Adventures in DX-ing

by Dave Harper, WD5N

written in 1995

It was 1966. I was 13 years old and sporting a Novice license. I had worked a Canadian once for my first DX, but hadn't worked a "real" DX yet. I only had two crystals for my Globe Scout 65B transmitter. On 40 meters I had 7177.5 Kilocycles, and a 7058 Kc crystal for tripling to 15M. My original Hallicrafters S-38 was pretty much deaf above 40M, but I had replaced it with an S-85 which was better. It was only deaf above 20M. I had worked a few folks on 15M, but it was tough. Well, I did manage to work KZ5OWN finally, in Balboa, Canal Zone. I found out later that the N at the end of his call signified that he was a Novice. If and when he upgraded, the N would be dropped. It was a difficult QSO since he was so weak for me, but we did make the contact and I got a card from him, which was the beginning of an addiction to DXing!

It was 1986(?). I had been inactive for a number of years, but was getting back into it and learning a lot about DXing. I knew that Mount Athos was a rare one, and that I needed to try to work the SV2QO/SY expedition if possible. At that time we were just coming off of a minimum in the sunspot cycle and conditions were still rather poor on the higher bands, although there were occasional openings. SV2QO/SY was on 15 meters working simplex, but they were extremely weak. They started working by call district. This was in the morning, when propagation to Europe would start out with the East Coast and slowly work it's way westward across the U.S.A. They were too weak for me to copy, much less work, until they got to 5's. At just that moment, the propagation peaked tremendously and suddenly they were S9. I worked them on about the second call. Whew! That was definitely a matter of being in the right place at the right time. It was pure luck that the propagation peaked as they got to my call district, as they faded again within minutes.

It was 1987(?). My friend Bob Winn, W5KNE, was on an expedition with VK9NS to Cocos-Keeling Island in the Indian Ocean. At that time Cocos-Keeling was quite rare. And propagation conditions were very poor from that part of the world to North America. Very few people from Texas had worked them. A couple of friends of mine were at the N5AU superstation near Dallas doing a contest, and they managed to eke out a contact by using one of the large monobanders on a very tall tower. I had been listening for them every day, and a couple of times I could hear the west coast guys trying to work them with little luck, but I never heard a peep out of them. At that time I had a TS-440S in the car with a 12-foot tall bugcatcher antenna (among others) and I had started chasing DX from the car. During lunchtime at the factory where I worked, I would go sit in the car trying to work DX. I was listening on 20M SSB and suddenly heard Jim, VK9YS with a weak but Q5 signal talking to some guys. It was their last day on the island, and he mentioned that he was going to go down to CW and work a few more guys before pulling the plug and packing up. I already knew what CW frequency he had been using, so I immediately went down there and got ready for him. When he showed up I snagged him on the second call. A few QSO's later and he QRT'd to pack up. I have worked Cocos-Keeling several times since then from home, but that one was a thrill! I ended up working a lot of pretty good stuff from the mobile, ending with around 177 countries after a couple years.

It was 1990(?). 3Y1EE was on from Peter I Island, the first ever operation from there. Since everyone needed it, it was a madhouse with the largest pileups I had heard up to that time. We had decent propagation to that part of the world for most of the day, so I had spent many hours calling and calling, to no avail. On the last day of that operation, I was driving to the post office and was listening for them on 20M Cw in the car. Their signal was good enough that I was trying to work them as I drove home. When I got back home and went in the house, the rig was already on their frequency when I turned it on and the antenna (a little TA-33jr tribander) was aimed south. So all I had to do was start calling. At that time I had an AEA Morsematic keyer, which reset the speed to 20 wpm whenever it was turned on. As soon as I turned on the rig and heard them, I listened to the pileup and surprisingly was immediately able to hear the station that they were working (they were operating split, of course, but the pileup covered about 50 khz). So I turned on the keyer and called once, but the 20 wpm default speed was too slow, so I started punching buttons to set the speed to 30 wpm. But as I was punching buttons, they came back to me! I quit punching buttons so I could respond to them, but nothing happened. Oh no! I had mistakenly thought that the keyer would still send at 20 wpm until I finished entering the new speed, but it wouldn't send at all. As my panicky mind was realizing this they fortunately called me again. By this time I finished entering the new speed, and was able to respond and get the contact. That expedition ended within a few hours.

It was 1986(?). 5A0A was active from Libya, but very few from the USA other than the east coast had been able to work him. He was using a 100 watt rig and a dipole, but conditions were just too poor most of the time. He would show up on 20M ssb in the evenings on a net run by VK9NS. I even got on the "list" once to try to work him (even though I hate lists), but was unable to hear him. Well, one night around 11 pm I was tuning around 20M CW and lo and behold, there was 5A0A calling CQ with a decent 579 signal and very few takers. I snagged him immediately. This was just before we got our first packetcluster going in Austin (which was the first in Texas), and so I just got on a couple of the local 2M repeaters and announced that 5A was easy pickings for anyone interested. Only one guy heard me and tried to work him, but he only had a dipole and had bad local QRN, so couldn't hear the DX. It was many years before 5A became active again.

It was 1987(?). VK0HI was active from Heard Island, but again the propagation at that time was very poor, and it was very difficult to hear him. N4GNR (I think) for some reason (well, the reason was probably a good location and big antennas!) seemed to be able to work him pretty consistently, so he was taking lists every night and running them. Again I hated working him on a list operation but it seemed to be the only way he was working folks. The lists were being taken early in the evenings, a couple of hours before the DX showed up. I was at a radio club officers meeting when the list was being taken, so I ran out to the car and managed to break the pileup to get on the list. Then later, at home, as VK0HI showed up I was barely able to hear him, but I could no longer hear the person calling out the list! Some way or another his signal managed to peak up just enough for me to get through when it seemed to be my turn, then he was gone again in the noise.

It was 1988 (?). I had never worked Lord Howe Island (VK9L-) nor even heard of an operation from there, when within 15 minutes one evening on 15M CW I worked not one, but two different expeditions that were both on the island. Cool!

It was 1985(?). We had a bi-annual swapfest here in Austin, but I went to San Antonio for my first "real" hamfest with a DX forum. It was sponsored by W5KNE from the QRZ-DX Newsletter, and the guest presenter was Rick Dorsch(?), or "Dr. Rick", NE8Z. He showed slides of Galapagos and talked about his operation there. I later worked him on one of his subsequent trips to HC8. So I thought that it was fitting that on my first dxpedition in '93 (although I had operated previously across the border in Mexico at a contest multi-operator station), I went to Galapagos. And while there, I worked NE8Z!

It was 1986(?). I had not yet worked India. Very often in the early morning at the low end of 40M, VU2TEC was on. They were extremely weak for me with my 40M sloper dipole off to the north. I knew about long path propagation and assumed that at that time of the morning, they were probably long path. So I put up another 40M sloper off of the south side of the 50' tower, specifically to try to work VU2TEC. And sure enough, it boosted their signal just slightly but enough that I was able to work them. I sent my QSL to them (it was a club station), but unfortunately when their card arrived they had written my callsign as "WDN5", so it was no good! I sent them another card with a note about the error, but never heard from them. Fortunately I got a VU card for 20M SSB not too long afterwards.

It was 1988(?). Seth, XU1SS, was the only station active in Kampuchea. He was only active during early mornings here on a net on 14165 run by W2MIG. Seth ran an IC-735 off of a battery with a dipole, and was always on the move because of the political situation there. I was never able to copy him, because he would show up on "Mig's" net in the morning when it was still dark here with no propagation to that part of the world. Mig would let a few east coast guys work Seth, then say "okay, thanks for showing up. We'll see you tomorrow." So Seth never stuck around until we got an opening in the central USA. Well, one day Mig had some emergency, and a guy in W4-land took over for him, and was running guys longer than usual, until the sun came up here. I heard someone ask if he could call Seth on CW, and the net control guy said okay. As Seth went to CW, that was the first time I had ever heard him. So I got on and said I'd like to try on CW, but then the NCS hesitated and said "maybe later". Well, I waited a bit longer, then asked again, and he hesitated again but didn't say no right away, so I started calling on CW and although weak, I did clearly copy Seth sending my call and 559. Another one in the log!

It was 1988(?). I worked OH6XY/4U on CW. At that time, I just thought that it was someone operating at 4U1ITU. It was some time later when I read that this station was with the UN and operating in Syria, which I needed. Yahoo! Lately, there have been quite a few 4U/ stations on from a variety of countries, and it continues to confuse people because you can't tell where they are from their callsign.

In the 80's I worked a couple of EP stations, and sent direct QSLs to the addresses they gave out in Iran, but I never got a reply. Then Romeo operated from there as 9D2RR, but I was not extremely active at that time, and didn't realize that he was in Iran. I had even seen some packetcluster spots for 9D2RR, but stupid me wrongly assumed that this was one of the new European countries in former Yugoslavia, and I didn't think it was that rare. A few days later I read in a DX newsletter that it was Iran, and I immediately started hunting for him but it was too late, he was already gone. Bummer! But then I got inspired to try again to QSL the stations I had worked years before, and when I checked the GO-list, one of the EP's I worked had an American QSL manager listed! Within a couple of weeks I had the card. Halleleujah!

I've had a lot of thrilling moments in DXing. Heck, every new one is a thrill. Busting a pileup on the first or second call from my small pistol station is a thrill. The stories I mention here are ones that stick out in my mind. Although several of the stories here relate to list operations, I must say that is my least favorite way of working DX. But some of these countries were only available on a net or list, and I work them where I find them.

At this writing (1995) I need to work North Korea, Andamans, and Eritrea to have worked them all. I feel some amount of pride in my station in that I've worked all the other countries from my home QTH, which is quite average (small tribander on a 48' tower and dipoles, in a crowded neighborhood with lots of power line noise). A few of the countries I first worked at someone else's QTH (A5, A15, 9M2) but later worked from my own place.

So what is next? Chasing DX on RTTY! Since computers are so affordable and prevalent these days, more and more countries and dxpeditions are available on RTTY. I have an interesting story about my first DX, WY5L/KH3 (?) on teletype...maybe later.