CQ WPX, LoTW and the End of QSL Cards
Last weekend, I had a fun time working the CQ WPX contest on SSB. I’ve always liked the format of the contest with the callsign prefix as the score multiplier (e.g., K1, K2, W1, W2, VE1, VE2 are all multipliers). Its like every new contact is a multiplier. This contest attracts plenty of DX but unlike some DX contests, everyone works everyone.
Consistent with the contest, the CQ WPX Awards Program issues operating awards based on callsign prefixes. The initial mixed mode (CW, SSB, digital) award requires confirmed contacts with 400 different prefixes. Back in the 20th century, I kept track of my confirmed contacts for WPX but lost interest along the way. I am sure I’ve worked more than 400 prefixes but the challenge was getting them all confirmed. More recently, the ARRL Logbook of the World (LoTW) added support for the CQ WPX Awards, so I started paying attention again, watching my CQ WPX total grow. I am not a big awards chaser but I have found value in using them as a specific goal to motivate me to get on the air.
Right before the CQ WPX contest, I had 380 prefixes confirmed via LoTW, so I figured that if I worked a few new ones during the contest, I could punch through 400 without too much trouble. I used my signature HF slacker approach at the cabin, using the Yaesu FT-950 to push 100 watts of RF power to wire antennas in the trees. For 40m, 20m and 15m, I used a trap-dipole antenna and for 10m I used a newly built ladder-line j-pole mounted vertically.
On Saturday, the propagation on the 10m band was smokin’ hot, strong signals from all continents. The 10m j-pole performed well. It was an absolute blast to easily work into Africa, Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand and Asia. The 15m and 20m bands were also very productive. My approach was to tune around, looking for new prefixes to add to my confirmed total. Propagation was not as good on Sunday but still respectable but I only operated a few hours.
After the contest, I submitted my log to the contest web site and loaded my contacts into LoTW (188 QSOs and 157 prefixes). Immediately, I received two new confirmed prefixes. Over the next few hours, I checked back to watch my CQ WPX confirmed total climb on LoTW. It did not take long before it passed through 400 (and the total is still climbing). I will admit that I really liked the instant gratification of seeing my QSOs immediately confirmed.
That’s when it hit me: I am done with paper QSL cards. The amount of time and effort it takes to get 400 paper cards in my hand is just not worth it. It is soooooo 20th century.
Disclaimer: Actually, I still enjoy and use paper QSL cards…they are now just a secondary activity for me.
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Understand Bob, and you’re probably on track with where the hobby is going. Personally I’ve got over 2400 paper confirmed prefixes filling 8 boxes and love the thrill of handwriting, sending and receiving them. But like writing actual mailed letters, which I also do, that will become less common over time. Anyway, good job on the WPX contest. I also enjoys it too.
It is strange getting eQSLs the day after a contest I must admit. I got aL card from a Russian ham nearly 22 years after the QSO. That’s strange too. I must send some more envelopes to my new QSL Bureau Manager as he is new to the job as the old one returned unused envelopes to me. I guess it is just one more way the hobby is changing. eQSLS always look a bit dull to me but paper QSLs always looked bright and were more novel in design.