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.