The Zen Of Listening

If you are curious about radio that is “off the beaten track” then your success or enjoyment or fulfilment in the hobby will be greater if you understand at least some of the influences that affect your reception.

A frequent topic of discussion on the mailing lists dedicated to radio listening is the newcomer’s concern that, after little or no success in hearing one type of station, they don’t live in the right place, and that therefore one geographical or continental location is better than another for a particular type of reception. My opinion, after a lot of thought, is that this is not the case.

Now, my perspective on this is as a listener. I listen to the radio rather than communicate with it like a HAM, and since the radio mostly functions through our listening it is interesting to me that in order to be radio listeners we’re participating in a hobby that relies upon reception.

My own experience of radio reception, be it local, long distance or worldwide, voice, music or noise, is that whilst what you hear is affected by where you are, it is also affected by what you have and how you listen. To extrapolate, we should consider that one’s ability to receive broadcasts is influenced by a number of factors:

  • Your location
  • Your environment
  • Your radio
  • Your antenna
  • Your listening
  • Your attitude
  • Your life

(This list is not exclusive and is in no particular order, and there may be other factors that you can think of as well).

Some of these may be obvious, and some may not make any sense, so I’ll attempt to explain why I think these are worth considering.

Location. Assuming that we all live on the same planet, one’s location can be defined in many ways; there is your continental location, followed by what country you live in, what part of that country your town/city/village is, where your neighbourhood is, and then where your home is. If we take into account that the paths of our desired radio signals are affected by all manner of environmental phenomena, including physical distance, local geography, weather and local factors like proximity to power lines, then your reception in relation to your location is not exclusively favourable depending on which continent you are on.

Environmentally our reception is at the mercy of the weather, and even activity on the Sun, which can make a vast difference to what we hear. Knowledge of this subject is immense in volume but understanding what environmental factors can affect your listening is as useful as knowing the right frequency to tune into.

Needless to say the make and model of radio that you own makes a vast impact on what you can hear, as does your design of antenna. Adjustments to both of these can make all the difference to your listening experience. But whilst some radios are more suited to certain types of listening, and some more expensive radios have features that make listening to certain things easier or more pleasant, knowing what your own radio is capable of receiving, and maximising the potential that your radio has can, in some cases, be a smarter way of hearing more than buying a more expensive radio.

Your listening and attitude encompass both your ability to hear and the way you listen. This may seem more obvious than anything else – after all unless we are profoundly deaf we can all hear something. But then again even in the ranges of “normal” hearing some people hear different things from the same sounds. I recently attended a classical music concert with one of my brothers. When we discussed it on the journey home he mentioned that he could hear the pianist’s seat creaking during the performance. I didn’t hear this myself. Did this mean that he listened out for it, or did I miss it? Did it mean that he has “better” hearing than me? Probably not. We came away from the same concert with a different experience because we both listen differently. My experience with radio is that two listeners in similar locations can hear different things on the same frequency; sometimes this is because one listener has a better radio, but it’s often because one listener knows what to listen for.

Finally of course one’s life makes as big a difference to this as anything else. I have a job and have to work during the day, so I can only listen at night. This means that although there are lots of interesting stations out there, I’ve never been able to listen to anything that broadcasts in the weekday daytime since I’m always at work.

So, in case I’ve lost anyone who has managed to read this far, what I was trying to achieve by writing this was to encourage listeners who feel that their location puts them at a disadvantage to keep listening. I myself am based in Europe and for various reasons it’s possible for example that there are a lot more signals of the type discussed on these lists occurring in Europe than in the US. But, even if I did know the amounts, it would not necessarily mean that they were readily available for reception to me or anyone else listening in Europe. All of the aforementioned reasons add up to me often being unable to receive broadcasts that I “ought” to be able to receive at my location. Equally, I have logged stations I never thought I would be able to hear based on my location. The conditions turn out to be good every once in a while for something really special and I am able to realise what I hear by being prepared. Happy listening!

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