constituted a bottleneck to the growth of the hobby. This suspicion, long held by enthusiastic DXers of Otago and Canterbury proved correct when the publishing company surrendered all their interests to the new amateur body. Nor were the officials of the new club surprised to discover that of the 20 clubs listed in the Radio Record only two were
3 ‘Radio Dunedin. 1305 Khz. 200 watts.
4 The New Zealand Radio Record Published weekly by Archibald Sando. (Wellington Publishing
Company) Wakefield St Wellington.
5 F. W. Sellens ‘Listening on the Short Waves’ In the New Zealand Radio Guide and Call Book 1931.
P.109-110. (Radio Publishing Co. of NZ Ltd) Wellington 1931.
6 New Zealand Radio Record. (Wellington) 28 June 1929. Vol.2.p40.
7 Merv. Branks ‘New Zealand Radio DX League, 30 Years On.’ In NZ Radio DX Times p9-11.
8 RAHOB Radio Hobbyist. Before WW2 Arthur T Cushen was known as Rahob Cushen with the addition of the membership number added.
Functioning as dedicated DX clubs. It was revealed that in the Auckland Branch their social activities were of greater interest to its members than the business of DXing. As the hobby continued to grow into 1934 Auckland was designated the Headquarters of the NZ Radio DX Club and Southland delegated with the task to produce the official newspaper The NZ DX-TRA. (9) The membership or those associated with DX clubs in 1936 throughout New Zealand had reached 1721 with a disproportion of members residing in the South Island. (10) The numbers in the South Island again demonstrated an unbalanced number of members residing in Southland and Otago. Practical experience by South Island DXers confirmed that reception, both for broadcast and shortwave in the southern part of New Zealand was superior to elsewhere. This resulted in more interest in the south which created a phenomenon of strong regional representation within the hobby as noted by the Otago Daily Times in October under the heading What Dxers hear’. The report outlined the Otago Dxing activities with the encouraging comment that ‘reception (was) still improving’. As a result the Best of the Month
was VK4LD on 1495 KHz won by Mr Stanton (a contemporary of Merv Branks) who verified their 7 watt transmission.
Pro-forma DX Report forms were developed about this period and the International Dxers Alliance and the United States Newark News Radio Club monthly publication made their appearance in the New Zealand hobby literature with numerous New Zealanders subscribing for the American broadcast news.
Growth and Development
In an effort to find a solution to the eternal problem of reports going unverified or not acknowledged was just as common sixty years ago as it is today. It was a vexed question in 1937 when an interesting way around the problem was invented by American Dxers. One member would act as a monitor and take full details of a difficult to verify transmission and others listening to the programme would send their reports to the monitor. He would then check them against his log and verify their report.(11) This ‘fiddling of the books’ was never adopted by Dxers in New Zealand. Little imagination is required by the reader who can recall the founders of our hobby to know that such a scheme would be greeted by them with sheer disgust and hoots of derision. Branches had grown to respectable numbers of Dxers before the outbreak of World War Two and the membership had discovered if a branch listening post could be erected close by the sea on the coast, reception was more than marginally improved compared with the confines of a city. The Auckland North Shore, long before the building of the harbour bridge became a favourite spot for weekend DXpeditions, especially those who chose to use the expensive, but serviceable car radios. Logging North America on Takapuna Beach was not unknown.
The availability of some Canterbury branch members’ batches close to Christchurch, including Godley Head and similar locations became favourite spots. Other centres were close to Wellington, Oamaru, and Dunedin while Riverton Rocks boasted the famous 6 x 3. Individual members found their own special locations and at least two members, one in the North Island and the other in South were spotted with wheelbarrow and bicycle furtively angling around seeking a good receptive corner. Their attached head phones no doubt added some concept of the futuristic ‘Dr Who.’ The tiny village of Riverton Rocks spawned Merv Branks’ famous ‘6 X 3’ and was known throughout New Zealand and even internationally. A new member’s right of passage through the pecking order of Dxers, although not officially acknowledged, was the number of hours he had spent freezing and DXing with Merv Branks as both tutor and companion (12) .
With the outbreak of WW2 in September 1939 the membership of the NZ DX Club had almost reached 2500, a peak never ever achieved in its subsequent re-incarnations or history of the hobby. (13) In a short sentence found in the May 1939 DX-TRA mention is made of one of the few lady followers of the hobby when Miss N Linscott was made welcome at the Southland branch meeting. She came from Thornbury and in 1939 that section of road between Invercargill and Thornbury was 20 miles of unsurfaced dusty highway.
The Impact of the Second World War
The outbreak of WW2 changed forever the direction, and raised significantly for the first time the importance of DXing not only as a hobby, but as an essential contribution to military intelligence. Arthur Cushen, in his book The World in My Ears has dealt exhaustively and in detail on the Prisoner of War Monitoring Service. (14) This monitoring Service had its origins through the stimulus of NZ DX Club members, among the many Jack Fox, (15) and Peter Thorn. (16) The experience of World War 2 created the template for continuing the monitoring of prisoner of war names in later conflicts of Korea, and Vietnam. DXers also went to war and in 1943 the Palmerston North Branch reported that from among its members one had been killed while on active service, another was missing and 20 were presently serving. Four had been discharged
9 Op.cit Branks
10 Des Lynn Otago Branch NZ Radio DX League Souvenir. (Dunedin) 1973, p.2. Q.v. Otago Daily Times September 29 1973. ‘ On the Beam with ACTVAM’
11 Count De Varies. ‘Leaves from a Dxers Scrap Book’. In Radio Index. The All Wave Radio Log. December 1937. NNRC. No 114. P.9.
12 The NZ DX Times Vol.26 No 1. September 1973. The end covers have surviving photographs of various League Conventions and on the rear inside cover a photograph of Dxers at work in the Riverton Rocks 6×3.
13 Op.cit Lynn p.2.
14 Arthur T Cushen. The World in My Ears. (Craig Printing Invercargill) 1979. Q.v. Chapter 2 Bringing Hope to Thousands pp. 25-29.
15 There is considerable information available on the League;s Web-site with an article by Patron Jack Fox
16 The NZ DX-TRA. February 1944. Notes the official NZ DX Club statement of the POW Listening Service recording those members who were early volunteers. from their respective services revealing that 55% of their membership was actively involved with the armed services.
17 The Southland Branch indicated they had also lost a member killed in action with another missing on air operations. Another 20 were currently in uniform.
The information provided by the DXers of New Zealand to the Allied short-wave stations became for their transmissions a valuable guide in aiding the transmitters to improve their services. The closure of the World War Two resulted in a boon for many DXers as surplus radio stock came on the civilian market. Receivers ex aircraft, naval vessels and older receivers that were being replaced with post war radios were plentiful and common. The local newspapers knew who the leading radio DXers were and were not averse to publishing reports of expeditions, meetings, and events heard on shortwave and released in the local newspapers. Radio was King.
Rebirth and Challenge
How true the revival of the radio industry may have been post war did not follow through into DXing. It is appropriate to report Arthur Cushen’s opinion on the issue. In 1945 DX Club President Ted Andrews and committee member Bill Masson from Auckland visited Invercargill to discuss the future of the club. It was obvious from the discussions that the Auckland Branch, although being our Headquarters, were not radio listeners and in fact the National President did not even own a radio and they were more interested in running dances and getting funds to keep the DX Club going. This continued and the position deteriorated until early 1947. (18)
The genesis of the NZ Radio DX League as we all know it today had its origins as a result of the situation described by Arthur Cushen. A sophisticated and almost professional proficiency had developed among some key figures in the hobby and when coupled with a pioneering spirit home grown in Otago and Southland the contrast with DXing in the north was significant. The numbers of DXers nationally post war had still remained disproportional in the South Island, where the hobby appealed because of the ample reception facilities and strong local branches. Leading characters, men who were individuals in their own right were in management roles in the branches and when coupled with their experience as DXers after due diligence and through among themselves the NZ Radio DX League was born on the 15 th August 1948. Initially the League consisted largely of Southland and Otago members but within 12 months the North Otago Branch commenced followed by Christchurch and eventually to the high point including Wellington, Taranaki, Auckland, and Waikato.
The first issue of the NZ DX Times appeared as a result of the work of the Southland Branch in October 1948. It cost 75 cents for an annual subscription, and that included postage. The years from 1935 until 1954 witnessed an increasing number of New Zealand DX publications that ran parallel with the NZ DX Times and chief among them was the annual Lamphouse Annual published in Wellington.
The annual by-mail sales-book was anticipated by radio buffs with some eagerness for it was the source for listings of shortwave, broadcast call signs and frequencies, while later it also included all licensed radio amateurs’ call signs and
addresses. . The Annual was a home grown product that pre-dated the current World Radio Handbook. Among the various contributors to the Lamphouse Annual was Arthur Cushen with his encyclopaedic knowledge of station listings,
frequencies and call signs. His appointment as the official BBC Radio Observer for Oceania shortwave broadcasts resulted in his hobby bringing him to professional international notice. Arthur connected the League at the technical
and executive level with shortwave broadcasters that made him in the world of DXing an international figure. Mervyn Branks’ input was complimentary – his writing fostered and encouraged the hobby and he tugged at the interest strings
of the many thousands of Lamphouse Annual readers who had access to the construction of radios. He also met the ‘at home’ DXers who in isolation from a branch need to be encouraged and informed about their hobby. Merv, following
Ken Mackey (19) was the author and compiler of the authoritative Pacific Asian Log that was sold internationally and was finally produced in Invercargill. The 1961 edition contained a listing of 1275 broadcast and shortwave stations. It sold for three shillings and six pence or 50 cents in the United States. The publishers address was that of his shop 105 Tay Street Invercargill and he were aided in the stencilling work by Des R Frampton while Laurie Boyer wound the handle of the Gestetner. The 1963 edition sold for five shillings and listed 1420 stations on 54 pages of tightly printed foolscap. (20). Merv was very much the shoe horn that aided people to understand the hobby. (21)
17 The NZ DX TRA July & August issues 1943.
18 Arthur Cushen NZ DX Times. October 1997. Notes from his Valedictory comments. P.7.
19 Ken Mackey a Life Member of the League was the author and complier of the log during the mid 1950s.
20 Copies are retained in the Eric McIntosh collection. It is from these examples the description is noted.
21 The Lamphouse Annuals from 1942 until 1948 were provided with Short-wave and Broadcast call signs and frequency details by Arthur Cushen and Merv Branks wrote about the skills required to follow the hobby. These annual articles are witness to the dedication and passion with which both of these men had towards their hobby and the desire to share it with others.
Serving the Community
Radio DXers again came to public attention during the 1949 South African All Black Rugby tour when they reported scores and proceedings directly to their local press and radio. The normal Press Association was dependant upon much
more sophisticated communications, but these were subject to the vicissitudes of electronic limitations on shortwave of the period. (22) The Korean War began in June 1950 and with the previous experience of WW2 Arthur Cushen re-established a listening watch for POW names. The League, International Red Cross, Hong Kong BBC monitors and other dedicated listeners together provided and collated for the United Nations over 2000 names of prisoners in Chinese hands. (23) During the 1951 wharf strike of 151 days a number of DXers reported Communist radio propaganda to local papers and New Zealand Police’s Intelligence section. Membership of the League was likely at its post war peak by the end of 1972 with just 300 members which carried the claim to be the largest DX Club in the southern hemisphere. The membership in 1975 was 260 (24) .
The emerging electronic and technical development of increasingly sophisticated receiving equipment demanded more knowledge of aerials and receivers of the DXer. Looking at the anecdotal evidence of the League’s records between 1965 and 1980 a sociologist might conclude this was not a good decade for recruiting people into the hobby and it became noticeably more difficult to do so. DXing ceased to be included in the activity of some secondary schools that had a period of hobby activity, and youth were not actively interested in what seemed to them to be a sedentary hobby. The Conventions held in various parts of New Zealand over the following decades were times of reunion among old friends but the complexity of modern living, the rise of TV and the increasing use of personal electronic devices, mobility, life style changes and the disappearance of the traditional valve radio as well as the 40 hour week all contributed to challenge the hobby.
The record indicates that from Auckland to Southland DXpeditions into locations where reception was more likely to provide good hunting became increasingly important in gaining logging hours for confirmed verifications and where an enthusiastic individual could win a place on the ladder. One example was the Convention of 1968 when 26 members from Auckland to Invercargill assembled at the YMCA Camp at Spencerville. Time was spent erecting aerials and listening positions and the logging hauls and fellowship was memorable. The most ambitious of these listening locations was the Southland Branch’s establishment of their permanent post in Tiwai in 1975. At the time they had the numbers and resources to set it up as a listening post. It was publicised throughout the DX world as the home of the Beverage aerial. The 1978 Convention was held at Tiwai and the Southland DX Digest for that occasion is a highly collectable item for its mine of information regarding the historic Tiwai site as well as a record of that Convention. (25)
During the decade 1980-90 the League has experience a sense of its age, a sense of its historical past and a respect for those who gave a lifetime to their hobby and who contributed to a spirit of friendship and camaraderie amongst all engaged in the hobby. The pioneers are remembered today only by those senior surviving members of the league. This sense of history has resulted in verifications, correspondence and DXing memorabilia being deposited with the Hocken Library in Dunedin. Casualties have occurred and the long surviving New Zealand DX Radio Association went into recess at the end of 2006. During the period of its existence at least 3400 Dxers had been members of the Association. (26) Certainly, the historiological emphasis is weighted heavily towards the story of DXing in Otago and Southland. The depositing of this historic material is an academic recognition that the hobby first blossomed in the south and for decades created its own particular radio culture. It was a culture working the frequencies, working the listening posts, and sharing the excitement with your friends. Merv Branks defined the ideal DXer as ‘one who is prepared to get out of bed at any time of the night and log the difficult ones.’
The mid sixties was also a time when the necessity to log fifty stations a year was essential in retaining ones membership. This was a condition of membership that on rare occasions got significant results. Since that time the sense of history has moved to the internet where rare and early verifications have become collectable and worth dollars unimagined in total of sixty years ago. The contribution by the elect and proficient masters of the hobby, coupled with those few professional DXers who contribute still to DX journalism, including the internet, international shortwave programmes, and regular weekly or fortnightly public broadcasting sessions are less frequent in our present decade. The emphasis seems to have shifted to ‘old steam radio’ and the era in which DXing was born when steam radio was a means of being connected with the world.
There are a handful of New Zealanders who are fortunate enough to experience DXing in a changing contemporary world, and for them it is their dearest hobby with camaraderie among its followers that is both refreshing and rewarding.
(22 ) NZ DX Times May & June 1949. Note also comment on this period in Jack Fox’s biography.
23 Frank Glen ‘Korea – Radio Propaganda War – A New Zealand Encounter.’ In The Volunteers. The Journal of the NZ Military Historical Society. November 2003 Vol. 29 No 2. P.5-13. The article covers the work of a member of the League who worked independently monitoring POW material. The article won the Historical Research Award for the year 2003.
24 H. R. V Searle. Membership List. Manuscript Typed. 1975.
25 Southland’s DX Digest. March 1978 Vol. 41. No 7.
26 Ron Killick. Killick – Glen 22 September 2008.
The long history of DX publications is admirably preserved in the first class publication of the present NZ DX Times. Those who have undertaken the responsibility for training and caretaking the hobby are too numerous to mention, but they are recorded in the columns of our TIMES over the past 60 years of issue and posterity will know of their work.
The present membership of the League is just over 200 and branches exist as more informal gatherings of individuals wedded to the passion of radio DXing. Only the future together with that historic passion when coupled with an ability
to change and be innovative will the future of the hobby have a place further into this century.
I have appreciated the advice and the work of readers undertaken by Peter and Jill Grenfell, Ray Crawford, Don Reed and Paul Aronsen in providing material for this history. Their years of personal experience in thre League was helpful as
was their advice on numerous points. The Searle Papers, an accumulation of a life long hobbyist was also invaluable.
Frank Glen joined the Southland Branch of the NZ Radio DX League aged 16 in 1949. The Branch kicked him out in 1953 for not paying his sub, but six months later reinstated him. He was an electrical apprentice at the time earning 30/- a week. He rejoined on returning from serving in the RAAF in Australia in 1976 at the instigation of Merv Branks and remained a member until 1983 when he shifted to Hastings. From Thames in 1987 he rejoined a third time and has remained a member. Merv Branks, Arthur Cushen, Eric McIntosh, George Griffiths, Dudley Carter and Lloyd Warburton all influenced his teenage years. Peter Grenfell, Charlie Chester, Paul Ormandy, Ray Crawford, and Stu/Mark Forsyth have in more recent years contributed to his appreciation of the hobby. He graduated PhD in 1998 from the University of Waikato his thesis dealing with the Chaplains of the 2NZEF. 1939-45.