Working DX HF Pileups

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For many hams, like myself, this is one of the fun aspects of the hobby....working DX stations.

Try to log (either on paper or computer logbook) some key information such as: the DX's callsign, frequency, mode, time/date (in UTC), and possibly the ham band, BEFORE you transmit. If they give their name, QTH, station setup, 10-10 #, or other info, you may wish to enter this with their logbook entry.

Try to listen at first and get the rhythm of how they are making the exchanges and what information they are giving. For example, are they giving only their callsign and a 59 signal report? or are they giving their name and other details. I generally try to follow suit with what they are giving. If they are giving only their callsign and signal report, I generally abstain from giving my QTH and/or name.

REMEMBER....LISTEN, LISTEN, and LISTEN some more. You may pick up clues along the way that actually help you make the contact. He may be "running by the numbers" or areas, or you may notice QSB on the band and make the contact when the propagation fluctuations "rise". You'd be surprised at how much you can learn by listening, sometimes making notes. If you listen to a DX station over a wide expanse of time you can learn about propagation, not only to and from your station to the DX, but also to other hams in areas of the world or country that are also trying to work him. When you listen you may also learn from the good operators (both the DX and the stations calling him), as well as the lids (bad operators) about how to make a contact properly and with etiquette to him and others. You will hear good operating practices, and unfortunately, bad operating practices. Obviously, don't imitate the bad operators. By listening, you may "see" or hear from a different viewpoint that might not be apparent otherwise.

Now, I'm not saying by listening, don't EVER transmit... How else are you going to make a contact?? Just listen and learn by your experiences. Don't be "mike shy"...the hams are people just like you. You are "people" just like them, aren't you??

When speaking my callsign, I try to enunciate properly my phonetics. For the most part I try and stick with the proper ITU phonetics. If I am heard weakly by the DX, I might state my callsign 2 or 3 times. I state "Whiskey 8 Romeo India Tango, Whiskey 8 Romeo India Tango, QSL?"; NOT "Whiskey Whiskey 8 8 Romeo Romeo India India Tango Tango". If this fails, I may or may not choose to use the unofficial phonetics; although this practice sometimes hampers and confuses the DX station more.

There are different variations on the exchanges and a lot will be learned by your experiences and listening. I think it's a good idea to listen a lot as to how different hams make their contacts. Some are very good during contests and have a very good pattern, and others have a hard time. Things may change a bit depending on whether the stations can hear each other excellent or weak depending on propagation, antennas, power, etc.

I hear, and as I'm sure many others do...give a groan, when someone asks the DX for their callsign. Sometimes it's necessary, but not often...especially when you've been in a pileup for about an hour and heard his callsign many times. Maybe at that point in time you should have listened before you transmitted??? "Ya can't work 'em, if ya can't hear 'em." But there may be times when static noise, low signal strength, coupled with a strong accent can make things a little difficult.

Don't ever tune your radio or amplifier up with the antenna tuner right on the DX's frequency (or in the QSX/ split frequency slot where he is listening). That's a rude practice. If you tune up with a carrier, you may make it impossible for someone to hear the DX while you're doing so. There are occasions that someone has been in a pileup for a long time and when he is finally heard you interfere with him. The DX may move on to another station and the original station does not get to make his contact and he was so close. Put yourself in his would you feel??

At times you may notice the DX station's signal rising and falling. It may be that he is rotating his beam antenna, but it also could be propagation changes. We hams call this QSB.

I have also heard on 40M DX stations operating split. They transmit SSB in the American CW sub-band and receive in the SSB sub-band. Occasionally an American station may unknowingly transmit on the DX transmit frequency. The "DX policeman" will then transmit, sometimes gruffly, for him to move up. DON'T do it!!! You are then operating illegally yourself, and it's even worse since you KNOW you're doing it.

As your listening and experience grows you will hear different operators make calls in contests, DXing, chit-chatting (rag-chewing), and during different propagation conditions during different periods (time of day, season, etc.). Some DX stations will get the callsigns of the stations they are working right, every time, in the first try, and sometimes it may take 5 minutes for each station. (The latter is usually the case for 100W SSB on 75M in noisy, weak conditions). Learn from the good examples as well as by the bad examples. You'll hear both.

"Tail-ending" - That's when you quickly throw in your callsign right after the non-DX station is about to clear with him. You've gotta be careful not to QRM him, and also some DX stations don't like that practice as they consider it rude, and some are unprepared to hear you and log your callsign. Basically, you're interjecting yourself into another conversation which may interrupt the flow of that communication as they may not be expecting to hear from some other ham.

During a pileup sometimes it may help to get your callsign in first right when the DX stops transmitting, and sometimes you may need to let the "roar" of the pileup settle down, and just about the time when most stations stop transmitting and before the DX picks a callsign...that's when you call. Listen to see if he is regularly getting the first station that calls, or if he also lets the pileup settle down for the most part and then picks a callsign near the end when most stations have stopped transmitting. In many cases, the "big gun" stations can overpower you with their signal and make the contact if you are a "little pistol" station running 100W to a wire antenna as opposed to another station running 1 kW with a beam antenna with gain. 

Sometimes you say your callsign once only, and sometimes you say it once, wait a few seconds, and say it again. Don't continually call, you'll be a nuisance to not only the DX, but also to everyone else; especially if you call when he returns to someone else and they can't hear because you're talking. It is important that you listen to how the DX is timing his replies to the stations he goes back to. You may not want to transmit your callsign again if you continually notice that by the time you stop transmitting, the DX was also transmitting.

My personal opinion is that I dislike the practice of operators that use only their suffix. There was a "famous" ham on the South Cook Is. who passed away relatively recently. He would specifically state that he wanted stations to use their full callsign once, and once only. If you didn't...he would write your callsign down and NOT work you. He was strict, but the pileups were rather well behaved.

If the DX station gets a part of your callsign incorrect, I usually state, "Negative, Negative" and repeat my callsign.

For DX and contests I don't give my RST or contest exchange, until AFTER I hear him give my callsign correctly. Then when he's got it correct, I give the signal report and/or contest exchange. I've learned the hard way. I had given my report and then asked him to correct my callsign...well in the pileup others started calling and he went on to work others without getting my callsign correct. Some other ham probably got a QSL card he had no idea how he got it.

Being that you might have a long callsign to say as a new ham (a 2 by 3...2 letters in your prefix, geographic #, and 3 letters in your suffix) it may be harder at times to give your callsign multiple times. Been there...done that. Before I had time to spit out "Kilo Charlie 8 Romeo Victor Foxtrot" he could have worked 2 other stations. :-)

Sometimes for DX (& contests) the DX station may only get a part of a callsign, like he may say: "the India Tango station" or just: "the station with Tango". That's when you would give your callsign again, providing he gave a portion of YOUR callsign. There may be other stations who also have a letter of your callsign also. Don't be a lid and call if you know it is the portion of a suffix of another station.

Sometimes you may be hearing just about all of the other stations (sometimes you won't due to propagation, antennas, and geographic locations), but sometimes you may hear the DX station ask for: "the Papa Zulu station" and noone answers, you might want to throw your callsign in after a second when noone answers because there was no Papa Zulu station to begin with in the first place. That's a bit of a gamble, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. He may have heard a "combination" of 2 different with a Papa in it, and the other with a Zulu in it. Sometimes when that opening happens, you stick your foot in the door, sometimes it opens more, and sometimes it slams shut.

I also sometimes (very rarely) in SSB pileups tune up or down just a little bit, not so I'm unintelligible, but just so it changes how he hears the pitch of my voice. It depends on which sideband I'm using as to whether I go up or down.

DX stations may also break pileups into smaller groups if they get too big. They may go by the numbers. So in that case I would have to wait for the "8's" since my callsign has an 8 in it. Sometimes it may be NA (North America) or EU (Europe). The DX station may also want only East Coast or West Coast US stations. {I have differing opinions on those who may have a different number in their callsign as compared to their geographic area. Like...W1AW who lives in "8-land". Should he call with the rest of the "8's" and risk being ignored by the DX who is looking for 8's and not know that he actually is in 8-land...or should he call with the "1's"??}

Some DX stations don't break down the pileups or go to splits when they should. That's part of their inexperience. Hey I'm not a pro myself. Remember that the DX station is the "boss" of the pileup, he runs it as he sees fit. They will learn by experience without your "supreme" guidance on how you think it should be done.

Better ops also keep in mind the terminator. (No, I'm not talking about Arnold). The terminator is where the line of sunrise and sunset is at on a part of the world. (If you work up and down the terminator that's called grey-line propagation.) They watch the terminator on a world map and keep in mind for example when sunrise is happening at the western part of Europe to learn when it may be an appropriate time to start working N. America on 75/80M (since that band will start fading out in Europe), but then to start working Europe on 20M. When sunrise is starting on the east coast of the US they may want to start working the west coast only. That all depends on where they are located and what their overall goals are. Then they say, "It's not a TOO-MAH".

QRX is wait; sometimes during a DX-pedition they'll switch operators, or put gas in the generator so they may say "QRX 5.

Don't worry if you don't get all of this at'll learn by doing it...and listening.

See the page "Working Splits" for this aspect of working DX HF pileups.

For more excellent guidance and operating tips see this pdf from John ON4UN.

This site also has good information for proper DX operating: DX CODE

INFO ON DXCC, DXCC entities, Honor Roll, etc.



DX spotting networks

RST reports for SSB, CW / RSQ reports / SSTV reports 595

Then there's DX spotting networks. Stan has one on 2M and I do mine thru telnet/internet. Try I think that's the url. Don't expect to hear everything that comes across, during our nighttime you probably won't be able to hear an Asian station spotted by a European station when they are both in daylight and we are not. My software (SpotCollector) lets you do a lot of filtering. Some contests don't approve of using spotting networks at all and sometimes for the classification you may enter for submitting your contest score. I use another one from K8SMC in Jackson MI.

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