DXpeditions the old fashioned way…

Posted: October 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

back-to-basics

You may have seen part II of the Don Miller-W9WNV interview in this month’s CQ magazine. In the interview Don discusses his views about the current ways that Dxpeditions are done in contrast to how they were done in the decades of long ago.

As a Dxpedition leader, I can tell you that the pressures and the “strings attached” that are placed on a Dxpedition to satisfy the many needs, wants and request of donors is significant. When you are trying to organize a major Dxpedition to a rare entity that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, you have to be willing to listen and consider all proposals and funding sources.

Today’s Dxer is savvy and sophisticated. He hopes to work the Dxpedition from 10-160 meters and on three modes. Well many do! Most Dxers prefer some form of contact confirmation. ClubLog has been in vogue for about 6 years now and is pretty much the norm for contact confirmation. I like Clublog and I think a daily upload to Clublog is a prudent use of DXpedition resources.

Some groups take it a step or two forward from that with real time logging. The Italian DX Group makes good use of their hotel internet to update their log search in nearly real time. Another group uses expensive satellite technology to display calls just worked on a web application. This requires an “always on” satellite uplink which is very expensive and can be difficult to maintain the connection at all times.

I like the Italian group’s near real time log search capability because it does not inject extra cost into their bottom line and because it uses existing technology in place. One must do a search for your call it is not merely displayed to everyone in real time.

Personally, I feel that any system that displays your call in the log in real time is an expensive “crutch” for poor operators. If you are a good operator, you know with some certainty as to whether your contact was made. If you are a poor operator then you are likely to benefit from a crutch such as real time log display.

With the significant cost for satellite time and bandwidth, I think that real time log display is an expensive gimmick and I am not in favor of wide adoption of such technology. I think Dxpedition groups can better use their limited financial resources for better coax, antennas or things that are likely to make a difference for their world-wide audience.

In looking back at how Dxpeditions were done in the 1960’s, there is a simplicity and basic approach that can be appreciated even today. It was DXing in its purest form, very competent operators going to rare and remote places, giving out contacts to those truly “deserving”. By deserving I think it meant that the Dxer on the other end was very skilled and had a good station. He understood propagation and he made it a point to be on the right band at the right time. He made sacrifices away from work and family to get that rare contact. He didn’t need to rely on a real time log display program to be sure he had confirmation. He sent his card and spent months waiting for a return card in the mail.

Expectations of Dxpeditions of yesteryear were reasonable and attainable. One contact was enough and usually only two modes were done, CW and SSB. In contrast, today’s expectations are growing and growing. Some leaders want to accommodate each and every request. I feel that you have to draw a line somewhere. Six meters and 60 meters are being requested and we will try to satisfy those requests.

We have requests to listen for QRP operators at the top of the hour. We have requests for terrestrial VHF and earth moon bounce. We have requests for PSK and JT65.

I would like to see a more “back to basics” approach to Dxpeditions. This would require Dxers to lower their expectations and to accept fewer contacts and modes. The leader should focus on assembling the strongest and very best operators available. I feel that this is a purer form of DXing and is a better test and display of one’s skill.

What do you think?

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Comments
  1. Rick WA6NHC says:

    I’ve put up all the antenna that my HOA allows without them knowing about it (a 110 meter single wire dipole hidden). I run a medium power amp.

    With a few exceptions, the DX is never truly 59+. Often it is marginal, at or just above the noise floor (your DXpedition last year was made near the end of the visit AT the noise floor, only because the op hung in there for me).

    I like real time logs because it takes the pressure off me when it’s an ATNO. It also lowers the pileup density because once you’re in the log, why keep trying for that band mode? Once in the log, I still try for new band slots, but that pressure is off. I don’t go back to what was confirmed, so I’m at least one less in that pileup.

    Does THAT make me a poor operator because I want to confirm the ATNO before the team leaves the DX location (potentially forever)? I think not. My 235 Q’s in the log would also indicate otherwise. One size does not fit all needs here.

    Back to basics in photography means waiting until your return to develop the film only to find out you missed that shot that could have been reshot, if only you’d known (why I use digital now instead of film, I can quickly check). In the ham world, there may never be a second chance during the lifetime of the op. That doesn’t make them a poor operator to want every chance before the team leave.

    If a station has beam(s) on (multiple) tower(s) hearing anywhere in the world at 59, it’s a crutch. For us mere mortals running a middling station, it is an awesome addition to the tool set for ATNO hunting.

  2. Ed Sawyer says:

    Its hard to be critical of WA6NHC’s comments. The fact is, in Don Miller’s day, WA6NHC would not have worked the DXpedition (likely). As a ham starting in the mid 70s, I know that well. Now there is the expectation that anyone, even in an HOA situation should be able to work the DXpedition. The issue is cost and who bears the burden.

    If you look at the geography breakdown, the Europeans are notoriously poor at donating to DXpeditions. They are quick to criticize if EU is not focused on when its a long path to them, despite that.

    The issue is clearly evident. The expectations of DXpeditions is not usually in line with the user community’s willingness to fund those expectations. People who have difficult to achieve expectations (like WA6NHC) should be prepared to “pony up” to make sure the equipment and length of stay on the DXpedition side is sufficient to satisfy them. Back in the Don Miller days, people didn’t donate other than a few dollars extra in the QSL request, the DXpeditions were modest, and people with small stations were “grateful” when they worked one but not “critical” when they didn’t. They didn’t invest, so how could they be upset if it didn’t work out. The guy with the 100 foot tower and monobander always worked the DXpedition and rightfully so given the investment.

    I think the era of big DXpeditions is quickly coming to an end. The cost to deliver the expectation is staggering and the willingness of the user community to fund it is not – especially in Europe.

    I think we will get back to basics out of evolution – not desire. Possibly some remote installations will emerge to satisfy needs although the maintenance requirements still baffle me as to how that keeps going. But that’s another topic.

    73

    Ed N1UR XX9TEP, C6ARS, A52UR, 9M6A, FP0GXV, PJ2E)

  3. Rick WA6NHC says:

    Ed,

    I can’t fully agree with your comment that HOA (apartment, city dwellers etc) owners can expect everything. I didn’t intend to imply that. In fact, for most it’s the opposite, every Q is a joy because we know that we are minimal station. Add in the usual life situations, work, family etc and the effects of a small station become exaggerated.

    I also started in the mid-70’s and there are other reasons I would have perhaps different results then versus. I had (still have) a TS-520S without a second VFO for split (compared to a well dressed K3 now) and a tribander at 30′ compared to a long dipole now. That’s comparing apples and bananas; the times have changed on many levels (a couple of those solar cycles were stupendous, this one not so much). With most newer radios able to perceive signals at the noise floor, it falls on antennas and operator ability as the determining factors (conditions being beyond our control). If you have minimal antennas (HOA or similar), you must step up your game to be successful. With the number of hams able to put up towers and arrays, some massive, that step up can be steep if one wants success. [The sheer density of stations in the east coast are often as bad or worse than Europe to break through to EU/AF. I’m guessing they feel the same about us working anything Pacific. HOA type stations regardless of power output have a tougher time breaking the walls, even at max legal power.]

    There are many DX stations I simply cannot hear with the current setup and conditions, therefore I will never be able to work them here. (I’m also height limited because of an airport 300 yards away.) I’m not bitter or sad, but I do take joy in the ones I’ve managed to snag. My next home will have improved antenna situations as one of the priorities, this place was never intended for long term.

    While I admire what others have and can get done, I am a bit of a snob. I do look down on those using multiple remote stations to take advantage of conditions; that grates on me and strikes me of the wrongness, a moral issue. I feel similar about the mega-stations built by some; that they simply bought their way into gaining the entity count without much serious effort other than time. Good for them if they can afford it, I’m not buying my way to records. I rather enjoy the efforts I’m putting out; it’s satisfying to me.

    All my DX has been worked from within 100 miles of my starting point and in fact, most of it (now 236 worked) from this meager dipole in an HOA. It wasn’t easy and it took extra time (I’m retired and have more time) and I’m proud of that accomplishment. That is within my moral code, I’ve earned every Q in old school form.

    I have donated to some DXpeditions but I am not (cannot be) a major contributor. One can quickly go broke supporting all of them. :o) I’m selective, though many are worth supporting.

    I don’t expect the DX to stay on the air until I’ve worked them, that would be unreasonable, even if I’ve donated. I do have other interests which also means I can’t attempt every DXpedition (occasionally I too AM the DX).

    Because of the inflated expenses on everything these days, DXpeditions WILL be forced to change. If a group decides to NOT have instant logging gratification for example, there is financial savings, but there is also a cost. The pileups won’t diminish (insurance Q’s will return as the norm). I don’t know that a return to basics will happen but it will be different. New methods and technology will be influences just as operator style and ability will adapt as well.

    There will be other changes as well. How it will evolve, I have no clue. As with most things, the only constant is change. In the meantime, the chase is still fun.

    Rick wa6nhc

  4. Roger says:

    There is room in ham radio for all types of DXpeditions. Some are using “real time” log updates and some use log updates every 24 hours or so. My observation is that 80% of the DXpeditions fall in either one of these two categories. There are only a few that don’t put up logs during the DXpedition.

    Personally, I appreciate having the logs available — not necessarily “real time” but at least once every day or two. Some of the locations are only activated once every ten years to twenty years which — at my age — means that the current operation could be literally my last chance.

    I don’t know what the cost is to have some type of internet access to a remote place. Take for example the DXpeditions to Peter I, Navassa, Amsterdam, etc. All of these are “rare” places. The cost to activate these places was up in the multi hundreds of thousands of dollars. The additional added cost and energy to provide daily log updates must not be too prohibitive since most DXpeditions now put up logs.

    I don’t know the extent to which having logs up helps to maximize the number of Qs as pileups diminish because DXers know they are in the log so they don’t have to seek “insurance” Qs. Many DXers contribute to operations while requesting QSLs. It could be that the additional Qs in the operations’ logs — which equates to more revenue — is sufficient to foot the bill for some type of internet access.

    As it relates to style of operating, I use brute force here. I have a “moderate” antenna farm here consisting of a log periodic at 40 feet for 20 thru 10 and wires for 30/40/80m. For many operations, I may stay up all night [or multiple nights] to snag a Q — generally on CW — on 30m, 40m, or 80m.

    As I type this it is 3:50AM local time. I have one eye on 30m right now waiting for TX3X. Right now I don’t hear the slightest whisper from him on his QRG. Hopefully, he will be workable between now and sunrise. For most Western Hemisphere operations I’ll probably be able to log ten or more band slots. For many Eastern Hemisphere operations I may have four to six band slots. For a few selected operations — Myanmar, Scarborough, Lakshadweep — maybe I’ll only have one or two Qs. And there have been several operations where even with extreme diligence I just couldn’t work them at all — Iran being the prime example.

    73 Roger K5RKS

  5. ky6r says:

    I would love to us all run DX-peditions just like UA4WHX does (or the way the Microlite Penguins do), but with the cost of transportation, the strict environmental rules and regulations and political situations in the world – DX-ing and especially the DXCC program is much different than “the good old days”. I still marvel at how much K1N transportation cost – for an island in the Caribbean! During the Top Band Dinner at Visalia, Joe Reisert told us how his budget to activate Navssa when he did was $200 – and he used a Cabin Cruiser to get there!

    As far as satellite costs are concerned, it is $7 a megabyte and you can rent a BGAN terminal for as low as $400 for a DX-pedition. For TX5K, it cost a total of $450 for real time logging of DXA.

    I personally like all kinds of DX-peditions, single op, Microlite Penguin and large “corporate” style DX-peditions. I like the variety and am glad they aren’t all the same – but agree – I sure wish you could go to Navassa for $200!

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