A Postcard from Montana
The WeeklyDX™ Helpful Hints No. 30 from the DX University™*
I had worked the current Conway Reef DXpedition on the needed band-modes in the couple of days prior to leaving for a visit with the grand kids on Friday last week. There wasn’t any pressure here, and things seemed to be running smoothly out there on that small, bug infested island. There was apparently a wind storm – maybe a windy rain squall – like we had in 1990 that put at least one generator out as well as one amp. But Qs were being made at an astonishing rate, and all was well. Even a 160M Q was in the log.
On Sunday morning, however, I heard some scuttlebutt from Europe about how insensitive were some of the “splits” that were being used by the 3D2C operators. Some of the comments from Europe were quite indignant. “How dare they take up that much of the band by saying “UP” after every Q and responding to callers that far up the band?” “Maybe we should retract out support for the expedition.” Some complaints were even heard from some of the more competent DXers in Western Europe.
Being away, I was wondering how this aspect of the DXpedition was being viewed here in the western part of the USA, so I asked the question on a couple of the “local” DX club reflectors. Son of a gun! I got a really different point of view. Most of the comments began with “They seem to be doing a fine job.” Then they continued: “I worked them on most of the band-modes that I needed.”
Aha! The picture became clearer. As I mentioned last week, there seems to be a 1/R relationship between satisfaction and distance from you to the DXpedition. That is, the closer you are to the source, the easier it is for you and the DXpedition to connect. The farther you are from the DX location, the more their faults are magnified. The bottom line – again – might be “If you worked it, the DXpedition was great. If you did not it could be worst expedition ever.”
But, a closer reading of the European comments suggests that there is more. The questions concerned splits and pileup width. What is “The Split?” Simply put, the split is the distance (in Kilohertz) between the DXpedition frequency and the closest edge of the pileup. The width of the pileup (again in kHz) is just that – how many kHz the pileup occupies.
The amount of the split can be most anything as long as the location of the pileup is in the band. This distance really makes no difference, as long as the pileup is occupying a reasonable part of the band.
The width of the pileup is another matter. It is what affects non-DXers on the band. Excessive width is a problem. In general, a large pileup should never occupy more than say 10-15 kHz on SSB and no more than 5-10 kHz on CW, depending on the band and the size of the pileup. (Pileups can be much wider on 10 meters because of the available space in the band.) If the pileup must be wider in order to be able to separate stations, some other method should be used to reduce the size of the pileup such as working certain areas, continents, numbers, etc.
It should be clear by now that the DXpedition operator sets the rules. Some DXpedition ops have recently complained that DXers wouldn’t spread out when asked. In reality, DXers will call where they are most likely to be heard. If the DXpedition op asks DXers to spread out and then doesn’t move his receive frequency, why would or should DXers spread out? This seems like a no-brainer, but it happens frequently.
In fact, the DXpedition op can easily control the placement and size of the pileup by a couple of simple methods. In the beginning on CW, the op can say “Up 5.” For most DXers, this means up at least five kHz. At some point, the DX op might want to widen the pileup if it gets too congested. He can then just start moving his listening frequency up a bit. Some DXers will figure this out, and call higher than five up. At some further point however, the DX op should understand that he should not use any more of the band, and then go back to the beginning and start moving up again and repeat the process.
If the pileup doesn’t response the DX op can say “I am listening on [some particular frequency.] He can say he’s listening on another particular frequency at the other end of his desired range. The DX op can have full control; he just needs to exert it. This is essential, and one mark of a good DXpedition operator.
In the case of European pileups and the 3D2C operators, one has to wonder just why the DX op was using an excessive pileup width. There might well be reasons seemingly beyond the control of the DX op, but more likely, he was simply not completely aware of what he was doing. An effective DXpedition operator will be able to make it happen in an effective and proper way.
*The DX University™ is a day-long learning session for newcomers and old-timers wishing to hone their DXing skills. These weekly articles published in the WeeklyDX™ are archived in the pages of The DX University, www.dxuniversity.com