Using QSK Effectively
by Wayne Mills, N7NG
Perhaps the most important task in a pileup situation is determining “what is happening.” If you don’t know what’s going on, working the DX is pretty much luck. We’ve already talked some about listening — listening to the pileup in particular — in order to learn what’s happening. Nothing is more important. But, even if a DXer spends considerable time listening, it’s very possible that some important information will be lost during his transmissions, since the he cannot hear the DX station while he’s actually transmitting. Being able to hear the DX station while you’re transmitting will shed more light on the whole sequence of operations.
Although one cannot usually hear while actually transmitting RF, it is possible to maximize what can be heard by listening at all times that we are not actually transmitting a signal. This can be accomplished through the use of a technique called QSK. QSK means “I can hear you between my signals. This is often called Break-In on CW; it’s just listening between calls on SSB. Using your rig’s QSK feature on CW allows listening between code characters – dits and dahs – on CW. On SSB, a footswitch is best. Using a footswitch will allow such listening on ‘phone.
Using QSK facilitates listening in the intervals between calls, or even between characters on CW. With your receiver set to hear the DX station, using QSK makes it possible to stay in sync with the DX station by hearing when the DX station begins to transit – returning to a calling station – thus allowing the DXer to more quickly begin the search for the correct frequency for his next call. This can easily double or triple your actually calling rate, while adding less QRM to the environment.
Personally, I’ve never really liked QSK operation because of the noise heard between characters. Instead, I have always opted to use a footswitch, changing from transmit to receive and back quickly while calling. Manufacturers haven’t always implemented QSK operation well over the years, and the resulting CW signals have often sounded poor. Recent advances have resolved my objections for the most part, and my newest radio seems to do QSK really well.
Not all radios and amplifiers offer QSK facilities, but if QSK is available to you, give it a try. You may find that doing so gives you a significant advantage over those not using this technique.
(c) 2012, Wayne Mills, N7NG