Absofoxinglutely: The Delights of A Radio Fox Hunt | RADIO SCHMALTZ

Nan Pincus Radio Schmaltz

RALEIGH, NC (PTA) — I usually wake up early. I’ve heard that habitual early-risers tend to be optimists. This makes some sort of sense to me because this habit shows that we’re willing to leave the known comforts of linen sheets and over-steeped mugs of tea to stumble along in a hostile world that has a noticeable lack of pillows. We hope that this world, despite this lack of comfort, will offer things to learn, people to meet, and an occasional adventure.

Words and Photos by Nan Pincus

It was with this hope that on Saturday morning I woke up at 6 a.m. to drive thirty miles to the edge of the woods to meet with a group of masked strangers. I was attending my first fox hunt.

Although I occasionally indulge in a British pretension, (my tea is stored in a 19th century marquetry box from the sceptered isle), this wasn’t a fox hunt in the old-world sense. Instead of the stalking and killing of a wild canine, this was a radio fox hunt.

Radio Fox Hunts

A long-time pleasure of amateur radio operators, are searches for hidden transmitters. In the fox hunt I joined, we used dual band HT-FM radios, Yagi-Uda antennas (which were mostly homemade), and attenuators to find the two hidden transmitters. These transmitters were marked by small pink flags and flyers, which if you got there in time, still had little tear-away markers that told your place in the hunt.

Finding the fox involves wandering around the woods with an antenna and applying triangulation, careful listening, and if you have my less-than-impressive level of technique, a lot of slowly rotating in a circle like you’re aspiring to a spiritual trance rather than reading the comparative strengths of a call sign being transmitted in Morse code.

But even though the mechanics of fox hunting are full of static and squelching, it isn’t just the mandalic movements that point to a connection between this unpopular sport and spiritual tradition. My greatest progressions towards the hidden transmitter occurred when I took a via negativa approach and stopped trying to determine where the transmitter was, but instead to determine where it was not. By slowly discerning that the radio could not be found from the direction of the walnut tree behind me or the buckeye to my left, I could slowly shorten the list of where it could be.

The joy I felt in the hunt showed my optimism that morning was well-placed. I delighted in pursuing the transmitter myself and feeling alone amongst the trees but then when I came upon a fellow hunter, and we would immediately discuss strategy and compare our readings, I felt a greater exuberance.

We are all often looking for something, but rarely do we know what is, and even more rarely are we able to find it.

The sport of pursuing hidden transmitters in the forest with a handheld radio and antenna made me look silly but feel radiant as I used simple skills and tools to find what I was looking for.

Maybe it’s the early riser in me talking, but I think fox hunting could make us all optimists.

About the Author, Nan Pincus

Nan is a graduate of The University of North Carolina and Duke University. She writes about music culture and radio technology of all kinds. She DJs FM radio, operates ham radio, and got her first job in high school to save up for a belt-drive turntable. She works in classical music and theatre, but she often puts down her work to drop the needle on Scriabin’s Preludes and dream in technicolor.