The Future of DXpeditions

By JonathanGuthrie, 1 June, 2014

I got into a bit of a twitter exchange yesterday with some people. It started because Rich Holoch KY6R made his own blog post with the title "The Future of DXpeditions?" and my response "Expensive hobby + expensive trips = lots of old people on DxPeditions. Nobody else can afford it." got several retweets and a favorite or two, and a couple of responses. I have trouble fitting what I think about this into 140 characters, so I'll post it here.

As background, I want to mention a different conversation that occurred on the mailing list for a local club. In it, a certain individual bemoaned the fate of amateur radio because ham radio is getting greyer. I don't want to go into detail about this other person's message because I don't feel I understand his position well enough to relate it accurately. However, I am not at all pessimistic about the future of amateur radio. Not because of demographics, anyway, and since that matches up with my response to Mr. Holoch, I had most of a response ready which would go into 140 characters.

However, another person, Rick Prather, asked me what my point was. That's often used as a debating technique, to make it sound as if you don't actually have a point, but since I think my point is strong, I took a shot at responding to it. However, I'm not sure I did a good enough job expressing it, hence this blog post.

So, here goes. Amateur radio is an expensive hobby. I'm sure that will raise the hackles of all the minimalists out there, but it's a true thing. You need to make a minimum investment typically in the hundreds of dollars to set up a basic ham station. My first station was composed of a well-used Heathkit HW-100 my dad bought for $220, some wire dipoles and feedlines, a straight key, and some other odds and ends. If my dad hadn't been interested in that station, then my fifteen year old self would never have managed.

Setting up a serious DX or contest station takes even more wherewithal. You need a decent amplifier and an elevated triband beam and you're probably talking the several thousand dollars just to get up to an entry level station. Of course the top end is way up there. There's a contest station in Hempstead, Texas owned by George deMontrond, NR5M. He owns several car dealerships in Houston and his "shack" (a whole house, actually) has gear in it that is worth more than my house. I understand it's an excellent station, too. Of course most serious DXers don't commit that much on their own, but they do make a substantial commitment to their hobby. It's hard for a young person or most people of middle age to make that investment simply because they don't have the extra money kicking around for any of that stuff.

Further, the destinations that dxpeditions choose are, by their very nature, hard to get to, and "hard to get to" means "expensive to get to." You can spend two weeks on a ship just getting to and from some of these places. They are remote and sparsely inhabited so there aren't any regularly scheduled airlines that call there. They are also sometimes actively dangerous or hold secret stuff that governments might not want you around. All that means that your dxpeditioner needs to be able to pay for permits and associated legal fees, in addition to having enough free time that he or she can spend weeks on the project full time. Young people usually can't do that. Heck, I'm not young any more, and I can't do it.

So, why do people go on dxpeditions? I don't know, why don't you ask them? I suspect some of it has to do with wanting to take vacations where few people have ever gone. Since dxpeditions are so expensive, asking for donations is de rigeur and you can get that exotic trek subsidized by the people who need a postcard from Amsterdam Island. Others like being the center of attention. Many people who've spent a while trying to be heard through a pileup have wished to be the one everyone was trying to hear rather than just another W5 in the crowd.

So, in summary, the future of dxpeditions is a lot like the past of dxpeditions and a lot like the present of dxpeditions. Those going on them are going to be mostly older and relatively wealthy. The old guys who do them 20 years from now aren't the ones who did this 20 years ago, but I don't have any doubt that there will be some guys and they will be travelling to the ends of the earth for the people who have to have the postcard from some place you've never heard of.

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