On an unsuspecting early morning in my teenage years, I tuned up and down on my radio, trying to find something to listen to. A song on a very clear radio station caught my ear, so I left my radio there and went back to what I was doing. The station identified as “Z104,” but something wasn’t right. The frequency was wrong: 104.5 FM. My local “Z104” with a similar format broadcasted on 104.1 FM. Was my radio broken?
I kept on listening to the station, not understanding why the DJ was giving a weather forecast for the “oceanfront.” I didn’t live near an ocean. A short time later, I heard the following legal ID blast out of my speakers:
I sat in my desk chair, eyeing the bright “104.5 MHz” on my radio’s screen as local commercials for the Virginia Beach area played one after another. Were my ears playing tricks on me? How could I be listening to something over 120 miles away, when it sounded just as clear as any typical local station? Intrigued, I tuned up and down the dial, finding more unfamiliar stations from Richmond, VA (75 miles away) and even more from the Norfolk area. I had an old portable TV in my closet, so on a hunch I pulled that out, and was even more surprised to find a chorus of strange TV stations coming in on all channels from central and southeastern Virginia. All of them aired the same things that I saw on my local TV stations, until the morning news came on.
20 years ago today, my unexpected exposure to the hobby of DXing started all with my reception of WNVZ near Washington, DC. I found each night that reception was different–some nights Norfolk FM & TV would blare in, while at other nights, Ocean City, MD or Philadelphia, PA came in instead. It became second nature to write down all I was receiving so I’d remember what city everything was from, in the process creating a thoroughly-detailed DX log, which I keep updated to this day.
I wanted to look back at how DXing has changed since 1999. The basic principles of DXing have never changed (i.e. the need to identify unfamiliar signals), but the tools available now in 2019 to do so are much more advanced than what I had that morning when I first logged WNVZ.
Although the internet was operational in 1999, the resources needed to adequately identify signals for DXing purposes weren’t always there. Some great websites like Radio Locator and (now defunct) DXFM.com were invaluable resources for station data in the late 90s. Even so, many radio stations at the time had little to no web presence online. Those that did often had outdated or incomplete information, such as no mention of the station’s slogan on their website.
The 2000s brought great change to the hobby. RDS became commonplace by mid-decade, allowing many stations to be IDed by on-screen text. HD Radio debuted locally in 2006, shuttering most open and usable frequencies immediately next to local FM stations, replacing the once empty frequencies with digital “sidebands” that blocked out all but the most strongest DX. Sites like Yes.com provided lists of current songs playing, which was extremely helpful during Sporadic E openings, and DXers came in droves to online propagation loggers like the TV/FM Skip Log, which helped spread the word for signal propagation events. The technological innovations stagnated in the 2010s, with the only major change in FM DXing being an almost annual downturn in occurrence of Sporadic E openings, new stations turning on HD Radio broadcasts (and many more discontinuing the service), and the few open frequencies being taken up by new translators seemingly popping up every day.
Even with all of these changes that were both a benefit and a detriment the hobby over the years, I still somehow managed to garner 1910 unique FM logs and 222 TV station logs.
Hopefully we’ll be all around for me to announce my 40th FM DXing anniversary in 2039. Stay tuned! The dial is always changing.