DXPEDITIONING BASICS III
N7NG, Wayne Mills
When DXers persist in making duplicate QSOs, it becomes more difficult for others to make a QSO with a rare DX station. Operators who persist in making these redundant QSOs have been criticized regularly, with some expeditioners threatening to withhold their QSL cards and others advocating publishing their callsigns. There is no question that the practice exists. The reasons why some DXers make duplicate QSOs, however, vary.
First, let’s put the problem in perspective. It has been found that relatively few DXers persist in making large numbers of duplicate QSOs. A statistical analysis on one large DXpedition log showed that the vast majority (over 94%) of DXers who made duplicate QSOs made only one such QSO.6 Another analysis indicated that out of 50,007 QSOs (about 24,000 different callsigns), 420 stations made 2 or more duplicates (less than 2%), while only 42 stations made 3 or more duplicate QSOs.7 In each study, the percentages of stations making excessive QSOs were about the same. Obviously, only a small number of DXers made what might be called excessive duplicates.
What is an excessive number of dupes? If the caller feels that he has not had a good QSO, he should be entitled to another. It is the responsibility of both operators to complete a contact satisfactorily. If the DXpeditioner practices faulty QSO mechanics, resulting in poor quality contacts, then a large number of second or third QSOs should not be considered excessive. Since there is reason to believe that the DXpedition operator is at least partly responsible for duplicate QSOs, it is unwise to announce any type of sanction that will be invoked if duplicate QSOs are attempted.
In cases where excessive duplicates are encountered, the operators involved should not be chastised on the air. This behavior will reflect poorly upon the DXpeditioner especially if it is recognized by those calling that his procedure is faulty. Since the problem is not a great one, it is best to handle it after the operation, if at all.
When working by call areas, it is usually my objective not only to subdivide the pileup, but more importantly, to work certain specific areas in order to take best advantage of the propagation. Unfortunately, there are always a few DXers who can’t wait for their call areas or attempt to gain an advantage by calling with other call areas.
Additionally, a large percentage of DXers feel that if they are truly portable (operating in an area not indicated by their callsign), it is permissible to call with both areas. I find this extremely disappointing. In response to this practice, some individuals have recommended that DXpeditions refuse to respond to callsigns with portables.
Unfortunately, this policy has the effect of unduly penalizing those innocent DXers who are actually located in call areas other than those indicated by their callsigns. If a W1 is located portable in W6, he will be terribly handicapped, in certain situations, if he is not allowed to call with the sixes, and I will lose some control over how I conduct the expedition.
Actually, the problem is probably overstated. There are, indeed, a number of DXers who practice signing with incorrect portables. On the other hand, many DXers in call areas other than those indicated by their callsigns normally don’t use the portable designator, and it is only when a DXpedition is working call areas that we hear these portables seemingly violating the rules, when in truth they are not. In addition, since propagation characteristics often reveal their attempted deception, stations indicating portables other than their correct areas are often very obvious to the expeditioner and can be avoided. The wise DXpeditioner will not refuse to log stations signing portable.
Perhaps a more serious problem is that of callers asking endless questions. It seems everyone wants to be personally informed of the band operating plans, the QSLing information, the QTH, and all manner of additional information during the operating.
Obviously any such explanations detract from the operating efficiency and result in fewer QSOs. What is more perplexing is that it seems that few ever listen to what the DXpeditioner has said in answering one of these questions. It seems incredible, but often one question will be followed immediately by the same question by the next caller. In any event, once a question is answered, another will surely follow.
Perhaps the best solution to the problem is simply to ignore most questions. The operator should give the necessary information from time to time, but should avoid responding to individual requests. This will require callers to listen occasionally to what the operator is saying.
Jammers on the expedition frequency can be a serious problem for any DXpedition. The wise operator should listen occasionally for jamming on his transmitting frequency. An obvious solution to the jamming problem is simply to be louder than the jammer. If callers can hear the DX station, the jamming will be ineffective, and in fact, propagation will generally be such that QSOs to some areas of the world can be made no matter how serious the jamming. If ignored, the jammer will himself become frustrated and soon disappear.
Beyond simply overpowering the jammers, however, operating procedures can be implemented which will minimize the causes of jamming. Perhaps this is the most effective technique. Maximize positive expectations, optimize QSO mechanics, and minimize disruption to unrelated activities elsewhere in the band, as this will go far in eliminating jamming.
No matter what the causes of jamming, under no circumstances should the DXpeditioner confront the jammers, nor should he change his operating frequency significantly. It will generally be possible to continue operation to some areas of the world until the jammer tires of his lack of success.
PROBLEMS – SUMMARY
a) Most duplicates occur because the caller is uncertain that a good QSO has been recorded in the expedition log. Of the stations who make duplicate QSOs, the percentage that make more than one additional contact is very small. Several statistical studies have shown that the magnitude of the problem is not large, and that the reaction is out of proportion to the problem.
b) The DXpeditioner should consider that many of duplicate QSOs that he logs may be a result of inadequate QSO mechanics leading to additional attempts by DXers to get into the DXpedition log.
c) Comments about those who do make excessive contacts should be made in private and not made to the DXing public over the air during the operation. In some few cases, peer pressure would be an appropriate action. Sanctions, such as threatening to withhold QSL cards from offenders should not be invoked as it puts those with valid concerns in a difficult position if they are unsure of their contact.
a) The objective when working by call areas, is not simply to subdivide the pile, but to subdivide it in such a way as to take advantage of the existing propagation.
b) Therefore, it is desirable to ask the calling stations which must sign portable, to indicate their true location and to call when their geographic call area is being worked.
c) Abuse of this rule is possible, of course, but is generally insignificant. Alternate procedures requiring stations to call with their natural callsign districts are unfair to those who follow the rules. Those who abuse the rule are often very obvious due to propagation characteristics, and can be avoided.
a) The solution to the question “what is your callsign,” is to identify adequately. There is really no reason not to do this, and the benefits far outweigh the bother. It is simply a matter of remembering to do it.
b) It is a fact that questions are always followed by more questions. Many times the same question is asked immediately after it has been answered. Incredible as it seems, many DXers today fail to listen adequately. In addition, there is no incentive to learn to listen if there is no need because we answer the questions, every time they are asked. Nobody has a right to have their particular question answered. The best policy concerning questions is to ignore most, if not all of them.
c) It is perhaps best to give the QSL information, and information concerning where other stations are operating periodically and ignore questions pertaining to these issues at other times.
a) Jamming by those unhappy with the DXpedition’s progress can be minimized by designing the operation in such a way that most DXers will be confident they will be able to make a QSO eventually.
b) Jamming which results from non-DXers displaced by the pileup can be minimized by restricting the space occupied by the pile, and by avoiding specific frequencies. The DXpedition operator has complete control over these parameters.
c) Jamming which arises from irrational sources can be dealt with by following the rule which dictates, “You have to be LOUD!” Being loud is the most effective solution to eliminating jamming. If the jammer cannot compete with the DXpedition signal, there will be no harmful effect. Being loud should not eliminate the need for a good operating strategy, however.
Following an expedition, many DXpeditioners are very interested in learning how the expedition was received by the DXing public. In some cases the operators are greeted at home as heroes and they believe they are indeed heroes.
Eventually, however, every DXpeditioner learns that someone is unhappy with his operation. Obviously, it is very difficult to please everyone. It has been said that if you worked it, it was a great operation, if you didn’t, you might be ready to disagree. When some people are unhappy is doesn’t necessarily mean that the expedition was a failure. It is possible, however, that some improvement in performance might be possible.
If an expedition with two stations operating twenty four hour per day, averages three QSOs per minute, it will take about three or four days to work everyone even once. Since it is impossible for everyone to work the expedition immediately, it is reasonable to ask if the playing field is level. Does everyone have an equal chance when considering their operating skills and station characteristics in the equation? The answer is obviously no. Therefore, the operating techniques of the expedition operators should probably be such that the experienced DXer is able to determine the best way to work the expedition and get quickly into the log. This of course leaves the less experienced DXers for later in the operation. It seems difficult to make a case for a style of operation which is so random that no one can determine a pattern or method of working the operator more quickly than anyone else.
Some of the criticism heard following a relatively successful DXpedition will be from those operators who lack these skills. But often, valid criticisms are heard, and an objective self-evaluation is in order. Criticism should be evaluated in view of conditions on each end of the discussion and alternatives studied.
Much has been said and written about QSL policies of various groups and individuals. Generally speaking one should be free to do whatever one wishes concerning QSLing. If, however, support is sought from clubs, foundations or the general DXing public, it is incumbent upon the DXpedition group to comply with certain accepted standards.
One facet of QSLing policy which relates to the operating aspects of a DXpedition is that of how to resolve problems over calls found “not in the log”. It is possible to analyze one’s operating procedure from the point of view of errors made by the operator as confirmed by QSL cards received. Many errors follow a pattern and discovering their nature can improve an operators skills.
Most mistakes in the logs are handwriting problems leading to erroneous data entry, actual data entry errors (which usually number about one percent of the total), or errors by the station worked. A consistent set of rules can be followed which will allow DXers a sort of “due process” in trying to resolve their QSL problems while affording the operators an insight into their own operating procedures. If only a computer log is available when trying to resolve a “not in the log” situation, the manager or the operator must seek out a chronological listing and look for the call that was placed in the log representing that of the DXer requesting the card. Whether a computerized chronological listing or an original handwritten log is used, it may be found that a similar (enough) callsign is found in the chronological listing to justify sending a card. In many cases the operator or the manager can feel comfortable that the entry really represents the QSO in question.
If a reasonable facsimile of the requesters callsign is found, perhaps one simple role can be applied: Will anyone else request a card for this QSO? Maybe the requester will be asked to contact the holder of the actual callsign in the log and see if he, indeed, did make the QSO in question. On CW one can examine the error and see if it is a reasonable error to be made in copying the code. For example, if a character is found which varies from the apparently correct character by one or two dots, we may apply the “one dot role.” This is an indication that the operator is adding or deleting dots mentally and an indication that he might be better off using a slightly lower CW speed. In this case the claimant probably deserves a card. In no case should the DXer be deprived of a QSL card as a result of an obvious error by the DXpedition operator.
Frequently, no callsign can be found in the log at any time near the QSO in question. In these cases, one must simply advise the requester that no QSO was made. Often, QSLs are claimed on the smallest evidence of a QSO. Many DXers record QSOs based only on partials hoping a QSO took place. Care should be taken in these cases as relatively few errors are made by the DXpedition operators themselves. This procedure not only maintains the integrity of the QSLing policy for the DXpedition, but as importantly, it serves to assist the operators in improving their operating procedure by revealing the nature of errors they have made.
There is another aspect of QSOs “not in the log,” and this is what exactly constitutes a valid QSO. This problem arises mostly on the low bands, eighty and one sixty, where ESP (extra sensory perception) is sometimes found in its enthusiasts. Many of us have heard some of the low band faithful working the DX long after it has QSYed to forty meters.
From the DX end, it is usually quite easy to determine whether a valid contact has been made. Frequently, the DX station is running low power, and can more easily hear the DXers than can the DXers hear them. When one station cannot determine when the other station has stopped sending, no claim can be made for a valid QSO. If someone has to say “over,” the QSO is definitely suspect. Some DXers fail to realize that a valid contact must be a two-way exchange of information (the callsigns at least). Knowing that a DX station is on a given frequency from a cluster spot does not constitute hearing a DX station. On occasion a QSL manager will see an entry in the original handwritten log which has been crossed out or erased. This may have resulted because the expedition operator could hear the calling station but sensed that the calling operator could not hear him and subsequently voided the QSO.
Perhaps the last chapter is not the appropriate place for a discussion concerning ethics, but make no mistake, this issue encompasses all other issues in DXpeditioning. The DXing community is keenly aware of ethical transgressions. Eventually support for DXpedition groups and individuals, whether direct or through the DX foundations is affected.
Situations arising from licensing, QSLing, and even questions concerning an actual presence at the location under discussion all affect the integrity of the DXCC program itself. It is not my intent to prescribe what is right and what is wrong in DXing. The DX community, through its representatives on the DXAC as well as magazines and bulletins will decide these issues. It is my intent, however, to emphasize that these issues will be decided by the DXing community. It is in the best interest of any DXpeditioner to consider not only his actions but the perceptions of his actions by DXers. Unfortunately, image is everything.
XII. POST SCRIPT
The DXpeditioning concepts presented here flow in part from one of the most accomplished and prolific DXpeditioners now active. While the author has observed expeditions dating back to the fifties, and participated in expeditioning for almost ten years, it would be wrong not to credit Martti Laine, OH2BH, with inspiring much of the foregoing material. Throughout the last thirty years, Martti has continually expanded the boundaries of the DXpeditioning art while insisting on the highest degree of operating procedure and ethical conduct. Always wanting to try something new and innovative for each expedition, the resulting performances have set high standards for the DXing community and contributed to the definition of successful DXpeditioning.
Our activities in recent years have resulted in a very close relationship and seemingly endless conversations relating to DXpeditioning principles. These years of expeditioning culminated in the first operation from Albania in many years. This operation, which virtually established an amateur radio service in Albania, may well have been the ultimate experience in DXpeditioning.
The ZA1A program called upon all of the concepts covered here and more. Licensing ethics, operating procedures, QSLing policies and all of the other issues covered in these pages were part of the successful ZA1A operation. Through this and other DXpeditioning experiences, it has become clear to me that careful planning and adherence to sound principles can almost guarantee the success of any DXpedition effort. Too often we have heard of expeditions which have ignored one or more of the most important principles and paid the price with unnecessary difficulties. Careful planning can avoid such difficulties.
I want to emphasize again that most of these ideas are neither new nor unique. But for those who seek to build on the successes of the past, I hope these pages will become a focus for expedition planning. From those who will create future success, I solicit ideas and comments. I know I speak for Martti and myself in thanking lNDEXA and the ARRL for their joint effort in publishing these guidelines.