One way to work a lot of DX on a weekend is to participate in a DX contest on the high frequency bands. For example, the CQ Worldwide DX Contest runs each October. There will be many foreign ham radio operators on the air during this contest.
You’ll likely need to have a General Class (or higher) license as Technicians only have 28 MHz phone privileges. (If 28 MHz propagation is good, then a Tech can join in as well.) I’m writing this article with the newer ham in mind, so I’m assuming you have a modest station on HF (100W to a dipole or similar antenna) and work SSB phone (not CW). A US station with a modest HF station should be able to work many countries on HF during the contest.
Check Out Your Station
The first thing to do is make sure your HF station is in good working order. Get on the air and make some contacts with whoever you can reach. Ask for critical signal reports to make sure your signal is sounding OK. You’ll want your station to be working at its best for the contest because the bands will tend to be filled with strong signals.
Read the Contest Rules
Even if you aren’t focused on submitting a contest entry (and it’s just fine if you don’t), you need to know the basic rules of the contest. More specifically, you need to know which frequency bands are used for the contest, which stations you are allowed to contact and the information exchange for the contest. For the CQ Worldwide DX Contest, these bands are allowed: 1.8, 3.5, 7, 14, 21 and 28 MHz. A careful read of the rules reveals that you can work any other station in this contest but contacts with stations in the same country count zero points. However, a contact with your own country may result in a new CQ zone, which counts as a “multiplier” for this contest. Your score will be computed as number of QSO points times the sum of countries plus CQ zones worked. Ah, so now we know that contesters will be trying to work as many countries and CQ zones as possible. The CQ Zone system is described here: Zone/Country/Entities List. For instance, here in Colorado, we are in the WØ call area, which is CQ Zone 4. (CQ zones are not to be confused with ITU zones, a similar but different system.)
Every contest requires an exchange of information required for a valid radio contact. For the CQ WW contest, the exchange is signal report plus CQ zone. Contesters don’t usually bother with “real” signal reports, so pretty much everyone will give you a 59 report. From Colorado, I would give the contest exchange as 59 4, said “five nine four.”
Set up a Logging Program
You’ll need to keep some kind of log for the contest to keep track of who you worked. You can only work a station once per band, so if you call a station a second time on the same band you will annoy them by wasting their precious contest time. You can just keep a paper log but after thirty or forty contacts, it becomes a hassle to check back through the log to avoid duplicate contacts. Contest logging programs are the best way track of your contacts because they check for duplicate contacts and compute your score according to the contest rules. There are many free contest logging programs out there; I normally use the N1MM Logger Plus software.
Make Some Contacts
As soon as the contest starts, its time to make some contacts. I am assuming your station is a “little pistol” and not a “big gun”, so you’ll want to tune around and find some strong DX stations to work. Contesters call this “hunt and pounce.” Just tune up and down the band and find a nice strong signal calling “CQ Contest.” Make sure you stay within your allowed frequency range for your license! Listen for how the contest exchanges are handled as information is exchanging very quickly. It’s all about making lots of contacts fast and efficiently.
As soon as the station pauses to listen for the next call, quickly say your callsign using standard phonetics. If the other station hears you, he will typically respond by saying your callsign and the exchange. You should reply with “roger” to indicate that you have his exchange followed by your information. The other station should acknowledge that he has your information with “QSL” or “Thank you” and quickly move onto the next contact.
Here’s a typical contest QSO, using my callsign KØNR:
DX Station: This is Papa Tango Four Alpha, QRZ? KØNR: Kilo Zero November Romeo DX Station: K0NR 59 11 KØNR: Roger 59 4 DX Station: Thank you, Papa Tango Four Alpha
The DX station may have lots of stations calling him, creating a pileup. You may not get through on the first call, so keep at it. You may also want to skip that station and find someone that has fewer stations calling.
Your best opportunity for DX is during the daylight hours. Actual propagation conditions will vary, so start by listening on the 14 MHz band. If conditions seem good there, then move higher in frequency, checking 21 MHz and then 28 MHz. I try to use the highest band that has significant signals on it.
So get on the air soon and give DX contesting a try. You should be able to work dozens of countries without too much difficulty. Good luck!
-- Bob KØNR