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DXing

I've been licenced since attending after-school electronics club run by physics teacher Graham G4AVV and his student Colin G4CWH, among others.  Graham and Colin taught a few of us the theory, and in turn when they left we taught boys in the years below us.  The Radio Amateurs’ Exam was the first public exam I took.  I taught myself CW straight away after a short a break to complete my O-levels and got my CW pass on May 2nd 1979 (yes, more than 3 decades ago!).  My call G4iFB came through shortly after.  [Colin, if you're reading this, thanks for threatening to do nasty things to my insides if I got a Class B VHF licence.  You were right.  HF is for grown ups and CW is definitely the more civilised mode.]

Outside of contests, I enjoy HF DXing whenever I have time for radio.  Mostly that means around ZL dawn (sometimes) and dusk (most evenings) on the low bands (30-40-80m, with no antenna for 160m at the moment) and occasionally the odd spare hour in the middle of the day on HF since my home office is my shack, conveniently enough.  I keep an ear open (just the one) for the 10m beacons most days too.

I’ve caught some good high-band openings including a solid long path run into Europe on 15m that someone kindly recorded and published on YouTube video to show off their fancy instant-reversal Steppir beam (nice!).  A 15m QSO with my friend Jean 5T0JL led to a nice chat on email about HF propagation and skeds on the high bands including 12m: Jean runs 90W to a vertical and I was using 100W to a simple wire loop on 12m, so that was clearly a magic path.

Long path signals are quite distinctive, for example here’s a clip of John 9M6XRO on 17m, with an LP echo so strong it can be hard to make out his CW characters.  Using an audio spectrum plot and Audacity’s cursor, I measured the delay at 83 milliseconds: 

LP echo

Travelling at close to 300 million metres per second (speed of light), John’s LP signal must have gone an extra 24,900 km (0.083 x 300,000,000 / 1000) compared to the SP signal.  John is close to 8,000 km away from me, so his SP signal would have taken at least 27 milliseconds to arrive here by the most direct route.  Adding 83 to 27 milliseconds gives the total delay for the LP signal of at least 110 milliseconds, representing a distance of no less than 32,900 km, which is of course 24,900 + 8,000 (phew!).  The earth’s circumference is about 40,000 km, so either my measurements and maths are wrong, or the speed of light or Earth diameter are wrong (!), or more likely the signal took a slightly shorter round-the-world trip than the true long path, especially if we factor-in the likely extra distance between the ground and the ionospheric layers that reflect signals.  It may have cut corners along the grey line but, still, it’s close enough to LP for me.

One Saturday morning in August 2011 I heard my pal Paul ZL4PW CQing on 17/CW.  We worked easily enough on weak groundwaves.  An hour later, I heard him CQing again, but this time with a curious multitone signal.  It sounded like the normal groundwave sig - a normal sine tone - plus a slightly higher frequency signal with a raspy note: an aurora in fact, with a bit of Doppler shift I guess.  10m opened to most of NA shortly afterwards, and just after lunch I was amazed to work ZD8D on 30m.  Even 12m flickered briefly to life a few times.  A fascinating day’s DXing!

One ZL evening in December 2011, I was getting ready for a sked on 12m when I noticed very strong echoes on my transmission.  In fact, I was sure I could hear more than 1 echo, so I turned on the audio recorder and sent a spaced-out string of fast individual dits to check.  This blue audio trace shows one of the roughly 50wpm dits captured by Audacity:

Triple echo QSK

Yes, that’s right, there are 3 echoes!  The first echo could have been a reflection from some sort of reflecting surface - a patch of E-layer ionization perhaps - about 9,000 km away from me, but is more likely an artifact from the transceiver.  The second echo delayed by 161 milliseconds had done about 48,000 km, or roughly once around the world.  The third and final echo arrived back here about 300 milliseconds after the dit went out.  Travelling at 300 million meters per second, I calculate it had done a 90,000 km round trip, meaning twice around the globe!  Wow!

I heard another triple echo on my own signal on 12m in May 2013, measured at 70, 161 and 300 mS again.  I’m puzzled why the 3rd echo isn’t at 322 mS ... maybe it has taken a shortcut along the greyline ‘duct’ rather than following a true great circle path?

Double echo QSK 2013

[Click the plot to hear what sending a series of spaced out dots sounded like, minus the sidetone]

For the record, on both occasions I was using the K3’s fabulously slick QSK+ setting, with the KPA500 running 500 watts out to a fullwave 12m wire loop antenna.  It probably helps that the loop is more-or-less omnidirectional.

By the way, QSK sounds horrible on some rig/amp combinations: for example, listen to this short soundbyte of 1A0C on 30m.  This is staccato CW - the CW speed is quite high to start with but shortened CW bits turn some of the dits into blips.  I measured the bit lengths on his “5NN”.  While the dahs are reasonably consistent (86 and 97 milliseconds in this case), the dots vary widely between 13 and 33 ms, averaging a little under 23  ms.

1A0C staccato 5NN

In conventional Morse code, a dit is one third the length of a dah.  On average, 1A0C’s dits are only one quarter of a dah (I’m being generous due to the measurement difficulties: those 13 ms dits are only one seventh of a dah!).  The bits are being shortened and varied, most likely due to low quality QSK.  The op could counteract this by reverting to semi-break-in or increasing the CW weighting on his keyer, or of course buying a better radio and amp!

Strong echoes on SSB make it sound as if two stations are doubling when there is only one - here is a clip of ZL2JBR one morning on 20m: by chance he was beaming NW from Wellington while I was beaming SE from Hawkes Bay.  After turning our beams towards each other we had a solid QSO on ground wave.

My DXCC records

After 9 years on the air as ZL2iFB, I have over 300 DXCC countries confirmed, earning mixed, CW, Phone and Data DXCCs, DXCC Challenge and DXCCs on the 8 HF bands from 10m to 80m.  There’s still a lot of fun and DXing ahead before I reach the lofty heights of DXCC Honor Roll but here are my all-time DXCC stats as of October 2014:

 

Wkd

Cfmd

CW

315

312

Phone

290

270

Digital

239

218

Mixed

319

319

The timeline report from Club Log shows my love of CW: more than 80% of my QSOs are CW with the rest being mostly contest QSOs or band-slot fillers with DX stations who don’t CW:

ZL2iFB clublog annual stats

I make about 6,000 regular DXing QSOs per year as ZL2iFB, plus another few thousand contest QSOs as ZM4G, ZM4T etc.  That’s about 20 QSOs per day on average.

This is my DXCC awards table on LoTW:

ZL2iFB LoTW DXCC table

Here’s my mixed-mode DXCC breakdown by bands:

Band

6m

10m

12m

15m

17m

20m

30m

40m

80m

160m

ALL

Worked

1

252

256

293

294

308

288

284

205

35

319

Confirmed

1

235

234

279

276

300

277

268

184

24

319

In the DXCC Challenge , I have worked 2,202 band-slots with 2,065 confirmed.

The WAZ (Worked All CQ Zones) table is filling out nicely, aside from 6 & 160m anyway:

ZL2iFB WAZ table

I have worked all 40 zones on 10 through 40m, although zone 2 was surprisingly difficult.  We have to battle their US and EU piles over a mostly weak and fluttery polar path.  Odd, then, that we can work OX, TF and the rest of VE without too much trouble.  Anyway, I relish the challenge.  Wouldn’t want it to be too easy!

Lastly, here’s my WAS (Worked All [US] States) status.  I’ve worked ‘em all on 10 to 20m plus 40m, but I’m missing WV on 30m, KY, ND, NE, on 80m and loads on topband.

ZL2iFB WAS table

 

Nigel G3TXF’s trip to Tristan da Cunha gave me an all-time new one and 4 ticks on LoTW before he even left the island:

ZD9XF LoTW cfms wide

While these were all probably long path QSOs due to the big hill just to the South of the village where Nigel was operating, I am especially grateful for the 80m greyline QSO: it’s hard to think of any other DX op who would have pulled me out of the noise so skillfully.  Thanks Nigel!

Back to quick links


HF beacons

I sometimes monitor the beacons on 10m during the ZL daytime while working (one of many benefits of working from home).  No more than once per day, I spot them on DXcluster and occasionally on 10mBeacons.com, and log them on my online beacon database for all to see:

 www.HFbeacons.info

I’ve heard about two hundred 10m beacons in the past year, most of them running QRP to verticals. 

More comprehensive beacon lists are maintained by G3USF and WJ5O, while DL8WX maintains a database similar to mine detailing when he last heard the beacons (a good sign that they might truly be QRV!). 

It is disappointing that not all beacon keepers mention their beacons on their QRZ.com pages or publish information about their beacons elsewhere on the Internet, even the basics such as the location, power and antenna.  Why they would go to the trouble of installing, running and maintaining a beacon and yet not publish this information puzzles me.

Beaconbytes

I record the beacons to help ID the weak signals we often receive here in NZ.  Aside from the beacon message text, the exact frequency (well, exact according to my K3’s VFO display, calibrated against WWV) and characteristics such as its strength, keying speed, timing, tone of the signal and any anomalies (e.g. does it chirp?) are often enough to ID a beacon reliably without necessarily having to wait to hear its full callsign.  In the case of those annoying beacons that only send their calls infrequently, it’s a big time saver that lets me log more DX beacons while the band remains open.

When the 10m band is wide open in ZL, there may be more than 50 beacons to ID and log at any one time: that hyperlink points to a 13-minute MP3 recording of me systematically tuning through the 10m beacon sub-band from about 28186 (VK5KV) to 28300kHz, (K6FRC/B) in 2010, pausing along the way to ID and log the signals using their callsigns if I catch them or their messages or characteristic signals if not.  Scroll down through my online 10m beacon database while you listen along to figure out where I am and what I’m doing.

Another way to monitor the beacons is using an SDR to watch the entire beacon sub-band at once: here’s a snapshot from my FunCube Pro+ dongle showing about 90 audible beacons.  That near -vertical swipe is someone tuning across the beacon band, I guess, or some sort of sun noise:

10m beacon band 2013 04 10 2315z

Beaconbytes

I am collecting MP3 audio recordings of (mostly 10m) beacons.   Some are barely above the noise floor, which is exactly how I often hear them:

6m is not the only magic band.  Listen to TP2CE/B on 10m running just 450mW on the far side of the globe, and even more remarkably AC0KC/B with a measly 50mW (equivalent to a quarter of a million kilometers per watt).  50mW would barely power a very dim torchbulb.

A number of fishing buoys mark drift net positions with beacon transmissions (illegally) within amateur bands.  Some sit rather annoyingly in the beacon sub-bands.  Most send a few seconds of carrier (which usually starts up with a chirp), then a short callsign (1-3 characters, chirpy again, chosen by the fishermen), then go silent for a minute or so.  Here’s one on 10m sending C, on sending D and another sending NZ all seemingly due East of NZ - possibly floating around central America or the Caribbean, perhaps even further away.  One or two come up in our afternoons when propagation swings towards VK and JA.  Despite running QRP to CB-type vertical antennas, their saltwater ground plane is enough to launch the RF over thousands of km via skywave, much further than is necessary for the net-hunting fishermen who presumably have a pretty good idea from GPS as to where their nets are and I guess listen on ground wave as they approach over the final few km.

NCDXF beacons

NCDXF logoNew hot The NCDXF beacons are a useful guide to worldwide HF openings on 10 thru 20m, with the benefit that you can monitor a single frequency on each band, ideally using Faros to hear when various long and short paths open, or monitor either all or just a selection of the frequencies automatically over a period to spot the openings (e.g. using Beaconsee). 

The NCDXF beacons are remarkably useful propagation tools.  Like all 24x7 beacons, however, they inevitably suffer occasional outages and glitches, for example OA4B transmitting all its time slots on 18MHz instead of moving band-to-band, VK6RBP with ALC problems and CS3B with ALC problems and instability (and lately it seems transmitting only the tones, with no callsign/ID).  Find out about planned (and unplanned!) engineering works on the official NCDXF beacon site.

I urge regular users to contribute to the NCDXF to express your support for the beacon ops and help keep the beacons running.  NCDXF is also a major sponsor of DXpeditions.

Please keep clear of the beacon frequencies: 14100, 18110, 21150, 24930 and 28200 kHz, and the beacon subbband such as 28170 to 28300 kHz.  They may seem empty to you but there are usually people like me listening intently for weak beacons.

Back to quick links


CW

Check out what the History Channel has to say about Morse code, invented by Samuel FB Morse (nice initials!), Joseph Henry and Alfred Vail, and used for telegraphy over wired and wireless circuits since the mid-19th Century.  It was used for the first ever round-the-world radio contact between stations 2SZ at Mill Hill School in London and 4AA at Shag Station near Dunedin.  To commemorate the 90th anniversary of that historic QSO in 2014, the UK authorities gave special permission for 2SZ to be aired from the same school, and it was a big thrill for me to contact them during the Oceania CW contest.  With modern equipment, aerials and scientific knowledge, round-the-world contacts are quite commonplace ... but they are still special.

I have been using CW almost exclusively since I was first licensed in 1979 and discovered that 100 watts or less goes much further on the key than on the mic.  Even with QRO I still love CW, perhaps because CW is a more universal language than SSB.  Nearly everything gets abbreviated - whether you're a ZL or a JA, "73" sounds and means the same thing.  CW is more bandwidth -efficient than SSB (approximately 4 Hz per WPM for a well-shaped CW signal, according to K3WWP’s calculations, so less than about 150Hz for normal CW speeds) and much easier to filter out QRM.  Even polar flutter and auroral Doppler shift sound OK on CW.  OK OK so the computer digital modes are even better still but then the computer does all the work, and since I work in IT, typing is not my idea of a fun pastime.

International Morse Code, plus various procedural aspects of sending and receiving telegrams, are specified by ITU-R recommendation M.1677.  If you care about CW, please pay attention to the prosigns (such as ...-.- “end of work”) that should be run together as one continuous character, not separate letters (...-.- might be remembered and written as SK or VA but should not be sent that way). 

Prosigns

I can’t see much point in learning and using the AC prosign for the @ symbol in email addresses when “at” works perfectly well and is universally understood.  Likewise “DOTCOM” or “DOTNET” or whatever are self-evident whereas the dot or fullstop character is not so commonly used by hams.

It’s odd that KN (go ahead named station) and BK (break) are usually sent as prosigns but don’t appear on most ‘official’ lists of Morse prosigns.  Maybe in theory they should be sent normally with letter spaces, but in ham usage they have evolved into prosigns.  In contests, I tend to send “TU” as a prosign to save a few milliseconds, ending every QSO with an “X”.  Seems appropriate to me and, so far, nobody has complained.

Back to quick links


DXpeditioning

In 2001, I was lucky enough to be invited to join the Voodudes DXpedition to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for the XT2DX operation in CQ WW CW.  We transported the entire multi-multi station from Ghana to Burkina overland in a hired minibus and set it up on the roof of an hotel.  It was a real blast - although I have plenty of contest experience, it was my first real experience of being at the DX end of a pileup.  I joined the boys again in 9L a few years later.

I was part of the Oceania DX Group’s VI9NI team in 2006 for CQ WPX CW.  The contest was a bit of a flop but the trip was fun.

The opposite happened with a short break to Rarotonga, operating as E51iFB from a fabulous holiday QTH that just didn’t work out on the radio somehow.  I could hear OK but evidently couldn’t be heard, and to cap it all my laptop’s hard drive expired taking the whole E51iFB log with it.  :-(  It’s a good thing I didn’t make many QSOs really.

I'd love to do more DXpeditions, in particular I want to visit the Galapagos Islands HC8 to combine amateur radio and following Charles Darwin's exploration of the exotic fauna and flora that has evolved there (takes me back to my genetics training).  Perhaps one day I’ll get to meet Trey at HC8N, the Galapagos beacon in all the major contests ...

Lee ZL2AL lent me some fabulous DXpedition DVDs by 9V1YC:

  • ZL9CI to Campbell Island in 1999 (in which Lee participated);
  • VP8THU to Southern Thule, one of the South Sandwich Islands in 2002;
  • 3Y0X to Peter 1st Island in Antarctica in 2006;
  • BS7H to Scarborough Reef in 2007.

The icy conditions in South Sandwich and Peter 1st really don’t appeal to me.  It’s clear from the DXpedition leader’s reaction that getting the last few members of the 3Y0X team plus the remaining gear off Peter 1st by helicopter was a tremendous relief. 

The BS7H story is amazing - to see 4 self-contained stations perched on rickety wooden platforms on rocks about the size of a rug, the largest remaining bits of a dead reef still above water at high tide, in a war zone in the South China Sea is almost incredible.  They were fortunate to have such good weather as I’m sure the slightest of squalls would have been catastrophic.  The “discussions” about whether DXCC rules should continue to permit such an entity rumble on.  Rising sea levels due to global warming will probably result in deletions of some of these wet specks of rock before long, once they no longer poke above the sea even at low tide: perhaps then those American hams who are still in denial about climate change will finally accept the inevitable.

VP8THU was a “micro-light DXpedition” using small barefoot transceivers.  Given that they must have spent a fortune getting the team there, it seems odd that they would skimp on equipment and settle for poorer signals, but still they made a respectable number of QSOs.  Watching them ferry people and equipment from a dinghy up an icy rock face, and back again at the end, is best done from behind the settee - a bit like the BBC’s “Dr Who”, too scary for kids to see out front.

The vids are well worth watching, whether you just work DXpeditions, dream of joining one or are actually planning one for real.  The 3Y0X video shows a little of the organization and logistics arrangements necessary for a major DXpedition.  It’s a shame James 9V1YC doesn’t at least make a guest appearance in front of the lens though: I guess either he’s not keen on letting someone else hold his expensive camera or he’s camera shy! 

Back to quick links


Pileup tips

There are many reasons why DXpeditioners enjoy DXpeditioning but top of most people's list, surely, is "To have fun!".  In this context, having fun generally involves:

  • Making QSOs as efficiently, if not necessarily as fast, as humanly possible: accuracy matters more than rate and sometimes conditions or abilities dictate a slower pace
  • Meeting lots of old friends and making new ones (both in the team and in the pileup)
  • Working as many different callsigns as possible, not just filling band-slots for the big guns
  • Working real DX, the rare & surprising stuff, unusual paths, 100w/G5RV brigade and QRPers
  • Using different bands and modes, often including things you wouldn't normally do at home
  • Taming the technology, putting out a good signal and hearing well
  • Dealing effectively with the piles and zoo creatures, getting better at it and at the same time learning to be a better DXer
  • Elmering - teaching novice DXpeditioners the ropes - and learning from peers
  • Getting on the air from exotic far-off places, not just idly dreaming about it (and ideally making time for sightseeing!)
  • Being a pleasure to contact
  • Spreading joy and happiness
  • Staying fit and healthy but getting absolutely exhausted, in a nice way
  • Being a great ambassador for amateur radio
  • Gaining the respect of fellow DXers and DXpeditioners.

Likewise, there are many reasons why DXers enjoy chasing and working DX:

  • Collecting sets and awards - QSLs, DXCC, WAZ, IOTA, stamps, points, what have you
  • Beating rivals, mastering the challenge and earning bragging rights
  • Meeting old friends and making new ones
  • Making connections with exotic, far-off places that non-hams would struggle to even point at on the map
  • Discovering and exploiting different propagation modes and paths
  • Self-improvement - becoming more skilled, competent and accomplished, learning better techniques, getting slicker with every pileup (which includes learning what not to do from the idiots!)
  • Proving and improving the station - the antennas, equipment and operator
  • Enjoying the chase as much as the catch: if it was all too easy, it would no longer be fun
  • Being a pleasure to contact, spreading a little joy
  • Gaining the respect of fellow DXers and DXpeditioners.

Some DXers living in exotic places grow tired of endless rubber-stamp QSOs.  5T0JL, for example, prefers not just to swap reports but wants to find out operators’ names.  It’s his choice: if Jean is running a pileup, it’s up to him how to run it.  Always listen carefully to the operator’s instructions, and failing that take your cue from what the DX op and other callers are normally sending.  Just as it is considered impolite and inconsiderate to monopolise the channel by sending a long brag file to a DX station that is running a decent rate on one of the digital modes, it is equally rude to blurt out just “five nine” or “5NN” to someone who is routinely swapping names etc.  Be nice!

To help both DXpeditioners and DXers have more fun, here are some Hinson tips I originally developed to support the ZL7T DXpedition back in 2009.   Absorb my tips to avoid appearing on the piles of fun page ...

 

Pileup-beating advice for DXers

Pileup management advice
for DX stations

Listen listen listen!   If you hear a pileup or see something juicy spotted on DXcluster, please don’t just jump straight in.  You will not be able to work the DX if you can’t even hear the DX, so first find the DX stn’s TX frequency and set up your transceiver and antenna properly while you listen to his rhythm and hopefully find out his preferred RX frequency. 

Take command of your pile.  Be clear, fair and reasonable.  Lots of DXers will be desperately calling so do your level best to work them as efficiently as possible.  Adopt a consistent rhythm and sensible speed for the conditions.  Ignore the lids - don’t rise to their bait.  Pick out callers that synchronise with your rhythm [hint: they may not be the loudest].

Practice and hone your pileup management skills, preferably off-air
using the outstanding freeware program PileupRunner by Alex VE3NEA.

Note: this tip is for DXers as well as DXpeditioners.
We must each appreciate the other’s needs as well as our own.

Configure your rig correctly.  Use the appropriate filter settings, RF gain or attenuation and so forth to have the best possible chance of completing a QSO.  You might like to lock your receive VFO or pop it into a memory once it is set correctly, though you may need to make adjustments later if the DX shifts about to avoid the frequency kops.

Learn how to drive your rig and PC before you go on air from an exotic QTH.  Be sure you know how to:

  • operate split (set and check it)
  • lock your TX VFO (use a memory?)
  • adjust your receive filters, notch filter and DSP
  • listen on your TX frequency (quietly, in one ear: if you work anyone there by mistake, you will cause chaos!)
  • log and correct QSOs
  • send standard messages using memories or macros (consistency helps)

DX stations often operate with relatively low power and basic/temporary antennas, so be prepared to work at it.  Find out from propagation prediction tools (such as Club Log) when you are most likely to catch the DX on different bands and plan your move.

Make good use of the propagation.  Listen patiently to see if they are getting stronger.  Turn your beam if appropriate and maybe check the long path.  If you can’t hear them well, you probably won’t get through, especially if they have a pileup. 

Take maximum advantage of your QTH.   If you are on a desert island, find a suitable location right on the beach if you can, as close as you dare get to the sea (simple vertical antennas work extremely well right at the water’s edge or even better on a short pole in the water - you simply can’t get a better ground plane).  Next best would be a high cliff-top site with excellent take-off over the sea in the main directions of interest.  Mountain tops, hill tops and even hotel roofs make good locations too.  Don’t forget to order good propagation before you leave home ....

Spend a moment listening to the DX in order to pick up his pattern and style of operation. Is he working all comers or calling specific call areas/continents, working by numbers, or whatever?  Is this a contest-style quick fire operation working snappy callers who only call once, or is the DX taking the time to chat to callers and work the slower ones?

If the pileups get too unruly, consider calling and working, or excluding, specific areas/continents and only if absolutely necessary work by numbers. Don’t spend too long on any single area or number: cycle through the complete sequence at least once every 10 to 15 minutes.  Keeping the pileup under control is an important job for you.  If you are too slow, the mob will get impatient and tempers will fray.  Play the game.

Double-check the DX stn’s callsign. DXcluster spots from over-excited DXers often list broken (incorrect or incomplete) calls.  Some are obviously broken but others look OK at first glance, until you notice an Oh instead of a zero, an L instead of a one, or a 5 instead of an S ...  Do not call until you are certain who you are calling and make sure you log the DX correctly. You would not want all this hard work to go to waste, would you?!

It is considered vaguely rude to ask “What’s your call?” if the DX sends his callsign often, but if you have listened patiently in the pileup for a few minutes and are still not 100% sure, go ahead and ask him to confirm what you have.

Send your own call frequently , ideally during every QSO but if not at least once a minute or so.  If you hear anyone sending QRZ or CL?, that usually means you are not IDing often enough, and it encourages the frequency kops.  Don’t rush it: send your call slowly and carefully every so often.  If it is garbled and gets listed wrongly on DXcluster, some of those calling you will log it wrong.

Take extra care logging when you are either tired or working flat-out.  Simple typos (such as entering an oh instead of a zero) are hard to spot by eye (although slashed-zero fonts such as Monaco help in that case).  On CW and data modes if not SSB, have your computer send the logged call as part of the exchange, as a sanity check.  And if the pileup gets too monstrous or the DQRMers and kops too disruptive, just shift to a new frequency and for a while at least enjoy working genuine DXers who are not totally hooked on their DXcluster dripfeed ...

Give your callsign in full but only once, then listen for a bit.  On CW, use QSK if possible to hear instantly when the DX comes back.  On phone, use recognised phonetics.  Never give “last two” unless the DX is explicitly asking for it.  If the path is open and the pileup is huge, giving your callsign more than once without listening just creates QRM and slows the DXer’s rate down.  If the DX responds with part of your callsign missing or incorrect, give your callsign again, in full, once and listen carefully in case you are doubling with another DXer with a similar callsign to yours.  If he still can’t get your callsign correctly, give it twice and listen. 

Sometimes it helps to s l o w  d o w n a little - savour the moment, you are working DX!

Repeat at least the corrected part, if not the entire call, of anyone whose call you did not send correctly the first time.
Failing to do this leaves the DXer uncertain whether the QSO was completed and leads to additional but unnecessary “insurance” QSOs.  Get this right and the callers will love you.  Get it wrong and they will challenge your parenthood, create dQRM on the frequency and be somewhat uncomplimentary about you on DXcluster and DX reflectors.

Use all available tools to focus on one caller at a time: notice their tone, rhythm, accent, strength etc. as well as their callsign.  Concentrate.  Use the filters and DSP if they help.  Turn the beam if you can.

Keep your sending speed in check, no matter how big the buzz you are getting, as accuracy comes first.  Use “Farnsworth” extended inter-character gaps on CW for the slower callers, especially if they are evidently having trouble copying you.

Choose the best times to call the DX.  Be aware of propagation.  Check the solar figures and propagation predictions (more advice further below).  If conditions are poor and the path is not good right now, hold on until they improve and/or choose another band.  Check any pre-announced preferred frequencies, or use previous spots as a clue.  Meanwhile, keep notes for yourself and look for other DX to work - tune around because rare DX stations often come up to work DXpeditions and some look around the bands while they are on.  Remember it’s always best to work and then spot DX than to see them spotted and join the pileups!

Be aware of, and take advantage of, propagation making the best of short greyline openings, long paths, sporadic E, tropo etc.   Listen hard for weak DX callers If you hear or work some DX in a run of routine QSOs, put the pileup on hold for a moment and call specifically for more of the same DX to take advantage of the opportunity which may be just a brief opening. 

Remember: you are in charge.  Avoid turning the pileup into a bun-fight by doing what you say: if you say “Standby Europe” (or “NO EU” on CW and data), studiously ignore any and all Europeans who call until you say “Europe go ahead” (or “EU NW” or “CQ EU”). 

Operate split.  Find the DX station’s listening frequency by listening to his instructions (e.g. “Up five to ten”) and tuning around the pileup to pick out those he is working (“5NN” or “five-niner” reports are a dead giveaway).  Set your transmit VFO near but not on the exact same frequency as previous callers.  Try to find a clear spot in the direction he is tuning.  Even if the DX is working simplex, shift your TX a bit using split or XIT.   Moving as little as 50 to 100Hz up or down will help the DX resolve your signal from the brainless melee of zero-beat callers.

DXing is an art, not a science.  Repeatedly sending your call without any respect for the DX or other callers may get you blacklisted and is wasting everybody’s valuable time.  Think about how your signal will sound at the far end, find yourself a good spot to call and call at precisely the correct moment. 

Use the right  tempo and pace.  Match the DX for speed if you can, otherwise slow down.  Sometimes slowing right down will give you the edge*.

If the pileup is massive, you stand a much better chance of getting through if you simply hunt for a clearer transmit frequency within the range the DX is patrolling, and call there patiently.  If the DX says “up 5 to 10”, go for the 10 not the 5, or even better 7.5kHz up.

Respect the rights of other users of the band, some of whom are not in the pileup.  Be careful not to transmit on top of another QSO.  If you have a dual-RX rig, use the 2nd RX to monitor your TX frequency to make sure it remains clear, and if not move again. 

Repeat after me the DXer’s mantra:
  listen listen listen!

Operate split - always Tell your callers what to do: use “split” or “UP” often.  Give them a clue about when and when not to call (e.g. be consistent in your use of “thanks” or “TU”).  Help them discover where to call, either by saying something specific like “listening up five” or “listening two-fifty for North America” on SSB or “UP1” on CW, or being a bit more vague if you need to spread the pile out (“UP” or “DN” work fine). 

Be considerate to other users of the band and be extra careful if it is crowded, for example in a busy contest or if other DXpeditions are active at the same time.  Don’t step on someone else’s toes by dumping your pileup on top of them - in other words, listen to your chosen RX frequency before announcing it.  Restrict your pileup’s bandspread by working within a sensible range of frequencies (e.g. five to fifteen kHz on SSB, up to five or ten kHz on CW).

Focus on callers who are precisely synchronised with you, as they are evidently hearing you OK.  If their timing is way off, move swiftly along: you’re wasting time.

Use narrow filters to single out specific callers.  Patrol systematically through the receive range when things are quiet but be prepared to move swiftly through the range when the heat is on.  Pointedly ignore the alligators, callers who interrupt QSOs or call blindly as they are certainly rude and are probably not hearing you well enough to make a QSO efficiently anyway.  If you decide to warn them, avoid giving their full callsigns as that confirms you are hearing them and they will just continue.

If you can, monitor your TX frequency on a 2nd RX and if you hear anyone calling you there, send “UP” more often [but do NOT work them!!].

NOTE: even if you have published ‘preferred frequencies’, don’t stick to them slavishly.  DXers will find you wherever you are.  DXpeditions that have unwisely chosen and stuck to low band frequencies permanently masked by QRM in some parts of the world have missed out on QSOs and annoyed DXers unnecessarily.  Clever DXpeditioners shift about to dodge the idiot DQRMers.

Double check your rig’s frequency display and VFO settings while you transmit to make sure you are actually operating split. Accidentally or even worse deliberately transmitting on the DX stn’s frequency is a no-no, creates QRM, interrupts his rhythm and raises everyone’s blood pressure.  Don’t be a frequency cop.  Also, please try to contain your enthusiasm: do not shout and overdrive your rig as that will make your signal difficult or impossible to copy and will create QRM.  Keep checking your ALC and compression meters and reset the mic gain where necessary!  Listen carefully for other stations the DX is working and try to figure out his pattern, for instance is he working people mostly around one specific frequency, over a small range, or “randomly” across the entire pileup?

Lock your TX VFO to avoid accidentally moving your TX frequency and creating chaos.  If you have published a list of frequencies, have it close to hand.

If you are using an unfamiliar radio, ask someone or take a moment to figure out how to use the VFOs, split and XIT/RIT.  While you transmit, double-check the display.,

[Hint: if you hear an unruly mob of pileup cops on your chosen RX frequency telling your callers to QSY! QSY! UP! UP!, there may well be another DX station on that frequency so it’s probably worth shifting your pileup.  If you hear the cops on your TX frequency, you either need to say “UP” more often, or QSY.]

Wait for the right moment to transmit.  Please do not tail-end other QSOs or call continuously, but wait for your cue which is usually when the DX says UP.
[Hot DX tip: it often helps to wait just a second or three longer if the DX is tuning around the pileup. Don’t be too hasty to call at exactly the same instant as everyone else!]

Maintain a consistent rhythm to avoid encouraging other callers to call over the top of QSOs in progress.  Ignore tail-enders and, if they are really rude, silently blacklist blind callers and dQRMers, at least for a while.  If the QRM is so horrendous you can only pick out a partial call, send just the partial to encourage that station to try again, hoping that others will wait.

When you call, give your complete callsign just once, then listen for a moment and, if the DX has not come back to someone, call again in the same way.   Everyone should be listening far more than they transmit.

Listen at least as much as you transmit.  Use your filters etc. to the best effect and make a special effort to pick out weak callers, whether DX or QRPers (ideally both!).  If you hear a weak caller but can’t quite get his call, try again.  Persist.  He is probably DX, maybe QRP, and is trying hard to reach you.  Take your time to make someone’s day.

Listen carefully to what the DX is sending.  Always send your full call. If the DX sends X? and your call does not contain an X, then just stand by for a moment: they are almost certainly not talking to you.  If the DX sends W3X? (especially if they repeat it), they are almost certainly not calling K5Xsomething, and certainly not something totally unrelated such as UA9ABC or I5ABC.  If you keep on transmitting regardless, you will only prolong the agony for everyone, get a bad reputation and you may even be blacklisted (in order to shut you up, some DX ops may appear to work you without actually logging the QSO: don’t take the risk!).

Be nice, people.  We all want to play.

Repeat whatever characters of a partial call you are reasonably certain about.  Try to avoid sending question mark - to lids, “?” means “Go ahead”!  Focus on the specific tone and rhythm of the caller, and persist doggedly until you get his complete call. If you make a genuine mistake and nobody returns to your first or second offer, say something like “No copy, QRZ” (or “NIL QRZ” on CW) and return to normal calling.  If you are reasonably certain the caller had, say, “W3X” in his call, ignore any unrelated callers: working them ‘to get them out of the way’ inadvertently encourages the pile to ignore your instructions.

As a last resort, make up a fictitious full call to complete your partial, have a phantom QSO, and move along.  Don’t log it though!

If you are confident the DX is working you but has made a small mistake with your callsign, do not give him a report but repeat just your callsign , then listen just in case he’s working someone else.  Only give him a report when he has copied your callsign correctly.   If he once again repeats his mistake, send “NO” followed by your callsign once or twice.  [Sending someone a report signals that he has your callsign correctly.]

If you send someone a report but they do not respond, two things are likely: either they cannot hear you (possibly due to QRM on your TX frequency from pileup kops and lids) or you have made a mistake with their callsign.  If the station you are working responds with their callsign but does not send you a report, listen extra carefully to the callsign in case you made a mistake.  Persist with them until you get their correct call and their report (which is a clue that you now have their call OK).

If you are uncertain that you completed a QSO, call again straight away.  If you can’t get through to confirm, check the online log if available.  Avoid unnecessary duplicate QSOs on the same band and mode, unless you are really not sure that you made the QSO first time around (“insurance QSOs”).
Also, do not repeat your callsign if the DX has just sent it correctly, as this sounds like you are making a correction.

If you hear someone you have just worked immediately or soon after calling you again, check your log carefully, repeat their call back to them and say something like “QSL” or “You’re in the log” to confirm and complete the QSO unambiguously for them.  If you made a mistake in the log, correct it, apologise and patiently confirm their full call on air.

To cut down on insurance QSOs, update your online log as often as you can, at least daily if possible.  Gaps in online logs, and realtime updates from places without reliable Internet connections, cause more grief than not using online logs at all!

If the DX starts calling for QRPers, exotic DX or first timers, take a short break to allow them their chance.   Go pour yourself a coffee or make a cup of tea.  At the very least, turn off your amplifier and turn down the wick.  By all means sign /QRP if your license allows this but only if you are running 5 watts or less!  Play the game.  The DX will return to the pile shortly so rest and be patient.  If you like, spend your time checking propagation predictions to find out when would be your best chance to work them.

Periodically, ask your pileup to QRX while you call specifically for DX callers, QRPers and anyone who hasn’t worked you before on any band/mode .  Listen extra carefully for weak signals and ignore the alligators as best you can.  Turn the beam - make the effort.  If a QRPer, rare DX or first-timer gets through, you will be making someone’s day extra special and perhaps teaching those alligators a lesson in humility and operating technique (some hope!).

If the DX is calling for a specific area but you are not in or near that area, QRX.  The DX will most probably return to the pile shortly but give them a chance to work some real DX.

This is not a hard-and-fast rule: if you are operating from a relatively rare QTH (i.e. in the top half of the most wanted lists), or if an unusual opening is in progress, it’s OK to call occasionally and briefly to let the DX know the path is open.  However, moderation is the key.  If the DX is clearly struggling to keep control of the pile, don’t make things even worse for them.  Think first and call reluctantly, if at all, if they are not calling your area.

If you find you are being monopolized by callers from a given region, it is better to ask them to wait (e.g. “NO EU” or “JA QRX”) than to call another specific region, since there may be DX callers waiting for their chance.

If you hear and work some DX (such as long path Africans), ask the pile to wait while you call for more of the same (“EU QRX EU QRX AF AF AF ONLY LP”).  Give the Africans a few minutes to round up their DX pals and call you.  Some DX openings are very short and the DX that made it through your pile has probably been calling patiently for ages.  Stick to your guns: if after saying AF ONLY you work anyone clearly not in AF, expect to be hounded by yet more rude and ignorant callers. 

Ignore callers who only give partial calls - they are usually cheeky queue-jumpers.  If you fall for their tricks, tell them very directly to wait their turn: the rest of the pile will silently thank you for being firm and fair.

Send clearly - not too fast, not too slow - and work on your timing.  You stand a much better chance of getting through if you synchronize with the DX, calling him only when he is listening for new callers. 

Sometimes, consciously delaying your call a bit makes a big difference, as does offsetting your transmitter a few tens of Hz from most of the pile who are zero-beat on the frequency spotted on the cluster (plus or minus their uncalibrated VFOs!).

Do not call blindly or out of turn.  Do not send a report unless the DX is calling you and has sent your callsign correctly.  Do not become a pileup kop, shouting at people on the DX station’s transmit frequency. 

Most of all, whatever else happens, stay cool If you lose your temper and start disrupting the pileup or chastising other callers, you will only inflame things and slow down the rate for us all.   If it all gets too much for you, take a break to cool off.  Go make another cup of tea or walk the dog.   The DX will most likely still be there when you come back, refreshed and ready to play.

There’s more sage advice for pileup kops further below.

Keep your cool! For example, if you get a partial callsign or suspect you might have made an error, persist doggedly until you are confident enough to complete and finally log the QSO.  Always be as clear as possible in what you are sending e.g. send “<call> KN KN KN” or ”<call> ONLY!” to indicate that other callers apart from the person you are working should stand by, and stick to your guns .  Make every effort to confirm full callsigns, or at the very least repeat the corrected suffix or prefix.  If there is any doubt about someone’s callsign, immediately ask the caller to (re)confirm and wait for their response.  Remember, you are in charge. 

Keep to a reasonable, even-tempered speed.

Remain polite and gentlemanly at all times.  Thank the pileup for being patient with you and following your instructions.  Acknowledge them for standing by while you complete a difficult QSO.  Encourage good behaviour (e.g. callers from the correct area if you are working geographically) and ignore the bad (callers from the wrong area).  Never lose your temper on-air.   If you lose your temper and start disrupting the pileup or chastising other callers, you will only inflame things and slow down the rate for us all.   If it all gets too much for you, take a break to cool off.  Go make another cup of tea or walk the dog.   The DX will most likely still be there when you come back, refreshed and ready to play.

Remember, everyone, this is only a hobby!

Special pileup tips for digital DXing
in addition to those above

Lock your RX frequency on the DX and turn off all automatic tuning (e.g. AFC and NET in MMTTY).  Manually select your TX frequency, lock it or pop it in the memory and for sure don’t touch that VFO if the DX calls you!  Keep to a sensible range but look for a quiet spot away from the DX stn’s TX frequency (up to 1 kHz away on PSK, probably more on RTTY) and stay put for a while.  If the DX seems to drift off frequency, use the RIT on your rig to keep them in tune rather than moving your VFO or adjusting the receive frequency in software.  Don’t forget to listen on your chosen TX frequency and watch the waterfall to make sure it’s still clear.

Stick to the preferred band segments for each mode, especially if this is a condition of your licence.  Avoid the beacon frequencies and, of course, listen first to find a clear spot.

Always split. Never operate simplex.  Avoid listening too close to your own TX frequency.  Turn off all automatic tuning and lock your TX frequency to avoid wandering across the band.  Use suitable filters to pick out individual callers.  Remember your responsibility to tune within a limited range to avoid spreading the pileup out too far.  If stations are clearly not hearing you well, double check that your TX frequency remains clear and don’t forget to send “UP” or “QSX 14085-6” or similar.

Setup your digital mode software and macros appropriately .  When calling DX in a pileup, give your own callsign two or three times and listen.  It is not normally necessary to include the DX callsign in your calls.

Get your macros ready e.g. in MMVARI: “$transmit$ $mycall$ $mycall$ $receive$” and “$transmit$ $call$ TU $sentrst$ $mycall$ $receive$” (note: using $sentrst$ lets you send genuine reports from your log)

Make sure you can actually copy the DX properly and have his call correct (DXcluster is peppered with busted calls).

The worst thing for callers is not knowing who got called due to QRM.  Repeat a caller’s callsign at least twice and give your own callsign frequently, especially if there are other DXpeditions active at the same time. 

Get your macros ready e.g. in MMVARI: “$transmit$ CQ DE $mycall$ $mycall$ UP 1 $receive$” and “$transmit$ $call$ $sentrst$ $call$ $receive$” and “$transmit$ $call$ TU $mycall$ UP $log$ $receive$” (note: the leading and trailing spaces are important for readability)

Be consistent and get into a rhythm for more efficient QSOs and to reduce out-of-turn calling. 

Use multi-frequency decoding software if possible e.g. $multirx$ in MMVARI.  Monitor the pileup to identify who is working the DX and so where he is listening.  Look for holes in the pileup in which to transmit.  Stay well clear of the DX station’s frequency and respect the band limits.

Use multi-frequency decoding software if possible e.g. $multirx$ in MMVARI.  Monitor the pileup to identify numerous callers simultaneously.  Avoid working callers too close to your TX frequency or out of band, and try not to let your pileup spread too far (no more than a few kHz please).

Do not overdrive your transmitter.  Apart from perhaps overheating and damaging it, your signal will probably become unreadable and create QRM for others.  This is especially important if you are using AFSK with tones generated by a PC audio card.  Use your rig’s transmit monitor function for a simple but crude quality check.   If you have a separate receiver or a monitor scope, listen to/monitor your own data transmissions to check the levels.  If not, find a local ham who is willing to help you conduct some tests.  If you have trouble contacting reasonably strong stations normally, and especially if you receive reports indicating poor quality signals, check those settings again.

Look out for well modulated signals and make certain your own signal is clean.  Do not overdrive your transmitter and be careful not to knock the microphone or PC audio level controls once set.  It pays to keep a written note of the correct settings.  You should really have figured those out before you left home but small adjustments may be needed in the field: ask a local to check the quality and width of your data signal when you first set up, and act on any adverse signal reports.

 

* Here is an illustration of some of the techniques in use.

Along with several other ZL DXers, I had been calling K4M (a major-league DXpedition to Midway Island) on 40m/CW for some while one ZL evening but was getting nowhere in a huge pileup, so I consciously and deliberately changed tactics:

  • First, I stopped transmitting for a while to LISTEN in the pileup for the stations he was working, trying to figure out his listening pattern.  He seemed to be working several stations at a time on or near one frequency, then spinning the dial randomly: this meant it was worth me finding someone he was working and calling him on or near that frequency rather than, say, calling in a quiet spot in the pileup.  With him on the main receiver in my left ear, I tuned through the pileup on the sub-receiver in my right ear, listening hard for the tell-tale “5NN” of someone actually working him and trying to pick up his rhythm.  After a couple of failed attempts, I caught a JA sending him a report and set my TX frequency right there. 
  • Next I turned down my CW sending speed to try to catch his attention - the idea being to be still sending my call while others in the pile have finished.  This is the reason that stations signing /M, /P or /QRP so often get through: there’s nothing magic about the suffix, except that it takes longer to send.   This trick also works well if the path is marginal or if the DX has bad QRN.
  • As soon as he finished with the JA, at exactly the right moment , I gave my call just once and listened.  He came right back with a partial call (no QRZ, just part of my call) and I immediately re-sent my full call once more and listened again.  At this point we were perfectly synchronised, with no need for procedural signals such as K or over, nor the dreaded question mark that invites all the lids to call too.  This time he came straight back with my full, correct callsign and report, so I sent him 5NN TU, he sent TU K4M UP back real quick and that was that, another one in the bag, thank you very much. 

The whole QSO including the repeats took just a few seconds but I had a broad grin on my face all evening.

If you appreciate this advice and want more of the same, I recommend these excellent guides:

The BIG PICTURE of expedition operating and the direct relationship to Anti-Social Pileup Behavior podcast by K6VVA

DXpeditioning Basics by Wayne N7NG for ARRL/INDEXA

Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur
by John ON4UN and Mark ON4WW for the IARU

So you want to be a DXer?  DXing tips from Jim AA0MZ

DXpeditioning Behind the Scenes for Radio Amateurs Worldwide:
A Manual for DXpeditioners and DXers, edited by Neville G3NUG and Steve G4JVG
[Unfortunately this appears to be out-of-print, so ask around at the radio club!]

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DX CoC logo new 125 on blackThe DX Code of Conduct

I’ve adopted my own personalized version of the DX Code of Conduct:

  • I listen loads more than I transmit.  I listen harder and harder as I get closer to Honor Roll.
  • I only call if I can copy the DX station sufficiently well to make a QSO.
  • I distrust DXcluster spots (especially from Skimmer/RBN) and prefer to hear and confirm the DX station's actual callsign for myself.
  • I don't interfere with DX stations nor with other callers.  I never tune up on the DX frequency, in his QSX slot or on top of another QSO.  With no-tune amplifiers, I don’t tune up on-air at all.
  • I accept that we all occasionally make mistakes but I am not a frequency kop.  I’m careful to work split whether the DX says “UP” or the pileup is clearly off his frequency, and I always listen first.  I use a one-button macro to configure my K3 instantly for split.
  • I won't interrupt a QSO but wait patiently for a contact to end before calling in.  If I tail-end, I just drop my callsign in there, quickly, once, at precisely the right moment, and listen.  I don’t send any more info than necessary over the top of someone else as I appreciate I may be causing QRM. 
  • I always send my full callsign.  I hate partials.  I prefer to ID properly.  Partials fall below the bare minimum ... except when the DX has the rest of my call and requests a fill-in, and even then I normally repeat the missing bit and then send my full call for good measure.
  • I call and then listen for a reasonable interval (enough to hear if the DX responds to me), using QSK when I can.  I don't call continuously.  See 1st bullet!
  • I don't transmit when the DX operator calls someone else, nor when he queries a callsign unlike mine.  If I'm not sure, I transmit reluctantly, leaving more time for others to call.  See 1st bullet again!
  • I don't normally transmit if the DX operator calls  specific geographical areas other than Oceania or VK/ZL.  If he is calling CQ Asia or CQ NA/SA, I might call in briefly to let him know the band is open to ZL ... but I would much rather everyone called CQ OC or CQ PAC occasionally! 
  • I don’t transmit at all if the DX op is trying to eke a partial out of the pileup that is clearly not me.  In fact, I hold back a bit if the partial is only similar to my call, and wait patiently if I hear a matching caller call (and yes, I always monitor my TX frequency as well as the DX). 
  • When the DX operator calls me, I repeat my call sign if he has copied it incorrectly.  I persist doggedly until he has my call correct.  The rest - including his report - will wait.  If the DX doesn’t confirm my correct call, I call again.  I hate being “NIL” (Not In Log).
  • I am thankful if and when I do make DX contacts.  I routinely QSL all my QSOs within hours via LoTW.  Some months later I send QSL cards via the bureau or direct for DXCC countries I need, and respond 100% to the cards and email requests I receive.  If you want my card, by all means email me or make a request on Club Log’s OQRS facility.
  • I respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn your respect.  If you think I am not complying with my own rules, or if my rules are too lax for you, do let me know.

Thank you for reading this far.  Please encourage others by referring and ideally linking to the DX Code of Conduct from your QRZ page, your personal website, DXpedition website or other ham websites.  Talk to your pals at the radio club about it.  Where appropriate, mention DX-Code.org in DXCluster comments or on-air.  Most of all, respect and use the Code.  Together, we can make a difference.  Best of all, it works - check out my DXCC tally above!

 

It’s not wasted time to stand by and
let someone else complete a QSO:
you can learn a lot by listening”

John ZL1BYZ

 

PS  If you are one of those ignorant oafs who rudely and persistently interrupts my QSOs and ignores my pleas to shut up and wait more patiently, simply click on my nose and I will gladly log you ...

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Japanese city and gun awards

JARL, the Japanese national radio society, offersan award for working Japanese cities.  I stumbled across this after noticing yet another JA special event station with a weird callsign sending its JCC number to strings of JA callers on 40m.  Google found the JARL page listing those JCC numbers and with a bit of digging and guesswork, I found this brief page about the JCC award.  The basic award requires QSLs from at least 100 of the nearly 800 current Japanese cities, ignoring the deleted cities (which I hardly dare ask about).

There is a similar JCG award for working at least 100 of the 396 current guns ... not, not that kind of gun, a Japanese gun is evidently a “regional congregation of towns and districts”, not unlike the districts or parishes of G-land I guess, making this award vaguely similar to the dreaded Worked All Britain award.

JARL’s main English page for all its awards is here.

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HF propagation

On the topband reflector, N7DF noted that changes of the direction in which the interplanetary magnetic field impinges on earth's magnetic field (known as Bz, apparently) affect propagation on all the SW bands.  The 7-day magnetic data from NOAA did indeed show a correlation between Bz (the yellow plot) and the outstanding 10m conditions I experienced over the previous weekend:

Bz plots from NOAA

 

Notice the Bz (and Theta and Phi) dips to the negative region on the 13th and again on the 14th and 16th: these were the very periods when 10m conditions peaked for me.  According to N7DF, the periods of change between Bz+ and Bz- correlate with enhanced LF conditions, while the stable Bz- periods correlate with enhanced HF conditions.

... Unfortunately, this is yet another lagging indicator that doesn’t help predict when conditions will peak.  But still, it’s an interesting aside.

NOAA’s D-RAP page shows when HF conditions are lousy due to heavy absorption caused by solar flares.  Bright green, yellow or red areas on the map mean weak or inaudible signals on the high bands, whereas normally all we see is dark colours meaning daytime absorption on the low bands.  Fade-outs from flares (as shown below) can last from a few minutes to several hours.  Click the static image to visit the live NOAA page which refreshes periodically:

Solar absorption

The plot above was a few minutes after a flare wiped out 5X0NH’s signal on 17m: both short and long path between ZL and 5X pass through the polar regions where the red indicates significant absorption.

Operating single-band on 15m in the 2012 WPX CW contest gave me the chance to study the way the paths change with propagation.  Towards dawn and dusk, DX signals from the Far Side often appear at strange angles of azimuth (e.g. UK stations that are normally worked by beaming due North or South can be strongest to our East or West, and at other times I had some good runs while beaming at the South Pole) but the mystery is solved by looking the great circle map: the grey line between night and day snakes its way around the world giving those odd angles as it passes either end and, usually, substantially stronger signals for a while. 

I’m fascinated by long path openings, not least because they offer a way to work DX stations that struggle via short path due to local terrain and QRM.  It’s quite a buzz to break through a US pileup working an African station via their SP, since my LP to Africa passes over North America: all I need is for the African to hear my weak fluttery “DXey” signal as it pops up at just the right moment between the stronger US SP signals in their pileup, and for the US guys to give me a break, which mostly they do.  I’m trying hard to train myself to pay more attention for LP callers in my own pileups too, so please don’t give up too easily if you are calling me on your LP though my SP pile.

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DX Magazine’s annual DX Marathon

CQ Magazine's DX Marathon is a DXers’ competition to work the most DXCC countries (plus a few CQ mag specials such as the Shetland Islands) and CQ zones during in the calendar year on any mode. 

Here's how I will prepare and submit my entry for the 2014 event in January 2015, step-by-step:

  1. Extract and save my 2014 log from Logger32 as an ADIF file.
  2. Download the DX Marathon scoring utility by Jim AD1C (TU Jim, what a star!).
  3. Install the DX Marathon utility.
  4. Run the DX Marathon utility.
  5. Point it at the ADIF log from step 1, select 2014 and watch in awe as it finds all the zones and countries I have worked and writes a CSV (Comma Separated Variables) data file for me.
  6. Open the CSV file in Excel (simply double-click it: Excel knows how to handle CSVs).
  7. Open the official entry form also in Excel (always use the latest version from the CQ DX Marathon website: there are occasional corrections to the country lists etc.).
  8. Cut-n-paste the QSO info from the CSV file into the entry form, in 2 halves: first the country info, then the zones info.
  9. Check through the info for any glaring errors, then save it somewhere handy.
  10. Send the saved file as an email attachment to Scores@DXmarathon.com
  11. Check my inbox for a confirmation email that the entry has been received.
  12. Double-check that my entry is shown on the list of entrants at the DX Marathon website.
  13. Take note of any feedback from the contest adjudicator such as apparently invalid claimed countries or zones (usually zone 2).

The 2014 event started on January 1st, so if you are DX, don’t be surprised if I call you on several bands having already worked you in previous years!  Likewise, I’m happy for others to call me at least once per band and mode per year - well as often as you like really.  If I’m not busy, let’s have a chat.  If I’m running a pileup or contesting, please don’t be offended if I slip away quickly.

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Configuring VE7CC’s Cluster User to use multiple DXclusters

Using Lee VE7CC's Cluster User program to connect to your favourite DXclusters beats just connecting directly for several good reasons, such as:

  • Auto-reconnect - if the link drops, it logs you back in
  • Easier filtering - point-n-click configuration of the DXcluster filters for bands etc.
  • Ready access to spots sorted by band, frequency etc.
  • Read access to announcements, cluster mail etc.
  • Ability to merge spots from two DXclusters (more on this below)

The default list of DXClusters in Cluster User does not include every single one.  Here’s how to configure Cluster User to connect to an unlisted cluster, the CDXC private (members-only) cluster in my case:

  1. On the top line menu, select Configuration --> Cluster (telnet)
  2. Into the (normally empty) node box, type CDXC, then click Add  [Note: it is also possible to add another DXcluster address to the default node data file, but if you later select the 'Update node list' option on this screen, your changes will be overwritten when the software re -downloads the default node data file from the WWW.  So basically, don't bother.]
  3. Into the address field, type  cluster.cdxc.org.uk (or the Telnet address for another cluster)
  4. Into the port field, type  7300 (the most common port, although some use 7373 etc.)
  5. Click Apply to tell the software you intend to connect to the CDXC cluster
  6. Click Exit
  7. On the top line menu, select Configuration --> User info
  8. Enter your CDXC cluster login ID and password (obtained from CDXC) and optionally complete the rest of this panel with the appropriate info for your location, home node etc.
  9. Click OK to save it
  10. If you are currently connected to another cluster node, click the Disconnect box next to the node name at the top of the screen
  11. Click Connect to tell Cluster User to make a Telnet connection to the address entered in steps 3 & 4 and then submit your username and password entered in step 8 to log you in, and that should have you connected to the CDXC cluster.
  12. Optionally set up the cluster info, band filters etc. using the Settings, Bands and other tabs in the VE7CC program and Tell Cluster to let the new node know about them.

We can connect simultaneously to multiple DXclusters with the latest version of Cluster User.  I use this to blend the members-only spots received from a private cluster with general spots from a public cluster. 

VE7CC’s DXcluster node and Cluster User software has the option to deliver CWSkimmer spots from the Reverse Beacon Network.  These show up when someone starts CQing on CW or RTTY, often before they are spotted by a human being.  Personally, I like the fact that RBN spots everyone, not just “DX” - ordinary hams CQing, not just those with rare or exotic calls - so I have filled many ordinary band/mode slots for the CQ Marathon and caught up with non-DX friends that probably would not have been spotted, so I would otherwise have missed them unless I happened to be tuning past at the right moment.  There are some disadvantages to RBN though, primarily busted spots ... but to be fair busted spots turn up on DXcluster too.

Logger32 can also collate spots from two different clusters - simply connect to the respective clusters from the Telnet and Local host tabs in the cluster window.

<Aside> To those who decry the use of all this technology: oh please, give it a break!  Just because you prefer to hunt your DX “the hard way” doesn’t give you the right to complain about how others do it.  We don’t constantly moan at you for being behind the times, it’s entirely up to you what technologies you do or do not choose to use.  You may not know which end of a soldering iron to hold but you do at least operate a radio, don’t you?  Isn’t that “technology”?  Personally, I’m all in favour of hams continuing to push the technology envelope and share their creativity, time and knowledge so generously with their fellow hams.  It’s all part of the ham spirit to me.  YMMV.  </Aside>

Back to quick links

To hear really well, you need to be really really quiet.  Banish switch-mode power supplies.  Scrap those nasty plasma TVs and noisy CRT displays.  Hunt down and eliminate computer QRM.  Then, when you’ve cleaned up the neighbours, go home and re-check yours yet again ...

Hawke’s Bay
North Island
New Zealand

39o 39’ South x 176o 37’ East

Locator RF80HL

260m ASL

IOTA OC-036

CQ zone 32

A1 Ops
ARRL
CDXC
FOC
G0FBB
G-QRP-C
M6T
NZART
Voodudes
ZL6QH
ZM4T

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