The Future of DXpeditions?


I was actually kind of shocked several times lately attending various DX Conventions and DX Club Meetings. The age of the crowd was a real eye opener. It seemed like all of the “luminaries” and “famous” DXpedition Leaders were close to 70 years old – perhaps even past 70 years old.

There were a few standouts – up and coming young DXpeditioners in their 30’s or 40’s – but the count was 2, and they were far out numbered by the older gentleman.

A while back I created this chart:


And it shows a classic “S Curve” – which can be a life cycle of sorts. In fact, it has been associated with technology – and a field I have spent my entire career in – the Database Technology sector. Here is a Wikipedia article on the topic:

At first, I found this alarming, but then I realized that my “scope” was very narrow – and did not take in many variables and considerations that I think you must. I just thought “geez – this crowd is getting older by the day” and “who will they pass the baton to?” and “wow – there seem to be very few DXers in their teens, 20’s and 30’s”.

But my opinions have been colored by my narrow view of just the ARRL’s DXCC program (which most definately has an older crowd), and just DXpeditioners and DXers in the US. In all cases, the US DXers and DXpeditioners way outnumbered the non US attendees.

This then raises the question “Why are most of the large and very rare DXpeditions led by US DXpeditioners?”. I don’t really have an answer. Is it because the DXCC program is run by a US amateur radio organization? It seems so. But I also have seen what seems like a sharp uptick in activations in the IOTA program, so maybe my myopic view of “just DXCC” is why my opinion has been “clouded” in the past. The DXCC program after all is only one aspect of the world of DXing.

I have heard that the growth in the ham radio and DX community will occur outside of the US, and I can see that light.

But even with that “hope”, I then wondered about the statistics of many of the more rare DXpeditions and who funds these projects and what the share of Q’s are per continent. It makes me wonder if non US DXpeditioners will pick up the slack when the US DXpeditioners rate of DXpeditions slows down – and I am sure this will happen – at least large DXpeditions to ultra rare places. Combined with cost and access – I am sure that FT5ZM was a sort of “bell weather” – yes – we will see some more epic scale DXpeditions, but I feel very strongly that the days of these are numbered.

Then I wonder “for the DXCC program, how will the ARRL react – if and when we do move past the maturity stage of the DXpedition S Curve?”. And I expect that we are at the end of the maturity portion of this curve DXpedition wise.

I don’t have any real answers here – just questions and just musings. I do know that as the Baby Boomers age – just like many other things in the world – they will leave a vacuum behind to fill.

And as the saying goes “Nature abhors a vacuum” . . . .

~ by ky6r on May 30, 2014.

7 Responses to “The Future of DXpeditions?”

  1. From this side of the pond the picture looks different. There have been major DXpeditions by several European groups. Of the top of my head I can recall British,German,Dutch,French,Italian ventures in recent years. And they were mostly by younger people than the US-based groups.


    • I’ve especially noticed this with IOTA activations – and its very encouraging. Several other people have told me that they thought the highest growth in new, younger DXers is happening outside of the states.


  2. I do think the days of the mega DXpedition are ending, though we may see a few more. Maybe the time has come to get over our collective disgust at the idea of remotely-operated DX stations in exotic places. I, for one, originally thought the idea represented a sad and shabby diminishment of the romantic DXpedition tradition, but the more I think about it the more it seems like a pragmatic move to keep the hobby going. I am 33, and have been on and off the air for 20 years. I am the only one left active of my original ham cohort. There are so many reasons that young people might drop out of the hobby, especially these days. Adding in 20-year waits between activations doesn’t help. Most remote-controlled stations would need to be low-powered and have simple antennas; working them would still be no cakewalk, but at least it would be achievable over a reasonable time period.


    • I agree 100%. Extremely expensive DXpeditions are not sustainable. I think its a bad assumption to make that because FT5ZM made their .5 million dollar budget that this is the “new norm”. Its not. When you add in:

      1) The aging of the worlds most famous and productive DXpeditioners
      2) Environmental concerns that limit access – or prevent it totally
      3) Cost – and transportation is the main one – chartering a ship and paying for petrol
      4) The number of younger DXers participating in the various DX programs and then making the huge jump from Dxer to DXpeditioner will drop drastically in the coming decade(s)

      I don’t worry about the political issues – because they do come and go. What seems politically impossible to go to and activate today (i.e. P5) will be easy in the future – and something else will become “impossible”. Also – some entities will combine and some will split up – that has always been going on.

      Yes, I know – some will shout “DX IS”, but that fun series of articles was written back in the middle of the hey day of DX-ing. Something will need to happen to make sure DX IS continues and doesn’t become DX WAS . . .

      It has been pointed out to me that there are many more younger hams and DXers outside of the US, so – maybe that’s where the “cultivation” will need to happen? But cost and access will only get harder – not easier – I am sure of that.


      • I’m going to be really interested to see how the current DXAC debate about remote operation goes. I hope they will be pragmatic and proactive, and embrace in a structured manner what is really already a fait accompli. I expect that they will ratify the status quo allowing remote operation for stations within a DXCC entity, no matter how large; I will be surprised if they approve cross-border operation at this time. I also suspect they will allow use of the new breed of rented stations. But what do I know?

        I’m curious who the new recruits are abroad. 10+ years ago, I was active in my university’s ham radio club. My school had 30,000 students, and a great RF engineering department — Garmin had paid to have a nice new antenna engineering lab built to study better GPS antennas, and prominent faculty members like L.B. Cebik supported us and referred potential recruits, but I don’t think we ever numbered more than 10 members. We also had a top-notch station, with a yagi at 300 feet (!) and two first-class radios, as well as the only permanent space on campus assigned to a student organization. Heaven knows we tried hard, but I don’t believe we ever converted anyone who wasn’t already into RF and self-motivated. Last I heard, the shack had been effectively abandoned for years and at least one of the radios stolen. I think 1 other member from those days is still active on HF.

        My experiences in those days make me wonder if it’s even worth the effort of trying to recruit the teens and twentysomethings of the world. Appreciating ham radio in general, and DXing in particular, may require a certain appetite for suffering that develops later in life 😉 In all seriousness, there’s not much in the hobby to appeal to the younger set these days, I think. On the other hand, mid-30s and later are probably a good time to market DXing. People are established and comfortable in their careers, maybe have more money, and are looking for new challenges. I never once got a fellow teenager interested in ham radio, but I inspired 7 or 8 of my 30- and 40-something colleagues to get their tickets, and one is now seriously getting into DXing.


      • I taught ham classes to kids when my son was in grade school, and three kids passed their tests, but never got into the hobby.

        But I have found the same thing that you have – software geeks at work who are older think ham radio is cool, but no one has ever asked me more than a few questions about it. One guy did take a cram class for EMCOMM, but not at all interested in DX-ing.

        All of the OOTs – the Baby Boomers defined the height of DX-ing, and they have hit the. 70s now.

        Time will tell, but demographics will have a very big affect.

        I am also sure remote will stay status quo, but if DX-ers start to seriously dwindle, maybe New remote and other technologies that appeal to younger people will be introduced and allowed on a bigger scale.


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