Sunday, May 13, 2012



Using phonetics is the best way to make your call sign understood on phone. Everybody knows that. The aviation world and the US military use the same standardized set of words: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta,…. etc.  It is not, however, the only phonetic alphabet that was ever created. The US military used to use a different one: Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog…etc. Some police forces use: Adam, Boy, Charlie, David…, etc.  There are also ones using geographic names: Amsterdam, Boston, Casablanca, Denmark,…etc. Good grief. So what should you use? In general the US military‐NATO‐ aviation‐ ICAO phonetic alphabet is the best.  See .   From personal experience I don’t like to use “Sierra.” My old call was K7SAI. The English language skills of DX operators are now very good. Back when I held that call it wasn’t necessarily so. Americans and Spanish language speakers understood
Sierra. Asian operators in particular took it like it sounds…. as the letter “C”. What to do? I tried several options and finally settled on “sugar.” Commonly used, but not standard anywhere. Later as K7UA I used Kilowatt Seven Uniform Alpha. Back when there were no calls starting with KW (like KW7A) it was fine. Now sometimes it gets mistaken for KW and not K. I have had contest log exception items sent to me showing a mismatch of QSO data because I was logged as KW7UA. / I quit using it. Some words just work better for international hams than the standard phonetic alphabet. When the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) existed the Russians used “Union” for U. That faded away. Everybody knows the USA is the United States of America. United is now a very common phonetic for U. The same with America for A. Even the Russians that have UA calls frequently use United America. Boy, they wouldn’t have said that during the Cold War! “Radio” is more common for R than Romeo. It is a great one for radio amateurs.

So, what’s my point. Use phonetics that work. If the DX station is struggling with your call don’t keep beating them with the same phonetics. Shift to something else. Shift from Kilo Seven Uniform Alpha, to Kentucky Seven United America. You get the point. Some cities and other geographical locations work well. Yokohama, Honolulu, London and Norway come to mind. Stay flexible.

There isn’t anything like phonetics for numbers. In general there isn’t as much confusion with them. A wise DXer still has a couple of tricks in his arsenal. If the DX station is struggling with the number in your call, count up to it.  This is: Kilo Seven,  ‐‐‐‐‐one, two, three, four, five, six, seven ‐‐‐‐ Uniform Alpha.

Knowing how to pronounce your number in the DX station’s native language can also be useful. For most of us who are located here in US call zone 7, that is “Siete” in Spanish, “Sette” in Italian, “Sieben” in German, etc.  For that matter, if you have the skill just speaking to a DX station in their native
language is always welcomed.

The Art of QSLing:   
QSL cards have been a part of ham radio from the very beginning. It has been a tradition to post them above your station to catch the eye of visitors and to remind the operator of his accomplishments. If you are interested in DXCC or many other awards you are required to have proof that the contacts necessary for the award took place. In this chapter we are going to talk about the old school ways to get those cards and bring the subject into the 21st century with electronic QSLing. The ARRL has always had very stringent rules on the validation of QSLs for the DXCC award. These high standards have preserved the integrity of the award.

Old school: Paper QSL cards Almost all stations, DX and otherwise, will issue paper QSL cards.  The trick is to get the DX station to answer your card. There are a variety of ways to increase your odds of getting a paper QSL card.

The surest route is to send your card directly to the DX station. The cost of foreign postage is high. The current price (2011) to send a one ounce letter to foreign destinations is 98 cents. The return price from those countries is often higher. Most DX stations will reply to you if you supply a self addressed envelope and pay for the return postage. In theory all nations who receive mail are members of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). There is a document called an international reply coupon (IRC) that can be purchased at the local post office and sent to the DX station as payment for the return postage. The current US price for an IRC is $2.10. In theory this will pay for a return airmail letter from any country in the UPU. Despite the supposed rules, some countries do not honor IRCs and others insist on two or more IRCs to pay return postage. Also, some countries have silly rules that the IRC must be from the country that the letter is being returned to or they won’t cash them in.  The whole IRC thing is a hassle so many DX stations ask for one or two “green stamps.” A green stamp is a US dollar. Most DX stations direct addresses are available at . Also, frequently the DX station tells you how they want to receive QSLs at that site. It is incredibly useful.

See IRC sample below:
Now for a few things that I have learned about sending letters to foreign countries and getting a return back. First, mail theft is rampant in many third world countries. The chance of having your letter looted is a certainty in some of them. To reduce the chance of that happening do not do anything that gives the mail thieves a clue that your letter has anything valuable in it. Start by NEVER using station call letters in the addresses. Don’t do anything else to the envelope that makes it stand out. Mail thieves may well handle the letter and see if they can feel anything inside other than the usual papers. Something thick inside or being able to see through the envelope and detect your IRC or dollar bill is a dead give away.  Always use so called “safety” envelopes that do not let a person see through the paper.  Be sure that the envelope is well sealed. Use tape if you have to for a good seal. When sending letters to South America it is a good idea to always tape the flap shut. It might help a little in keeping the crooks out. Sometimes the station will explain exactly how to improve the odds of non‐pilfered delivery on their QRZ page. For a guarantee of delivery to real trouble spots you may have to resort to “registered mail.” This process requires a written audit trail of every stop that the mail makes. It is expensive, but crooks probably don’t want to be caught by disclosing who lost or tampered with the letter.

I have started using foreign airmail envelopes from Bill Plum DX Supplies ( Bill sells sets of envelopes for outgoing and returning airmail that nest neatly inside of each other. The current price is $35.00 for 200 sets. By using those I don’t give a clue to mail thieves that there is anything special inside. The inner envelope is not noticeable and it is also light in weight. Some annoying countries charge much more for a little extra weight. Also, some of them charge more for larger envelopes than their normal airmail standard. I used to use standard #10 US business envelopes for the returns. I kept getting them back cut down in size and taped together or folded over to decrease their dimensions. I wised up and quit using them. Bill also sells foreign postage stamps that may make the return process easier for the DX station. So far I have not used that service, but I really do like Bill’s nested airmail envelopes.

Some DX stations use a QSL manager. This is simply another ham who has volunteered to take over the DX stations QSLing chores. QSL managers are very reliable and you will almost certainly get an answer from them if you are in the DX station’s log. The best thing that can happen to you is that the DX station has a QSL manager in the USA. That way your postage each way is just a standard 44 cent stamp and delivery is certain.

The Daily DX offers a link to finding various QSL routes at: .
There are lots of good resource links on this site. The various DX bulletins also frequently list QSL routes in their publications. We will be talking about DX bulletins in a later chapter.

All of this is kind of discouraging because of the expense involved. Luckily there are some alternatives that are a lot less expensive.

The first to consider is the QSL bureau system. Many countries offer a slow speed, but cheap QSL delivery system called the QSL Bureau. It is usually referred to as the “buro.” In the USA the ARRL is the sponsor of this system.  In our area the ARRL affiliated club “The Willamette Valley DX Club”   handles incoming QSL chores.  They handle all of the cards for the US seventh call area. If you have a “7” in your call they are your contact. Other areas have other sponsoring clubs.  These guys are practically saints providing this valuable service free of charge.  If you go to their web site and click on the “QSL bureau” tab they tell you everything that you need to know to sign up.

In a nutshell, this is how the QSL bureau system works. The national organizations exchange QSL cards in bulk shipments that cuts way down on postage. It is slow, but cheap. In the W7 call area, you open an account at WVDXC and buy postage credits and envelopes to ship your cards in. Free of charge they receive, sort, and then forward the cards directly to you. If you are active you will get lots of cards from all over the world. Since Utah is one of the rarer states, many foreign hams want your card for their Worked All States (WAS) award.  ARRL membership is not required for this incoming service and the WVDXC has done the labor since the 1960s. This service of WVDXC is only for INCOMING cards. To send your replies via the bureau the ARRL offers an OUTGOING QSL service. See‐qsl‐service .   The ARRL accepts your cards in bulk and forwards them on to all of the other countries’ QSL bureaus. Some countries do not have a QSL bureau so this service won’t work for those cards.  ARRL membership  is required for this service, but the rates are cheap compared to mailing the cards yourself. IMHO this service alone is worth the price of ARRL membership for a DXer.

I have frequently used another option to send my outgoing QSLs for contacts that I want answered quicker than via the bureau, but that I don’t want badly enough to pay the expense of going the direct route.  Les, WF5E offers a unique outgoing QSL service. Les receives your outgoing cards in bulk from you and then determines the best way to get you an answer. He charges $1 for two cards. He takes advantage of postage savings by sending multiple cards at the same time directly to the DX station or to their QSL manager. Les sends the DX station whatever they require to get your QSL. This can be either a postage prepaid international business reply envelope or a return envelope and IRCs. The DX station simply returns a batch of cards in the preaddressed envelope with the postage paid by Les. This only works with stations that will answer the cards in a batch. Some hard cases will not do it.   When the cards come back to Les he forwards them to your incoming bureau and you receive them with your other normal bureau cards. He puts a small rubber stamp imprint on them so that you know the card came via his service. Some club members have had return rates as high as 85% using Les’ service. This process is slow, but not as slow as using the normal outgoing bureau process. Cards sent via the regular QSL bureau can take one or more years to arrive. You have to be patient.

New School: Electronic QSLs
Two modern computerized systems have come into existence to cut out all of the expense and delays of sending paper QSLs.  The ARRL invested a lot of time and money to develop their Logbook of the World (LoTW) electronic QSL system. See‐of‐the‐world .  This system maintains the ARRL’s high integrity for DXCC verifications. It may also be used for other ARRL awards like WAS and the Triple Play award.  The League’s site tells you all about this service, but here is the basic idea. A ham must register with them through a rigorous process to prove that they are the real holder of the call sign.  Once you have proven who you are, an electronic digital certificate is issued to you. You can then use that certificate to securely sign and upload your log data to the LoTW system. This can be done with manual entries, but it is much more convenient to use a computer logging program. I use Logic 8. Once the certificate was installed on my computer it only takes a couple of mouse clicks in Logic to upload the file.   The LoTW system then matches your log entries against the uploaded data from other stations and if it finds a reasonable match (band, mode, and time within one‐half hour) you get credit for a confirmed QSL. This is all shown in your LoTW records. I also use Logic to download those new confirmations into my logging program, but that isn’t necessary to use the system. The real records are maintained on the LoTW system. When you get around to claiming credit for an award you pay a fee for each credit. It is very reasonable compared to the expense of postage for paper QSLs.

There is another electronic QSL system called eQSL. See . This system works differently than the LoTW system. A user registers with eQSL and then you are allowed to send electronic QSLs that look like an actual paper QSL to the stations that you work. (Again I use my logging program to very easily upload and download the eQSL data.) Call signs can be registered without any proof of who actually holds the license, but these are not taken very seriously. One can obtain “authenticity guaranteed” (AG) status by submitting a copy of your license to eQSL for verification. eQSL claims that AG confirmations are more safe than paper QSLs because there is so little chance of forgery. They are probably right. The eQSL system differs from LoTW in that it does not make any attempt to match QSO data with the other station. A deal was in the works with ARRL to accept eQSLs for DXCC credit, but the negotiations broke down. The League wanted security used that was unreasonable to the people who run  eQSL.  It is now very unlikely that the ARRL will ever accept eQSLs.    CQ Magazine, however, DOES accept eQSLs for their awards. The eQSL service is free, but they accept donations and will upgrade your status for a very minimal charge. To utilize CQ’s award system one must be a “bronze” member. That only costs $15 per year. Besides CQ other groups including eQSL itself offer awards qualified by eQSL confirmations. Only AG user’s confirmations count for the awards. “Silver” membership costs another $15 per year and allows fancier QSL designs. IMHO everyone that uses eQSL should help them out by becoming at least a bronze member.

 DX Intelligence:  
I’m not talking about your IQ, but in the context of gathering information.
The more that you know about what is going on in the DX world, the more successful you will be.

Back in the 1970’s I ran to the mail box every week to get my few badly copied pages of “The West Coast
DX Bulletin.” The art has advanced since then. Now there are a number of DX bulletins and services that you can subscribe to. For knowing what is going on in the DX world every day subscribe to “The Daily DX”, an Internet publication by Bernie McClenny W3UR see: . Bernie also publishes another similar publication “The Weekly DX.” For a fee The Daily DX subscription comes every day via email.  Another paid subscription bulletin is by Carl Smith N4AA called “QRZ DX.” It is sent weekly either via email or postal mail. See:  N4AA also publishes a bimonthly DX Magazine that is very nice. It arrives via postal mail. There are also two really good weekly DX bulletins and they are free of charge! See “The 425 DX Bulletin” at  . The Italian 425 group also puts out a monthly magazine accessible at   that shows what happened the past month. It has lots of interesting pictures, QSL cards, etc. It is really fun to look over. The second free bulletin is the OPDX Bulletin (Ohio & Pennsylvania) . Also, the Daily DX has a calendar of expeditions that is available to anyone for free at: Being a glutton for any shred of DX news I subscribe to all of them. There is a lot of duplication, but each has its own sources and unique style.

And if that was not enough: If you want to learn a whole lot about DXing, no matter how experienced you are, get a copy of “The Complete DXer” written by Bob Locher, W9KNI. It is available from Idiom Press at‐complete‐dxer.html . I highly recommend this book! It was out of print for a time, but is now again available in the 3rd Edition. It is simply awesome.

Author’s Comments

I served as President of the Utah DX Association in 2008 and then continued on as a member of the club’s board of directors for the next two years. During that time I saw a real need to coach our new members on how to become successful DXers. I wrote this booklet to give them something that is easy to understand yet will quickly teach them the skills that took me years to discover on my own. Now in hindsight it all seems so simple.

To my surprise this primer has gained a much wider Internet readership than just our local club. That is great. Wherever you are, I really hope that you have enjoyed it and that it has helped you gain some new skills. Nothing would please me more than to learn that I have helped a new generation of young DXers get started.


Bryce Anderson, K7UA

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