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.