With that background you may be surprised to learn that I have never applied for DXCC, nor do I have any plans to do so. My reasons are not negative ones; I have no complaint against the award and its many variations, or its pursuit by many hams. It's a fabulous award and is run with the utmost integrity and professionalism by the ARRL. They deserve the gratitude of the amateur radio community for the work they do with this award.
Those who enthusiastically pursue the DX side of our hobby can be roughly divided into several groups:
- Magic of radio
As a example of the latter I'll draw your attention to the recent behaviour surrounding an aborted DXpedition to North Korea (P5). My intention is not to dwell on it, so if you want to learn more you can find it on your own. It is even quite easy to find the DXpedition leader's deleted complaint about funding woes.
For many hams around the world the pursuit of DXCC, and its apex the DXCC Honor Roll, are all consuming. It is the same kind of passion you'll find in recreational sports, fishing competitions, and endless other hobbies, not just amateur radio. It's a very human thing. Unfortunately that passion can inspire bad behaviour when it overrides common decency. Here are a few examples (I am sure you can think of a few more):
- Purchasing DXCC credit, even when failing to work the DX or not being logged accurately. On the other side of the transaction there are those selling confirmations, with or without a QSO, if only to attract funds to finance a DXpedition. There are even a very few who turn DXing into a business.
- There are some big amplifiers for sale. Very, very big amplifiers. There is a market for them.
- There are those who feel they are owed QSOs, regardless of their stations, abilities, sunspots or DXpedition objectives. That is, they feel entitled to what they desire. They make sure to let the DXpedition operators and sponsors (and all of us) how they feel when they don't get a QSO for every band-mode slot, confirmation is not forthcoming with minutes or hours, or the DXpedition is currently focussed on working a different part of the world.
- DQRM: For some it comes down to "if I can't work them (or don't want to) neither will you!"
So, if not awards, what does appeal to me about DXing? Why do I still pursue new countries and DXpeditions? Here are a few things. Some you will identify with, though probably not all.
I like to be surprised. Whether it's the kind of silly story I told earlier about youthful competition or calling CQ on a seemingly dead band to see who answers. I clearly remember the time over 40 years ago with my 807 transmitter and a dipole only 3 meters off the ground (really!) calling CQ on 20 CW one evening after school and being answered by an FO8. Or perhaps it's the magic of working a major DXpedition on 80 meters, unexpected with a small station like mine.
Even now, in a contest, as I rack up the QSOs running European stations I get a thrill when I am occasionally called by a relatively rare station in the Middle East, Africa or Asia. Or perhaps it's calling CQ on 15 in late evening when all is quiet on the band and being answered by a UA9 in their early morning.
The thing is it doesn't have to be particularly rare or unusual. It's the feeling of discovery. You can get it from just scanning the band, looking for DX and not bothering with the global spotting networks. A weak and watery signal emanates from the headphones and you are rivetted to the frequency until you find out where it's coming from. Is it rare or unusual in some way? That's all to the better, but even if mundane it's still fun.
This element of the unexpected is what attracts me to 6 meters. The openings are often so elusive and unpredictable that it can be difficult to step away from the shack. I would get the ominous feeling I might miss something. Years ago when I had a very good setup on 6 meters and I was alone in the house I would leave the receiver on 50.110 MHz hissing quietly in the background in the hope of a European opening. You learn to expect the unexpected.
Doing more with less
Easily working a rare one can be a bit of a let down. You make a couple of calls at the start of the DXpedition and surprise of surprises you get through. Then what? The joy of the pursuit quickly dissipates. What will keep you in front of radio then? Another band slot? Perhaps. You have to set your own objectives according to your interests.
Having a handicap can be add spice to the pursuit. Turn off the amp or even try QRP. Use a short vertical rather than a full size yagi. If none of that works you can always revert to power or a bigger antenna, if you have them. I find the pleasure of getting through is magnified when the odds are against me.
Efficiently navigating pile-ups and learning propagation patterns are only the start of the skills needed for DXing. There is also learning new modes, designing antennas, organizing station ergonomics, software configuration and much more. These are skills that do not require an interest in DXing but that drive to work DX spurs spending the time and effort to learn and hone our skills.
As we age there is a tendency to become sedentary, both in our minds and our bodies. This is undesirable, not only impacting our health but also sucking the spice out of our lives. Lifelong learning keeps us young. Every morning there is so much learning and doing to look forward to.
If it were only for contests my interest in building a bigger station might be insufficient motivation to act. DXing nicely complements contests by making a competitive station useful every day of the year. A station built to be competitive in contests also opens DXing vistas impossible with a tri-bander on a stick.
Whether it is yagis up high, stacked yagis, 4-squares, low-noise receiving antennas, transmission lines or complex switching systems, all contribute to DX success. So, as readers of this blog have seen, my antenna design focus over the past months has shifted from the small to the large. The hard work begins when the antennas are built. That can't happen until I have the land for it. DXing increases my motivation to move forward on this plan.
It is not only the rareness or uniqueness of DX that appeals to me. Quantity also matters. There is joy in filling a contest log with thousands of DX QSOs. To those who dislike contests or just don't see the point this may seem like mindless drudgery. It's not. Apart from paying dividends in contest scores and ranking, for the DX enthusiast the ability to work so much DX in a short period of time is fun in itself. Rareness is nice but so is lots of non-rare DX.
There is always time outside of contests to pursue longer conversations with DX stations or to work DXpeditions. There is even the thrill of volume outside of contests. It is common to hear those with large stations casually running DX every day. For the DXer this is a fun way to get more value out of the stations they've invested in -- after all, there really aren't all that many major contests throughout the year.
There is even the potentially greater thrill of helping others to fill their logs with DX. Consider that when you work a DX station the perspective is reciprocal: they, too, are working DX. By working many stations you are helping them enjoy their DXing pursuit. Most hams have small stations and appreciate the opportunity to work stations far away. Luck and good propagation is needed for two small station on opposite sides of the planet to hook up, but when one station has a big signal it becomes much easier for everyone.
DXing for me is a little like love: often the pursuit is more rewarding than the catching. This is why I got an unanticipated thrill of working QRP for a couple of years, because it made the pursuit last longer and increased my enjoyment of operating.
If I don't get through to work a DXpedition on some band or even at all there's always next time. That is, I do not get irritated, frustrated or worried when I fail to get through, even for an ATNO (all time new one). There are always more skills to learn and antennas to design and build. One day there will be another DXpedition to the same locale and, hopefully, I'll be better prepared to get through.
I will probably never achieve DXCC Honor Roll, or at least the required confirmed entities (especially if I continue to not apply for DXCC). For difficult paths I may be unwilling to sit on the radio for the length of time needed to get a good shot of making a QSO. Other times I would really rather go outside and enjoy the sunshine during our brief summers. Working the rare ones is great, and I love it when I do, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
My "modern era"
My all time total is over 300 countries, though I do not know the exact number. I reached that milestone by 1992 when I chose to go QRT for 20 years. I had no interest at all in continuing from that count when I renewed my activity in early 2013. There were so many changes in the world and the DXCC list that I did not find it meaningful, or work the effort to tabulate all those cards and adjusted country affiliations. So I started anew, and I did so with QRP. I did well.
Now after 3 years of activity in my "modern era" I have 271 worked (225 with 10 watts or less) and 242 confirmed on LoTW (logbook of the world). I don't count the paper cards I receive since I can't be bothered to do the work. That alone should tell you where I'm coming from: more operating, less paperwork.
The one great thing I like about DXing today is LoTW confirmations, which removes the time and trouble of pursuing paper QSL cards. Also valuable are all the on-line logs which allow me to quickly know that my QSOs are confirmed. There is no more waiting a year (or two or three) for a card to come back to me saying: "sorry, you're not in the log."
My current run of DXing activity is likely to run until the end or until I am too old and feeble to maintain a house and antenna farm. I am confident that this time around I won't lose interest in the hobby. There is always more DX to work, rare or otherwise, on one band or another. Even during the coming solar minimum.