Jitendra Jain has been passionate about DXing – listening to radio stations from far-off countries.
At 37, Jitendra Jain is a successful corporate professional, an aspiring poet and an incipient novelist (he had to settle for prose). All pretty much normal for these days.
But when he was younger, he had a most unusual hobby. While most Indian children play cricket, Jain was hunched over his radio, DXing. In other words, he was trying to catch and listen to radio stations from very, very distant parts of the world.
We meet at a coffee shop, and as we chat, Jain lays out a bunch of cards that look like picture postcards on the table. “These are QSL cards,” he says. “I only have about 50 of them in Delhi, but I have hundreds back home in Assam.”
Born and schooled in Golaghat, close to about a hundred tea gardens, Jain became a radio geek pretty much because of these QSL cards. Radio stations send these cards to listeners who send in formatted reports of station reception from distant parts of the world. DXing is telegraphic shorthand to indicate long distance.
D stands for distance, X stands for unknown.
“You pick up the radio and start tuning in to detect unknown stations. And keep at it until you chance upon a unique station,” explains Jain. Once a ‘foreign’ station is detected, you send a reception report to the station’s office. If all criteria are met, the station sends back QSL cards – just like picture postcards, one side showing an image of the station’s country of origin and, the other side showing details of the radio station (frequency etc).
DXing was popular in the 1920s and ’30s, when broadcasters depended on the community of DXers to gauge the effectiveness of their transmissions. But it was the allure of the colourful QSL cards – and of course the possibility of discovering foreign shores on the humble radio – that initially drew Jain to DXing.
“Not just cards, I would get calendars, stickers and T-shirts too!” laughs Jain. But you have to send a proper report to the radio stations to get the cards: “You have to rate the signal quality properly. It’s called a SINPO rating (Signal strength, Interference with other stations or broadcasters, Noise ratio, Propagation, that is the ups and downs of the reception and Overall merit).”
What might seem like an exercise in tedium fascinated Jain who says that DXing was his only hobby for three years from class 9 through to class 12. “Just imagine hearing ‘Welcome to Radio Ulan Bator!’ It’s a different kind of excitement!” exclaims Jain.
Chancing upon the radio waves of Ulan Bator is one of his earliest and most cherished DXing memories. “I didn’t even know where Ulan Bator was!” he says. “The first time I heard Ulan Bator radio, I went into a bookshop the next day and looked it up. That’s when I found out it was the capital of Mongolia!”
In an era when the Internet was still to cast its web around the country properly, this obscure window to completely alien cultures in faraway worlds excited Jain no end. He credits his friend Babul Gogoi with starting him on it. Gogoi, who Jain says “was a geek in the ’90s when it wasn’t that cool!” had read about DXing somewhere and told another common friend Shashank about it. Through them, Jain learned about it and started DXing. “It used to be like a contest amongst us, who could get the most QSL cards,” says Jain.
Japan Radio sent him the most colourful cards but Radio France remains his favourite: “They always had a lot of programmes on air, and contests. I won a lot of gifts from them too.”
Didn’t he feel like the odd one out with such a hobby? Jain says, “Initially all my friends and even my father would be like, ‘ye tu kya karta rehta hai saara din radio pe,’ but when they saw that my reports were being acknowledged and I was receiving fancy mails from abroad, they thought it must be something good.”
Just to clear the air, Jain says he has played his share of cricket too! “Studies were not as much of a pressure. I managed about 55 per cent in my Board exams, so I was always playing cricket or doing something else outdoors. This hobby just engaged me a lot more, and when they looked at the gifts I got, my friends thought it was cool too,” he laughs.
So what does one need to start DXing? According to Jain, you don’t need a fancy set up. “There are dipole antennae available and other equipment but just buy a four-band radio – you will get it for around `700. Then start listening at night because the interference is minimal. And tie a copper wire somewhere high on the terrace. That’s it.”
Jain says that though he hasn’t really returned to DXing after college, he intends to start soon. “Nowadays the desire to discover has reduced. Maybe because we can know about other countries and cultures simply by logging on to the Internet. But I will take it up again very soon,” he smiles.
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From HT Brunch, February 22
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