DX, Artificial Scarcity and The List
Economists see scarcity, supply and demand as fundamental forces in a market. Items that are scarce demand a higher price while items that are easy to obtain tend to have a lower price. A diamond is an example of something that is relatively scarce (and in demand) so it commands a high price. In contrast, wood is generally available and is much less expensive than diamonds.
Then there’s the concept of artificial scarcity. If some items can be made scarce (or even just appear scarce), the price will tend to increase. For example, if I own all of the banana trees on an isolated island, I could reduce the available supply of bananas and command a higher price from all of the banana eaters there. Or maybe I start screening bananas for quality and I put a special sticker on them to brand them as special.
We have a case of artificial scarcity in ham radio, called the DXCC list. This list defines what is considered a separate country when chasing DX. (Actually, the correct term is entity, not country.) For example, Hawaii (KH6) and Alaska (KL7) are considered separate entities even though they are part of the United States. (See Is Alaska a Country?) For someone chasing DXCC entities, because Alaska is on The List, a radio contact with Alaska becomes more desirable. It’s kind of like putting a “premium sticker” on a banana to indicate that it is special.
In my imagination, the DXCC list resulted from a bunch of hams sitting around drinking beer and bragging about how many countries they had worked. One guy, Larry says he just worked Hawaii, bringing his total to 125 countries. His buddy Leroy says, “You can’t count Hawaii because it’s part of the US of A.” To which Larry says, “You bet I can count Hawaii…and Texas too. It’s a whole ‘nuther country.” Clearly, we are going to need an official list to keep track of what counts as a country. A more credible version of how the list got established is captured in this article from the October 1935 QST.
Of course, the two main factors that drive scarcity of DXCC entities is the ham radio population and ease of access. Radio contacts are easy to make with entities that have an active ham population. If an entity doesn’t have many active hams but is easy to get to, someone will probably put that location on the air once in a while. On the other hand, some locations are unpopulated and really difficult to get to. These are not only on The List, they are on The Most Wanted List.
Kingman Reef (KH5) was just deleted from The List, instantly changing it from one of the most desired contacts in amateur radio to a big giant Why Bother. You see, there used to be 340 countries on the list but now there’s only 339. Kingman Reef will now be considered part of Palmyra/Jarvis, so it still has value for DXCC, just a lot less.
As I write this article, there is a major DXpedition (VKØEK) operating from Heard Island, an unpopulated island near Antartica. The only reason those guys are there is that Heard Island is on The List. Take a look at their web site and you’ll see how much time and energy has gone into activating this lonely island. Drop it from the list and suddenly a radio contact with this location is a lot less in demand.
So try to keep this all in perspective. There are lots of radio contacts out there to be made, some more interesting and desirable than others. It is appropriate and necessary that we have the DXCC list, to provide consistency in how we count countries, I mean entities. But really, it all traces back to Larry and Leroy arguing about who worked the most countries.
Thanks to the dedicated DXpeditioners that put these rare locations on the air.
73, Bob K0NR
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I am surely not alone in thinking that that kind of mean-spirited, low-intelligence, vitriolic comment has no place in amateur radio. If the article does not flash enough for your addled brain, do not continue to read it. Nobody is interested in what you find boring, my friend. Thanks for the article, Bob, and please do not be put off by the sociopathic troll comment.