Making Pile-ups a Little More Fair


For years I have been an avid chaser of DX and special event stations. I am accustomed to patiently working pile-ups. I have also been an operator of a special event station and have had to pick out callers trying to get through. I know how hard it is to be on both sides of the pile.

I appreciate when the special event operator is overwhelmed with callers and decides to use split frequency operations or operations by the prefix number. This help to reduce the chaos and allows a lot more stations to be heard. However, it is frustrating when the special event operator switches to prefix numbers after I have been working the pile-up awhile, and almost always begin with numbers starting with “1.” I am in “9” land, which means I have to wait another 30-45 minutes for my chance. If I am lucky, propagation is still good but many times that isn’t the case.

I realize that this is just part of operations. However, it might help if the special event operator limited the number of stations or minutes operating each prefix number so that everyone gets a chance without losing propagation.

Another idea would be for the operator to consider starting numbers beginning with “0” or “9” areas once in awhile. The point is to give everyone a reasonable and timely chance to work the pile-up.

Bruce Tisdale, K9ICP, is a special contributor to and writes from Indiana, USA.

4 Responses to “Making Pile-ups a Little More Fair”

  • Marty Allred:

    Way back when, we got our National Guard pay for summer camp on the Friday right before the middle weekend. Once you got paid, you could leave for the weekend. Usually I was the 4th or 5th person (out of a few hundred) to get my money and then I zoomed on out of there. One year, we had an interim company commander with a last name that began with “W”. He decided to pay us in reverse alphabetical order.

    I gained a lot of empathy for the people at the end of the alphabet that year.

  • Richard KWøU:

    One of the most interesting ways I ever heard someone working a pileup was going by last letter of the suffix. He would take three “A”, three “B” etc. and go through the alphabet several times before tiring. So even if you had a “Z” you would only have to wait through 76 stations, which is better than 90 if he called 10 for each of 9 districts ahead of you. In fact, that avoided callsign geography issues entirely. Add occasional breaks from that system to call for QRP or dipole or DX only stations and you would have a pretty fair way of doing things.

  • jeff n1kdo:

    Whine whine whine.

    I’ve got a 1, and unless I happen to be there when the guy starts calling numbers, I miss the 1s and either have to wait until he wraps around past 0, or, more often, returns to general calling, and at that point, good luck. At least with the 9 if you see a spot for a wanted station calling by the numbers, you have a good chance he will not have passed your number by the time you tune him in.

    I’m a 1 in 4-land, sometimes it is to my advantage, sometimes not so much. It is what it is. I don’t call “portable 4” because that is a load of bull output.

    I’m all for rotating through the number quickly. FP/KV1J has been on the last few nights from St. Pierre and Miquelon, and FP is slightly rare — he has big pileups. He is taking up to 5 calls from each group before moving on. Last night I waited until the 3rd time he got to 1 before I got him. But that was minutes, not hours. A pretty fair way to do it.

    So maybe that’s the answer. Run the number, but only take up to 5 from each number before going to the next. Tell the pileup that’s what you are doing. Then if somebody has to wait, it is maybe 15 minutes, not an hour, or forever.

  • Eddy W7AZQ:

    I too have been in a couple pile ups and that is exactly how it worked. He worked a couple minutes or 3 for each number. That way I could go search around another freq/band and time it right to come back when he got to 7’s.
    Thanks for the article and I hope a lot of people take this to heart.

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