On Being DX

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On Being DX

from Mark Brown, N4BCD on June 2, 2014
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On Being DX
By Mark Brown, N4BCD
Who could have imagined how popular this weekly state by state activation of W1AW would be? Each week we’re treated to new DXpeditions where nearly every state is really 59.

After relocating barely across the border from Alabama to Tennessee I sought out the Tennessee Contest Group inquiring how one might be able to operate in the event. In the months leading up to TN’s activation, emails kept folks apprised of the planning and in due course a schedule emerged listing days / times / modes & operator callsigns. Special thanks to Ned K1GU for his outstanding organization and clarity of communications.

The first couple of schedules had no callsigns in slots where other states had huge pile-ups and with some trepidation I signed up to lead off TN’s week with 2 hours on 40m Phone then move to 80m for 2 more hours. On other days I picked some other band / time slots that fit with my work schedule.

A little digression. I got back in the hobby a short 5 years ago from a 35 year hiatus. I remember clearly one day talking to an active ham about the changes that occurred since my Novice days. His short dissertation about rigs controlled by computers, software defined radios, new communication modes and more made my jaw drop. I took the exams, bought an FT-950, and started building wire antennas and making contacts. My last CW QSO was 35 years ago. For now I’m still a phone guy. One morning I got on the radio and answered a call to an Op who wanted a serial number.

Didn’t think it was the one on the back of the ‘950 so I asked him what he needed. Of course he got a 001 and then it was off to the internet to learn about Radiosport. DX contests seemed like the quickest path to DXCC so I entered as many as time would allow. Eventually got proficient enough to be noticed by local contesters and was invited to work a station at K4BFT 4A Field Day. It’s a serious effort with yearly 1st place finishes and I’m forever indebted to the tutoring of Larry K4AB for improving my run performance. A casual contester with an occasional serious effort describes me.

A few weeks away from TN activation it was time to tweak the low band antenna as I’d noticed that my 130’ ladder-line fed doublet broadside NE was not first call good enough for Washington & Idaho during their activations. A chat with friend and antenna guru Tom N4KG confirmed my hunch that another 40m dipole oriented NW would be the ticket. I also used the weeks preceding the activation to listen for how others did it. Consistency. “W1AW Portable 4” at the end of EVERY QSO. Pick out partials. Say “Again”. Those 3 lines and “59 Tennessee” were printed in large text – the only paper on my operating desk. I penciled in the reminder somewhere along the way.

On Tuesday of TN’s activation I frequently wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. The opening night pile-ups were overwhelming some state’s ops. Home from work and too nervous to eat I settled into the shack to make sure all was ready (N1MM and all amp / tuner settings were done the night before). At 0000 I self spotted at 7.243 and had a call on the first CQ.

Within a minute the pile-up was a full blown roar. It’s difficult to put into words what the sound of hundreds of phonetics & numbers arriving at one’s ears sounds like. Yet out of it full callsigns emerged and if not there was always a partial.

It was apparent I was loud enough that called stations consistently heard me so I never considered splitting and the rate meter was a solid bar at the top of the window. This is what a Dodge Neon must feel like on the Autobahn trying to keep up with the big dogs.

At the conclusion of those first two hours it was time for a breather and another tumbler of water. Holy cow. 342 Qs, 173.9/hr in 2 hours. Revitalized I re-tuned the doublet for 80m and was off on another 2 hour run. Almost as good with 295 Qs, 169.1/hr. A new personal best and I breathed a sigh of relief as the log was emailed in and the station was secured for the night.

One thing I never anticipated was the adrenalin rush that came with having such intense fun for so long. It was hours later that I managed to fall asleep.

Evening two was spent on 20m with the A3S mostly pointed NW for all of NA and the occasional loud European. In hindsight it might have been beneficial to aim NE to capture more EU’s but the rate spoke for itself – 317 Q’s in 2 hours.

Evening three was back to 40m and the best rate yet – 192 Q’s/hour. I was beginning to get comfortable with the tremendous wall of callers.

Over the next several evenings I added slots on other bands including 6m and even handed out a few simplex Q’s on 2m. It didn’t compare to those first few nights on the low bands when it seemed like most of the FCC callsign database wanted to be in the log.

A word or two about the callers. Patient, respectful, and almost grateful sounding to be in the log. Except for an occasional tuner-upper that auto-notch took care of I had ZERO problems. In one instance some 40m guys asked me to move down 1. No problem.

On the final evening of Tennessee’s week, I left work early to grab one hour on 10m then wrap up one hour on 40m. The 10m log showed about an even split between JA’s and domestics but the rate here and on 40m was only a third of the beginning nights.

My wife Julie KK4CLG and I visited Aruba a few years ago at Christmas and made unannounced visits to “homes with aluminum” where we were welcomed each time. I’ve often wondered what it would be like on the other end of a P40 contest or DXpedition pile-up in some far off locale. Now I know. And I didn’t need to leave the farm to find out. It’s something every ham should experience at least once.

Don’t let this opportunity to “be the DX” pass you by. Sign up to operate W1AW in your state for the bands & mode of your choice. Call CQ & hang on!