Saturday, May 5, 2012

DX-Operating on the Low Bands I

DX-Operating on the Low Bands I

ON4UN, John Devoldere

Tree, N6TR, considers 160-meter DXing as a disease. But the symptoms he described apply to the other low bands as well:
• Desire to  be  on  the  radio  at  sunrise.
• Desire to be on the radio at sunset.
• Desire to be on the radio at all times in between Sunset and Sunrise.
• Desire to struggle for months to work a single station in a new country.
• Never being satisfied with the antenna system and constantly trying new ones.
• Only comes down to see the family after working a new country (to gloat). During the rare fantastic  opening, will come down after each new country and hold up fingers indicating how many new countries were worked so far. These events are rare and occur about once or twice in a century. 
• Drinks lots of water before going to bed with the sole purpose of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to  see  if  a  new country can  be  found.
• Has  problems  getting  to  work  on  time  during  the winter  months.
• Sends equipment and wire to people in unworked countries, hoping that the end result will be their QSL card on the wall.
• Spends thousand of dollars going to rare countries just so other people can work it.

And these are only some of the better-known symptoms. According to Rush Drake, W7RM, it’s a painful disease: “To work DX on 160 you’ve got to love pain.” Earl, K6SE, changed that to: “You’ve got to love torture...” Who am I to disagree with such eminent low-band DXers?
One-sixty meters is usually referred to as Top Band, the band  at  the  top  of  the  wavelength spectrum, the  band with top-notch operators, the band that’s a top challenge and that gives you top excitement and satisfaction. Gary, NI6T, says: “One sixty? Not  a  band, but  an  obsession.
” All   kidding   aside,   low-band   DXing   is   a   highly competitive technical hobby.  It  is  certainly not  a  communications sport  for  the  appliance operators. It  is  one area of amateur radio where it really helps to be knowledgeable. This  is  not  a  “plug  and  play”  hobby!


Gerry, VE6LB, who is a successful Low Band DXer from an urban QTH, from the middle of nowhere, right in the auroral doughnut, using simple antennas, summed up a few myths:
• There is no (or little) DX on the low bands!
• You need a big antenna and high power (it’s only for the big guns) to work DX on the low bands!
• DX is so scarce that you need to spend many hours (mostly late at night) to find DX on the low bands!
•  Any DX to be found on the low bands is on CW.
• There is no low band DX during the summer.
• The low bands are too noisy to work DX.


Let’s look at some facts:
1. All countries have been available on 40 meters, and there are quite a few DXers that have all of them on 40, except for P5. At this time, all countries (with the exception of P5 and BS7H) have been available on 80 meters, and probably not more than a handful countries have not—so far—been available on Top Band. Every year several Top-Band DXers work DXCC in less than a year (as reported in the Low Band Monitor).
2. You  will  probably  never  win  the  CQ  Worldwide 160-Meter Contest from a suburban lot with a 50-foot antenna-height restriction. But you can work DXCC on the low bands, even with 100 W from a typical suburban lot. KH6DX/W6 worked over 100 countries from a mobile! I have friends who have never run power (more than 100 W) and have over 100 countries on Top Band. It is true—of course—that, the better the means, the more you’ll be sitting in the front row when the show is on.
3. Most of the DX on the low bands can be worked around sunset or sunrise. This is a better arrangement than on 10 meters, where the DX shows up in the middle of the day when most of us are at work.
4. Too bad not all the low-band DX is on CW. (That’s a personal note. I love CW so much better than phone!) Seriously, there are countries that are only available on Phone and others only on CW. That’s the name of the game. When it comes to Top Band though, CW is the name of the game! It’s Top Band, and CW, that separate the players.
5.  Ever consider that when it’s summer here, it’s winter on the other side of the equator?
6. Noise, whatever its origin, is one of the main challenges for the low-band DXer, but it certainly does not 
stop real men from DXing. This is not a broadcast hobby, neither a communicator’s hobby. In this low-band hobby we are driven to move the boundaries of what is possible.
Well, all of this does not mean that working DX on the low bands is just a piece of cake, a nice pastime for the appliance-type operator. But what makes so many love the low bands for chasing DX?


I included this question in my questionnaire that I sent out early 2003 via the Internet. The answers are the same as I the one received 5 years ago when I last ran the survey. For literally everyone who works the low bands what makes them chase DX is the challenge, the sense of fulfillment and having done something difficult. (See Section 17.)
Low-band DXers are always near the edge of what is possible. The most successful low-band DXers are the pio­ neers who keep moving this edge. Improved understanding of propagation, together with better equipment, and most of all, better antennas, make it possible to dig deeper and deeper into the noise to catch the previously evasive layer of buried signals. Top-Band DXers are those balancing themselves on the cutting edge of the DXing sword!
If you are looking for an easy pastime, stay away from low-band DXing. Maybe one of the many lists that are abun­ dant on the higher bands is something for you. K1ZM, who now is one of the few US stations having worked over 300 countries on 160 meters, wrote on his survey reply: “160 is truly a MAN’s as well as a GENTLEMAN’s band. You want a challenge? Get on 160.” 
On 80 and 40 meters you do not need to have a genuine “antenna farm” to work DXCC, even within one year’s time. Even on 160 meters urban QTHs with small and low antennas regularly produce DXCCs on Top Band. I have included in this book a short chapter on “Working 160-Meter DX From a Small Suburban Lot.” There are many examples of rather modest stations on a small suburban lot that have done extremely well. My friend George, K2UO, worked over 200 countries on 160 from a 1/2-acre  suburban lot. To be so successful from an average QTH requires a better-than-average knowledge of propagation, as well as a substantial dose of perseverance.

ON4UN, John Devoldere

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