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December 4, 2003




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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Local radio operator searches the far corners of the world

By BEN TROLLINGER
Special to the Leader

John Warren ambles into his “shack” — which is an immaculately, highly organized upstairs room in his large home on Gattis School Road that is filled with amateur radio equipment — ready to give a tutorial on DXing, his particular speciality in an extremely varied hobby.

DXing is the pursuit of listening to every radio station throughout the world. “D” stands for distance and “X,” the unknown.

Warren explained that distance is no longer a problem with new radio technology, so rarity has become the focus — finding a station in the most obscure and far-flung places.

“Let’s see if there’s anybody on in the world,” said Warren, a retired engineer with extra class liscence in HAM, as he leaned over a console to find an active station.

A man’s voice with thick Spanish accent faded in as Warren twisted the knob. “Yankee Victor Five,” the voice said. The “Y” prefix means he is from Venezuela, Warren explained.

Venezuela is nothing new for Warren. He has worked it many times before on several different frequencies. By his estimation, Warren has worked 335 “amateur radio countries,” which can mean recognized countries like France or obscure island and atolls off the coast of Africa, several times over.

Some enthusiasts only listen to shortwave, as Warren first did as a boy growing up in England; other have and interest in the emergency uses of Ham — John Warren is into distance.

Warren said he bought his house on Gattis School Road 22 years ago, back when Round Rock was still rural, because it sat on five-acres atop a gently slopping hill. A scenic location perfect for his wife Betty, who gardens, and, as it happens, is also perfect for DXing.

“That was exactly why we bought the house.” Warren said. “I’m a nut case in this hobby.”

DXing is a highly competitive enterprise — 48 hour contests are often held in which serious competitors refuse sleep — and it can also be expensive, Warren explained. A big player, one who wants to make the biggest and loudest noise on a band, might spend as much as $250,000 on equipment. Warren isn’t interested in that kind of power.

“[Some] have a station that is set up for sprinting, I’m a marathon runner. I don’t have to be number one. I get by pretty well with this equipment,” he said pointing to his two skyscraping towers, adding “This is really a modest setup ... I’m serious!”

Warren has boxes of cards, called QSLs, that are an acknowledgement of contact. Warren’s own card pictures his home with wildflowers in full bloom and reads “73 from Texas,” 73 is code for “greetings.” He has boxes of these. The rarest QSL card in the world is from North Korea, in which a Georgian (formerly of Russia) national was allowed to broadcast. Warren, along with a handful of fellow enthusiasts, has it.

But just because Warren has contacted every country doesn’t mean his job is finished. Currently, he is chasing a DXer on a DXpedition — which is when DXers travel to obscure places and set up temporary radio stations to broadcast from — on the Europa Islands between Madagascar and the east coast of Africa. He wants to work all of the countries and all of their stations on as many bands as he can.

“The idea is to work everybody,” Warren said. “Of course it’s impossible, but that’s why it’s a lifelong effort.”

For more information contact Robert Redoutey of the Williamson County Amateur Radio Club at 728-0011 or visit the club’s web site at www.wcarc.org.


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