Monday, February 10, 2014

Basic DX tips. Post #260

One of my favorite pursuits in amateur radio is chasing DX (distance) contacts with hams living or visiting in remote places of the world, be they small nations, islands, or even mountain tops.  Each contact is a small adventure to a place I may never see.

For the dedicated contester or DX enthusiast, there are many attractive awards (i.e. DXCC, WAS, WAC, etc.) to pursue. I'm more of a "casual" DXer, squeezing in contacts when house building or part-time teaching permit.  For those moments when I'm free of family responsibilities, I enjoy listening and working exotic, far off places.  Since I live on Hawaii Island, I'm often the "target" of DXers...a task I thoroughly enjoy.

During my 37 years as an amateur radio operator, I've experienced both the joy of making a rare contact and the frustration of losing some elusive call in a rush of QRM.  Such is the DX experience.

There must be an easier way of making DX contacts than wading through a sea of calls and "big gun" stations.  Plenty of low power guys like myself with homemade antennas and simple transceivers have made DXCC, while I still struggle at times to "break through the wall" of competing signals.

Early this morning (Monday) before I headed off to my substitute teaching position, I  read a fascinating, enthusiastic article on e.ham.net that may help me and other "little pistols" do better in the DX department.

E.ham.net republished an article by Brennen Ernst (KI4PRK) called "DX for beginners by a beginner." When the original article was published in 2007, Brennen was a 13-year-old student, who had a remarkable knack for snagging contacts in far away places.  His simple approach answered a number of vexing questions that had always bothered me.  Perhaps my equipment or antennas weren't the source of my lackluster DX performance.  Most likely, my approach to DXing and contesting was the result of certain human or behavioral factors that had gone unnoticed for years.

What Brennen offered was a simple way to approach DXing and contest operations that reduced frustration and increased contacts.  Some of his suggestions I already knew, but failed to implement fully.  And yes, a certain touch of arrogance played a role, too. Afterall, I was an Extra Class ham with over 37 years of experience.  One thing I've learned by a return to teaching is that students can often "teach" their instructors.  A fresh set of eyes and ears often can do wonders to a mind befogged with old ideas and practices.

So, I read Brennen's essay and incorporated his methods into the few hours of operating I had before reporting to my substitute teaching job.  In an hour of casual operating, I was able to contact a few more stations than I normally do.  I was elated because my modest station (Swan 100- MX transceiver and an inverted vee and delta loop) seemed to do much better than before.  Perhaps, I was the biggest stumbling block to success.

Here are some of the recommendations from Brennen Ernst (KI4PRK) that can help boost your contest and DX skills:

Listen before you transmit.

Be courteous.  Treat others as you would like to be treated.

Follow the instructions of the DX or contest station.

There is always propagation somewhere, someplace.  If one band is "closed", try another.

Study propagation, so you can operate when band conditions are good.  The internet contains many propagation programs that can help you anticipate conditions.  You can also monitor propagation bulletins from the ARRL.

Be patient.  This is the greatest skill I had to learn.  Do something else until the "big guns" leave the frequency.

A "plain" 100 watt transceiver and a carefully designed dipole or vertical can produce excellent contacts.  This was one of the reasons I decided to build my own antennas.  I wanted to experience success with something I built with my own two hands.  Again, patience is the key.

Study books and articles about propagation, contest operations, and DXing.  One of the best books on the subject is "The Complete DXer" by Bob Lochner (W9KNI).

Upgrade your license to Extra Class.  The bottom 25 kHz of each Amateur Band is a treasure trove of exciting and often rare contacts.  One of the reasons I finally took and passed the Extra Class License Exam was to gain access to these frequencies.

Learn CW and use various digital modes.  Much of the "exotic" DX uses CW and other digital modes, such as PSK31, Olivia, JT65, and even RTTY.  There are many software programs  to help interface your rig with your computer.

I found the recommendations from this young ham were most valuable in managing my on-air time and getting more DX contacts.  Don't be afraid to learn something new or to experiment with different antennas, modes, QRP, or transceivers.  Amateur Radio is not a static activity.  It's a continuous learning experience that will keep us alert and active until that final switch is pulled and our bodies resume room temperature.

RESOURCES:

http://www.hamuniverse.com/newtohfbands.html.
http://www.hamuniverse.com/techniciantopics.html.
http://www.wa9wsj.com/operating_page.html.
http:www.contesting.com/
http://www.eham.net/articles/31620

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Aloha es 73 de Russ (KH6JRM)
BK29jx15--along the beautiful Hamakua Coast of Hawaii Island.

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