Saturday, May 5, 2012

DX-Operating on the Low Bands V

DX-Operating on the Low Bands V

ON4UN, John Devoldere


During the early months of 2003 a new survey questionnaire was sent out by e-mail to nearly 500 active Low- Banders. Other volunteers were able to download the questionnaire from Nick’s (VK1AA) website, which lists 160-meter DXCC standings. I would like to thank the 270 low-band DXers who contributed to the poll and who made it possible to do some statistical analysis.

17.1 Age  and  Activity
Instead of concentrating on peoples’ ages, I asked how long they’d been DXing on the low bands. Nearly 60% of the active DXers have been active on Top Band for less than 20 years. The average 80-meter DXer has been at this game for somewhat longer, 35% for 20 years or less. It looks like Top Band still  must be  attractive for  newer DXers. The continuous growth in the number of participants in the CQ WW 160-meter contest over the years confirms this trend.
Based on the survey, the average low-band DXer has been on 40 meters for 35 years and on 80 meters for 26 years, but has only been on 160 meters for 22 years. Comparing these figures with those of my last poll (6 years ago), the average age has gone up by approximately 6 years, which would seem to indicate that there are no young newcomers. Going by the average age of 50 determined 6 years ago, it  seems to  be  safe  to  say  that  the  average age  is  now approx 56 years. Where is any young blood coming into the  hobby  itself?

17.2. Time Spent on the Low Bands
What  is  the  split  for  time  spent  on  the  40,  80  and 160-meter  bands  by  low-band  DXers?  A  large  number (almost 1/3) operates 40 meter only occasionally (less than 10% of the time), while less than 10% work 40 meters more than 50% of their time. I guess this means that 40 is not really a low band: Perhaps there is not enough challenge! While a similar percentage of diehards (< 10%) can be found working more than 50% of their time on 80 meters, the picture is very different for Top Band: Over 30% spend more than 50% of their time on 160 meters! The “average ham” in the poll spends 45% of his “low band time” on 160 meters.
Average Time Spent on Each Band
40 meters          24%
80 meters          31%
160 meters        45%

17.3. Time Spent on  Each Mode
Top Band is a CW band: More than 80% operate more than 80% of their Top-Band time on CW and almost 2/3  say they spend 90 to 100% of their time on CW. Actually all three low bands are CW bands. There is a little more SSB activity on 80 meters, with 33% of the respondents working phone 50% of the time. However, this still means that 67% of the respondents spent 50% of their time working CW.
If we examine the split for stations with a high DXCC score,  meaning  >275  countries  on  40  meters,  >250  on 80 meters and >225 countries on 160 meters, the preference for CW becomes even more pronounced. In this category, averaged over the three low bands, 33% work CW 90% of the time or more. 
On 160 meters 70% of the stations responding say they work CW at least 90% of the time.
Average Time Spent on Each Mode
Total Group
Band                     CW          SSB
160 meters            90%         10%
80 meters              70%         30%
40 meters              79%         21%
The reason for this CW/SSB split are obvious—CW is by far the more efficient mode when it comes to dealing with weak signals under marginal conditions. On 40 meters the percentage split is higher even than on 80 meters. This probably reflects the presence of strong interfering broad­ cast stations in the US phone band that drive DXers to the quiet of the CW subband.

17.4. Achievements
The achievement figures are listed in Table 2-3. The listing is alphabetically by call. Columns 2,3 and 4 give the year that the station started chasing DX on 40, 80 and60 meters. The DXCC status shown is the all-time status. WAZ status is shown as well.
17.4.1. Achievement summary
Percentage of Respondents Holding Award
5-Band DXCC   5-Band  WAZ      160-m WAZ
68 %                           38 %                   38 %
Average All-Time DXCC Count:
40 meters         2 6 0
80 meters         225
160 meters       164
Average WAZ Count:
40 meters          38.2
80 meters          36.2
160 meters        31.0
The purpose of the listings is not to give an accurate DXCC status report, but to show what some of the leading low-band DXers have achieved and what they are using to do it. A few well-known DXers are missing in the tables. They have chosen not to reply to the questionnaire or could not be reached via e-mail. Rankings of Top-Band early award winners can be found in K1ZM’s excellent book DXing on the Edge (Ref 511).

17.5. Antennas and  Equipment
Table 2-4 at the end of this chapter gives an over­ view of the antennas used by the participants in the poll. Since a number of respondents mentioned more than one antenna for any particular low band, the sum of the percentage in each group is not necessarily 100%. In all of the data below the term “total group” refers to all respondents  to  the  poll  (270).

40-Meter  Antennas
Antenna  Type         Total  Group   Top  Group
Yagi/Quad                49%                  56%
 Dipole                     23%                  22% 
Vertical Antennas     16%                  15%
 Vertical Array          8%                    3% 
Delta Loop               5 %                   3 % 
Horizontal Array        3 %                  6 % 
Other                        3 %                   3 %
Note: The category Vertical Antennas includes shunt­ fed owers and inverted Ls. Dipoles include inverted Vs; 
Horizontal Arrays  includes Double-Extended Zepps,  for example. Top group: Stations with at least 300 countries confirmed (86  stations  in  our  poll).  Many  stations  use 2-element  reduced-size 40-meter  Yagis  (eg,  Force  12, CushCraft); one is using Rhombics up 30 meters.

Special Receiving Antennas Used on 40 Meters
Antenna Type      Total Group        Top 100
None                    72%                     73 % 
Beverages            21%                      20 % 
Flags                      4 %                      5% 
Other                     1 %                      2 %
Note: The category Flags include EWEs, Flags, Pen­ nants, K9AY arrays, etc. The big guns have rotatable Yagis of Quads, and generally do not use separate receiving  antennas,  although  a  few  big  guns  few  use
Beverages occasionally. One  says  he’s  using  his  gutter as  a  receive  antenna!

80-Meter  Antennas
Antenna  Type          Total  Group      Top  Group Vertical 
Antennas                 33 %                    24 % 
Vertical Array         20 %                    40 % 
Dipole/Inv V           30%                     20 % 
Yagi/Quad               8 %                      8 % 
Sloping Dipole         5 %                      2 %
Half Sloper             10 %                     13 % 
Delta Loop               5 %                      7 % 
Other                       5 %                    <1 %
Top Group includes stations with at least 300 countries confirmed on 80 meters (45 stations). If we compare the results with those obtained 6 years ago we see a substantial increase in the use of Vertical Arrays. In the Top Group this rose from 23% to 40%.

Special Receiving Antennas Used on 80 Meters Antenna Type      
Total Group        Top Group                 None                       
None                          41%                     31%
Beverages                  43%                     65%
Flags                          10%                     11% 
Magnetic Loops           5%                       0% 
Low Dipoles                3%                       0% 
Other                          2%                        1%
Note: The category Flags include EWEs, Flags, Pen­ nants, K9AY arrays, etc. The number of 80-meter respondents who  do  not  use  special receiving antennas has  gone  up remarkably. The reason is that more are using directive trans­ mit/receive antennas (shorted Yagis, arrays of verticals, etc).

160-Meter Antennas
Antenna Type             Total Group        Top group
Vertical Antenna        26 %                    33 % 
Inverted-L/T              24 %                    18 % 
Shunt-Fed Tower      15 %                     16 % 
Dipole/Inv V              24%                     14 %
 Long Wire                 2 %                      2% 
Vertical Array            9 %                     16 %
¼-Wave Sloper         9 %                      7 % 
Delta Loop                2 %                      0 % 
Other                         4 %                      6 %
Notes: Top Group means stations who have worked at least 225 DXCC countries. Verticals in all shapes and forms (dedicated verticals, inverted Ls, Ts and shunt-fed towers) make up 66% of Top-Band antennas.

Special Receiving Antennas Used on 160 Meters
Antenna Type                   Total Group        Top Group 
None                               25 %                   14 % 
Beverages                        52 %                    68 %
Flags                                14 %                   16 % 
Magnetic loops                  9 %                     4 %
Low dipoles                       6 %                    7 % 
Array vert. short ele.          2 %                     4 %
Other                                2 %                     2 %
Notes: The category Flags include EWEs, Flags, Pennants, K9AY array,  etc.  It’s  obvious that  Beverages are  the  secrets  to  success  for  most  80  and  160-meter DXers. Many of those not using Beverages say: “...I wished I had enough room…). Although sophisticated arrays of short verticals can equal the performance of the best Beverages, only few  actually use  them. As  we  will see in Chapter 7 these antennas are much more complex to  put  up  and  get  working than  Beverages.

17.6. The  Low-Band DXer’s Equipment
Transceiver    Total Group  Top Group   Top Group  Top group
160 meters     80 meters      40 meters
Yaesu              51%                60%               59%              60% FT1000 (*)
Yaesu              5%                  4%                 1%                2% (other types)
Kenwood        20%                12%               21%              20%
Icom                27%                21%               22%              21% 
Ten Tec           7%                  2%                 3%                3% 
Other               4%                  2%                 4%                3%
Notes: The category Total Group 160 includes stations with at least 225 DXCC countries. Total Group 80 includes stations with  at  least  250  DXCC  countries.  Total  Group 40  includes  stations  with  at  least  275  DXCC  countries. 
(*) includes FT-1000(D), FT-1000MP and FT-1000MKV. Other category includes Collins, JRC, and Kachina.
It’s interesting to see how these figures change over the years. Yaesu has made remarkable progress in popularity through the different Editions of this book. Ten years ago Yaesu ranked only in third place, with a mere 12% score. Six years ago this had grown to 44% (52% in Top 100) and now Yaesu has reached the 60% Total Group score.
The number of Kenwood users has dwindled from 30% to 20% in the Total Group. The TS-830 is still considered a very good Top-Band transceiver by many (good tuned front­ end selectivity, low first IF making for good close-in IMD performance). The TS-850 and TS-930 also remain popular radios, while the TS-2000 was used by only one station.
ICOM has made significant progress, especially in the non-Top Group (17% to 27%), while it remained at a constant level in the Top Group (20% to 21%). The percentage for Ten-Tec remained constant but with the new Orion trans­ ceiver, a real breakthrough in many aspects, I expect them to take an important slice of the cake in the near future.

17.7. Why  Does the Low-Band DXer Operate the Low Bands?
Since I asked that general question in the last survey as well, I knew the answer: “For the challenge!”
•  DXing on the high bands is like shooting fish in a barrel. (AA4MM)
•  Low-band DXing is the greatest challenge in amateur radio. (ABØX)
•  I love a good “static salad.” (K1UO)
•  Anyone can do it if it’s easy. (K4PI)
•  I experience the same thrills as 40 years ago that hooked me on radio, high bands are too easy. (K4TEA)
• Top Band is the only band that still gives me a thrill. (K6ANP)
• 160 is an addictive band, 160 is not easy to be good at.  (KO1W)
• Worked a new one on 160 is not so cut-and-dried. ( KX4R)
• On  160,  CW  shines.  (VO1NA)
• Fewer  lids  than  on  high  bands.  (WØGJ)
• See how much pain one can endure before taking the headphones off. (W7TVF)
• Fun. (WB9Z)—These two guys should get together.
• The low bands are where you can test the station and the operator’s skills. (UA3AB)
• Challenge of hearing, silence the utility poles, be ready all the time. (N7RT)
• Best demonstration of operating skill, station design and knowledge of propagation (like 6 meters). (W4DR)
• Pushing the operator and the station to the limits. (N4KG)
• 160: No nets, no lists, no deliberate QRM, moving on the edge, alone with QRN... (IV3PRK)
• 160: This is a new mountain to climb (the tallest one). (N6RK)
• 160 requires more technical skills and operating skills: The ultimate DXing challenge. (K9RJ)
• On  the  low  bands success comes through knowledge (antennas), not money. Few do it well. (K1VR)
• It’s not that easy but I like difficulties (easy things are for everyone). (RA3AUU)
• DX nets on high bands make many contacts phony; play­ ing field on low bands is more level. (ZS6EZ)
• Why do you climb mountains? …because they’re there. 160 is the highest mountain with no worn path. (KØHA)
• Try to get the impossible, work all countries on all bands. (HB9AMO)
• I  like  difficult things,  and...  if  you  can’t  hear  them you  can’t  work  them.  (ON7TK)
• 160 is like the BC band, I was a BC SWL as a child. (N5SV)
• 160-meter DX requires the best of everything: antennas, equipment, QTH, operator skills. (4X4NJ)
• I think I was dropped on my head when I was a baby. (K4SB)
• On 160 you can be competitive using your hands, not your checkbook. (NW6N)
• Doing the impossible from a city, camaraderie on WestCoast. (K6SSS)
• Satisfaction of  achieving the  seemingly impossible. (PA3DZN)
• The intellectual challenge of dealing with all the odd vari­ables of propagation makes it a thrilling activity. (NØAX)
• I feel more at ease with my fellow low-band DXers than some of the “stuffed shirts” that hang out on 20 meters. (WØFS)
• Ties with early pioneers who did so much with so little. (K8MN)
• 160  is  the  absolute end  in  DXing, the  last  frontier. (K9UWA)
• To make the impossible possible: 160 DXCC from the worst place on earth. (YB1AQS)
• K6SE got infected at an early age: “As an 8-year old in Detroit I would stay up late at night do DX on the AM broadcast band.”
• Chance to do something everybody thinks is impossible. (G4DBN)
• 160 is more a gentleman’s band: Lids are too lazy to fight  QRN.  (W9WI)
• No pain, no gain, and no nets on 160 yet. (GW3YDX)
• Creates  great  friendships.  (W6KW,  ex-W6NLZ, ex-K2RBT)
• It helps to be insomniac. (W8RU)
• I am a man whose life begins after sundown. (AA4V)
• The challenge both on the technical side (antenna design and propagation) and DX techniques. (CT1EEB)
• More difficult and more value for each QSO. (EY8MM)
• You tend to find better operators on LF. (GM3YTS)
• Because it is FUN… (HAØDU)
• For contest multipliers that are harder for others to get. (K1TTT)
• Operating skill as important as hardware. (K2RD)
• The challenges make it fun. (KØXM)
• Unusual  and  unexpected propagation and  openings. (K3NA)
• Unpredictable! Fun! (K4CIA)
• Success is not automatic… (K4TEA)
• The challenge of the fight. (K6EID)
• It’s a challenge! Plus it gets back to the roots of ham radio DXing. (K8BHZ)
• On 160 most operators are DX oriented gentleman, good camaraderie. (K9FD)
• The engineering needed to be competitive on these bands. (K9JF)
• The sense of accomplishment, especially for my limited antennas and real estate. (K9KU)
• It’s not something the average ham can do well, with the high noise, strange DX hours required, the skill and dedica­tion  needed  to  be  successful.  Nothing  like  working  a new one” on Top Band (except for receiving the QSL!). (KG6I)
• The challenge doing it from my mobile. (W6/KH6DX/M)
• Results indicate antenna competency and operator savvy. (N4JJ)
• The lower the frequency, the higher the challenge. (NX4D)
• The challenge of propagation, the valuable awards. (S5ØA)
• Frees up some daylight time! (VE7BS)
• ANYONE can work DX on the high bands. (WØGJ, W1JZ, VE7ON, etc)
• 160 is the most challenging in terms of propagation and technical. (W4ZV)
• Working the seemingly unworkable. (W9AJ)
• Testing antenna systems. (WXØB)
• Is there any challenge left in high band operating? (ZS6EZ)
• The challenge on the low bands reminds of my early days as a new ham. (K4UEE)
• It has a charm of its own, and reminds me of early days with W1BB and W2EQS. (WØAIH)
• The lower the frequency, the higher the challenge. (NX4D)
• It’s the only challenge left. (K2UO)
• I was inspired by W1BB; Stu gave me my Novice license test when I was ~12 yrs old. (AJ1H)

 Trying to break up the answers of the 2003 poll into categories I came to the following overview:
•  68% mentioned the challenge.
• 17% mentioned the fact that you had to home build and design antennas.
• 15% mentioned the unpredictable propagation on 160.
• 13%  mentioned  the  competition  aspect  (including getting  multipliers in  contests).
• 11% mentioned thrill and excitement.
• 7% mentioned they like the company of the low-band operators better (160 is a gentleman’s band).
• 6% mentioned that better operator are required to work the low bands.
• 3% mentioned they operated the low bands because they are night bands.
• Only3 % mentioned it was MORE FUN.
Isn’t fun essential to any hobby?

17.8. QSL  Cards
About 87% of the Low band DXers in the poll said they collect QSL cards vs 96% six years ago). This time the same 87% said they answer all cards received. Only 15% uses E-QSLs. 
To me an E-QSL is to QSLing what lists are to amateur radio. I want to be able to hold the card in my hands. In my questionnaire I asked if the addressee was using electronic QSLs (E-QSL). No one did. Maybe the low-banders are a little old fashioned, or are most of them just very straight?

17.8.1. Logbook of the World (LoTW)
On September 15, 2003, ARRL announced the on-line availability of the “Logbook of the World” (LoTW). See and ARRL states: “ARRL’s Logbook of the World (LoTW) system is a repository of log records submitted by users from around the world. When both participants in a QSO submit matching QSO records to LoTW, the result is a QSL that can be used for ARRL award credit.” LoTW incorporates an elaborate set of safeguards  to  ensure  that  QSOs  are  secure.  Each  and every  QSO  is  automatically ‘signed’  electronically to prevent  fraud  or  manipulation.
Answering a  frequently asked  question concerning printed  QSLs:  “Logbook of  the  World  is  initially  de­
signed to create awards credit, that is to say, that if your QSO  matches that  of  another station, either  you  or  the other operator may be able to apply that confirmed QSO to various awards. Creating an image based in part on the QSO  information for  the  purpose of  making a  file  that can be  printed, or  creating a  QSL card, is  not presently part of LoTW. There are other services available that can do that. LoTW goes a step or two beyond the conception of  a  QSL card  (which is  essentially a  one-sided request for  a  confirmation from  the  other  side  of  the  QSO) by verifying that a QSO occurred between two stations, based  on  the  ‘signed’ data  submitted by  each.”
In the first month of operation approximately 15 million QSOs were uploaded to the LoTW database. For active con­ test stations, who often make tens of thousands of QSOs each year, Logbook of the World promises to relieve much of the burden of sending physical QSLs to bureaus around the world.


If  we want to  analyze what’s required to  become a successful low-band DXer, we must first agree on what is success. Success can be very relative. If you have only a 1/8-acre city lot and you want to work the low bands, your goals will have to be different from the guy who’s got 10 acres and a well-filled bank account. But you can be successful just as well, in your own way, relative to your own goals.
There are a few essential qualities that make good low­ band DXers, I think. They apply even to the low-band DXer with a modest setup.
Knowledge of antennas: For the low bands, it is not like opening a  catalog and ordering an antenna. You have to understand antennas—the Whys and the Why Nots. You will have to become an antenna experimenter to be successful, even more so if you’ll have to do it from a tiny city lot!
Knowledge and  experience in  propagation: Don’t expect to turn on the radio any time of the day on 80 or
160 meters and work across the globe. You must under­ stand  that  you  are  trying  to  do  something that  is 
very difficult, something that  requires a  lot  of  experience to be successful. You’ll have to be able to predict 
openings, sometimes with  an  accuracy of  minutes. The  successful low-band DXer  must  build  up  his  propagation expertise over  a  long  period of  time.
Willingness to  learn: Isn’t improving our  technical knowledge and ability what our hobby is all about? Working DX on 160 meters makes you feel like you are doing it like Marconi!
Equipment and technologies: Receivers are getting better at every vintage, even if the evolution isn’t moving as fast as we might like. The successful low-band DXer uses the best equipment available and he uses it in a professional way. He gets involved with the latest technologies in radio commu­nication, such as packet radio and DX Clusters. These provide real-time information about activity on  the  different low bands.
Good  QTH:  Successful operators  work  DX  from excellent QTHs. They are not all mountaintop QTHs, but each success story has been written from an “above­ average” QTH. This does not mean that a successful low­ band DXer has to be a rich land owner. I, for one, have just over half an acre, but my location is excellent. The neighbors are nice and I can use their fields in the winter for  my  Beverage antennas.
Perseverance, persistence, dedication: If  you  are not prepared to get up in the middle of the night five days
in a row to try to work your umpteenth country on 80 or 160, you will not be successful. If you think it’s too hard to go out at night, in the fields or through the woods, in the dark and roll out a special one-time Beverage for that new country you have a  sked with in a  few hours, then you better forget about becoming successful in the game, or  rather  the  art,  of  low-band DXing!
Operating proficiency: Your “know-how-to-do-it” is probably the best weapon that can make or break a low-band DXer with a modest station. Willingness to become a good CW operator. I don’t think this needs to be explained!


Mark Twain once said: “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two mouths and one ear.” How true this is for low-band DXing—And for most other human endeavors.
Jeff, K1ZM, published in his excellent book DXing on the Edge (Ref 511) a set of rules, from the hand of Bill, W4ZV, and which had been published earlier on, on the Top Band Reflector. It goes without saying that these rules equally as well apply to the other low bands. A chapter on operating would not be complete without these rules, which I like to call the 10 Low-Band Commandments:

Rule #1: When the DX station answers someone else, listen; do not call. Instead try to find where he is listening. Most good operators spread the pileup over at least 1 to 2 kHz. If you listen for the station he is working, you will maximize your probability of being heard since you will know where he is listening. You may also recognize the pattern the operator uses. That is, is he slowly moving up in frequency, down in frequency or alternating picks on either side of the pileup? You will also know when to transmit (ie, when he is listening). It’s very hard for him to hear you calling while he is transmitting!
Rule #2: Listen carefully! He may change his QSX frequency or QSY. If you’re calling continuously, you will never know it. I can’t tell you all the good stuff I’ve worked easily because I was one of the first on a new QSX frequency. If you’re transmitting continuously, you’ll be one of the last to know. For those of you with QSK, you have an advantage here. If you don’t, use a foot switch so that you can listen between calls and stop sending when he starts.
Rule #3:  Do  not transmit on  the  station answering. Why? Because a good operator will stay with that station until he finishes the QSO. Repeats necessitated by your QRM just reduces the amount of time you will have to work him before propagation goes out. The name of the game is for the DX to work as many stations as quickly as possible. Continuously calling only slows down the whole process and reduces your probability of a QSO. It might also encourage some DX operators to make a mental note in their head to never “hear” 
you again!
Rule  #4:  Learn  your  equipment so  you  know  how exactly to place your transmit signal properly on frequency. No, this does not mean exactly zero beat on the last listening frequency where all the other guys are. It’s far better to offset by  a  few  hundred Hz  based upon which way you think the DX is tuning (see Rule #1). Also please learn to use  your  equipment so  you  don’t  transmit  on  the  DX frequency inadvertently. This only slows things down for everyone and wastes precious opening time on 160 meters.
Rule  #5:  If  you  have  limited  resources  on  160, focus  on  your  receive-antenna  capability.  You  will work far  more 160 DX  with good ears than with a  big mouth.  Being  an  “alligator” that  cannot  hear  anything is  not  productive on  Top  Band.
Rule #6: Send your full call. Partial calls only slow things  down  on  Top  Band.  (From  Rolf,  SM5MX, XV7SW) 
Rule  #7:  Use  proper  and  consistent spacing when sending  your  call  on  CW.  There  are  some  very  well known  DXers  who  don’t  understand  this.  They  will break the  cadence of  their calls with pregnant pauses—this  can  confuse the  DX  station trying to  decipher your call  through  160-meter QSB  and  QRN.
Rule  #8:  Send  the  DX  station’s call  if  you  are  in doubt whom you are working. You will not be happy if you log a DX station while you actually worked another station! This is especially important if more than one DX station is listening QSX in the same general area of the band.  (From  4S7RPG)
Rule  #9:  Listen  to  the  DX  station’s  reports  and match his sending speed. If he is giving 459 at 18 WPM, don’t reply at 35 WPM! If the DX station is missing part of your call, or if he has incorrectly copied part of your call, repeat only that part of the call several times, at a constant  pace.  (From  4S7RPG)
Rule  #10:  Listen,  ...  listen,  ...  listen!

ON4UN, John Devoldere

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