How to make a correct QSO? (Update #2)

So now that we have our radio set up, the antenna is on our roof and there is propagation. Now what do we do?

There are just a FEW things we need to keep in mind when we go on the air:

Speak the HAM Language
HAM is a different world from the one we normally live in. Also it’s different from the CB world. And as in every different world here they speak a different language so we have to learn this. Here are some link where you can read up on the ‘Ham Language‘, phonetic alphabet, CW abbreviations, the Q code, the number code (73/88) and morse code.
Many of us, when we get on the air, we only want to hear ourselves. We call and call and we don’t listen. Listening is an art. You can only work a station if you can hear it. Learn the reception and audio control of your rig. Learn them well. Ask if something is not clear. And then listen. Listen. And listen again. When you are in a pile-up, listen and learn how the operator works. Does he take the first caller? The last? The strongest or the weakest? You will only know this and make a chance of contacting him if you LISTEN. More on Pile-Ups later on in this article.

Use your callsign correctly.
To get a callsign you have to study, pass exams and pay money. To me that means that my callsign is a precious thing, something to be proud of. Remember that a callsign has a prefix AND a suffix, so call them both. Imagine the operator calling CQ DX. If you respond only with your suffix, a habit i see a lot on HF lately, he doesn’t know where you are from. He doesn’t know where to point his antenna to let you make the contact.
Imagine you are in a pileup calling for this one DXCC you are still missing. Or in a contest. The operator on the other side wants to make as many contacts as he can. In a contest so do you. If you call only with your suffix, the QSO takes at least twice as long as when you call with your full callsign because he has to call you and ask you for your full callsign. It might be that he doesn’t want to contact you simply because he doesn’t want to lose his precious time. He can make at least twice the amount of contacts responding to operators who call with their full callsign.

5. QSO examples. What to do and what to say.

“Is this frequency clear? <your callsign>” The magic phrase that we forget so many times. Check if a frequency is really clear before calling CQ on it. Check it twice. If nobody responds, the frequency is yours.

“CQ, CQ, CQ DX. CQ, CQ, CQ DX. CQ, CQ, CQ DX <callsign>” What goes wrong here? People only hear CQ and don’t hear WHO is calling. Well, they hear it once. Better is “CQ, CQ DX <callsign> <callsign> <callsign> CQ DX” or something similar. Let people know what you are calling for (“CQ DX” means that you are ONLY calling for DX) and who you are.

While in a QSO, mention your callsign at least in the beginning of the QSO so the other operator knows who you are and at the closing of the QSO. When the QSO is more than just making the contact, if you are “rag chewing”, mention your callsign at least once every 5 minutes so operators listening in on the frequency know is talking. As a matter of fact, you have to call both callsigns, yours and the callsign of the station you have contact with. For example “Thanks for the call. 73. EA1ABC PA6DEF” would be a correct closing call.

Keep your overs (the period when you are talking) short and sweet. Don’t keep the microphone open for 10 minutes while talking about how your cat caught his first bird and played with it. You cannot hear your counter station when you are talking, so if there is an emergency, if your contact wants to respond to something you have said, if someone wants to “break in” your QSO you will not hear it. Close your over with the word “over”. Some operators use “Mike back to you”. 

We are all humans. Everybody benefits if we all act normal. Be polite, don’t interfere, don’t be rude, have respect for the new operators even if they are making lots of beginners mistakes. Help instead of insult. Even if you have heard the same questions and mistakes already a thousand time. Remember when you were a beginning operator. Be cautious of talking about sensitive topics like religion or politics. You may be in complete agreement with your counter station, but remember you are on the air and someone else could be unintentionally but seriously offended.

Last but not least, learn from the more experienced operators. I’m doing this for almost 15 years now and after not having used the radio for a while, i sometimes get confused. What i then do is spend some time listening to the better operators. And ALWAYS remember: This is a hobby. You have to ENJOY it. If things are tough, specially in the beginning, don’t get frustrated. Take your time and enjoy the process of learning. 

When a rare DX station or a DX Expedition appears on the bands he quickly will raise a large group of amateurs wanting to work him. Specially when this station is mentioned on a well-known DX Cluster. The purpose of these expeditions is to contact as many hams worldwide in a short timespan. Obviously contacts with these expeditions should be AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE in order to give as many people as possible a shot at a new one. So call with your FULL callsign. You make a better chance to make the contact.

What is the best way to get as quickly as possible in the log of a rare DX station or DX expedition?
Listen if the station s working in Split and what the offset is.
Listen if the station is calling worldwide or a specific region. If he is calling a specific region and you are not in this region, DON’T CALL. He will NOT work you.
Listen what the operating behavior of the station is. Is he taking the first caller? Is he waiting for the big illegible wave is over (usually 5-10 seconds) and takes a station then? Is he taking the strong stations? the weak ones? The ones ON frequency? Or the ones that are just a little off (and get noticed because of their “weird” audio). Does he select specific stations (yesterday i was listening to a dutch station running a special event station from Poland., this guy took his dutch friends first before anybody else) or does he take a random anyone?
If the station is working in split, how does he work the calling frequencies? In steps of 1KHz, 2, 5? Even frequencies? Un-even? Is he going up then down? Random?

Listen and adjust your signal (RF/AF gain, filters, IF offset, etc) and audio (DSP, equalizers, etc) to the optimal settings so you are sure you can hear him when he responds to your call.

Then, when you are calling, CALL ONCE! If you call once, you will have more time listening if the station has heard you. If you call 5 times, the DX station calls you, but you don’t hear it because you are still calling!

If the DX Station responds to someone else, DON’T TALK! I know, it’s very tempting to call when everybody is quiet (lots of operators DO know how to work a pileup properly), but don’t do it. He will NOT call you, he called someone else. You are only annoying him.

If you are reading this blog you will know that i am running a very modest station. No amplifiers and a 1.45m non-directional antenna is not the most optimal condition to work pile-ups.
I will tell you two “secret” tips how i find and work my rare DX.

  • I don’t use Clusters, i use the dial of the radio or the bandscan of my CAT control. Almost all operators nowadays use computers for logging and DX tracking using DX Clusters. DX Clusters publish their information for all operators at the same time. This means that once a station is spotted on a cluster, possibly thousands of operators move to this reported frequency and start calling (not listening). A pileup is born. I have found most of my rare DX using the radios dial or bandscan before the station was mentioned on the cluster. And because those thousands of stations were not on the DX stations frequency he was able to hear me.
  • Be patient and use QRT time. Running a DX station is hard work. Normally operators cannot handle more than 2 hours or so of pileup. They also are human and need to rest, take a coffee, go to the toilet, have lunch, whatever. The DX station goes QRT for a while. At that moment most operators move to other frequencies (some operators continue calling even when the station is already gone…). What i do is stay on the frequency listening to the white noise. Maybe 10 minutes, but sometimes an hour or more. I wait until the DX station calls CQ again. And then many times i am the first and only one responding. And i work my DX in a very clean frequency.
He who is not strong needs to be smart.

I could go on and on and on with this article. There is so much to write about good operating practice and i have probably forgotten a lot of things. People and organisations write books about good operating practice
What i see is that with time operating practice changes. What i wrote down here is what i think is correct operating procedure at this moment and mostly for Phone operation. I haven’t gotten into CW or digital operation yet, so i cannot say anything about that (YET!).

As in every other article i tend to write here, if there is something wrong, if i forgot something essential, if you agree or disagree, feel free to comment.

Have fun DX-ing!!

Someone pointed me to a really cool page about how NOT to operate the radio.
The DX-ers guide to instantaneous fame!

Have a good laugh!

Update 2:

Apparently i am not the only one worried about operating practice lately. There is an initiative to improve DX Etiquette on the HAM bands. You can learn about proper operating practice here and show your support for the initiative reading the following page:

Basically they are summarizing what i wanted to express in this article:

DX Code Of Conduct

(various languages inside)
  • I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.
  • I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.
  • I will not trust the DX cluster and will be sure of the DX station’s call sign before calling.
  • I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slot.
  • I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.
  • I will always send my full call sign.
  • I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign, not mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.
  • I will not transmit when the DX station requests geographic areas other than mine.
  • When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.
  • I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.
  • I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect. 

Of course just putting a banner on your website or blog is not enough. You have to BEHAVE accordingly…. I do.

Operating the DX Cluster

What is a DX Cluster?

A DX Cluster is a packet node where DX chasers on any band or mode can post rare or interesting stations that they have worked or heard. Of course other people are doing the same thing too, so you can find new DX as well as telling others about the stations you have worked. Clusters tend to be linked to each other so that the amount of people using them is increased, thereby increasing the amount of posted DX. Other information can be found on clusters such as on-line call books, mail etc. You can talk to other stations connected to the cluster network too, in real time, whether at the node you are logged into or on another node connected to the network. You can also use converse mode, where several stations can talk to each other in the same way. Of course, the DX is still posted to you all the while!
(free from the DXSpider Wiki Page)

Although this is a radio cluster, it is not a HAM Radio DX Cluster

What can i do with a DX Cluster?

If you read the introduction from DX Spider, you have seen that by using the DX Cluster just for checking and posting spots, we are only using a small set of features a DX Cluster can bring us. 
Let me highlight a few features that are nice to know. 

Personal details: If you log on as a regular user of the cluster (and not follow the cluster via some website), you can make yourself known to the cluster by using the following Set commands:
show/dx on 20m
show/dx 10 on 20m
show/dx 20 on 20m

Filters: Using filters you see only the spots you want to see. You can filter the amount of spots,
show/dx 5
show/dx 20

spots of a particular band,
show/dx on 20m
show/dx 10 on 20m
show/dx 20 on 20m
spots for a particular callsign,

show/dx g0vgs
show/dx 10 g0vgs

etc, etc. More examples you can find in the users manual of the cluster software. The DXSpider Filtering Primer by W3BG Jim Samuels is a ducument you must read if you want to know how to tailor the cluster to your needs.
Beam Heading: Want to know where to point your antenna to hear a specific station or region? 

sh/heading zl
ZL New-Zealand-ZL1-ZL: 7 degs - dist: 11238 mi, 18087 km Reciprocal heading: 355 degs
ZL New-Zealand-ZL2-ZL: 9 degs - dist: 11540 mi, 18574 km Reciprocal heading: 353 degs

Announcements: If you really want to tell everyone that the band is open or that today is your sister’s birthday (no, you shouldn’t post that), you can announce that using:
announce full Anyone seen EA7WA today?
and you can see those announcements using:

show/announcements 10

Chat: You want to send a personal message to another operator connected to the cluster? Don’t use the spots for that. Don’t use announce for that. Use Talk!
talk g0rdi Having a good day Iain?
Mail: Yes, if you are logged on the a cluster, you even have a full functioning e-mail system at your disposal. To send an e-mail you would use the following sequence:

send m0azm
Enter Subject (30 characters):
See you Thursday
Enter Message /EX to send or /ABORT to exit
Hi Ian,
Just a quick note to say that I can make Thursday after all. The
appointment I had has cancelled so we are go!

To list your mail you would first use the directory command:
20735 2 ALL GW7SMV 21-Feb 1204Z REC 9E1S QSL TDY 50Mhz....
20823 308 UK G0HDB 22-Feb 2334Z Help - which district code?
20824 105 ALL W9AE 23-Feb 0349Z S0NY QSL address?
20825 2 UK G0LRJ 23-Feb 0806Z QSL REC LZ2CJ/1.CARD NO-750.
20858 2 ALL GW7SMV 24-Feb 0905Z REC S92DX QSL CARD TDY 50Mhz
20921 200 ALL GM4FDM 27-Feb 2203Z Trip to VP8
20949 375 ALL K0MN 27-Feb 0428Z ST0P cards are gd @ ARRL
20950 2 UK G0LRJ 28-Feb 0835Z QSL REC SV9/IZ0CKJ/P EU-187.
20987 569 ALL GD0TEP 1-Mar 1733Z Portable contests
21076 2 ALL G4AFJ 3-Mar 1743Z kh6nd/kh5 qsl received
21184-p 599 GW4HAT G0VGS 4-Mar 1518Z Re: Time
and then the read command to read a message:

read 25

Mail has a lot more functions. To know all of them, again, read the cluster software users manual.
These examples are all based on DXSpider and a telnet connection to the cluster. I know most of you are using client software or websites to follow the cluster and depending on the software or the website you will have more or less features. What i wanted to show you is that there is much more usefull stuff available when you use a native (read: telnet) connection.

DX Clusters, most love them; i hate them. 

Why do i hate the DX Clusters? Because i think they take the fun out of the hobby. I’ll explain to you why:

A typical pile-up of boats

When i work the radio and i follow the clusters, i hardly make any contacts. Why? Because every station on the air is a pile-up. Usually i scan the bands manually. Yes, turning the dial. And scanning the bands you hear much more than looking at a DX Cluster. And you hear them sooner. 
Normally, when i find the next station i want to work, i listen for a while. Yes, i’m a listener. I want to know which station i am listening to and what his operating behavior is so when i want to work him, i know HOW i CAN work him.
This is what happens now that we have the DX Cluster: I found this station i want to work. I am listening how he behaves, what his operating practice is, and BAM!, hundreds of stations start calling him. I look at my computer screen and yes, there he is, spotted on the DX Cluster. Now working that station becomes a whole lot more difficult. Not just because of the pile-up, i know pretty well how to work a pile-up, but because of the <put any swearword here> that keep shouting and don’t listen, that tune their antennas on the calling frequency, that are using 10 element quads with 1kW, that keep asking “What’s the callsign, please?” If you don’t know the callsign, why are you calling?

Ok, if you still want to use the DX Clusters, here are some do’s and dont’s:

1) Make sure that what you post on the cluster is correct. If not, you will have to post the correct spot details again with an apology for the mistake before. Good for your cluster stats, but it does make you look silly.
2) Don’t send spots to the cluster of stations that you don’t hear. You will not believe how many spots you see with comments like “Still not on the air?”, “We are calling you” or “Which frequency?”
3) Don’t share your frustrations or happyness on the cluster. The cluster is for spotting DX. Comments like “New one!”, “Worked with only 1Watt” or “Please go to 10m now” don’t add any value.
4) Never announce yourself on the cluster. The cluster is not built for that, you look pathetic and if you are not a rare DX station, nobody cares.

Are you looking for a DX Cluster to use? Check here.
Are you looking for DX Cluster client software? Click here.

As always, thanks for reading this article. If i say something stupid, if there is something wrong, if i forgot something essential, please let me know by using the comments.

Using the PC in HAM Radio

There are many different views among the HAM Radio amateurs if you should use a PC along side the radio and if you should, what would you want to do with it and what not. I will give you my opinion on this:

 I use an old Dell laptop running Ham Radio DeLuxe. Why? Initially because I’m a geek and I want to try everything just to see if and how it works.

But I do like HRD and I use it whenever I use my radio, whether for listening or when I go on the air.
HRD is a very versatile program which consists of three separate modules that can be used in combination.

The first module is HAM Radio DeLuxe itself.

HRD is basically a very extensive rig control program. That means that you connect your radio using its CAT interface to your PC and then you can use the PC to control your rig.
Although it’s a nice gadget, I don’t really like to control my radio using software. I prefer to use the menus, buttons and controls of the radio itself, but HRD is different. HRD also serves as the server for any other piece of software that wants to communicate with the radio. HRD has a service running on a TCP port and any software can read and write to this port. One popular application of this is the ability to control the rig remotely using the Internet as transport medium. Like this you can work with your radio from anywhere in the world. I haven’t set this up myself, but I hear people are enjoying this a lot. Maybe I will to this at some point as well.

The I use most is HRD Logbook.

HRD logbook is an integrated solution for logging, following the DX Cluster, operating the radio (using HRD), following propagation progress, recoding audio, etc. HRD Logbook automatically looks up station info from callsign-lookup services among which, automatically (using HRD) pulls the frequency, mode, etc from the radio when entering a log, you can follow and feed (send spots) to the DX Cluster when operating the radio.
When you enter your contacts in the log, your log gets automatically backed up and published (if you configured this) to
A very handy feature is the alarm function that notifies you if a particular station comes on the air. I haven’t fully explored that function yet. I have seen in other logging programs the ability to notify if a certain DX comes on the air. I would like that in HRD Logbook as well. Maybe it’s there and I just don’t know it yet. Who knows.
There are a couple of features I don’t use in HRD Logbook. Examples are the ability to log to the Logbook of the World (LotW), I don’t use the Rotator Control because I don’t have a rotator and I don’t follow satellites. But the software lets you do all this with just HRD Logbook in combination with HRD.

Third module of the HRD suite is DM780.

DM stands for Digital Mode and what 780 stands for, I have no idea.
DM780, as the name already suggests, is used for working with digital modes. To be able to work with this program the PC needs to be connected to the rig’s audio in and audio out ports somehow. I have done it by just connecting the audio-in and -out of the 6-pin mini-DIN of the DATA port to the MIC and Headphones ports of the laptop.
People tell me that this is not an optimal solution and that i should use interfaces like the RigBlaster and all, but for what i want to do, basically listening and decoding, not sending, it works fine.

A very extensive list of digital modes are available and using DM780 is a great way of learning to recognize the different digital modes and decoding them.
What I don’t recommend is to try to decode CW using DM780. I tried it and it works, but you don’t learn anything from that. CW you should be able to decode yourself. In a later article I will get in to my experiences learning CW. I’m in the middle of learning it, but you just cannot write everything at the same day, can you?

So that’s what I use the PC for when I’m using my radio. There is a lot of software out there. Not only rig-control software, but basically everything you could what. Commercial as well as public domain software. If you take a look here, you will find more than you really need. Most of it is Windows or Linux software. Mac users have to search a bit more, but also for Macs there is some useful stuff out there.

I hope you liked this article. Please give me some feedback. Was it good? Was it bad? What is missing?