No. 23 September 21, 1997



(Low Impact, Vegetarian, Environmentally Safe DX)

Elmer the DX’er slouches in the light of his radio dial scratching neat rows and columns with a toothmarked ballpoint. When it is ready, he will fold the wrinkled paper into an envelope and mail it to 225 Main Street, Newington, Connecticut. For these efforts, Elmer’s call sign will be listed in the monthly journal in typeface so small, a wandering ant could obliterate it. As Elmer approaches his final moment, he tallies the columns with a wrinkled and palsied hand. When he is put to rest, his stacks of carefully lined pages fill plastic trash bags that will one day support the foundation of another Burger King. His call sign disappears unnoticed and Elmer is forgotten.

The eternal mystery of DX is not what we think. It is not "Where will we go next?" or "Will North Korea ever be activated?" It is, simply, "Why?" "Why do we do it?" Could it be the same animal compulsion that causes a dog to chase its tail, a cat to lick after its paw is long past clean, a lion to pace endlessly?

Every DX’er should know the story of James Bowman Lindsay. His life is the archetype that defines us. Born in 1799 in Scotland*, he worked as a weaver and earned enough to barely survive as he attended college. He became a lecturer and finally took a teaching position at Dundee Prison, earning the tiny wage of fifty pounds. He lived in one room and did without comforts of any kind in order to pay for his experiments. In 1834, he invented the electric light, sixty-seven years before Edison. In a lecture about his invention, he said: "Houses and towns in a short time will be lighted by electricity…"

Lindsay was fervently interested in wireless telegraphy. In 1854 he patented a method of transmitting wireless signals through water. As his experiments grew larger, he began to dream about communicating with the colonies using the oceans as great conductors. His meager salary stretched as thin as the wire he had to make himself. He formulated chemicals for his batteries and the sticky, smelly insulation. James Bowman Lindsay could have been revered and immortalized in statue and song. He wasn’t. His life took a most remarkable turn.

Lindsay decided to translate every word in the English language into fifty other languages. Day and night he sat in that tiny room, surrounded by books and remnants of his inventions, illuminated by his crude electric light. On long, ruled lines, in a manuscript growing fat and tall, he scribed the English word, followed by its equivalent in fifty neat columns. He was somewhere around the letter "D" when he died.

Surely, a man as brilliant as Lindsay would have known that this project would have taken much more than a lifetime. If he imagined scholars translating texts, he must have known that completeness was necessary. Is it possible that he began this task for exactly the same reason that we pursue DX? It is a never-ending challenge that is certain to result in no more pleasure than James Bowman must have felt when he put down his quill every day: "Okay so far," he smiled as he read over the long columns on the page, "…more tomorrow," and he switched off the light and went to sleep. As I join the race of fervent obsessives competing for that magic moment when 9J2BO repeats my call sign on 17 meters, I look at the neat columns in my log book: "Okay so far," I say, and after I have added Brian in Zambia to my list, "…more tomorrow," and I switch off the radio.

How about those sunspot numbers? The higher bands opened for us and some great DX spilled out. I even had a nice run of Africans on fifteen meters. But beware the dreaded "A" index. It’s a measure of disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field. These same "wrinkles" cause the aurora and tend to add considerable noise to the bands. On the lower frequencies, the noise is particularly vexing.

Europeans were taking their summer holidays: OH2PM in Beijing, eating smoked duck at BY1QH, DK8WF was in the Balearic Islands, EA6, DL6RA was on Ceuta island. "Honey, lets go look at the ruins, then we’ll sample the local sashlik."

"Ferget it, Myrna, can’t you see I’m busy puttin’ as many W6’s in the log as I can?"

Right now, I’m haunting ten meters hoping the ZK1 group will show up. They gave me a new one on 160 a few nights ago. It was about four-thirty in the morning and I arose, a vague feeling of restlessness and urgency upon me. As I shuffled down the hallway in my muffy slippers, a evanescent voice called me to my packet screen. As I pushed my Beavis and Butthead screen saver aside, the neat rows of spots danced before my tired eye. Racing to the Kenwood, I punched the "1.8" button, and they were there, strong! After two or three calls, stumbling over my newly-acquired identity, ZK1XXP was in the log! Number 29 on 160 meters. Perhaps I will make it to one-hundred on 160 before my logbooks, shrouded in plastic, recycle into credit card receipts.

Martti Laine, OH2BH is in the Aland Islands, OH0 again. Martti doesn’t have to worry about immortality. He published a book, "Where Do We Go Next?" Perhaps we can all petition Martti to publish the final, definitive book about DX: "Why?"

October 25 is the big date of the CQ World-Wide SSB DX Contest. There’ll be a lot of loud contesters on the air: Kure Island, KH7K, C56, Gambia, the aforementioned OH0, Aland, FB7, Amsterdam Island, etc. You are not excused. Get your ruler, pencil and lots of paper.

I guess they’re giving out commemorative plates with Libya Visas, the Germans are flocking there, floating their motorhomes across the Mediterranean, stocked up on Bratwurst and Beer. There better be a 5A on your list, and if you hear them on 80, give me a call.

Have to go now as I am very busy. I’m making a list of every call sign that ends with the letters "DX." Then I’m going to work them all. In between, I’m going to pace and lick my paws.

…Harvey, W8DX

(After I submitted this, Kathryn Bassett, editor of the Pasadena Radio Club Bulletin commented:

"Great picture! Did he really invent electric light before Edison (IOW what's your source?) If so, why doesn't he get the credit instead of Edison?"


I got the info from a book called Wireless Telegraphy by Richard Kerr, sixth edition (!) Published by London, Seeley & Co, 1903. I think one of the main reasons Lindsay's light didn't catch on was that there was no readily available distribution of electrical power in those days. Batteries were heavy, complicated, inefficient, foul devices and not available to the general public. Edison succeeded because he integrated his light with the distribution of electrical power. In the 1830's the electrical light must have looked like a useless novelty.


*February, 1999:

I received this message from Roy Neilson correcting my error in stating that Lindsay was born in England. I am also happy to note that there is a monument!

"You might be interested to know that he was born in Scotland not England. He was born in a small village called Carmylie about 15 miles east of Dundee. This year is his bicentennial and the city of Dundee will be hosting an exhibition about this extraordinary man. He was born into a poor country family and through extensive reading (self-taught Latin!!) he was accepted into St. Andrews University. The emblem of our radio club (Dundee Amateur Radio Club) is taken from his monument which depicts a fist grabbing a wire from which lightning bolts emanate, thus simulating the harnessing of electricity."

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