DX Stories by Paul M. Dunphy, VE1DX

Let Me Work The DX My Own Way!

Last week one of the local QRPers came up the road, beat his way around the curve of the hills towing one of the more Sleek Headed QRPers behind him. Wary as we might have been, they caught us before we could run for the safety of the shack and pull down the shades. The first QRPer was puffing from making his way up the hill and he simply sat in the closest chair on the veranda to catch his breath. He was a bit out of shape, and this was a sure sign he was headed toward being a True- Blue DXer. The seat of his pants sagged a bit when he stood, a sure sign he had been spending innumerable hours in front of the rig. You can judge the prowess of a DXer by the degree of the sag in the seat of his trousers. It is a well known fact that almost every DXer on the DXCC Honor Roll has trousers that sag nearly to their knees. Absolutely! Check this out at the DX booths at Dayton next year . . . or maybe at the DX convention in Fresno.

Our arm was clasped by QRPer who was sleek of head, the handshake firm, the free hand bracing our elbow. His eye contact was strong. "I've come to help you.", he advised. He looked back and said nothing, for it had been a relief just to hear those words. We had been prepared to hear that he had come to save us. Later on we still had doubts. We were even then not quite sure what the real intent had been. We wondered if somehow he had found out that we had once worked Tromelin on a CW list. CW lists are rare, but one did exist some years back, originating in the far reaches of a southern DX land, beyond the horizon and unknown to most. In our early days of DXing, we had found it and we had used it to work Tromelin. But we had told no one.

"Let's talk about the DX list situation," the Sleek Headed QRPer began. "All of we True-Blue DXers know that it is an aversion, flying straight into the face of fair DXing." He looked straight at us and continued, "It is, in all respects, a mechanical process which brings no credence to DXing, no esteem to the DXer who works anything off a DX list. It adds nothing but confusion and QRM to the bands. I believe that something must be done about it and I am prepared to take the lead in correcting the situation. I have a solution!"

Son of a Gun! All we could think was what had we done to deserve all of this? We looked over at the QRPer with the sag in his trousers. He had caught his breath and was simply looking back at us with his beady little eyes, waiting for our response. And where was the Old Timer when we really needed him. Just when we were feeling completely abandoned in this dire situation who should come walking down the hill but the Old Timer. The bands were flat and the reports from Sunspot Louie and the folks at NASA indicated that they might stay that way for a while yet. There were a couple of squirrels who were fighting it out over who was going to lay permanent claim to the tree that held up one end of our 80 meter dipole. Better than watching wrestling on Saturday afternoon is watching the larger of the two squirrels, chase the other off, only to become enraged again when he found the intruder five minutes later on a higher perch on the same tree. The Old Timer had been joining us in the afternoons to watch the action. We got the feeling that we had been saved after all. The Old Timer has all the answers . . . he always does.

The Sleek Headed QRPer was unmistakably pleased that his audience had increased significantly. We wondered if he might have heard the rumor that back in Early Days of DXing that the Old Timer had worked his first FR5/G on a DX Net. "You are probably wondering why I am here" the Sleek Headed QRPer said, "and I have been thinking it is about time to do things about the DX lists and DX nets. I am here to save the DXCC program!" We had been suspicious that the Sleek Headed QRPer was here to save something and we were relieved it wasn't us! As for saving the DXCC program, we weren't sure it needed saving, but we had heard that some had other thoughts. Maybe this fellow was one of them. He plowed on: "I am looking to those real DXers, those with the three-hundred country DXCC sticker or more, to join with me in this struggle. It is you DXers with over three hundred countries confirmed who have the real understanding of DXing. You are the ones who realize the insidious danger of DX lists and the need to stomp them out." The QRPer leaned closer, his voice dropping to a confidential tone. He motioned over the other QRPer and continued, "You do follow all of this, don't you?" he asked, self- righteousness firm in every word, "you are DX believers, right?"

Of course we were DX believers. Believers in all that is true and noble and just. All DXers are believers, although some more than others. Even the other QRPer was nodding in agreement. The Sleek Headed QRPer continued: "It is the DX lists that we have to confront. We must recognize and meet the dangers and harm that is being done by DX lists and DX nets. They are the ruin of DXing as we have come to know it over the years." We looked over at the Old Timer and he was obviously taking all this in, but he had put forth his best poker face and was saying nothing.

In spite of the QRPer's non-stop barrage, we were finding this a bit interesting. One can always learn a bit by listening, and maybe it even helps in working DX. With the cycle down and the bands flat, we really didn't have much else to do. "What's the plan?" we asked and off went the QRPer, full speed ahead with arms waving and fingers pointing to get his point across.

"As I indicated before, DXers of your stature have the real feel for the realities of DXing," he roared on, "and you know well that the fun and challenge of DXing is not just putting cards on the wall. As has been asked so many times, are you a DXer or a sticker collector?" He paused, took a deep breath, raised a finger for emphasis and continued. His voice was growing almost musical in its ringing tones. "It is the chase that embodies the joyful spirit of DXing, to tune and hear the call of a distant DX station, to know within yourself that there is DX out there that is worthy of every ounce of your DX skill. To hear again the howl of the pack and the pandemonium of the pile-up!! To know that you are powerful and that you can prove that you are the strongest and loudest signal on the band. To zero-beat the last station, and with the linear putting out every last watt, to blast right on through everyone else and work the DX station! And when he comes back to your call and you make the contact, you are both 20 over! Not '3 by 3' on your third guess. That's the real spirit of DXing!" He smacked a fist into the palm of the other hand for emphasis, and he repeated: "That's the real spirit of DXing! You know it, I know it and all Deserving DXers know it and that's the way it has always been. And that's the way it will have to be if we are going to save DXing for our children! Will they ever know such joys if they work DXCC off a DX net, or a DX list. Never!!" The QRPer with the sag in the seat of his trousers was beaming. After all, hadn't he found the Sleek Headed QRPer who was bringing this enlightenment to everyone? Were not the Eternal Enigmas of DXing and the Mysteries of the Ages being explained? A good question. Were they?

And while we still didn't know quite what to say, this was getting a bit thicker then we had anticipated. The QRPer sounded like he was running for office, maybe giving a speech to potential voters. It was working and we were starting to feel it was worth our attention. His arms were waving, his finger pointing, sometimes in alarm, sometimes with pride and always his voice vibrating as it rose and fell. It was a good performance. Then the Old Timer had to ask "How about those DXers with low power, low antennas and a low DX total? How do they plow through a pile-up?" We thought to ourselves and quickly came to the conclusion that we already knew the answer to that question. For the most part, they do not plow through anything. But we decided to see how the QRPer handled the first pitch the Old Timer threw.

The Sleek Headed QRPer held up a hand, his face softening in a patient smile. "I know what you are thinking." he said, looking the Old Timer right in the eye, "but I have a number of friends who are well-known DXers. They run very low power, some down an low as five watts or so. Why some of them are certified QRPers, never running more than five watts. Ever! And most of them are using just a trapped beam or wire antennas. But the number of countries they have worked with their low power runs into the hundreds!" And try as he might, the QRPer could not keep the note of superiority out of his voice.

"And these newly minted DXers," the Old Timer came back with, "who are working hundreds of DX countries with five watts. Are they all new comers and did they work all their DXCC countries with their five watts?" The Sleek Headed QRPer drew back a bit to contemplate this question. He finally admitted that the ones he knew were not all new comers. In fact, when the Old Timer asked the same question again, the QRPer acknowledged that all these DXers he knew had been around the track a few times, some even being on the Honor Roll. "But they show it can be done. They are doing it now just to prove the point." he declared, although somewhat less enthusiastically than before. The Old Timer looked impressed, but he would not stop asking questions.

"That's great", he said, "and whether you're a new comer or an Honor Roll type, it's always inspiring to see a DXer following the amateur's code and using no more power than absolutely necessary to make the contact." We had our own thoughts on this matter, but the Old Timer pressed on, "Now, possibly should Bhutan get on the air they will continue to use that five watts of power . . . Yes?" The Sleek Headed QRPer had to pause and think this over. And while he was thinking, the Old Timer continued, "And maybe if North Korea or Bouvet should show up, or even Pratus Island, and should these True-Blue friends of yours still need them, they will continue to stick with low power, right? Maybe they have a big amp for backup that they can tie into their big backup antenna. But it would be a bigger accomplishment for them to try with five watts, don't you think? And they would keep trying even though they might know the operation will be short and might not show again for years. Five watts on 14.195 MHz in a Bhutan pile-up would be admirable effort. Don't you think so?" The Sleek Headed QRPer was silent, with an uncomfortable look on his face. He was walking back and forth, apparently wanting to answer these questions and wondering how he had gotten so far off the track.

In the meantime we just sat there, fascinated with the idea of Bhutan coming on the air, with a pre-announcement it would be a brief operation, and trying to work them with only five watts. The Old Timer was right, it would be and admirable effort. Then the QRPer moved to develop a new angle, deciding to get himself back on track, back to the topic he had started out with: "Some of the bad problems in DXing, come from the so-called DX nets. You show at the scheduled time for the net, you listen to the DX checks in, you stand in line and work DX when the net control tells you that you can. Now really!! Is that DXing?" Apparently the Sleek Headed QRPer was feeling on better ground with this approach and moved fast to get in a few more counters while the opportunity was hot. "If anything exists that is a travesty in DXing, those DX nets lead the list. Something has to be done about them. Right?" We had only been half listening, for we were still thinking of working Bhutan with only five watts. We decided we should concentrate on the conversation when we heard the QRPer start up on nets and lists again. For while this was not a new topic, it was possible there was an angle we hadn't heard before.

The Old Timer was shrugging his shoulders. "You may possibly be right about nets." he conceded, "but then again you may not be. I think it would help if someone could come up with a universally accepted definition of what DX and DXing are. Maybe us True-Blue DXers who proclaim 'DX IS!' at every opportunity see DXing somewhat differently than others. And while it is true that only a DXer understands DX, and only a DXer understands another DXer, there are those who are at a different point on the DX learning curve. Those who are struggling with the Eternal Enigmas of DXing, still trying to understand the Mysteries of the Ages and unsure of the true meaning of DX IS! What about them? Are we to abandon them, take away their right to DX in any manner other than the way we do it?"

The QRPer was silent again, looking carefully at the Old Timer. It was clear he wasn't getting anywhere with his crusade against nets, and he seemed confused with the questions he was being asked. We sat back and listened, for we knew full well that it is a lot easier to ask the questions than provide the answers . . . especially when you are on a mission that appears unrelated to the questions you are being asked. The Old Timer continued on, looking the Sleek Headed QRPer right in the eye, "When I've listened to those nets, it appears that a lot of those heard are retired types, possibly even handicapped or disabled. There are often a number of housewives checking in during the slow times of the day's work. Somehow I got the feeling that a good part of many of these nets is a social gathering as well as a DX effort. They are low-keyed places to meet old DX friends on the air, to be a small part of the action when you wish to participate. They are a good source for picking up DX gossip and maybe even an occasional chance to work some DX. Doesn't it appear to you that some appear to use DX nets as resting spots or even listening posts? A spot where they can keep in touch with DX action while working at other chores. Considering how long some of these DX nets have been around, there must be a void they fill for some DXers." And the Old Timer leaned closer to the Sleek Headed QRPer and asked: "You do certainly understand that viewpoint, don't you?"

The QRPer held the Old Timer's gaze for a moment, flinched a bit, blinked and continued on. "Of course I understand," he retorted, "but you've never answered the question of whether DX nets are really DXing. Are you suggesting that simply sitting on a frequency looking for company is DXing? Why, that's hardly more than joining a family circle! And the more I think about it, I'm becoming convinced that's all they are. Just look at the names of some of these nets! They are all but admitting they are just that . . . social gatherings. DX has to be more than that. Working DX on a DX net is nothing more than shooting DX fish in a barrel. No True-Blue DXer is ever found on a DX net or with his call waiting on a DX list. And that's the way it has always been but a lot of these late-coming, so-called DXers don't seem to know that at all!"

We needed time to think all of this over. Since the action had started in the tree a few weeks back, the Old Timer had joined us mostly every day, watching the squirrels jostle for position. We had often talked of the simple joys that we both found in DXing, and the knowledge that the actual competition was with one's self and, for the most part, with no one else. The only real effort, the core component to DXing is to see what you could do to improve your own techniques. And we couldn't count the number of times we had heard the Old Timer say, over the years, that: "DX is a moveable feast." At first we had wished he would be more clear in what he said and leave out some of the enigma. But somewhere along the way we began to understand what he meant. DXing is not a competition with others, but rather with one's self, and that is what keeps DXers going for such long periods. And it might be just DXing itself that matters . . . and that it is no great deal how you work your country counters just so long as you enjoy what you were doing. We had come to understand this one fundamental Enigma of DXing and we were not sure when. It didn't happen overnight and maybe it was a gradual process. Most DXers on Honor Roll will tell you the same thing. It just happens, perhaps so slowly that you never notice any change until you understand! Until you are one of the Deserving, a True-Blue Deserving DXer who has come to understand the DX Mysteries of the Ages. In the beginning, you have to be a believer. Just believe and eventually you will become one of the Deserving. The QRPer with the sag in his trousers was close, but the other was not.

And while we were tossing this around in our head, we noted the Sleek Headed QRPer had not yet run his full course yet. He still had his sights set on DX lists. "Take that egocentric bunch that we have taking DX lists." he said, shifting his stance again and roaring onwards. "If you want to know where poor manners develop, take a look at DX lists. Some of them have a list just so that they can be the center of attention deciding who can work whatever DX that might stumble their way, some even issue identification numbers and if your number in not in their computer, you are not welcomed. The signals that some of these MCs have are laughable and they would be buried in a pile-up. Hardly any signal at all, and I will even say that I doubt whether there is even one of them with the trained ear of the real DXer who can pull a call sign out of the QRM of a howling pile-up. The whole thing of DX lists is a disgrace and has been tolerated too long. Much too long!"

By now we were getting the idea that the Sleek Headed QRPer did not like either DX Nets or DX lists. Perhaps there was a sound basis to his objections and we wondered if it might be found somewhere under all the arm-waving, finger pointing and palm-smashing. Something had to be there. Then the Old Timer had to ask another of his questions.

"What do you think about DX Bulletins," he said "and those two-meter DX alerting systems. And the one-ringers on the telephone . . . designed to wake someone up should something be announced on the two-meter box. And even that stuff is becoming obsolete . . . what about packet clusters? Packet clusters tied into the Internet so that if a DX station should show up anywhere in the world, on any band, and at any time of day, within less than a minute the call and frequency is displayed on everyone's computer screen? Shouldn't something be done about this as well? Can you not buy software that will even monitor the cluster spots and alert you when something you need is posted? You can watch TV and when the computer beeps, you can be sure something you need is on the air . . . all you have to do is tune to that frequency and work them."

The Sleek Headed QRPer was stopped for sure. For the moment the arm waving was gone. Finally he managed to ask: "Do something? Like what? DXers depend on the packet clusters to let them know what is going on. And DX bulletins? I subscribe to three bulletins . . . I get a couple of them electronically on my computer now, but what's wrong with that? And two-meter DX announcements have been a part of DXing as long as I can remember. What's wrong with any of this stuff, anyhow? These are the supporting infrastructure that all DXers need. They are as much a part of the DXer's station as his rig and antenna."

We thought about the phrase 'supporting infrastructure' for a moment and recalled a few DXpeditions reaching back to the days of Don Miller and Sir Gus right up to the present. It seemed to us that 'supporting infrastructure' had been around for a long time, and some of it didn't exist in the DXer's shack, either! But we decided that was a topic for another day so we turned our attention back to the Old Timer. He simply shrugged his shoulders again and we were beginning to wonder why he was asking the Sleek Headed One all these questions. "If one is so concerned with the necessity of preserving the sport in DXing", he asked, "isn't using a packet cluster little more than tying the game down in the middle of a field and telling the DX hunter where it is and to go in and get it? One could argue that it may not be shooting DX fish in a barrel but it does establish the exact frequency and call sign. And the time, date, and QSL manager. Doesn't that remove some of the sport from the DX hunt?"

This time the Sleek Headed QRPer was a little slower responding. "I don't think so," he said, with a trace of uncertainty creeping into his voice, "one still has to get in there and work the DX station, don't they?"

At this point it was starting to look like the QRPer was beginning to question his conviction that nets and lists were the scourge of DXing. "And the two-meter squawk box," the Old Timer kept pounding away, "isn't there some similarity to a DX net where you get the word where the DX is right now, what the frequency is and where the station is listening and if it is split-frequency. And when there are really rare ones on you will hear spotters calling out the frequencies where the DX station is or has just worked a station so you can move in on the action. Isn't that a mechanical way of working DX? What are your thoughts on that? And how will your plan straighten out things like the electronic bulletins, two-meter alerts and spotters and packet clusters? And as rigs and computers become more tightly integrated, isn't the day near when the computer will get the spot from the cluster, tune the radio and work the DX for you? This may sound unlikely, but the technology is available now . . . give it a couple of years. Now, tell me how your plan is going to straighten all this out?" The QRPer looked over at his counterpart, gave him a nod and began edging toward the veranda steps. "Where are you going?" the Old Timer said in a sharp tone, "you came up the hill with a plan to rid us of DX nets. Tell me about it! Tell me how your plan is going to straighten out all the problems in this world of DX?"

Hope springs eternal and we look forward to the day when the QRPer will enlighten us, but we also live with the realization that the enduring hopes may be futile. Perhaps some day we will hear about the Sleek Headed QRPer's plan but it was not to be that afternoon. He and the QRPer with the sag in the seat of his trousers were off down the hill. He had soon found that he had business in other places. Maybe he had found a place where the sun was shining brighter and where there was someone blasting DX nets and DX lists. And maybe they were having a go at packet clusters and two-meter spotting repeaters too! But where we sat back up the hill, on the veranda watching the squirrels, it was again quiet.

The Old Timer sat in silence for a long time. Finally we had to ask: "What's the answer? All these questions are being raised but we're not getting any answers. We didn't even find out what his plan might be. Why didn't you let him explain it?"

If we thought we were going to move the Old Timer we were wrong. He simply sat in silence for a while longer, then he began to smile. "If you did hear the plan it probably would have a number of details. It would likely proclaim that DX worked off a list or on a DX net would not count for DXCC credit. I expect it would have the usual proposal that any DX station responding to a list operation would not have its QSL cards accepted for credit. And if he's really thought it out, he'd include a rule stating that repeat offenders would be disqualified from the DXCC forever. The whole thing would be bundled up and flung at the DXAC. Should it get by there, and possibly even make it to downtown Newington there would then be the same question as always. How would it be enforced and who would be the enforcers." The Old Timer was watching us closely for our reactions. We wanted to ponder things just a bit but he was not going to let us go just yet. "I doubt that you will ever see any of these things happen. There has been talk about this sort of thing since the Early Days of DXing. It usually happens about every six months, sometimes more often. And it's never even been given the time of day yet. Why worry about it today?"

That was okay for the Old Timer to say but we had our own worries. We had to ask "Do you think that the Sleek Headed One might have known that we worked that Tromelin station off the CW list a few years back?" We got a laugh at our question.

"How else might you have worked it?" the Old Timer asked "As I recall, the operator there did not speak English and you do not speak French. But both of you could recognize the call signs, right?" We had to admit that that was the way it had been. And we remembered but did not mention that we had worked that 9V off a list just a couple of years back. But that was on seventy-five meters so that had to be different.

The subject was not yet worn out though the attention of the Old Timer was being given to the smaller of the two squirrels who had somehow temporarily gained control of the favored perch from his larger counterpart. We were starting to think that maybe there was a list being taken for that limb and the larger squirrel didn't get his last two in quick enough. DX squirrels? If you listen to a QRPer preach on a topic long enough, he may start to make sense. Remember that and keep your guard up. Always!

After awhile the Old Timer broke the silence: "DX will always be what you make it to be. You do it mainly for your own satisfaction. The DXCC has never nailed down just how you should work the DX station. The only requirement is that a two way contact had been made and confirmed. Probably someone will always think their way superior to other ways. Do you recall when you first got interested in DXing? Do you remember what a bleak and hopeless struggle it seemed to work new countries? Even the most True-Blue seasoned DXers tend to forget their early efforts . . . maybe they do not want to remember them at all. The DXer with three-hundred confirmed countries is not the same DXer who had only fifty and wonders if he ever will be able to work a hundred. Some may say that DXers never change . . . DXers always do."

We were convinced but we still had a question or two tucked away. "Tell me something," we asked, "did you ever work anything off a DX list?"

We were tending to feel that the Old Timer had, but the question gave him pause. After a moment he looked over at us. "Years back," he said, "not many years after the war, when the DXCC program was new, I thought that a hundred countries could never be worked, that two hundred was not possible and that three hundred was too far away to even think about. Back then near the bottom of one of those long lost solar cycles, I came across a DX net on twenty meters. I've never forgotten the joy of that afternoon. I checked in and worked three new countries; Scotland, Spain and Denmark. All on AM phone, too. And you remember the joys of AM phone at the bottom of a cycle?" We nodded in agreement . . . and while the human mind has a great capacity to forget pain, AM phone was not one of those easily forgotten experiences! The Old Timer continued, "AM or not, it took me a week to come down off my DX cloud. I had worked three brand-new ones in a single afternoon. What do you think of that?"

We could not believe what we were hearing. "But those aren't hard ones to work," we protested. "When conditions are good you can work them any evening or any morning, short-path or long-path. And you worked them on a net?"

The Old Timer laughed. "But conditions weren't good. And I didn't have a beam so I couldn't choose the path. But I hadn't worked them before. In fact I had never even heard two out of the three of them. Never heard them at all. Ever. I needed them. They were DXCC counters and I was overjoyed to catch them. Hasn't that ever happened to you?"

We had to admit that it had and the more we thought about it, the more we were convinced that it probably has happened to almost all True-Blue DXers along the way. But, as it has been mentioned in other times and other places, DX is often a state of mind and possibly more so when you need the country. And the real DXers, the Deserving who have been around for awhile will be advising: "Let me work the DX my own way!" And there will always be some who will reply in return: "No, you must do it my way, for my way is the better way!" While they may shout this, they should recall the advice of Albert, who applied the special theory of relativity to DXing so many times: "All things are relative, some more so."

The Great Days of DXing are returning. The signs are everywhere. There will be DX for all, although for some more than others. The sunspots will rise again . . . follow the advice of Lord Baden Powell, "Be Prepared!" DX IS!

73/DX Paul VE1DX

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