Lessons learned in CQ-WPX

stressI had to work for 20 hours of this 48-hour contest, leaving little time to devote to it and even less enthusiasm for sitting in the radio chair for any length of time.

But Sunday night, 90 minutes before the contest ended, I decided to give a few token contacts to those needing AE5 as a mult and wanted to do so not by S&P, but as a CQing station. And now I know what the receiving end of a pile-up sounds like.

As a DXer, I’m constantly trying to see what works to shorten my time in a pile-up and I sometimes delude myself into thinking that I’ve got things figured out. But it’s all theoretical as I can’t put myself in the other op’s headphones.

I think there was only one other AE5 CW station in the contest – a fact that made me temporarily “rare”. With the contest drawing to a close, the number of stations calling me for a new mult was large and resulted in a max run rate of 154/hour. Talk about an adrenaline rush…

Most of the simultaneous callers were zero-beat with each other. In a comment elsewhere on this blog, Guy N7UN noted that zero-beating the station of interest is often self-defeating and that a better tactic is to call slightly off freq from the main horde. Guy went on to mention that AD1C is aware of how he sounds in an innundated op’s headphones and knows exactly how to make himself heard. I thought about all that as a cacophony of contesters called me with all their dots and dashes interlaced in such a way as to make deciphering them impossible.

And then there was Joe AD1C himself – bringing a real-life demonstration to Guy’s explanation. Easy to copy and standing out in the crowd – not necessarily with a strong signal, but with a well-placed one in frequency and time.

But by far, most of the callers were on top of each other and the best I could do was to send back a partial like “PA5″ in hopes that only the PA5 station would respond. A naive hope as it turned out.

I have renewed respect for accomplished contesters like ON5ZO and others who somehow, magically, discern individual callsigns from, what to me, sounds like a one long warbling tone.

As a DXer, I will try to be more aware of where I am calling in relation to other callers – and of when. I already knew these things, but experiencing them from the other end really drives the lesson home.

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  7 comments for “Lessons learned in CQ-WPX

  1. May 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Waidaminit John – I really have no magical skills and since I have never been in a real pile up situation like rare DX or unique multiplier, I have no ‘combat’ experience whatsoever. Three callers at a time answering my CQ is a treat from here in ON land.

    The trick is twofold:
    A) You say: “a better tactic is to call slightly off freq from the main horde”, and that’s exactly where I listen until the mini-pile up is worked down to one or two callers. A tad of RIT does the job.

    B) After making thousands of contest QSO every year in over a decade, you start knowing the usual suspects i.e. callsigns and sometimes you know that a partial belongs to a specific call. Sometimes you guess right, sometimes you need to correct. Super Check Partial can help too but I never solely rely on that.

    Like many things in life it just boils down to being crazy enough (dedication is such a strong word in this case) to practice practice and then practice some more. I never get bored of practicing :o)

    73 and CU when I practice HI

    • May 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      I think you’re being modest, Franki :-) For your scores and run rates to be what they are in the major ‘tests, you’re certainly able to put all that practice to real-world application.

      Isn’t it amazing how you can lose track of time during a run? Look at the clock, call CQ, and a few seconds later an hour has elapsed!

      Einstein’s Special Theory of Contestivity…

  2. May 27, 2014 at 5:12 am

    I put in a few hours in the WPX CW as KT6V – thanks for calling in and giving me that rare AE5 mult, John. I think you were nicely offset from the main pile.

    Actually, I was remotely operating K4VV which was using the callsign KT6V for an all-remote part-time MultiTwo operation. Unfortunately computer crashes at the site that seem to also lead to networking problems which meant there was about a .25 second lag between when I hit a key and when the remote rig responded – I got very adept at hitting enter when i thought the sender only had two characters left to send – which often caused its own set of problems..

    On the zero-beat issue, that is a packet spotting phenomena that is very obvious anytime you get spotted – all of a sudden a wall of noise vs. individual signals. Since the K4VV remote operation is all software, you are remotely operating a PC in the shack running N1MM – you have no receiver control other than frequency. So, couldn’t twiddle with AF gain and filter positioning like I normally do when that happens.

    N1MM has a feature that automatically adds a small offset when you chase a packet spot – most DXers learn that trick when chasing a rare one but in contests there are a lot of people just clicking on spots.

    73 John K3TN

    • May 27, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Hi John – that’s a pretty interesting way of operating.

      I did experiment with bandwidth and RIT settings as I was being called, but at 28 wpm or so, there’s not a lot of time to make adjustments as a flurry of brief callsigns are sent. It did allow me to catch partial calls at times but very few stations seem to honor the fact that I’m asking them to stand by as I reply to the partial.

      I’m thinking more and more that a sub-rx would be a better benefit than a panadapter for DXing…

      • Guy N7UN
        May 27, 2014 at 10:16 am

        John
        Here’s another dimension to consider. The challenge is for the DXer to make his call “distinct” such that the DXpedition/contest operator can hear it “distinctly” in the quagmire of many stations calling. You have covered the tone shift and timing of call placement, either up or down, that are two important methods for CW.

        Another method is changing your code speed. If the DXpedition/contest operator is running at say 26 wpm, a code speed faster (maybe 28 wpm) or slower (say 24 wpm) might make your call distinct from the pileup. Faster code speeds work for those calls that have a nice rhythm, almost melodic (like n7un or many others…) and those calls tend to “pop” out of the pileup.

        Some calls, however, can be very confusing like wb6bqh (made up call for illustration). And even at a higher code speed, ae5x where the “ae” could be copied as an “r” which then lends to confusion.

        Some logging programs (N1MM…my favorite) allow for a “half-space” character which is the tilde or ” ~ ” which can really help to make your call distinct. So a setup in N1MM would be “a~e5x” which obviously changes the rhythm and makes the call more distinct. Not sure if the tilde character shows in this comment?

        At 28 or 30 wpm, one hardly notices the half-space, but the call is certainly different and therefore more distinct. It “pops”!

        73, Guy/n7un (most recently 5J0X or in N1MM, 5~J~0X)

        • May 27, 2014 at 6:46 pm

          Hello Guy – yes, I do vary the speed from time to time and believe it has benefitted me although it’s impossible to know for sure. But, yes, standing out from the swarm is the goal and I hope other (perhaps “beginning”) DXers will realize that output power is far from the only way to accomplish that.

          I’ve never had ‘ae’ mistaken for an ‘r’ but my ‘x’ suffix is very commonly mistaken as ‘tu’ in contests (and only in contests – never in casual QSOs or even when answered by DXpeditions). I’ll take a look at the N1MM program. Seems like a neat way to inject what today would be considered imperfect code in this age of generic fists. Remember the days when not all CW had the same rhythm? Maybe I should put my keyer in “bug mode”!

  3. Wes AC5K
    May 31, 2014 at 8:03 am

    I will also agree that speed is a tool that is too rarely used. I slow down to complete difficult QSOs, and will manually send some exchanges during a contest so I can insert extra spacing when needed. I keep the speed of the manual keyer set 1 WPM below the speed of the WinkeyUSB, so if I need to repeat anything I have a better chance of completing the contact. Being from a QRP background, I had to learn these tricks to survive! I qualified at 45 WPM some years ago during a code copying contest at HamCom, but I would never try to run at those speeds for a contest. I am often surprised that the usually excellent Russian CW operators do not think to slow down when transpolar distortion is extra severe. On the extreme side, how many have been licensed long enough to remember the crystal controlled Novice days when one trick was to gently squeeze the crystal to add a little chirp so you would be noticed in a pileup?

    73, Wes, AC5K

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