DX University™

  A Guide for DXers and DXpeditioners



More than any other element a successful DXpedition depends upon the on-the-air face that is presented to the DXing public. For that reason this chapter is really at the heart of “DXpeditioning Basics”. There are other aspects of the DXpedition that are very important: team selection, logistics, planning and all of the other elements to some extent support the on-the-air operation. But no matter how well the other elements are implemented, if the on-the-air operating fails to be effective and fails to leave everyone with a good impression, the expedition will be less success and more failure. The audience must be satisfied, the critics must be happy and the reviews must be good. Nothing else matters in the end.

Of course we recognize that “it takes two” to make a good QSO, and it takes many “twos” to make a successful DXpedition. The operators on both ends of the QSO must do their respective jobs well. Whether we know it or not we are all well acquainted with the results of poor operating. There are many continuing efforts to educate the masses in the finer techniques of DX pileup operating. Books about DXing abound.

For the purposes of this publication, however, we will assume that the most efficient way to smooth the operating road is to educate the DXpeditioner. One educated DXpeditioner is worth 1000 DXers. We could say that there are many more DXers and for that reason we should concentrate on teaching them how to operate properly - that educating a hundred DXers will have more effect than educating one DXpeditioner. But, because the DX operator has such definite influence over the callers, he has much more power than we might initially think. Therefore, the premise here is that it is more effective to teach him/her the techniques that are available to control the pileup satisfactorily. I firmly believe that the pileup is a mirror reflection of the DXpedition operator. If he is successful the pileup will conform and the expedition will be much more successful. If not, there might be disaster.



When many stations are calling it is virtually impossible for the DXers to hear the DX station call one of them if they are all calling right on the DX frequency. For this reason it is necessary for the DX operator to listen on a frequency significantly different from that upon which he is transmitting. This is called split operation and is basic to working rare DX. Split operation gives rise to several problems that will be discussed later. Same frequency (or “simplex” or “co-channel”) operation is possible and even desirable under certain conditions if the pileup is not large. With a large pileup, however, split operation is absolutely necessary. I is not necessary, however to appropriate huge segments of the DX bands. It would be only under the most extreme conditions that it should ever be necessary for the DXpedition operator to listen to a range of more than about 30 kHz on SSB and about 10 kHz on CW. Usually, 15-20 kHz on SSB and 8-10 kHz on CW should be adequate.

A DXpeditioner, perhaps on his first expedition, once wrote at length in the subsequent article that he thought working split was entirely unnecessary. He noted that it was unnecessary to disrupt a large portion of the band, and that he was entirely successful working the DXers on his own frequency. Quite simply, if you are able to work a pile on your own frequency with a decent rate, that is wonderful – do it! It is clear, however, that in his situation the pile was not large enough to need split operation. Working a pile on your own frequency is indeed preferable but it is simply not possible with a large pileup – even a well-disciplined pileup!

Sometimes a DXpedition operator may not realize how large a pileup he has or might create. Not wishing to disrupt the band, or not expecting a large pileup, he will begin by working stations on his frequency. This will cause at least temporary chaos. In some cases the DX operator cannot hear a distant pileup. This occurs when there are many small stations calling that are not heard at the far end of the circuit. If he continues to listen for callers on his own frequency he will create a situation in which he can only work the strongest stations on the band and even those stations might have difficulty. It is important therefore for a DXpedition operator to realize that he is likely to have a large pileup and that he should work split from the beginning of his operating session.



In managing a big pileup there are a number of techniques that the DXpedition operator can use to maintain control of the callers. One technique, which is common for a large pileup is to actually use the whole listening range to work stations. While this might seem obvious it is amazing to me how many DX operators do NOT use the whole space. They define the space and they relay this information to the callers but they sometimes then do not use all of it. The space should not be excessive, but the DXpedition operator should use the full expanse of the designated space.

Sometimes a DX operator will say I am listening ‘up five to ten’ but actually stay almost entirely on one single frequency. He might say “Please spread out” and then continue to listen on the same single frequency. He might even beg via the Internet to “please spread out” and STILL listen on that same frequency. It takes only a few QSOs for most of the callers to realize that this is the case, and the poor DXpedition operator then has to deal with an impossible situation.

A good DXer will not only determine where you are listening but will find out where you will likely to be listening next. The trick of course is to create a routine that keeps even the wiliest DXers guessing. If your pileup needs spreading, you can listen alternately at three or four spots within the listening range. Listen at the low end, listen at the high end and then listen in the middle. Repeat this sequence several times and the pileup will be spread out. This technique is very simple but not always used.

You can also specify individual frequencies directly. You can say “no one is calling on 14.206.” On CW you can say “TU 63.” This means simply that I am listening on 21.063 kHz. Amazingly, it is likely that very few DXers will pick that up quickly and you might be able to make three or four Qs before the crowd realizes what is happening. It is extremely important to find a good procedure and use it consistently. On the other hand you are not required to use the same technique at all times. You are always justified in doing what is necessary to define and manage your pileup effectively.

Many DXers have no idea how much the DX operator hears and remembers in the pileup. I can remember working “fours” from a very rare place once. I heard a number of threes portable four. I remembered that I had heard them while I was working threes so I didn’t work them again when doing fours. Later when working fives two of them were now signing portable five! As Professor Cassidy once said when describing this exact same situation “Superman lives,” moving effortlessly from call area to call area in only minutes. I am pretty sure that they wouldn’t be doing that if they had any idea that the DX operator had noticed.

Another behavior that shows up frequently is the Continuous Caller, the DXer who calls every time you stop transmitting. These guys stand out in the crowd. (Instead of calling continuously he should be looking for the station that you just worked). Consequently, however, these operators are very easy to avoid. In fact one of the keys to good pileup operating is to understand that much of the bad stuff that goes on in a pileup can be easily avoided. The DXpedition operator simply needs to move his listening frequency. There is no need to become upset at this type of activity - simply avoid it. In general, what the DXer hears is often much worse than what is heard by the DXpedition operator.

In addition it is important not to encourage or reward poor operating on the part of these callers. We should never respond to them. Keeping a public “black list” for some of the worst offenders has been done but does little for the cause and probably stirs up more animosity than anything else. On the other hand one technique for controlling poor operators is simply a hidden black list. That is, the offending operator is simply ignored until he exhibits the proper procedure. This is the Pavlov technique.



To some extent calling out of turn is a DXer-side matter rather than one of pileup management. There are methods of operating that can help control this aberration, however.



When it appears that the pileup is going to be large and split operation has been selected as the operating mode the methods by which stations will be selected from the pile should be considered. Some methods are more effective and lead to higher a QSO rate that in turn leads to fewer policemen and jammers. These methods also lend themselves to greater satisfaction on the part of the callers. The method or pattern of this change in listening frequency is called pileup dynamics.

In a large pileup, it usually will be necessary – and desirable – to move the listening frequency following each QSO. We alluded to this earlier as a method of spreading the pileup over the desired range. But it is also an important method of operating within the pileup once the range is established. If the listening frequency is not moved at least a small amount after each QSO, a large number of stations will find the frequency of the QSO and call there, making identification of the next station difficult. Working stations on the same frequency one after the other is very difficult because the signals might all seem the same strength, often very weak. It always amazes me how much louder a station sounds when it is in the clear compared to when it was part of a pile of nearly equal strength signals. This is often a characteristic of Automatic Gain Control (AGC) settings.

Initially the DXpedition operator should inform the callers of the range of frequencies over which he will listen: “I am listening up five to ten kHz”. This is important because listening only “up five” will be eventually impossible because there will be too many callers on that frequency. Some of the callers will continue to call up 5 kHz for hours! Saying “up five” usually means listening up at least five. Conveying this is easy on SSB, more difficult on CW.

It is extremely important that the operator actually move his listening frequency according to his own instructions. When signals are strong it is possible to work most stations within a few hundred Hertz of each other, minimizing disruption and maximizing the QSO rate. If the operator has a situation of too many callers on the same frequency, it is because you have not properly spread them out. If he simply asks the pile to spread out but then continues to listen on the same frequency the pile will not disperse. The operator therefore must change his listening frequency in a manner that will define the range of his pileup. He may then move his listening frequency up or down following each contact until he finds a station calling on a relatively clear frequency. The operator may announce several frequencies within the desired range.

Whatever the method the operator should follow some sort of pattern that can be discerned by the calling stations. A wide ranging, random selection of receiving frequencies only leads to frustration on the part of the callers. After the pileup is properly defined the operator should frequently announce the listening range.



It often appears that no one in a pile is even listening to the DX station. Everyone seems to be calling continuously, making it extremely difficult for the DX station to complete a QSO. The reason for this difficulty is usually a lack of rhythm in the sequence and timing of the DX station’s transmissions. Assuming that a callsign can be extracted from the pile in a reasonably short time, a steady rhythm will help to ensure that most callers are calling and then listening at approximately the same time.

As we finish a CQ or as we complete a QSO let’s assume that everyone is actually listening. Following that first call, ideally, everyone calls once and then listens for a reply. If the DX station operator is successful in picking out a call and begins a QSO a high percentage of those who were calling will hear the QSO commence and not call until it has been completed and a second call is solicited. If the DX operator can continue this rhythmic procedure those calling will be somewhat synchronized: calling and listening, calling and listening.

At some point however if a callsign is not identified quickly enough, those calling will probably call again. Considering the different length of various callsigns and the different times between calls the pileup will begin to spread in time until eventually there is what appears to be continuous calling with less chance for the DX station to be able to complete a QSO with the station that he finally selects.

Therefore it is very important that a DXpeditioner be capable of picking out a callsign from the pile and getting the QSO underway (by sending a report) within the time it takes for a caller to send an average call and then decide to call agan. This is so important that an experienced DXpeditioner will sometimes pick a dummy partial callsign that he doesn't even hear, just to preserve the rhythm. This procedure may even result in a QSO.

On the other hand, such a procedure often involves calling a partial call sign. This requires at least on additional exchange. Rather than coming up with something in a very regular fashion, there are advocates who suggest waiting just long enough to copy the complete callsign of a caller who repeats his callsign. Again, if this process takes too long the pileup will disperse in the time domain. Under certain circumstances, it is possible to operate at a greater rate if you wait just a little longer to copy a full callsign, rather than having to make additional queries to get the full callsign. Adapting to the situation will yield the best results.

A relatively recent phenomenon is when a DX station fails to wait for the end of the caller’s callsign, instead beginning the QSO before the caller has completed his call. This serves only to create confusion and care should be taken to avoid it. The reason behind this is unclear, but it is becoming more and more common. The DXpeditioner should take care to ensure that the caller has completed his call before replying. This should take only less than a second.



A somewhat unique method that has been used successfully in managing SSB pileups is the conversational style. Using this method of dealing with the pileup, the expedition operator establishes a friendly relationship with the pile by speaking to it and as a result is able to control the situation by communicating important information to those calling. By knowing what the DX operator has in mind and what he is likely to do the DXers are made to feel at ease and to sense that their expectations of working the DX will be fulfilled.

Bits of information, such as how long the expedition operator will spend on each call area, why he is working a particular area, to what frequency he will QSY, or when he will QRT, can be easily conveyed. Primarily, however, this technique establishes a positive relationship with the pile, and that is its main feature. Rather than slowing the rate at which QSOs are logged, the time invested to make these (brief) remarks creates a valuable payback.



No doubt about it, tail-ending is an art – an almost vanished art. With considerable experience a DXer can determine the exact instant at which to insert his call during the last segment of a previous QSO in order to "jump the queue." If this technique is properly done it works very well and is beautiful to hear. If it is poorly executed, it can make the caller look bad and can temporarily disrupt the operation. Proper tail ending technique is described in detail in "Where Do We Go Next?" Appendix I.6 I personally relish a good tail-end and encourage it, but each DXpeditioner must decide for himself whether or not to allow the practice, realizing that if tail-end calls are accepted, callers who are not familiar with the proper procedure will try to use it, with poor results. The DXpeditioner must be prepared to handle the resulting situation, as it can lead to a loss of rhythm and subsequent pileup chaos. Since the DXpedition operator has full control of where he is listening, however, it is a simple matter to avoid the pitfalls of poor tailending attempts. Accepting tailends can be counterproductive, however.


Alternatives to a steady rhythm in finding a callsign.