DX-Operating on the Low Bands IV
ON4UN, John Devoldere
13. GETTING THE LATEST INFORMATION, AND FAST
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 (www.dx4win.com/), DXBase (www.dxbase.com/), Swisslog, LOGic6 (www.hosenose.com/), Eurowinlog (www.eurowinlog. de/), TRX Manager (www.trx-manager.com/) and XMLog (www.xmlog.com/).
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 (oh2aq.kolumbus.com/dxs/) 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. kolumbus.com/dxs/1.html 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 (www.on4kst.com/chat). 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 www.qth.com/lowband). 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 (lists.contesting.com/mailman/listinfo/topband) 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 lists.contesting.com/pipermail/topband/. Other popular Internet sources for DX and contest information (related to any HF band) are:
• The DX Reflector (njdxa.org/dx-news/index.shtml). The DX Reflector archives can be found at: www. firstname.lastname@example.org/index.html.
• If you are into contesting, then the Contest Reflector www.contesting.com/FAQ/cq-contest is a very good source of information. The archive containing all the E-mails from the Contest Reflector can be downloaded at lists.contesting.com/_cq-contest/.
• Information on planned, current, as well as past DXpeditions, can be found at: www.cpcug.org/user/wfeidt/Misc/adxo.html.
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 www.425dxn.org/, 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: usats.com/ce-dx.html.
• Bernie, W3UR (www.dailydx.com/) 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.
14. THE 8 COMMANDMENTS FOR WORKING THE RARE DXPEDITION
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.”
15. ACHIEVEMENT AWARDS
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: www.arrl.org/award/.
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 radio.com/awards.html).
The Low Band Monitor (www.qth.com/lowband) 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.
16. STANDINGS ON TOP BAND
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 www.qsl.net/160/) 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. aol.com/k3bu/160Records.htm.
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