Monday, October 3, 2016

DXing Tips For Little Pistols Like Me

OK I admit it I am more often than not a little pistol.  More than likely, I am trying to make a contact at 5W.   Keep in mind two things - the heavy lifting is done not by you but by the DX who is trying to dig you out of the mud.  Some are more willing than others.  Of course, the second thing is your persistence.  If you don't go away after he has worked stronger stations - chances are he will try to work you.

Here are some additional tricks to slay that DXing dragon I learned from Brian Smith WO9I.  Some are verbatim and some are paraphrases.  Some I omitted but most I kept.  Some I added to from my own experience.    Here is the URL:

(1) "Sharpen your sword. Never embark on a DX quest without first tuning-up your rig. Make sure your PA is not putting out into a high SWR situation - wasting your meager power into heat as feedline loss.   Sometimes you get only one shot at a rare station before the rest of the world catches up with you."

(2) See which bands are open before starting the hunt. is a good resource.   A reading of 100 for a band indicates that your 1 watt or 5 watt signal stands a good chance of being heard.  Yet another way to do it is to listen for the band beacons.   Make sure your foray into the ether is  worth the effort. WWV (at 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz) gives propagation info at 18 minutes past every hour. Look at the cluster and listen for on-going QSOs.  See how strong the signals are in the cluster spots - even if it is a country you don't need.   If you are looking for an entity in the Balkans - see how loud the DX are around your hunting ground.

(3)  Never send “CQ DX.” Rare and even not so rare DX station seldom answer such calls, especially when transmitted by weak signals.

(4) Use the contests.  If you could operate only a few days a year, I’d pick the weekends of the major international contests such as the CQ World-Wide, the ARRL DX Contest, CQ WPX, and so forth. Ignore your score; the idea is to bag  DX you need for whatever - DX Marathon, DXCC, band slots.   These events are like for the little kid in the candy store - except you are truly a little kid (or a small fry).   During contests, the bands are crawling with stations, some rare and some not so rare.   If you are doing DX Marathon - you need most of if not many.  The QSOs are short, and best of all, wide dispersal of the big guns.

(5) After the contest, hang around, to see if rare stations—particularly DXpeditions—want to hang around to see if anyone else wants to work them. The big guns are usually in their holsters by then, which is exactly why you’re still blazing away.

(6) Peek into the DX alleys, which are usually located just inside the General band (14.026 Mhz, etc.). On non-contest days many rare stations hang out here. However, these are also the most congested places of all. But hey, sometimes the propagation gods smile on you.

(7) Know when to quit. Don’t spend your life trying to break pile-ups; when the band’s open, there’s plenty of good stuff elsewhere (usually from the same region), and lots of big guys don’t know how to root it out. How to tell good odds from bad? Good odds: the DX station is booming, the op is working stations quickly, other station from your call area are getting through, and/or you don’t hear much competition. Bad odds: weak DX station, slow op, propagation favours other call areas, pile-up is loud and limitless.

(8) Nail the newcomers. Now for real guerrilla tactics: Move to the slow edge of a band and, tuning slowly accross it, listen for the sound of any station coming on the air, such as a “tuning up” signal, “QRL?” or of course, CQ. Should one of these surface, stop immediately and listen for an ID. (Ninety-nine times out of 100 it won't be rare DX, but trust me: that 100th time will more than make up for it.)  Late means wait. As you’re hunting stations coming on frequency, also check for QSOs that are about to end (“73,””TNX FER QSO,” etc.)—and wait for an ID.

(10) Develop DX ears. DX signals rarely sound like statesiders. They’re weaker and more unstable (and those which cross over the North Pole sound “fluttery”). Teach your eardrums the difference.

(11) Be watchful for 10 or 12 meter openings. Ten meters is the little guy’s equalizer. When the surf’s up on 10, the DX comes in waves, and a puny signal (even a 5 watter) floats just fine. Ten meters tend to open to a small geographic area at a time (meaning less competition); also, signal strength can fluctuate wildly within a few minutes. If you find a new one that’s too weak to work, lock on to it and relax. Within 15 minutes its signal may peak, giving you a clear shot.

(12) WFWL (work first worry later). If an exotic-sounding station appears, don’t look up its QTH—pounce! I once heard a 3B8 sending CQ. “What’s a 3B8?” I wondered, but the second he stopped transmitting, I chased him. Only after the QSO did I discover I had just worked Mauritius.
Rehearse. Rare DX stations are sometimes barely audible, or covered with QRM. A trained ear can pull them through, but an untrained ear hears only clutter. So hone your hearing. Practice working common DX stations (such as G’s and JA’s) with faint signals.

(13) Upgrade. Much of the delectable DX swims in the extra portion of the band. Thus reeling it in is often a question of “How low can you go?” Remember, only 7 percent of all American amateurs can operate in these murky depths.

(14) Rock around the clock. DX conditions vary with the time of day, so don’t just operate from 7 to 9 o’clock every evening. Vary your routine: Stay up all night on a Friday, rise before dawn on a Sunday. Remember, sunrise and sunset can produce interesting conditions, so try them often.
Turn lemons into lemonade. “Bad breaks” aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes they even work to the little guy’s advantage. Example 1: While trying to work a weak ZK1 (South Cook Islands) during a contest. I was dismayed when a loud Californian began blasting away on a nearby frequency. Then I realized that because of the W6, most people who were casually tuning around wouldn’t hear the ZK. During brief lull I caught his “QRZ?”, jumped in, and nailed him instantly. Example 2: A T3Ø (West Kiribati) operating SSB dodged a stateside pile-up by QSYing to a U.S. CW-only frequency. Just one American moved with him—yours truly, who fired up a key and worked him cross-mode.

(15) Talk the talk. Even with Q signals, all CW stations don’t sound the same. DX stations favor expressions such as “TKS” (instead of American “TNX”) and “DR” (as in “DR OM BRIAN”). Soviets often close with “DSW” (a Russian good-luck term). And of course, stations whose transmissions alternate between “599 K” and “QRZ?” are often worth working. Familiarity with international call signs helps, too, as I learned one evening in 1988 when I tuned in Y88POL. Just another East German, right? But wait! East German suffixes usually have only two letters … hmmm. Moments later I worked a new one—Antartica.

(16) Less is Morse. Not only CW is less popular than SSB (decreasing your competition), but it’s more effective in marginal conditions—a plus for weak stations.
Read the news. Serious operators learn about DXpeditions and such by subscribing to publications such as QRZ DX? and The DX Bulletin. And for those with packet capability, lots of DX packet clusters spot rare stations.

(17) Never assume. Once, during a Boy Scout jamboree weekend, I heard a Liberian station with a special call sign, using scouts as ops. No one was answering its CQ, probably because everyone believed the station was working only fellow Scouts. But when I asked, “Are you working only Scout stations?” I was rewarded with a “No, you’re 5 by 6”—and a new one.

(18) Beat the bushes. Many people think all the primo DX hangs out on the low ends, but that’s a fallacy. Ever work Morocco? I did—on a 10 meter Novice CW frequency! And I once heard Zimbabwe on 21.080. Moral: Don’t just look in the clearings; rummage through the high weeds, too.
Listen for swan songs. Normally, when sunspots are high, upper HF bands such as 10 and 15 meters close in the evening. During their final moments, however, strange conditions sometimes occur. Try to catch each band just before it gives out (see whether any signals are audible; if so, tune around). As the band dies, most of your competition will give up and head south. I bagged my first CEØ (Easter Island) under such conditions.

(19) Check and double check the DX call. Don’t just scribble down a DX call sign; make absolutely certain you heard it correctly. On CW I’ve worked lots of ops who can’t tell a “4” from a “V” or an “H” from an “S.” Missing even one dot in a call sign can turn a prize catch into a busted QSO.

1 comment:

  1. I would like your permission to publish this article in our Newsletter. Goto
    Layne AE1N
    VP Nashua Area Radio Club