Amateur Radio DXing

DXing is extremely addictive!

Probably the greatest lure in amateur radio is to contact someone else just a little further away. When you first start out into the world of DXing, DX may be 100 km but later you will work into every corner of the planet. With some it becomes an absolute obsession and they will go to any length to contact that country they haven’t worked yet. For others, it is a pleasure to rag chew with an amateur in a foreign country to learn more about that country and its culture. DXers often end up meeting other DXers when they travel. Many lifelong friendships are made this way.

DXing is a competitive sport. You will find out the moment that you hear some rare DX that a thousand other hams heard that same station and are also calling at the same instant. The problem is that many of your competitors are outstanding operators with high power, excellent antenna systems and vast experience. Most of your competitors are average operators with average stations and antennas and they are easy to compete with. You just have to be a bit more cunning with your skills but eventually you can work up to competing with the top group. That rare DXpedition will usually work the big guns first and then you can easily make the contact at the end of their stay at the rare location.

Currently there are 340 DXCC “Entities” eligible for the ARRL DXCC award program. An entity can be as large as Australia or as small as St. Peter and Paul Rocks out in the South Atlantic Ocean. There are rules that govern what constitutes an Entity” and they may be found on the ARRL Website You can find the rules for the various awards and where you can download the applications forms. CQ Magazine in the USA that run the Worked All Zones awards program and also sponsor major contests throughout the year have the rules on their website also. Usually you start off with trying to work the first one hundred countries or entities and that will be a milestone for you. It will teach you how to get involved with a pileup and how to be a bit cunning when you do. It will teach you that other DXers in other countries may not have the same sense of fair play as you do. The second 100 countries are a little more difficult to work. Achieving 300 countries is very difficult and will usually take many years. For a variety of reasons including sunspot cycles, rarity of the country and how often the government in charge of it will allow amateurs to operate there. The last 40 entities are extremely difficult and very few ZL amateurs have managed to do it. But the challenge is always there and it becomes a passion to achieve it.

Strategies for Successful DXing
There are some proven strategies that work. Listen to the operator and find out where he is listening and if he is working split frequencies. Working “split” is not difficult, just different. It’s a new skill for you to learn. Find out where the thousands of other operators are transmitting and avoid the pack. Position yourself just off the edge of the pack. Refine your timing so that you will be heard in a “gap” rather than in with the pack. Placement and timing is everything. Your signal should be slightly out of the pack so you will be noticed and your call should be slightly out of sync with the pack… just delayed a bit so that he will hear you start your call but not delayed long enough that you are calling on top of the guy the DX station has already decided to work and is answering. Successful experienced DXers are extremely skilful with their timing and consequently work the DX. You may not be heard on your first call; you’re second or even after a few hours of calling. Be patient! Sometimes it’s an exercise in pure frustration but persistence usually wins and it’s an absolute joy when you snag that new country. Top level DXing is not easy but you will learn that amateur radio is more than inhabiting your local 2 metre repeater. You will also be rewarded with friendships around the world and an understanding of other cultures.

Is CW Worth the Effort?
It really is true that it’s easier to work DX on CW than on phone because there are fewer stations clamouring for the attention of a DX station on CW. CW will still be around for the foreseeable future in spite of recent changes in amateur licence regulations around the world.
Weak CW signals are more readable than weak phone signals. Hone your CW skills. DX stations often run 20 wpm or more and while most of them are courteous and will come back to a station calling at 12 or 15 wpm, it’s very satisfying to be able to work them at the speed they’re calling CQ. Life is much easier with an electronic keyer as it takes the work out of sending your call over and over. There is nothing worse than operating with a pair of uncomfortable, ill fitting, harsh sounding headphones. Invest in a good set of headphones to help you dig out the weak ones and avoid fatigue. A better idea is to buy a quality boom microphone headset with a good sounding microphone cartridge.

Work the contests.
Contests can be intimidating, but your best chance for working new countries is often during the DX contests. Contest groups often will activate multi-multi stations in rare countries and they are easy to work. I recall working CN2R in Morocco on 80M a few years ago. He was S9+ and begging for 80M contacts and very easy to work. You don’t have to work the entire contest, nor do you have to send in the logs for scoring. Figure out what information they’re expecting you to exchange with them, either by listening to several contest QSOs or by reading the contest rules on, then just jump in and start working stations.

What Bands to Operate
The seven popular amateur radio bands offer the DXer propagation to most parts of the world most of the time. When the sunspot count is low between the eleven year peaks, the higher bands like 10, 12, 15 and 17 metres are poor and opportunities are limited. 20, 30 and 40 metres present excellent DXing providing you have good antennas. DXing is more difficult on 80 and 160 metres because the ambient noise levels are often intolerable in urban areas. When the propagation is right and the bands are open at sunrise and sunset, 80 and 160 metres can be extremely rewarding with worldwide contacts. We are fortunate here in the Asia/Pacific region as many rare DXpeditions take place and are easy to work on the lower bands.

When the sunspots reach maximum every eleven years the higher bands are magic. 10, 12 and 15 metres are often open 24 hours a day and it is relatively easy to work 100 countries during a weekend contest. Having a ZL call is a wonderful asset. ZLs are reasonably rare in other parts of the world and there are not that many ZL DXers to compete with. ZLs are often the first “real” DX station that Europeans work. ZL DXers are respected around the world and we have some world class Kiwi DXers amongst us. It is not uncommon to call a CQ on 20 metres and generate a pileup of Europeans or North Americans that may go on for hours.

Operating aids
The DXer has far more tools at his disposal than he had 30 or 40 years ago. Then, you heard a rumour, read monthly DX magazines or received a phone call from a trusted friend. You listened daily, you waited and finally you would hear that weak rare station and attempt to work him with primitive valve equipment. Today’s modern DXers have computers with the Internet based newsgroups, real time packet clusters, propagation prediction programs and information not dreamt of by old timers in the game. Today one knows where and when the rare DX will operate. With a few mouse clicks the modern well equipped station will change the radio to that frequency and mode, track the amplifier to the right band, select the correct antenna system, turn the beam to the heading and set his call up in the logging program in a few seconds. Sounds easy! The reality is that you still have to use your skills to get your call in his electronic logbook. And it doesn’t get any easier as thousands of other hams have the same technology. Below are some web links to programs and services that will help you work DX.

Websites to Help your DXing
AC6V The definitive reference site for ham radio – Over 6000 links
DX Atlas – A program for DXCC, WAZ, IOTA info plus Grayline and path headings.
DX4Win – Excellent Logging program
N1MM – An excellent contest Logging program
Logger32 – Excellent logging program and Free
W6EL – Propagation prediction (and it’s free!)
NZART – Home of NZART The New Zealand Amateur Radio Transmitters
CQWW DX Contests – The CQ Magazine awards and contest website
ARRL – American Radio Relay League – the largest national ham radio association
DXCC – The ARRL DXCC awards and contest website.
DX Summit – Live DX Cluster spots 24 hours a day

KA9FOX: Ham Radio Contest / DX Library. A very worthwhile and informative multi site

Packet Cluster Networks
Packet clusters have been a phenomenon of the DXing world over the past 10 or 15 years. Basically it works like this. A local ham in a city in Europe somewhere “spots” or works a rare station he types into his cluster software the details in the following format:
DX 14015 ZD9BV Calling CQ.
The last comment is optional. The message or “spot” immediately appears on the screens of all connected to that cluster. Most clusters are now linked to the internet and there are more than 1000 of them around the world in every populated area. As soon as that spot hits the internet it spreads to all the cluster nodes and you will see it on your screen in your shack. In fact you will see a continuous stream of DX stations, Announcements and WWV information on your screen 24 hours a day. DX packet clusters are a wonderful tool for chasing DX

Minimum – Maximum Station gear
There are some facts to consider when you are thinking about investing in equipment for your station.

1. The operator on the other end can’t tell whether you have the latest all singing, all dancing multi featured transceiver costing in excess of $8K or a 30 year old valve radio you picked up at a junk sale for $300. 100W is 100W. Both are equal. The only difference is that the older radio may not have all the latest modern features.

2. The stations with the 30 metre towers and stacked 5el monobanders driven by very large amplifiers will often beat you in a pileup. These are the guys that work the rare DX first and they love doing it. After they have done it… they go away and let the rest of us work the station. As long as you are aware of the big guns, it’s not a problem because time will be kind to you.

3. The stations that have the “best” sounding audio will always win in a pileup. It is human nature that the DX station will always take the path of least resistance and work the station he can understand and clearly hear the easiest. Best means clean, punchy and standing out from the rest. Commercial broadcast announcers are picked because of their mellow authoritative voices. Be aware of your own limitations and strive for the best audio you can generate. An authoritative voice helps!

4. With CW – You will need an electronic keyer and clean keying set a bit below the pack’s general speed. This is better than trying to impress the DX station that your electronic keyer can do 45wpm with ease. He can’t! – Well, actually some DX ops can but they are rare.

5. At the end of the day everything helps, but don’t get hung up on particular antennas or brands of radio equipment. They are only part of the picture. A good antenna is the second best investment you will ever make. The first is taking the time to learn the techniques and skills of how a rare DX station thinks and operates. A cunning operator will outwit a big antenna every time!

The Process of QSL’ing
If a newcomer to DX’ing starts out by working DX stations during contests he will quickly learn that he will work key countries multiple times. I would make the bureau one of my first choices The QSL Buro Service here in New Zealand is excellent and it will save you postage costs. My best advice is to save your postage dollars and greenstamps for your rare station direct QSL requests. Confirming DXCC takes time anyway, and by the time one gets close to 100 different confirmed countries, several months or years will pass. As one begins to find QSL cards in the mailbox, it is good to be prepared. There are several systems of filing, and the one that is probably the most common is to keep QSL’s in order by DXCC entity. Shoeboxes help and they are inexpensive. There are some neat boxes sold buy the big chain stores here in NZ to file photographs in and they are excellent for QSLs. Keeping QSL’s in DXCC entity order is the first step in being able to find and sort cards for awards later down the line. Believe me, it is not an easy task to sort a couple of thousand QSL’s from scratch. Be smart and start sorting at the very beginning.

Computer Logging
Computer logging programs are almost essential for those who have a large number of QSO’s. Over time they become one of the best tools around for keeping things in order. Don’t start out with a cheap Shareware Logging program. A key factor in a logging program is to be able to display various award details in DXCC entity order as one has them worked or confirmed. The main prestige awards are DXCC, WAZ, DXCC Challenge, WAS, WAC, IOTA There are thousands of others.When one wants to see how their goals are being met, they can look at their statistics right on the computer screen. Computer logging programs are a great time saver because most of them generate labels that will save hours and hours of handwriting. They can keep track of QSL’s sent and received with just a click. A really good computer logging program will do all of the above and control your radio, send CW, display your local packet cluster DX spots and print the QSO information directly onto your QSL cards with no labels involved.

Awards and Rewards

There are over 3200 awards available to wallpaper your shack. Only a handful really measure how well you compete with other DXers around the rest of the world. They are the prestigious ARRL DXCC awards, the CQ DXCC and WAZ awards, the RSGB IOTA and Dxing awards and the European WAE (Worked all Europe) awards. In fact the list of awards that can be earned for working certain collections of DX stations is almost endless. will give you a link to the universal awards page.
The picture shows No.1 Honour Roll plaque for working all 340 DXCC entities. Only a few ZLs have achieved this prestigious award. We have some world class operators here in NZ

If DXing is an obsession, then DXpeditioners comprise the lunatic fringe of the DX world. At any given time there are hundreds of amateurs operating from rare locations around the world. You can be assured that there are thousands of others actively planning a DXpedition somewhere and hundreds of thousands of “armchair DXpeditioners” who would love to go. Planning a major Dxpedition is almost as complicated as a NASA mission. Large scale modern DXpeditions can chew through $100,000 or more in no time so it isn’t a project that any group of enthusiasts will take on lightly. New Zealand just happens to have ten or more of some the rarest DXCC entities islands within its territory. ZL7 – Chatham Island, ZL8 – Raoul Island and ZL9 – Campbell and Auckland Islands are usually in the top 25 most wanted entities.

There have been major DXpeditions by New Zealanders to all these locations during the past ten years but the demand continues unabated. Opportunity abounds for ZLs to organize more trips to these desired locations. I can assure you there is nothing as sobering as a huge pileup of thousands of unruly Europeans on 20 metres calling you to make that elusive contact. It is frightening but is also the experience of a lifetime to participate as an operator on a DXpedition. The camaraderie and experience gained is incomparable. DXpeditions to ZL7 are easily organized and are tremendous fun and are to be recommended for gaining experience.

When you consider all these factors, it is no wonder that DXing is so popular Even though we are only a couple of years past the fabulous conditions during the peak portion of sunspot cycle 22 & 23 there is always rare DX around to be worked. The next few years will be good for HF DX. On the other hand DXing on 80 and 40 metres will be a bit more difficult. The current sunspot cycle number 24 will peak in 2013 and again provide fabulous world-wide propagation. I am trying to provide tips and information in this section to help you succeed in DXing, whether you are a newcomer to DX or a DXing veteran. If you would like to find out more about DXing, contact me ZL2AL  and I will be happy to put you in touch with DXers in your area.

73, Lee ZL2AL

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