Tuesday, December 25, 2007

It pays to listen

This was a pretty good week or so for me, in terms of DX. On the 18th, I worked E4/OM2DX, the DXCC Entity of Palestine as an "all-time new one", entity # 284 worked for me. The next day, the ARRL DXCC desk announced that the island of St. Barthelemy (better known as St. Barts) qualified as a new DXCC entity due to some administrative changes. The actual reasons why it became a new "counter" are explained in the ARRL DXCC Desk link above, as well as one of the postings on the Daily DX's St. Barts page.

So what does this mean? Well, for a lot of folks, they want to contact the new entitity as soon as possible, for all kinds of reasons. In some cases, when a "new one" comes on the air for the first time, it may only be on the air for a short time, because it's a remote, uninhabited area (or at least uninhabited by hams), as was the case with Ducie Island or Swains Island. That certainly wasn't going to be the case with St. Barts, which is a well-developed, modern tourist destination in the Caribbean near St. Martin (from which it was recently administratively separated). St. Barts has it's own resident ham population, and it's certain to be on the air frequently. In any case folks were very anxious to work this new entity, and two very well-known DXers, Martti, OH2BH and Olli, OH0XX headed down there to provide contacts for "the deserving".

The timing for all of this worked out quite well for me, since I'm taking about 10 days off from work between using up some leftover vacation days and the holidays. While I didn't work them on the very first day of their operation, I did get them (operating as FJ/OH2AM) fairly soon after that, providing me with my DXCC Entity #285 in the log. Unlike some of the huge DXpeditions that are on the air on many bands and modes simultaneously, even the near-superhuman abilities of Martti and Olli have their limits, so they'd typically operate on one band using CW and a different band using phone at a time, changing bands as night falls on St. Barts to take advantage of the lower bands that become available later in the (local) evening. They set up antennas for just a couple of nights on 80m, and especially since I was off from work, I stayed up very late and managed to work them on 80m after trying for around 1/2 hour at 2AM local time.

According to published information, Olli left for home today (the 25th), with Martti scheduled to leave tomorrow. I was sitting at the computer listening to Martti working stations on 20m until the propagation completely vanished. After a brief break, he moved to 40m to work stations on phone. (Single Sideband). I don't think that they'd worked any station on phone on 40m since their arrival, so predictably the pileups were pretty significant, to put it mildly. However, having nothing better to do (and deciding that sitting in one place and not moving, having come home absolutely stuffed to the gills from our friends Chuck & Lorraine's annual Christmas feast was a good thing), I figured I'd try to work them.

Martti is such a master at working a pileup that sometimes I'll just listen to him working stations just because he's so darn good at it. What's nice about him is that he keeps the pileups under control, and even little-pistol stations like me figure that we've got at least a fighting chance to work him. But today, I heard him doing something that I'd read about, but have only heard maybe once or twice very briefly.

By way of explanation, when operating on 40m phone, it is common for stations outside of the United States to transmit in the portion of the band that is designated as CW only for the US (usually between around 7050kHz and 7100kHz) but listen for stations calling in the US phone portion (above 7125kHz). It's the same as a conventional split operation, just that the split is much larger. But here's where things get tricky: At the present time, shortwave broadcasters outside of the US share the allocation between 7100 and 7350 kHz with amateur radio. They don't use all of the spectrum, but it can be tricky, especially for a station in the Caribbean, to find a clear frequency to listen.

What happened today was that Martti had to find a "window" (range of frequencies) to operate in and those of us calling would try to figure out where he was listening and call there (or just above or below), in the hopes of being here. Because of broadcast interference, Martti had to keep moving the window around, meaning that if you didn't listen, you'd have no chance of making a contact. But here's where it got really interesting: Every now and then, after a contact, he'd say something like "now listening on 205" or "215 is clear". If you weren't really listening, and just yelling, you'd probably miss what he said. Of course, eventually the pileup would figure out that he was listening to just a single frequency and move on, but only the "listeners" were the first there.

So that's where I got my break: He was using a window of 7195 to 7210, and just moving around without much of a pattern that I could hear, and after one call, I heard him say "208 is clear". I tuned to 7208, made one call there, and Martti responded.

After I made that contact, I realized that it had reinforced something that I've always told new hams (and not-so-new hams): The most important thing you can do with ham radio is to listen, listen, listen. If I hadn't been listening, I'm sure I'd still be calling.


  1. Anonymous10:38 AM


  2. Hi, David

    Great posting which points to the value of listening in the pile-up and figuring out an operator's technique. That worked for me during CQWW CW just a few weeks ago.

    73 de Scot, KA3DRR

  3. Thanks Scot. Without getting back up on that soapbox from a couple of weeks ago, it sure seems that things would be easier if folks would just listen a lot more. There are way too many alligators (all mouth, no ears) out there.

    David, K2DBK