Saturday, October 15, 2011

What is a DXpedition?

What is a DXpedition?

The term "expedition" is defined as " (1) an organized journey undertaken for a specific purpose; (2) the person or persons making such a journey". From this, we can construct the following definition:
DXpedition - contraction of DX-expedition; a journey to a specific location, organized and undertaken by amateur radio operators, in which equipment is brought along for the purpose of providing world-wide hams the opportunity to make a radio contact with someone from the targeted location.
The "DX" part of the term refers to the fact that the journey is expected to be to a location in a DXCC entity that is different than that of the travelers. DXpeditions can be to exotic, sparsely-inhabited locations for which access is extremely difficult and there is little or no ham radio activity. Indeed, some are very much like the classical expeditions of early explorers, in which not only equipment, but shelters, generators, food, and other supplies must be transported, all at great personal cost and risk. In other instances, some involve readily available commercial transportation to a convenient tourist spot where, usually for political reasons, ham radio activity has been rare. On the other hand, some simply consist of one or more hams who take their radios along on vacation! In any case, the goal of any DXpedition is for the participants to have an interesting experience, while also providing some enjoyment, and possibly a "new one", to the rest of the DX community.
DXpeditions: How it all began

In the early years of the DXCC program, HF equipment and antennas in use at the time were far from being portable, not to mention the question of power sources. By the late 1930s, even a modest station with a multi-stage receiver and a transmitter of 10w output would fill a large desk, and the most compact antennas available were wire dipoles fed with twin-lead. The only portable stations of the time were generally found on ships, and a notable (the first?) ham radio "DXpedition" occurred in 1923 when Don Mix, 1TS, took his equipment along on an Arctic expedition with Donald B. MacMillan on the schooner Bowdoin, establishing the first ham radio contacts from the Arctic to the mainland. For an interesting account, see the Monday Nov. 12, 1923 article in Time Magazine, available in their online archive (,9171,716947,00.html). Interestingly, one of the young teenage hams who later made contact with them was Art Collins, WØCXX, who was to establish Collins Radio, the producer of some of the most respected radio equipment of the 1940 - 1970 era.
The nature of radio communications technology underwent rapid changes with the advances that were brought about by WWII, and by the late 1940s, truly portable and mobile HF stations were coming upon the scene in amateur radio. For some appreciation of the equipment involved, take a look at the interesting "Voice of Victory" videos of the portable radios developed for the military by the Hallicrafters company in 1944, available online from the Internet Archive (see References below for direct links). Plenty of the surplus equipment made its way to the ham market and old-timers can tell you some stories about some of the more popular pieces, such as the BC-610 "portable" (~100KG) transmitter seen in the video.
- 1947: A seminal year. Two events in that year, one of direct consequence and the other to be a later influence, set the stage for what we know today as the classical DXpedition:
The first, seemingly more a "safari" than an "expedition", was a grand journey to East Africa, sponsored by Hallicrafters for the purpose of touting their equipment. The idea for the trip, to be a "radio expedition" for the scientific exploration of equatorial propagation in the territories of Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Kenya, and Uganda, was presented to Hallicrafters by an African adventurer and explorer named Ittilio Gatti, and became known as the "Gatti-Hallicrafters Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon" (see: This was a huge endeavor involving a dozen vehicles and trailers, and considerable personnel, equipment, and supplies. Two hams, Bob Leo, W6PBV, and Bill Snyder, WØLHS, were selected in a nation-wide contest to be the operators on the expedition, and the entourage departed New York by ship in late November, 1947. The group remained in Africa for the next 9-months, making numerous radio contacts world-wide. For Hallicrafters, the subsequent marketing benefits of the event were debatable, but it is considered to be the first "DXpedition", and marked the beginning of vendor-supported DXing activities. An excellent recount of the expedition can be found in "Gatti-Hallicarfters: The First Grnad Ham DXpedition" by Mike O'Brien, NØNLQ, QST, December, 1993.
The second event was a truly classical, non-ham expedition by Norwegian archeologist Thor Heyerdahl to test his theory that Polynesia had been settled by early Peruvians. He built and sailed a replica of an ancient balsa wood raft, named "Kon-Tiki", on a 101-day voyage across the Western Pacific, using a small battery radio for communications. He later described the adventure in his 1950 book, "Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft" (which I read in 1953, and it remains as one of my all-time favorites). The book was an inspiration for a young Englishman ham-to-be by the name of Danny Weil, who was then re-building an old sailboat to begin his dream of sailing 'round the world. The value of the shortwave radio communications to the Kon-Tiki crew was not lost on the aspiring sailor, which proved to be very fortunate for DXers of the late 1950's and early 1960s, as it would give birth to the first of a coming series of renown DXpeditioners.
- 1955 ~ 1963: Danny Weil and the YASME Adventures. Born in London, Danny earned a university degree in mechanical engineering and navigation, then worked for awhile before joining the Royal Air Force in 1935, serving until the end of WWII in 1945. He then followed his forbears into the trade of watch-making, meanwhile nurturing a dream of solo-circumnavigating the globe. Finally, in August, 1954, he closed his watch business and set out from England in an old 40-ft sailboat that he re-built and named "YASME". Although he was unlicensed for radio operation, he carried on board an old British WWII tank transmitter and a war-surplus BC-348 receiver. In just 3-weeks, he successfully crossed the Atlantic and arrived in Antigua, BWI. In nearby St. Thomas (U.S.V.I.), he looked up some hams for help with his problematic radio equipment and was fortunate to befriend Dick Spencely, KV4AA, the DX editor for CQ magazine and a well-known DXer, who was to become an integral part of the Danny Weil/YASME story.

Upon learning of Danny's sailing plans, Dick suggested that he become a ham and operate his radio at the many different islands that he would encounter along his travels, as this would be a good way to remain in close contact with friends as well as be of great enjoyment for the DX community. With Dick's guidance, Danny passed the ham license exam in Tortola, BVI and was issued the callsign VP2VB. Dick was also able to secure support and donations from US equipment vendors and hams, providing Danny with a pair of Multi-Eimac AF-67 transmitters, an Eimac PMR-6A receiver, and a Hammerlund HQ-129X receiver. Designed for mobile operation, the Eimac equipment was a good "fit" for the YASME. The plan was for Danny to sail through the Panama Canal and operate from the many (then rare) DXCC Pacific island entities, and in January 1955, Danny set out for Panama. The YASME adventure was to become a trilogy, lasting nine-years. From 1955 to 1963, Danny was to sail three and lose two vessels: YASME, YASME II, and finally, YASME III. During this time, Spencely, KV4AA handled QSLs and helped form the YASME Foundation ( to provide funding for the operations.

In July, 1963, Danny sailed YASME III into Freeport, TX to complete his dream-journey. He "retired" from the sea and, with his wife, Naomi, put down roots in Texas. He became a Silent Key in October, 2003. The Danny Weil era led to the introduction of some of the terminology we now use, such as "DXpedition", "QSL manager", and "greenstamps", to cite a few. An excellent biographical account of Danny's adventures, along with the incredible story of the Colvins (below) is "YASME: The Danny Weil and Colvin Radio Expeditions" by J.D. Cain (
- 1960 ~ 1981: Gus Browning, W4BPD. Gus published the DXer's Magazine, a friendly news sheet with information about his favorite pursuit, DXing. Between his first DXpedition in 1960 and his last in 1981, Gus operated from over 100 countries, including numerous very exotic locations around the globe, carrying his portable Collins equipment and a supply of Coca Cola, seemingly his primary source of sustenance.

He provided many "new ones" to countless DXers around the globe, all of whom were "Ole Buddy" to Gus. He was the first DXer to be elected to CQ Magazine's DX HALL OF FAME in 1967, and is fondly remembered today by oldtimers as the all-time Gentleman DX.
-1962 ~ 1967: Don Miller, W9WNV. If you happen to engage some old-timers in a discussion about the "early days" of DXing, you will undoubtedly hear about the exploits of Don, W9WNV, and the chances are that some will praise him while others will condemn him! A physician, he began his DXing experience in 1962 as HL9KH while he was stationed in Korea a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Initially an avid contester, it was said that he could actually operate a key in one hand and log with the other! During the last year or so of his tour of duty in the Orient, he participated in a couple of DXpeditions to island reefs in the Marianas, which apparently whetted his appetite for activating potential "new" ones. After completion of his military service in 1964, he operated for the next 3 years from numerous world-wide DX locations in the Orient, Indian Ocean, South Atlantic, and Pacific. Some of these were places in which amateur radio activity was banned at the time and others were not yet recognized as DXCC entities. No matter - Don would show up and begin operating and, of course, he would argue for their eligibility towards DXCC credit. At the time, DXCC was much less of a competitive program and the ARRL did not view the enforcement of its rules as a major concern. An excellent CW operator, Don typically logged several thousand contacts a day on his own and was one of the first "high-volume" DXpedtioners. On the negative side, he was often accused of "selling" contacts and QSL cards as a result of some of his fund-raising practices. He became involved in a bitter dispute with the ARRL over several issues, including questions regarding the authenticity of some of his operations. His exploits and disputes were chronicled by the growing number of DX columns and newspapers, widening the exposure of the DXCC program and highlighting some of its weak points, and it eventually led to changes that the ARRL enacted to re-establish the integrity of the DXCC Award. As a result of all of this, one can certainly say that his impact upon DXing was significant! Unfortunate personal events in the late 1970s led to the cessation of his ham activities as a result of a 25-year prison term for conspiracy to murder his wife. He was released in 2002 and is now re-licensed as AE6IY. Unquestionably, Don was one of the great pioneers of the DXpedition and he was a definite influence upon the future of DXpeditioning as well as DXing in general.
- 1965 ~ 1993: LLoyd & Iris Colvin. Lloyd, W6KG, retired from his military career in 1961, and then from a very successful construction business in 1964. Both he and Iris, W6QL, were long-time ham operators and experienced world-wide travelers. Now free from other commitments, they laid plans to tour the world on a continual DXpedition. They re-vitalized the faltering YASME Foundation with an infusion of their own funds, applied for permission to operate their radios in 150 countries, and began one of the most ambitious, continual, and successful ham radio adventures in the annals of DXing. Paying their own way, they began their tour in the Marshall Is. as KX6CZ in January, 1965 and hopped about the world for the next 3 years, pausing for a bit before resuming their travels in 1975 as VR1Z, and continuing until Lloyd's death in Turkey in 1993 at age 78. Iris was to follow him in 1998.

During their travels in the military and later on their extended DXpedition, the Colvins visited 223 countries and operated in over 100 of them! They were the envy of every married DXer in the world!
- 1970 ~ Present: Martti Laine, OH2BH: Danny, Gus, Lloyd & Iris were the Great Ones of the beginning movement and role-models for future DXpeditioners, of which there were many. Since those early days, DXpeditioners have been to every rare spot on the globe, and several have brought about the activation of new entities for the very first time. While it would be impossible to list them all, one who has been a particularly trekker along the paths of the Great Ones has been Martti Laine, OH2BH. First licensed in 1961, Martti first enjoyed the thrill of being "at the other end of a pileup" when he operated from Market Reef as OJØMR, followed shortly afterwards when he participated in the 3C0AN operation, the first activation of Annobon, a new DXCC entity. It was to be one of many new entities that he would activate in the years to follow. His first 20 years of adventures are described in his 1991 book, "Where do we go Next?" (KTE Publications, Long Beach, CA). Since then he has answered the question many times, including the re-activation of Albania, and the first activations of Pratas, Scarborough Reef, Temotu, Palestine, Chesterfield Is, and N. Korea.

Still active today, you will surely meet him on the bands again soon! Where are you going next, Martti?
So it is that it all began. There are many DXpeditioners of renown active today - too many to list without risking an inadvertent omission. Suffice to say that, as the community of DXers who enjoy working them and take great vicarious pleasure in reading and hearing of their adventures, we owe them our thanks and should always give them encouragement and financial support whenever possible. To wherever it is, a DXpedition is a "happening" that all DXers look for and what many dream of participating in!
How can I learn more about DXpeditions?

DXpeditions that are being planned are usually announced well in advance in the DX press. Those to rare and difficult places are typically very expensive (several hundred thousand dollars!) and require the support and donations from the ham community. A good online calendar of scheduled operations can be found at; also, see the chapter on "DX Info Sources".
Major DXpeditions generally require an incredible amount of planning and preparatory effort. Some of the things that go into this have been described in the literature by those who have been involved. In addition to the book by OH2BH cited above, here are a few to consider:
"DXpeditioning Basics" by Wayne Mills, N7NG, ARRL & INDEXA, 1994. (
"DX-Aku: Messages from the Easter Island Expedition" by Bob Schmieder, KK6EK, 1996. (
"VK0IR: Heard Island" by Bob Schmieder, KK6EK,1997. (
"DXpeditioning: Behind the Scenes" by Neville Cheadle, G3NUG, and Steve Telenius-Lowe, G4JVG. RadioActive Publication, London, 2000. (
"Up Two: Adventures of a DXpeditioner" by Roger Western, G3SXW. Idiom Press, Geyserville, CA, 2003. (
In addition to these, many articles have appeared in the ham press, including QST, CQ, DX Magazine, and WorldRadio. Finally, to learn even more, plan on attending one of the annual DX conventions or major ham conventions where there is usually a presentation of one or more of the most recent DXpeditions by the participants themselves - you can then meet them and perhaps have the opportunity to ask them questions over a cup of coffee!

Could I go on a DXpedition?

Today, a DXpedition can be as simple as a leisurely trip to a tourist cabana on a balmy island, or as difficult, costly, and high-risk as activating one of the relatively rare Antarctic islands of Heard, Bouvet, S. Sandwich, or Peter I. Anyone who has the time, freedom, and funds to travel can, at virtually any time, go on a DXpedition to someplace. It could very well be your next vacation spot, if it will be a different DXCC entity than that of your home. If you have such a trip planned, or expect to do so in the near future, then here are the things that you need to do if you want to turn it into a "DXpedition":
Put together a compact, portable station that can be efficiently packed and easily transported. A small transceiver, power supply, and some type of log-book are a minimum. Clock, ATU, and laptop are likely accessories.
Review your destination lodging particulars and contact the manager for more details, such as: What type and quality of power is available? Will you be allowed to operate? Will you be able to put up an antenna? Is internet access available?
Review the travel rules and luggage restrictions of your airline and/or other carrier(s) to make certain that your equipment can be accommodated.
Review the information available on the ARRL website on operating in other countries ( - also useful for non-US hams.
Apply to the Telecomm offices of the country involved for a license or permit, allowing at least 2 months or more for processing.
For large-scale DXpeditions, especially to difficult, high-risk locations, a considerable amount of equipment is required, including high-end radios, beams, generators, and a multitude of accessories. However, for every large DXpedition that you hear about, be advised that there are hundreds of smaller ventures by individuals or small groups who pack a small portable station and antennas in their luggage and tootle-off to some beach resort island, remote fishing camp, or other interesting place that offers both family fun and "DXpedition" opportunities. The pictures below show the author's compact portable station used for several small DXpeditions over the years.

All packed into a small, soft, shoulder-strap carrying case, the station in figure (A) consists of an Icom IC-706MkII transceiver, MFJ MiteyMite power supply, and an MFJ-16010 tuner (in bubble-wrap). In figure (B), is a Rascal digital interface (foil-wrap), 100ft of #18AWG antenna wire, 50 ft coil of RG-58, small headphones (under coax), spool of twine for antenna support, notebook, Vibroplex Code Warrior paddle and digital clock in pocket, and miscellaneous connectors. The overall size of the packed bag is 8x10x14-inches, with a total weight of 18-pounds. Combined with a laptop for logging and digital modes, this portable station offers all-mode, all-band (160m - 2m) operation and it has provided great fun on trips to V3, KL7, OX, VE3, and on several US islands. If a laptop is too much extra load, consider bringing along a handy Palm PDA with QSO Diary by Ray, G4FON ( On a fly-in fishing trip to a remote lodge in central Ontario, weight limits on the small puddle-jumper were an issue, so in addition to the above station-in-a-brief-case, my shirt-pocket-sized Palm logger fit the bill nicely! If you are planning a trip to a locale that you think might be an interesting place from which to operate a ham station, you should consider obtaining operating permission and then bring along a portable station, or find some means to operate there. Try it - you'll like it!
An alternative to bringing your own equipment is to operate from an existing station in the place of interest. Today, there are several "DXpedition Rentals" available world-wide. These range from rooms with antennas (you bring the transceiver), to fully equipped stations with impressive stations ready to turn on and operate (see References). Some even provide assistance with licensure. Several websites are listed in the References and ads appear regularly in the ham and DX periodicals.
If you do participate in a DXpedition and have limited or no previous experience in handling pileups, be absolutely certain to read "DXpedition Basics" by Wayne Mills, N7NG, mentioned previously - it may greatly improve your experience!

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