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Those Nasty Pileups - Are They Really That Bad?

The WeeklyDX™ Helpful Hints No. 33 from the DX University™*

After nearly a month of traveling and still not managing to visit our son in B.C., we’re back to join the fight in the PT0S pileups.

In the past, I have discussed pileups from the points of view of both ends of the pileups. This week, I will mention some things I observed with the activation of St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks Saturday evening.

I spent several hours calling on 160M last night before being recognized. Whether I had a QSO or not remains to be seen. Conditions were difficult. They were easier on 80M tonight. QRN remains a problem.

Because of the rarity of the entity and the limited operating time, everyone seems to be on the same band at the same time. The pileups have been huge. Now, the critics have emerged with all sorts of recommendations for the operators. They are sending too fast, they are not identifying enough, they are not directing callers to call “up,” what have you.

As a “voice of experience” (an old Junior High substitute teacher’s favorite phrase), I can tell you that input about operating style isn’t worth much when it’s given during a difficult DXpedition. Styles, good or bad, are developed over time. Further, what some folks might feel is good operating, others might feel is not.

Partials are one area of controversy. Some folks feel that partials should be sent twice or more. What always worked well for me was to send something and then listen. If 75% of the pileup was still calling, but 25% stopped calling because they heard me call someone, I would usually be able to get the full call, make the Q and continue on.

High speed is another topic of criticism. There is no question that sending at 40 wpm tends to leave some DXers virtually out of the game. Not all DXpeditioners are equal either. On both sides, some are more proficient than others. In particular, Europeans and particularly Eastern Europeans are extremely proficient with CW. If a DX operator is successful in maintaining a high rate with few errors and busted calls, all is well. If he’s working mainly Eastern Europe, the outcome will be good, no matter what the operator with less ability thinks of the situation.

If some operators in the pileup aren’t up to the speed, so be it. Eventually, when the “better” operators are in the log, and the “begging” begins, the speed will slow. Of course, the matter of busted callsigns arises in this context, but it’s a matter of judgment. In the end, experience tells the tale.

Last, there are just a few goals in a DXpedition situation. In the past, goals have centered on working as many unique stations as possible. DX awards require working stations on different bands and modes. With the proliferation of awards, many more Qs are needed these days. In 1990, two Qs per callsign were the norm. Now, over four Qs per callsign are common. With a greater need for many band-mode Qs, expeditions operating for a limited time must make contacts at a very high rate. Often, high rates give rise to what I like to call “controlled chaos.”

There are two perspectives to a pileup situation. One is that of the DX station, and other is that of the collective pileup, the DXers. In order to meet the demand for a large number of Qs, QSO rates must be high. Some DXpedition operators are capable of these high rates as are some DXers, others not so. The skills of each side are important, but those of the DXpeditioner are the most important. Here’s why.

In the end, what’s important is making the necessary number of QSOs. Have enough good and accurate QSOs been made? These Qs must be made on the desired bands and modes, but the numbers are the important thing. If the Qs are made, all else is esthetics.

What do I mean by aesthetics? DXers and DXpeditioners hear entirely different sounds in their ‘phones. If DXers are calling constantly before, during and after a QSO, the whole pileup sounds bad. If a DXer is inadvertently transmitting on the DXpedition frequency, it sounds bad. If a deliberate QRMer is a catalyst for chaos on the DXpedition frequency, it sounds bad. All of this upsets us DXers.

The view from the DXpeditioner’s side is quite different from that on the DXer’s side. The DXpeditioner hears only a small part of the pileup at any one time. From his point of view, if an adequate rate is maintained with stations that “need” to be worked, all is well. The DXpedition operator listens to what he wants to listen to. The DXer must listen to the DX station and much of the pileup. If the DXpedition op calls one station, listens and is able to hear the response, all is well. From the DXer side, this might not sound desirable, but it accomplishes the goal if stations are worked at a high rate.

From the DXer side, chaos on the DX frequency is anathema. It doesn’t sound good. QRM may make the situation very difficult. The DXer must listen to everything. Such QRM makes it difficult to proceed with his efforts. He himself might become agitated and become an element of chaos. Of course, that is a consideration for the DXpeditioner. Yet, after all, if a good rate is maintained, all is well.

Yes, this idea is a bit unconventional if not off the wall. Yet, it makes perfect sense. The important point here is that it’s the DXpeditioner’s show. His responsibility is to contain the pileup within reasonable limits and – in the end – make the DX community happy by making the necessary Qs. He/she is responsible for deciding how to manage the pileup. If he does that and if he can maintain the rate, all is well. If you have questions or comments, write me at n7ng@arrl.net.

*The DX University™ is a daylong learning session for newcomers and old-timers wishing to hone their DXing skills. These weekly articles published in the WeeklyDX™ are archived in the pages of The DX University, www.dxuniversity.com