DXing Basics

---------- Updated 2 Aug 02 -----

First of all, the most basic question that many ask is: "What do I need to begin working DX?" The answer is that any transceiver and antenna will do for a start. DXCC (certified contact with 100 DX entities) has been achieved by many with extremely modest stations, such as a transmitter running 100w or less, with a random wire (e.g., 60 ft or less) hung from a tree and matched to the transmitter output with a tuner. For VHF/UHF DXing (VUCC), the antenna requirements are a bit more demanding, but the "economy of scale" (i.e., much smaller size) offset the difficulties of HF antenna concerns. Nevertheless, in the beginning, equipment is less important than the need to develop the required operating skills to learn where/how to first hear the DX. Indeed, something that you'll hear time & again is "You can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em!" Of course good antennas and good receivers are a critical ingredient; however, equipment alone is no match for DXing skills. DXing is like any endeavor - tools do not an expert make! So, use whatever you have and get started.

How do I begin?

Begin by learning to "tune the bands", using your favorite mode(s). Until you understand a bit about propagation, start at the bottom of the highest frequency HF band in which you can operate and slowly tune up the band (if multi-mode, then begin with CW, then switch to PSK/RTTY, then SSB, etc.), listening to each station that you hear for some tell-tale sign of DX: weak signal, accented speech, callsign of interest, or pileup. When you find something of interest, begin planning how to make a contact (see below). After completing your "pass" over the band, you can either begin again or, if you don't hear any signals on the band, then drop down to the next lowest available frequency band. Just tune and listen, tune and listen, ... successful DXing is a game of patience and persistence.

How do I work a DX station that I hear?

There are three types of "DX encounters", depending upon the rarity of the DX station (and the preference of the operator): simplex; simplex pileup; split pileup. The first happens with entities that are not rare (i.e., many active stations), in which you usually just call them directly on their frequency ("simplex") when they are listening for callers, just as you would any other station, and proceed to have a chat. On the other hand, if the station is from a spot that is not often active, there may be a noticeable "pileup" with many calling almost simultaneously, either on the station's own frequency (simplex), or up the band (split). Pileups are usually the sign of a "rare" one, so get in the chase!

Simplex pileup:

Logging the contact

The very first thing to do after a successful contact is to log the time. In the midst of a pileup, it may happen that in the excitement and thrill of "breaking" through, you rush off to tell someone about it and forget to log the time. It is also advisable to begin logging contacts using UTC rather than local time, as UTC is the required time format for QSL cards to DX stations. PC-based logging is recommended, especially for keeping track of entities needed/worked/confirmed.

Getting that QSL card

Working a DX station is only the first half of the job - now, you must get a QSL card and that can sometimes be as difficult as working the station in the first place! There are two basic reasons for difficulties: (1) some operators are just not reliable or responsible QSLers; and (2) some areas of the globe are plagued with postal pilferage, resulting in lost cards. However, never give up! For useful tips on QSLing, see for example, AC6V's QSLing Tips and Advice. There are two ways to QSL: directly to the station (or the designated QSL manager), or via the bureau system. For either, the first thing is to make certain that you fill out the card carefully:

Usually the fastest way to get a card is via Direct:

If you have many cards to send out, don't mind a long wait (many months to several years), and want to save on postage, then the Bureau system is very useful. For US hams, here is a brief summary of the procedure for using the ARRL Outgoing Bureau:

Finally, it is highly advisable to send for QSLs as soon after the contact as possible; however, just because you may have forgotten to send one, or perhaps only recently decided to start collecting cards for DXCC, do not assume that it may be too late to confirm an old contact. I have on several occasions confirmed contacts that were more than 10 years old, and my record is a card for a JZ0 station from 1961 (now a deleted entity) that I neglected to get then, but finally tracked down operator and received a card in 1997!

What mode is best for DXing?

First, it is a matter of enjoyment that counts, so operate with whatever mode(s) that you like. However, there are the most common modes that may be worth considering for pursuit of DX with a modest station:

What is the best antenna(s) for DXing?

Before buying a new rig or any other gadgets, the most effective investment that you can make is to erect the best antenna that you can. Here are some broad guidelines to consider regarding the three general categories of antennas: wire, vertical, beam. A word of caution: the question of "what is the best antenna" is probably the most controversial in ham radio and usually the quickest way to start a friendly(?) argument, so be advised.

What is the best transceiver for DXing?

The best transceiver to begin with is the one that you already have! If you have not yet gotten one, it would be difficult to make a poor choice in selecting a new transceiver today, as there are so many good ones on the market. However, don't discount the excellent choices available in used gear as well, since upper-end transceivers as old as 10-15 years can be better price/performance bargins than comparably priced new, lower-end models. Your best bet is to find someone who has been operating for a few years (the more the better) and ask them for help and advice. If you are prepared to go directly to top-of-the-line, then first read as many articles (in QST, CQ, DX Magazine, etc.) about top DXers, as well as accounts of recent dxpeditions, to see what they use. Don't be afraid to send them an email asking about their equipment.

My transceiver & antenna are all set - what else do I need for my station?

In recommended order of priority:

The DXCC Award

Now that you're working DX and getting cards, you should begin to keep track of your country (entity) count. Download a copy of the official DXCC Entities listing from the ARRL website and begin to check off your worked ("/") and confirmed ("X") entities. The fun and challenge is to get the score of X's up to 100, and then apply for your DXCC Award! To do so is simple:

Other beginning DXer info sources:

OK, you're now all set to chase DX ... see you in the pileups!

Questions or comments to: The Old Man.


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