Welcome to the second of an irreverent and not too serious look at how to be a successful HF DXer. Last time we look at how we defined DXing, what is a DXCC entity, band slot and the fundamental steps you need to take to start DXing. Today we’ll look at how you cam maximise your chances of filling bands slots.
The DX Cluster is a much abused but very useful tool to see what DX is on the bands at any moment. The Cluster is simply a list of DX stations, their frequency, time spotted (you always “spot” to the cluster), the spotting station and a comments field. Originally this list was propagated by packet radio on 2m – however this method has now gone the way of DR-DOS (i.e. obsolete but one of two people still run it and consider it to be the future). 99.9% of people now access the Cluster using an Internet connection. Technically the Cluster program is a telnet application (you what?) and it really comes into its own when you have an always-on broadband connection. Run the cluster 24/7 and you will have a record of what has happened and what is happening at the moment on the bands.
I’ll not explain the details of how you set up the Cluster program here but googling DX Cluster will give you loads to read and going to www.bcdxc.org/ve7cc will fast track you. The ve7cc program is the one I use so help is available if you go that route.
You will need to “filter” the spotting stations or else there will simply be too many station spots on the screen to comprehend. I always set my filters so that US and Canadian spotters are excluded (too many of them, I’m not interested that Japan can be heard in Iowa,…) along with Italian spotters (too excited, always spotting that North Korea is 59+60 on top band at noon). You may think it is a wise move to only allow UK spotting stations – it is if you want one spot every 10 hours.
The Reverse Beacon network (skimmer) has really taken off in the last two years. These are automated programs that decode stations sending CQ using CW, RTTY or other digital modes and report them. ve7cc contains an option to turn on these skimmer spots so you can get an immediate indication that a station is on the air even before it is spotted by a human. Some people don’t like this degree of automation – however it can give you 30 seconds advantage to try for a station before the EU pack descends and chaos reigns in the dx zoo.
Let’s move on to Contests. Yep, those guys shouting 59 569 all over the bands when you just want to chat with your mate in the North about your latest hospital appointment (you have heard about telephones?).
Contests are very useful to the DXer as the good contests mean that a lot of stations will enter including rare DX stations. The QSOs are quick and especially on the 2nd day of a 48 hour event you can often work the DX station on 1st or 2nd call as the big boys will have bagged him by then. Contests take place on all the HF bands except 30m, 17m and 12m (so-called WARC bands – google it Joe).
You can safely ignore all the RSGB contests (working loads of G3s will not improve your DXCC count) with a couple of notable exceptions. The Commonwealth CW contest in March is your best chance to work VK, ZL etc with NO EU QRM. The contest is limited to Commonwealth countries and try as they may to persuade the DX station otherwise Italy and Ukraine are not in the Commonwealth. Hence Luigi and Vlad have to sit and weep at their 10KW stacked yagis station while you work ZL3 with a Yaesu 817 and a miracle whip (ha ha!). Even if you don’t do morse you can use programs like cwget and cwtype to decode and make the exchange (again google them Joe).
The other useful RSGB contest is the IOTA in July which normally has a big turnout of stations on islands – some from exotic locations like Anglesey. Oh no, wait the IOTA committee in its infinite wisdom don’t consider Anglesay to be an island while the UK is…
Well if the Cluster and Contests don’t improve your DXCC score there’s always your local 2m/70cm to play with. Bip Bip!