Monday, May 16, 2011

Expanded DXing Tips

Expanded DXing Tips

There have been some fine articles on here from plenty of experienced DXers, as well as many tidbits of great advice. But this subject is rarely complete as DXing is a constantly changing, very dynamic beast. Some tips and advice just bear repeating.

Now the reason I'm posting this is not to toot any proverbial horn as I'm certainly not at the top of the Honor Roll, but I'm in the HF trenches everyday and hear all the right and wrong ways of DXing...some ops are exceptional, some still need some work. No worries, we all still have room for improvement. But with the current trend in society for increased rudeness and "me me me," we hams must continually police our own personal actions to assure the retention of the gentlemanly traditions of ham radio in the international arena (HF, sats, etc.)

I know many of these points have been made before, and some I have just noticed and wanted to share, either way, they bear repeating from time to time. If for no other reason than to help new DXers have a much smoother trip to the top of the Honor Roll, and also to help remind the big guns to monitor themselves. We all make mistakes; this is fine; the important thing is that we learn from them. I have a few things that may help as I have heard them on the air.

1) LISTEN! The greatest tool in the ham shack is the ham himself, and the greatest tools that he possesses are his ears and knowing what he's hearing. This is a simple practice, it requires only sitting and not transmitting, even if only for a couple of turns. Listening will tell you who the DX is (don't always rely on the Internet to fill in the blanks, this is the wrong way to do it), where he's listening (whether its simplex or split, and if its split, how far up or down), and so on. If you hear a DX station on a nice clear frequency, listen for a second. All too often I hear a DX station send "TU UP," then the roar of hundreds of high pitched signals 2KC and higher; there's always one guy who somehow always missed that "UP" part and calls on his calling frequency, and he apparently also doesn't hear the snarling pileup that's just up from him. The result is inevitable; a dozen cops descend on him and start hurling "UP LID" and other choice epitaphs.

If you are not a very good CW op, but you really want that station, learn how to recognize some basic commands, like "UP" and "AS" and "ONLY". As well as QSL info and such, but if you hear "AS"...stop transmitting. If you hear "UP," then set your TX frequency up.

2) Pileup etiquette: I covered a little bit in the previous paragraph and simple listening can avert much of the frustration, but pileups are a fluid monster. Few hobbies create more high blood pressure by sitting still than working a pileup...but these days, we must include the Internet into the equation. Granted, forums are not what I speak of, but DXsummit or any spotting medium, though not ham radio, is just as international as being on the air itself. Tempers flare online and on the air easily when you are in the heat of lose your cool and start freaking out and hammering out insults, the whole world sees or hears it...and they all have your call sign now, as well as the DX.

Another thing, and this one causes a lot of frustration for the DX station, is when he sends a partial call because he didn't get it the first time, again...listen! If he is asking for "WB5??" and your call does NOT have a W, a B or a 5 in it...don't keep sending your call over and over! I recall a certain VK0 station who would get this kind of thing, finish his QSO with the guy he was trying to pull out, then he would work the offending party and finish it with "NO QSL"...ouch! Mind your manners, you never know when it can rear up and bite you back.

3) Know your gear. Know where the VFO is and how to use it, know how to recognize when its on. I'll be honest, I've made this mistake today in a pileup for an HH station, I was calling the guy and kept hearing others on his calling frequency being cops and I was refraining from joining the fray until I heard my suffix in between the DX...then to my horror, I noticed my VFO was not set, and I had the cops on my tail. I can't recall ever making this mistake before in 25 years, but I waited for the DX to stop transmitting (and them too) and sent a quick "SRI", and fixed the problem...2 calls later, he was in the log. Where do you hide when the entire pileup has your call? As I said, we all make mistakes, and I certainly made one there. This all ties in with keeping your cool, you just never know who is making an honest mistake...but a simple glance at the panel and I would have spotted the missing "clar" LED.

I also hear guys in the pileup with failing gear, now its easy to say "well that's HIS problem"...but if its a bad relay, or a failing final, he will be clicking and splattering all over the place causing undue harm to everyone trying to hear what's going on...this situation is unforgiving if you are an op who has trouble with #1 up there. If you are going to run full legal limit in a pile, please make sure your gear is clean.

4) Go with the flow. Many times, DX stations enjoy real human conversation over the quick fire 5NN TU stuff. If you really need that guy in Africa, but you can clearly hear that he is a slow op, exchanging names and QTH and asking questions about the other op, be prepared to have a least the basics. If you really wanted the QSO, but want to see what else is out there, make a GRACEFUL and courteous exit, something like "...Ok Franz, I thank you very much for the nice QSO, good to hear you are doing well, there are many stations calling you and I don't want to hold you up, 73 my friend"...there, you left him with a positive feeling about the QSO, you have him in the log and you can now start working on getting the card. And who knows, you may even have learned something new about his life and his country, more of us could stand to do this.

On the other hand, most rare and semi-rare DX QSOs will be of the 5NN TU variety. simply because of the sheer volume of stations waiting in line. Now i hear lamenting online and on the air regarding this, how 5NN TU is not a real conversation. They are wrong. Its perfectly valid, and both parties are expecting this, the DX is enjoying the run of stations he is getting and just knowing that he is giving a new country to many hams is gratifying to him. And for the DXer, its a small victory...everyone is happy in this situation. This said, if you want to work a station who is operating in this manner, then carefully listen for your call, and return a quick 5NN TU, this may be all he sounds impersonal, but it is what it is. If he is just giving the basics, please don't sit there and give name, QTH, rig, WX, etc. There is plenty of time for ragchewing. But consider this, if its a rare DX station, he may have only a week or two to work as many stations as possible to give everyone a fair chance at getting a new one before having to pack up and go home. And another thing, propagation changes...he may be loud to you, but he is fading fast to many others frantically calling, and this may be their last chance to put this one in the log. And remember, most hams aren't spring chickens...this may truly be their last chance!

5) Never give up! All to often I hear sayings like "life's too short for QRP," and hams commenting on the air about how they don't have a chance to work the rare one because the amp is on the fritz...meanwhile, I'm putting the DX in my log with 100w and an inverted V. Why? Because I didn't get the memo that I'm "too weak," that's rubbish! Granted, I cant work everything I hear and some pileups are just too huge and the DX is barely in there, but I do surprisingly well with what I have. I do so because I believe in my ability to make it work and lo and behold...I usually hear my call coming back. In addition to good ears, good skill can net you comparable results...results you can be proud of. Are these bragging rights out on the street? Nope, in fact, most non-hams will STILL think you are just a nerd, but if you are posting great DXCC numbers, WE will all see it, and we will all know what you've accomplished.

6) QSL manners. It is said that the final courtesy of a QSO is a QSL. Again, times are changing and things are getting expensive...not every QSO will result in a QSL. This is ok. But if you work a rare one and really need that card (unless you use LoTW) then there are some things that may help you. QSLing is a separate facet unto itself, and few people outside of the postal service understand how mailing works better than hams. I recently worked VP6DX 11 times for many new bands and modes, so the next thing i needed to do is send the QSL. I'll use them as an example.

First, I didn't send 11 cards. I used only one card. On the front, I only filled out the DX call, then in the open area I put "11 QSO's ON BACK" with an arrow. Once there, I made a box with 11 lines for each QSO, then dividers for the info at the top. The most important (in my experience) for managers is chronological order by date first, then time, band, etc...Unless a website indicates otherwise. You must think about the QSL manager, this is a volunteer job. And if they worked 100,000 QSOs on the DXpedition, he is going to be busy! Help him out by making it easier to NOT make a mistake on YOUR card.

If you decide on the 'info on back' route, I would highly suggest putting your call back there on top so he doesn't have to flip the card to see whom it is. And make sure you have the proper postage, as this is of high importance. The USD is not all that strong these days, so $1 will assure you a 2 year wait as your card comes back via buro...consider it a tiny donation. You need to put $3 or one current IRC in there to be safe...hey, its only 3 bucks. And make sure the IRC's are stamped on the LEFT. Also, make sure you research the route thoroughly before mailing anything off, you may have worked an operation that was specialized and has its own manager for that 2 week never know, so make sure you check it all out, doing so will save you a lot of time, money and stress.

On a final note on the subject, make sure to thank the manager and the ops for a fine job...its easy to criticize an expedition on a forum or a spotting page when you are all fat and comfy in your shack, with air conditioning and a fridge...meanwhile, these guys are battling sea lions or crabs nipping at their feet, while ocean spray and sand is getting into everything, humidity is draining the gear and the ops, or freezing cold wind is making it hard to hear signals or work the key for eight hours in a pup tent with frozen fingers...far from the comforts of home and far from their families. They do this because they love the hobby and want to give you an opportunity for a new one. Please be respectful to the ops and managers doing this for you. And don't be afraid to put a little extra in the envelope if you can. I rarely hear complaining and whining from hams that have actually DONE a DXpedition, they already know what it takes to get one of these things in the books.

This isn't everything, but I leave the topic open for anyone to add on to it. Hopefully when we exchange ideas and information, we can all enjoy the hobby a little more and hopefully, become better DX'ers for it.

Good DX to you, Happy Hunting and I hope to hear you all in the pileups!

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