Saturday, May 5, 2012

DX-Operating on the Low Bands IV

DX-Operating on the Low Bands IV

ON4UN, John Devoldere


In the old days we had dozens of DX bulletins, all over the world, to inform us. Then came packet radio, and along with it the DX Clusters. Information was much “fresher,” and within a day or so a message sent from the US would arrive in Europe. Local DX-information nets, mainly on 2-meter FM, which were thriving 10 years ago, have all but disappeared. 
Today all dedicated DXers use the Internet, e-mail and the Web to get the latest information, quickly. During the VKØIR DXpedition there were up to three bulletins a day sent on the Internet (to various reflectors on e-mail plus a dedi­ cated Web page). News was everywhere within hours of being released on Heard Island. DXers quickly got used to the Internet and its powerful possibilities.

13.1. DX  Clusters
DX Clusters have been with us for quite a few years now. The DXer sends to a DX Cluster station his real-time informa­ tion (the call and frequency of a DX station he has heard) and he receives the same kind of information back, contributed by others connected to the network. Nowadays, most DX Clus­ters are interconnected through the Internet rather than through RF links on 2 meters and/or 70 cm. It is likely that packet­ radio RF networks will be completely replaced by much faster Internet connections in the future (although backup RF links are still very useful when Internet connections crash).
All of this means that you don’t need a 2-meter/70-cm station and a TNC to connect to your local DX Cluster. Many hams have continuous Internet access (by CATV cable or wideband twisted pair) and can connect to any DX Cluster anywhere in the world. 
DX Clusters are thriving better than ever! DX Clusters and the Internet have changed DXing in general. Some publications have pictured DX Clusters as the greatest evil in Amateur Radio. They are said to undermine the art of listening. Scott, W4PA, has a very strong view about this issue: “Shut off packet radio, and do it like a man.” The fact is, of course, that DX Clusters and the Internet are here to stay. We will all have to develop different skills that help us keep this technological advantage over competitive fellow DXers in this changing world. I am personally convinced that the DX Clusters and the reflectors and Web pages on the Internet are just a set of superb tools that have evolved in our wonderful hobby.
Today most  DX  Clusters are  interconnected world­wide,  and  a  few  operators  complain  about  spots  from distant geographic areas. What  is  the  use,  they  say,  for a  European DXer  of  a  Japanese station  spotting a  ZL7 in the middle of the day (in Europe) on 3.5 MHz? This is  certainly  true  to  some  extent,  but  such  information may help find rare openings on the higher bands, at times nobody  would  normally  expect  them.  During  contests you  can  also  see  how  propagation moves  in  a  certain direction, and  it  is  always interesting to  see  how  many times  you  get  spotted during  a  contest!
Here are some addresses of DX Clusters available by telenet:
The latest and most advanced of so-called DX Cluster “concentrator programs” is DX Cluster Concentrator (DXC) by ON5OO, who besides being an avid contester, is a professional programmer. DXC any logging and contesting programs hav­ing provision for telnet access, such as DX4WIN (, DXBase (, Swisslog, LOGic6 (, Eurowinlog (www.eurowinlog. de/),  TRX Manager  ( and  XMLog (
A concentrator program like DXC allows you to be one of the first to receive a spot, even if it’s originated half way across the world. The programs includes a lot of additional features, such as selection criteria (eg, which bands), alarm criteria, etc. You can even send an MSM message to your own cellular phone telling you that one of the countries you still need has been spotted!
You  can  also  use  DX  Summit, a  popular Web site ( built and operated by the mem­ bers of OH9W/OH2AQ Radio Club. DX Summit collects DX spots from a wide range of DX, making them available to us every 1 to 3 minutes. As such it is not a real-time affair, and is not faster than your local DX Cluster on packet radio, but it has information from all over. Another advantage is that you can  select the  spots (eg,  only 160  meters). www.oh2aq. gives you the last 100 Top-Band spots, 
updated every 3 minutes.

13.2. Internet Chat Channels
Chat channels are the most real-time gadgets around nowadays. ON4KST set up a dedicated Low-Band Channel ( The screen has three windows: the main window with chat text, a window showing the users that are logged on, and a third window showing you the latest spots for the low bands (40-80-160) collected from some 20 dif­ ferent DX Clusters worldwide.
This chat channel has become quite busy and many of the big Top Band guys use it to exchange information. In the first days after its creation W8JI, AA1K, K7ZV, JA5AQC and W4ZV were already on it. While such a  chat channel is undoubtedly interesting and useful, it could also be a danger­ ous tool. Even before such Internet chat channels came into existence we  have seen some would-be DXers using the “announce” function on a DX Cluster to send messages like: “I am calling you on xyz kHz. Do you hear me?” and “You are 339 did you copy my report?” Such message are ludicrous, unethical and  unfair.  Let’s  make  sure  we  all  use  such chat channels correctly. Then we will have another technological tool  with  which we  can  responsibly enjoy our  hobby.

13.3. Internet Reflectors, DX Magazines, Etc
While many years ago, printed DX magazines served the noble purpose of informing the DXers of upcoming activities, this  role  is  now  taken over  by  DX Clusters and  Internet-reflectors. To  my  knowledge, the only monthly printed publication that specializes in  low­ band affairs, is The Low Band Monitor, published by Lance  Johnson (see This  little magazine has  monthly activity reports, stories on  recent low-band  DXpeditions (and  logs  for  160  meters),  ar­ticles  on  low-band antennas,  etc.
Several special-interest groups are  interesting to  the low-band DXer on the Internet. These interest groups use so-called reflectors to exchange information among their  sub-scribers. Reflectors are  semi-open mailboxes, to which anyone can subscribe, free of charge. Once subscribed, you  will  get  copies  of  all  the  mail  that  is being sent to  this reflector. By  addressing a  mail to  the reflector,  you  reach  everyone  who  is  currently  sub scribed  to  that  particular reflector.
The Topband Reflector ( is the place to be for all Top-Band related information. Bill, W4ZV, manages this reflector. The archives for  this  reflector can  be  found  at Other popular Internet sources for DX and contest information (related to any HF band) are:
• The  DX  Reflector ( The  DX  Reflector archives  can  be  found  at:  www.
• If  you are into contesting, then the Contest Reflector is  a  very  good source of  information. The archive containing all  the E-mails from the Contest Reflector can be downloaded at
• Information on planned, current, as well as past DXpedi­tions, can be found at:

13.4. DX  Bulletins
DX bulletins on the Internet have replaced paper DX bulletins. Most of these are weekly publications.
• Probably the most popular DX-information sheet is the weekly DX425News, a no-charge Ital­ ian weekly DX-bulletin with almost 10,000 subscribers worldwide.
• Ted, KB8NW, edits the Internet edition of the OP-DX Bulletin, which is also a weekly DX bulletin: www.papays. com/opdx.html.
•  The North Jersey DX Association has an interesting page with good DX tips:
•  Bernie, W3UR ( publishes The Daily DX Monday through Friday. The Daily DX is available daily as an e-mail containing a collection of all the latest DX news.


Joerg, YB1AQS / DL8WPX (from ZL7DK, VK9CR, VK9XY, S21XX and P29XX fame), formulated the following rules:
• Rule #1: Listen, listen, listen! It’s much harder than to transmit.
• Rule #2: Don’t give up before the DXpedition leaves. If you’re serious, you can’t miss any possible opening (and your opening may come only on the last day).
• Rule #3: Long-haul propagation is always very area selec­tive. Don’t forget to monitor closely who has been worked, and in which direction the propagation is moving to deter­mine your skip.
• Rule #4: For medium-range distances there are not only the gray-line openings. Don’t always wait for the gray line, getting up one hour earlier has often been a winner.
• Rule #5: In big pileups try to avoid calling zero beat with anybody else. One hundred Hertz up or down can readily make the difference. On 160 meters I would go even further away. If  you  ever  have  tried  to  work a  full­ blown pileup covered by two layers of tropical noise, you’ll  know  what  I  mean.
• Rule #6: Tail ending means Tail Ending. It’s definitely an art and not many DXers can do it right. Don’t break-in with your call as long as the previous QSO is not 100% clear. The timing of sending your call is very critical and you have to be synchronized with the behavior of the DX station. But that means clearly you have to hear the DX station well. If not, don’t try it.
•  Rule #7: In case of turmoil on the DX frequency, stay calm and monitor. A good DX operator will soon be aware of the situation and usually try to move just a bit.
• Rule #8: If you call, do it with moderate speed and take into account that the DX may have much more difficulties to copy you, especially if he’s in the tropics. On Top Band, sending your call only one time is often not enough if the DX operator has to interpolate your call, but more than three times in a row is also not productive. 
Dave, NR1DX commented along the same lines on the Topband reflector: “Listen and understand the ‘rhythm’ of the station you are trying to work. Does he slide his QSX up/down after every QSO? By how much? As in duck hunting you have to learn to “lead the bird;” i.e. shoot ahead of him so he flies into the shot when it gets there. If he is not taking tail-enders then don’t tail end. If he is taking tail-enders, listen and see what the timing of other successful tail-enders is. Sending a tail too early or too late is useless QRM. Adjust your speed to the speed of the stations he is working most. Are the guys that are getting through sending their call, once, twice or three times? In other words you have to spend as much time listen­ ing to whom he is working as you do listening to the DX you are trying to work.”


There are a number of low-band-only DX awards. The IARU issues 160 and 80-meter WAC (Worked All Conti­ nents) awards. These are available through IARU societies including ARRL (225 Main Street, Newington, CT 06111, USA). ARRL also issues separate DXCC awards for 160, 80 and 40 meters. More information on these awards can be found at  the  ARRL Web  site  at:
CQ  magazine issues  single-band WAZ  awards (for any band). Applications for the WAZ award go to: Floyd Gerald,   N5FG,   17Green   Hollow   Rd,   Wiggins,   MS 39577-8318. 
In addition, there are very challenging 5-band awards:
5-Band WAS (Worked All States), 5-Band DXCC (worked 100 countries on each of 5 bands), both issued by ARRL, and 5-Band WAZ (worked all 40 CQ zones on each of the 5 bands, 10 through 80 meters), issued by CQ (www.cq-amateur­
The Low Band Monitor ( spon­ sors awards for the low-band DXer that begin each season on September 1 and end March 31:
• 160-Meter WAC—The first LBM subscriber to complete a WAC receives a beautiful plaque to commemorate the achievement. Other subscribers who qualify receive indi­ vidualized, numbered 160-Meter WAC Certificates.
• 80-Meter 100—The first LBM subscriber to work 100 DXCC Countries on 80 meters receives a beautiful plaque. Other  subscribers  who  qualify  receive  individual­ ized,  numbered  80-Meter  100  Certificates.
• 40-Meter  150—The  first  LBM  subscriber  to  work 150  DXCC Countries on  40  meters receives a  beau­tiful  plaque.  Other  subscribers who  qualify  receive individualized, numbered 40-Meter 150  Certificates.
The  achievement awards issued by  the  sponsors of the  major  DX  contests that  have  single-band categories are also highly valued by low-band DX enthusiasts. The major  contests  of  specific  interest  to  low-band  DXers are: 
• The  CQ  Worldwide DX  Contest  (phone,  last  week­ end  of  October)
• The CQ Worldwide DX Contest (CW, last weekend of November)
• The CQ Worldwide 160-Meter Contest (CW, usually last weekend of January)
• The CQ Worldwide 160-Meter Contest (phone, usually the last weekend of February)
• The ARRL International DX Contest (CW, third weekend of February)
• The ARRL International DX Contest (phone, first week­ end of March)
• The ARRL 160-meter contest (first weekend of December)
• The  Stew  Perry  160-Meter Contest (last  weekend of December)
Continental and world records are being broken regu­larly, depending on sunspots and improvements in antennas, operating techniques, etc.
Collecting awards is not necessarily an essential part of low-band DXing. However, collecting the QSL cards for new countries is essential, at least if you want to claim them. Unfor­ tunately, there are too many bootleggers on the bands, and too many unconfirmed exchanges that optimists would like to countas QSOs. These factors have made written confirmation essential unless, of course, the operator never wishes to claim country or zone totals at all. Many other achievements can be the result of a goal you have set out to reach.
The ultimate low-band DXing achievement would be to work all  countries on  the  low  bands. This  goal  is  quite achievable on  40,  possible on  80,  but  quite  impossible on 160 meters, although we see the 160-meter scores slowly climbing steadily above the 310 mark.


Six year ago, when I wrote the Third Edition of this book, the  big question was: “Who will be  the  first to  get  300 countries on Top Band?” Today five have passed that limit and Wal, W8LRL, worked his 310th   country in February,2003, with VU2PAI. Wal started DXing on Top Band in 1972, and in November, 1976, he sent in 100 QSLs to DXCC and obtained award #3. W1BB and W1HGT beat him to #1, as they hand carried their cards to the ARRL! In 1986 Wal updated his score to 201 countries, and he made a third update in September, 2002, when he hand-carried 108 very valuable cards to ARRL HQ for 309 confirmed countries on 160.
Today, as far as I can tell, fewer than 6 DXCC countries have never been available on 160 meters. These are 7O, BS7H, FR/G, FT/W, FT/X and P5. On 80 meters only P5 and BS7H have never been made available so far.
The ARRL publishes every year a DXCC Yearbook, where you can check your ranking in the various DXCC listings. The long-term intention of the ARRL is to make online listings updated monthly and do away with the September-30 logjam for the DXCC Yearbook. 
Nick, VK1AA/VK9LX, (see pub­ lishes “Who’s Who on the Top Band” on his very nice Web page. It lists standings for World, Europe, USA East Coast, Mid-West and West Coast, JA and finally the Southern Hemi­ sphere “QRN fighters.” Yuri, K3BU makes available a listing of  the  major  160-meter contest  records  on:  members.
I analyzed the top 160-meter scores from the US EastCoast, the combined countries worked by W4ZV (NC only), K1ZM, W4DR and W8LRL (spread over a 900-km stretch of the US East Coast), from Western Europe (my score) and from Japan (countries worked by all top 160-meter DXers combined—information from JA7AO). According to the early 2002 DXCC list there are 24 missing countries from the US East Coast, 46 countries from Western Europe and 66 from  Japan.
I  plotted these  missing countries on  three  different great-circle  maps,  centered  on  Washington,  Belgium and Tokyo, and showing the size of the auroral doughnut with  low  moderate aurora  activity.  See  Figs  2-9,  2-10 and  2-11. For  the  four US  East Coast stations there are approximately 30  countries  hidden  behind  the  auroral doughnut, of  which  they  together need  only  14  (47%), in addition to 10 “easy ones.” In Europe I see 47 countries hidden behind the auroral wall, of which I still need 32 (68%), plus another 14 “easy ones.” As for our JA friends, they have 51 hidden countries, of which they need  37  (73%)  in  addition to  29  “easy  ones.”  Besides shadowing by the auroral region, what can explain these differences in  countries  actually  worked?
• JAs have had a handicap of a small allocation around 1900 kHz for too long.
• The Europe tally (my score) was set over a period of only 15 years.
• The US East Coast tally is from four stations spread over approximately 500 miles of the coast, and they have been active at least one more sunspot cycle than I have.
•    Perhaps US Top Banders just spend more time on their radios, rather than writing books?!
It is obvious that the type of countries needed are not the same in all three cases. From Europe the “hidden countries” are  all  in  the  Pacific. They are  all  islands that  are  only activated now  and  then  by  DXpeditions. For  the  USA East-coast, only a  few  Pacific islands are  on  their short list,  but  the  missing  countries are  not  generally popu­lated by active Top Banders either. Our JA friends apparently are  in  a  better position to  catch up  with  the US and Europe on the 160-meter country list. The large number and the 
nature of the countries in their black hole beyond the auroral doughnut seem to make Western Europe  case  the  toughest one!
Interestingly, 160 WAZ is easier from Europe than USA or  JA  because  of  relatively  high  activity  in  Europe’s toughest Zones: Zone 1 (KL7) and Zone 31 (KH6). Japan’s toughest Zone  is  Zone  2  (VE  expeditions only) and  the  US  East  Coast’s  toughest Zone  is  23  (JT  and UAØY),  both  of  which  have  relatively low  activity and are  directly  behind  the  Magnetic North  Pole.
We  have  seen  in  Chapter 1  that  aurora is  a  major limiting factor  for  working DX  on  Top  Band.  The  fact that we do work countries in the black holes beyond the auroral  doughnut merely  means  that  sometimes we  can get  through,  but  these  openings  are  rare  indeed.  Luck and  patience will  help  you  hit  the  right  opening. This again  emphasizes that  DXpeditions should  be  on  Top Band from the first day until the last day. Difficult QSOs beyond the  auroral doughnut can  be  made  during high- SSN years, but 
these are much more difficult than during low-SSN years. Fig 2-12 shows new countries for ON4UN plotted against raw and smoothed sunspot numbers  over  Solar  Cycle  23.  
A  recent  striking  example of  a  crooked-path QSO to an area right behind the aurora doughnut happened in early February, 2003, when a  number of  US  East  Coast stations one  morning worked JT1CO for  their  last  zone on 160 meters. W4ZV and his friends VE1ZZ, W1JZ, K9HMB, K3UL,  K9RJ,  K1UO,  K1ZM  and  W1FV  had been trying for  a  long time, and  they  hit  the  right day. During high-sunspot years patience is very much a virtue that  pays  off!
I attempted to correlate contest results (and hence propa­gation conditions) with Smoothed Sunspot Numbers (SSN). I decided to analyze the 160-meter CQ WW contest scores from 1987 onwards. From Fig 2-13 we see that  the  relation  is  remarkable. The  values  shown  are normalized values. The highest SSN number in this period  (approx  155)  occurred in  1989.  The  normalized values shown are  for  the  months of  September in  each year.  The  solid  line  represents the  normalized average contest score of the six leading scores in both US/VE and Europe and for both the CW and the Phone contests, making each point the average of 24 scores each year. It is amazing how one curve is the mirror of the other.
I made a similar analysis for the 80-meter single-band scores from the CQ WW CW and Phone contests. I calculated the normalized average score from the 24 highest scores each year (again, six from the USA and six from Europe, for both the CW and the Phone contests). Fig 2-14 shows the general trend again mirroring the SSN, although the score curve is less peaked than in the case of 160 meters. On 160 meters the scores are about three times higher during the dip in the sunspot  cycle  as  compared  to  sunspot-peak  years,  while the ratio is about 2 to 1, a little less pronounced on 80 meters.

ON4UN, John Devoldere

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