DX Stories by Paul M. Dunphy, VE1DX


By Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD

One realizes eventually that while you will not see those close friends of other years as frequently as you once did, they are still around and sooner or later you may see them again. Last week the Local QRPer came wandering up the hill with a question. It was not the question that he carried that we thought should concern us, we had to wonder why it took him so long to think of it. This one went back almost a quarter of a century.

"Remember back in the Don Miller days", the QRPer said, getting right to the point, "when DXers were always loaded with a set trigger and how some meetings of the DX club were emptied when someone got up and announced that Don was on the air? Remember?"

Of course we remembered. Some DXers were so afraid of missing Don Miller at some new and exotic spot, and a new country counter to boot, that they would set up an early warning line of communications with which they would check regularly when away from the rig. And the fear of losing out rapidly ended more than one DX club meeting, only those living at a distance would be the few not hitting the blocks on hearing the announcement.

"We remember well", we were quick to advise, "but that was a long time ago and how come you bring it up now? Is Don out again and thinking of waking DXers up?" Of course any old time DXer will understand that the reference to "out again" refers to the period of enforced inactivity. And if you do not know that story, you are missing an intriguing bit of DX-related history.

The QRPer shook his head. "I have not heard about Don lately," he said, "but I have been wondering about why DXers back then would wildly stampede from a club meeting just because it was announced that Don had just shown from some rare or new spot. Was it just reactive or was it cognitive? What do you think?

What did we think? Heck! We didn't even know what this resurrected QRPer was talking about. We had to know more for this again was evidently a situation where knowledge might come slowly, if it came at all. "Tell me more", we grandly advised, giving a small wave of a hand to express an ease with the matter that we really did not feel. In DXing one must always keep up one's appearances.

The QRPer was ready, unfortunately. He started off at full throttle. "I have been studying DXers, their goals, their behaviour and their motivation for years", the QRPer lectured, "actually since that night at the Fork and Cork in 1965 when I was voted into membership. DXers are different. It took me years to get a good understanding of DXers and their mystique. Did you have that same problem?"

Actually, we hadn't. All we could remember of those days at the bottom of one of the solar cycles was how difficult it had been to work DX and how overwhelming it had been to work three new countries in a single afternoon. England, France and Germany. If one persisted in DXing, one did eventually learn that AM was not as satisfying a mode as was that new SSB some misguided DXers were tinkering with. Even two meters was mostly AM in those days.

DXing was simple back then, you were either a CWer or an AMer. Little else existed. Phone DXCC was considered so difficult that the ARRL had a special certificate for working 100 countries on phone. It was not easily done early on.

But we still had this QRPer on our hands. He had come up the hill to seek a sounding board for his new knowledge and we were stuck. "Tell us where your thinking had taken you", we suggested and that worked. Later we realized that was probably what the QRPer had been waiting to hear. He got right inside his premise.

"My studies have led me", he started declaiming and we knew then that this was not the naive novice that we had once tutored, this one knew the grips as well as the words. "My studies have led me to recognize the existence of the DX Ego. It exists but not in the form of a contemporaneous Cartesian theater. It can be detected in the immediate memory component of a feedback control loop." The QRPer paused to lean closer and fix us with his beady eye. "You remember Rene Descartes, don't you?" he asked and we quickly mumbled that the name was familiar but we needed to know his call. We were sure that probably we had worked him years back.

Somehow the reply did not seem to satisfy the QRPer but he continued anyhow. It was evident that nothing was going to stop him. Not this day, no way.

"As I was saying", he continued, "rather than the Cartesian theater one can recognize the DX Ego emerging as the immediate memory component of a feedback control loop. One has to question and consider if all activity is unconscious activity, that consciousness does arise just afterwards, this coming as the unifying recollection of "having just done". By emphasizing and strengthening short-term memory as a survival stratagem, natural selection coincidentally generates the illusion that consciousness is "present" rather than "just past." Consider this as more than a rhetorical distinction because memory's fading echoes of perception rise through a process fundamentally different from immediate perception. Right?"

The QRPer's pause to question us gave time to realize that we were listening with our mouth open. We clamped it shut. Back in those days of the Fork and Cork we had never heard talk such as this. DX was simply the honoring of those who worked them firstest and usually with the mostest---power, that is. Your DX stature was simply measured in your DXCC totals. The more you had on the wall, the bigger and more honored a DXer you were. DX was DX and DXers themselves were just simple folks. Always.

We had never even thought or been aware of "mystique" until one night Dave Bell, W6BVN, had casually mentioned it. Now this QRPer had come out of the past to talk of the DX Ego and, bad as that was, possibly there was something even worse to come. And all this because some DXers had hurriedly quit a meeting at the Fork and Cork to dash home to work Don Miller. A quarter century back! What was so complex about that? Why would it need explaining?

If we had thought to escape with our longing for those good old days, we were wrong. For who should come striding down the hill but the Old Timer. And we had to sit and listen while the QRPer went again through his dissertation. We again heard the words, we again were left wandering in the woods of confusion. We dared not even speak at this point.

That restraint did not apply to the Old Timer. We could hardly believe our ears. This one not only understood but was adding in his own bit of obfuscation.

"That sounds something like the field that Ben Libet has been working on", the Old Timer starts out and we could feel the DX Ego still left within us shrivel a bit more. "Ben has been working to develop evidence of a cerebral-neural delay in the production of a conscious sensory experience. His recent writings have spoke of his conclusion that a neural delay for a conscious experience does not require that the process be confined to a central locus. The delay could well be a function of a globally distributed brain phenomenon".

We were lost. Maybe even overwhelmed and lost. These two were chattering away and we did not understand either what they were saying nor how it applied to DXers leaving their dinners at the Fork and Cork to rush home to tell Don Miller that he was "five and nine and thanks for a new one".

And that Old Timer! Didn't he realize that such as this QRPer with his fount of glib new-knowledge was a threat to all the ancient and honored DXers? This wise QRPer probably was also on packet radio. There is no knife sharper than the knowledge that the eager neophyte to whom you administered the Novice Test not so many years back now had more DXCC countries than you have. And the 5BDXCC to boot. For a DXer to learn humility in his golden years is not easily done. And it should not even be necessary.

The QRPer and the Old Timer finally ran out of their multi-faceted and confusing talk. The QRPer departed and for awhile there was silence.

Finally the Old Timer spoke. "These youngsters are always surprising and informative to talk with," he said slowly, "one should always listen to what they say. They are keeping up with things. It is good for DXing and what is good for DXing is good for amateur radio".

When the Old Timer starts waxing in his General Motors mode, we had long ago realized that the discussion had reached the consensus level of no return. And of no further argument. But we were yet to get the answer as to what connection there might be in all the voluble jargon with those glorious and still remembered meetings at the Fork and Cork. We mentioned this to the Old Timer. We got another of Life's conundrums.

"Remember that DX convention we attended years back down country" he asked and we did recall that one. "And how we took those fat resistors with us. And we heated the resistors by shorting them right close to the air conditioning return?". Remember? We were filled with the jollies when we recalled that one.

"And the hush that fell over the banquet room when the smell of the burning resistors came back over the ventilating system. And the DXers leaping to their feet, some wildly looking about for the source of that smell that signaled trouble?" We remembered that also. Being an insider at such times can be stimulating.

"And", the Old Timer said with hard finality, "have you ever tried to explain to an outsider why grown men should react the way that those DXers did?"

The Old Timer was right. We had had the idea that the caper was hilarious, we soon learned that only another DXer might understand and appreciate it. Talk about your flat jokes and wilted anecdotes.

"So what does it all mean", we finally asked, "just how does it affect things like DXing". The Old Timer sat silent for a moment.

"Remember when you used to say that all things are relative, some even more so?" he asked and we nodded. We remember well hearing that from Albert. "And when that other QRPer came up the hill to tell you that "DX IS!" and many were to wonder before learning just what that meant?"

We sure did remember that one. The questions came soon and often that time.

"So now the question is one you will have to answer yourself. You DX, therefore you are, right?" That sounded correct and we nodded our head. It was the safer move we thought.

"Then", the Old Timer continued, "if you listened to the QRPer, are you ready to accept the premise about which he was talking? You DX, therefore you was. Which will it be?

We were looking at the future and it was blank. We could not think of anything to say. But we had to speak. Finally we got it out. "Do you think Don Miller will ever get back on the air?" we blurted and the Old Timer shook his head.

"You are hoping that all those good old days will return", he advised us, "and that every thing will be as it was then, only better this time. That won't ever happen. What you can do is sharpen your reflexes, maybe even your thinking and understanding. I will stop by in a couple of days and you can tell me for sure whether it is: 'I DX, therefore I am', or will it be: 'I DX, therefore I was'. It is important that you know".

Later we were thinking. And thinking hard. What ever happened to AM radio? It sure was fun----back then. And everything was simple and easy to understand. Now we are not sure if it is back then or was back then. And all we could wonder was if we had indeed lived in a land that never was.

We were lost and we needed help. Finally we got to thinking of was what Bill would once tell us back there on the banks of the Avon:

Yon QRPer has a mean and hungry look,
He thinks too much,
Such DXers are dangerous--

I sure miss old Bill. It is better these days to have DXers around you who are fat. Always! And never doubt it for one moment. Fat DXers are the best DXers.

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