Posts Tagged ‘Contests’

The Art of DX Pileup Busting


Recently, I came across some questions another amateur radio operator posed to a group of CW enthusiasts. Since I have an interest in Morse code, I thought I would explore these questions:

— begin quote —

1. When chasing some particular CW DX station needed for my DXCC punch-list, what are some things(s) that one can do to improve one’s chances of snagging that DX contact amidst a congested pileup? Is it truly the luck of the draw or roll of the dice? Or are there some time tested methods, less than obvious, that the experienced CW DX chasers have used that seem to improve one’s chances of snagging the DX contact? Yes, I’m aware that there are many variables to consider. I’m just looking for some general suggestions to improve my odds of success based on the experience of others.

2. If, let’s say, a DX station appends “UP 1” or “QSX 2” to his CQ call or just “UP” appears in a DX cluster spot listing, what is considered an acceptable amount of “UP”? I’m amazed sometimes at the amount of “UP” that I hear. LOL. Does a hefty amount of “UP” actually improve one’s chances? What does the DX op expect?

3. After a DX station sends their callsign how long should one wait to reply with one’s callsign? I hear stations respond immediately. But sometimes I hear others wait just a “bit”, and then respond to DX. And sometimes when the DX station is responding to a chosen station, other callers are STILL calling the DX op. What do most DX operators expect with regard to the response of a reply? Immediate? One-Mississippi …?

4. I hear stations reply to DX with their callsign once. Others sometimes twice. If I send my callsign twice I run the risk that the DX station has already begun his reply back to me with my sig-report while I’m still in the midst of sending my 2nd callsign reply. So … I should send my call just once?

— end quote–

Great questions!  And, the answers translate over to working DX pileups on voice, too.

Waterfall with split operation displayed.

Here are some of my off-the-cuff remarks, based on my limited experience DXing since 1990:
(I am an avid DXer, with 8BDXCC, etc.)

1. Listen, Listen, Listen: The DX station typically does work split – the DX station on, say, 14.023 MHz, and the DX station is listening anywhere from 14.028 to 14.033 (up 5 to 10). You first, of course, need to listen to the DX station, but, also to hear the stations that are calling the DX station! The trick is to be able to hear some of the stations that are piling up on the DX, and to determine if the DX is working a station, then tunes up a little, or down a little, from the frequency on which the last caller was chosen.

Once you know this, you want to position your signal so that the DX operator tunes to or very near where you are transmitting your signal. If the DX station does not call you but continues in the same tuning direction, you reposition your transmit frequency (always in the pileup window) and try again. If you do not know where the DX station is listening next, and especially if you cannot HEAR the DX station, you are calling blind and are in for a long effort.

If you have a way to see the waterfall at and around the DX frequency, you can often see the general spread of “UP” where the callers congregate. When listening (and, let me tell you, listening is key) to the DX station, watch the waterfall for the responding caller (the station in the pile-up calling the DX), as sometimes it is very obvious who is answering the DX. Watch this exchange for a number of new callers – and get a sense of HOW the DX operator is moving through the pile-up. Anticipate where the DX might listen next. Choose that “next frequency in the pattern of movement” and use that as your calling frequency.

2. Timing your call: this takes a bit of effort. I typically listen to my chosen transmit frequency, trying to call never at the exact same time as others, on or near my calling frequency.

3. I always send my callsign TWICE… something like this:


There are some fine CW-oriented DXing books, PDFs, and websites that talk about this. For instance:

I hope this personal observation of mine about working a Morse code pileup is helpful in some way.

73 de NW7US


Taking the side road……

This weekend the LZ dx contest was up and running, I have never taken part in this contest and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of activity. It's a 24-hour contest that started at 8 am out my way and it gave me a nice workout for the upcoming weekend for the CQ World Wide DX CW contest. I took part for about a total of 4 hours and made 120 contacts for a score of 13,110. 

Midway into the contest I was taken down a side road for a pleasant surprise. At some point on Saturday afternoon calling CQ contest was slowing down on 20m. I decided to make a left turn and head down the 10m side road. There were very few LZ contesters there but I did notice a commotion on the waterfall. When I went to investigate it was H44WA DXpedition in the Soloman islands calling CQ North America (CQ NA) and he was all alone. I put the Icom 7610 in split and dual mode (hearing both VFOA and VFOB) and made the mental change from CW contesting to CW DXpedition. After a few short tries, I was in the log. I was glad I made a left turn and took a side road from the contest.


I was happy to contribute an article to the recent ARRL Parks On The Air (POTA) book. This piece is based on my Pikes Peak mountain topping article that appeared in the June 2023 issue of QST. This book is a collection of articles about POTA from 14 different authors, each writing about a different aspect of the program. The articles are all easy to read and generally provide a first-hand account of how the author has experienced POTA operating. There is plenty of beginner information and operating tips sprinkled throughout the book. More experienced POTA enthusiasts will probably pick up a few new ideas as well.

The Table of Contents below lists the articles and authors, giving you a good idea of the material covered. The meat of the book is only 118 pages long and it is quite easy to read.

My piece covered the triple activation I did from the summit of Pikes Peak, combining POTA, SOTA, and the June VHF Contest into one mountaintop adventure. For POTA, the park was the Pike National Forest (K-4404). I’ve done this type of combo activation in the past, sometimes just SOTA + POTA or just SOTA + VHF Contest. This time I did all three.

The book is available directly from the ARRL or from the usual book outlets such as Amazon.

73 Bob K0NR

The post ARRL POTA Book appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

FT8 Dominates VHF Contests

The FT8 mode was first released as part of the WSJT-X software in 2017. This new digital mode was adopted relatively quickly and is now a major force in amateur radio. You’ve probably heard the praises and complaints about it. On the plus side, it enables radio contacts under very poor conditions while detractors say that it is not real ham radio because the computer is making the contact. FT8 is an excellent example of a disruptive technology, impacting daily ham radio operations. This summer, I had two operating experiences (VHF contests) that really drove this point home.

My temporary station setup on the porch for the VHF contest.

ARRL June Contest

In the ARRL June Contest, we had very good sporadic-e propagation on 6 meters (and even 2 meters). I used my IC-7610 for 6 meters and usually had one receiver listening on the SSB calling frequency and the other sitting on the FT8 frequency. My strategy was to operate FT8 while keeping an ear on the SSB portion of the band. If signals were present on SSB, I switched over to that mode. The idea is that the run rate on SSB is inherently faster (and more fun), so it is my preferred way to make contacts. 

There was definitely activity on the SSB portion of the band, but it came and went throughout the contest. There were times that I was able to run on a frequency, calling CQ and having a steady stream of stations to work. Other times, I had to search and pounce, tuning around the band to find a new station to work. The FT8 story was different: most of the time there was consistent activity and new stations to work, but at a slower rate.

The FT8 operators tended to stay on FT8, even when the signals were strong. If they wanted to maximize their score, they probably should have switched over to SSB to make contacts at a faster rate. But they didn’t and that is their choice. (One thing I’ve come to accept is that I don’t control the choices that other radio hams make in terms of operating mode and band.) On 6 meters, I made 428 contacts with 80% of them on FT8. Radio operator decisions affect the types of QSOs made and if I focused only on SSB, I would surely have had more SSB contacts (but how many?)

CQ WW VHF Contest

In July, the CQ Worldwide VHF Contest was even more striking. While I was hoping for a repeat of the band conditions from June, the CQ WW conditions were not very good. However, I did manage to make QSOs using FT8 on 6 meters. The run rate was low and I often struggled to complete the exchange before the band shifted. Again, I listened on 6m SSB and picked up contacts there whenever possible. My QSO total for 6m was 164, with 90% of them via FT8.

After the contest, I heard from contesters that used only analog modes (SSB and CW) who reported that the contest was a complete bust. Even with hours of operating time, some folks only made 10 or 20 QSOs. This clearly tees up the choice: if you don’t want to work digital, you can severely limit your number of contacts. On the other hand, if you use FT8, you can make contacts under weak conditions, but at a slower rate with a computer in the loop.

Like many contesters, I would much rather have a nice run of QSOs on SSB filling up my log. It is just way more fun than sitting there watching the computer screen report the slow progress of FT8. But in the end, we all have the same choice when conditions are poor: actually making contacts using FT8 or sitting there hoping that band conditions improve enough to support SSB.

2 Meter Band

I did make some FT8 contacts on 2 meters, but found only a small number of operators using that mode. I expect that FT8 activity will increase on that band as people figure out they can squeeze out a few more contacts & grids using that mode.

73 Bob K0NR

The post FT8 Dominates VHF Contests appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

ARRL 10m contest brings the band alive.

Lots of action on the 10m CW portion during the ARRL 10m contest. During the morning today lots of EU stations to be had. As the afternoon started the EU faded and more U.S. and I am expecting later this afternoon South America possibly.

Ham Radio Gamification

Setting operating goals has been useful for me in ham radio. They often provided a reason or incentive for me to get on the air and make some contacts. I followed the typical award sequence of Worked All States (WAS), Worked All Continents (WAC), DX Century Club (DXCC), and so forth. I wrote about it here: Pursue Radio Operating Goals.


Over time, I’ve come to realize that some amateur radio activities include the elements of gamification. Gamification is a hot topic in user interface design, online learning, and other computer-based systems. The basic idea is to incorporate gaming techniques into activities to increase user engagement. From Wikipedia:

Gamification techniques are intended to leverage people’s natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure, or simply their response to the framing of a situation as game or play.

Gamification commonly uses these elements (also from Wikipedia):

Game design elements are the basic building blocks of gamification applications. Among these typical game design elements, are points, badges, leader-boards, performance graphs, meaningful stories, avatars, and teammates.

This article discusses some of the principles involved and Dennis/AD6DM wrote this piece on the topic: The Gamification of Ham Radio.

Summits On The Air

I first became aware of this topic after I became involved in Summits On The Air (SOTA). Before SOTA was a thing, I was often found on the top of some summit making radio contacts. So when SOTA was established in Colorado (W0C), I thought “this is interesting but I am already doing it.” It did strike my fancy enough that I started submitting logs into the SOTA database. Oh, guess what, many of my mountaintop operations were the first activation for SOTA. How about that? I am the first. I win. I have bragging rights, or something.

Soon I was accumulating SOTA activator and chaser points. My first objective was to qualify for the 100-point activator certificate. (SOTA has many certificates and awards.) Achieving 100 points took me about 15 activations, so it is not too difficult but does represent an accomplishment. It did not take very long to do this and soon I was focused on 1000 points for the coveted Mountain Goat award. That goal took several years to complete, but I got it done. I decided to only use the VHF/UHF bands for the Mountain Goat award, so that was my little personal twist on that accomplishment.

We can clearly see that the SOTA program has these elements of gamification: points, badges (certificates/awards), and leaderboards. For me, the leaderboard is the Activator Role of Honour, with the Colorado (W0C) Association selected:

At the moment, I am #12 on the list. I do not aspire to be at the top of the list but I do want to be on the list, somewhere above the 1000 mark. I also like to see how my fellow W0C SOTA activators have been doing. For example, it has been fun to watch Szymon/WV0X go from zero activator points to over 1800 in a short period of time. Also, Gary/W0MNA and Martha/W0ERI are a couple from Kansas (no SOTA summits in the state) that have both made it to Mountain Goat. Not an easy accomplishment. It is cool to see that we have 19 Mountain Goats in the association and more on their way. Pretty good!

SOTA does not specifically have any teams formed as part of the program but the camaraderie of W0C is essentially a team. We share information about various summits and encourage each other when new goals are achieved. Sometimes groups of activators get together for a joint activation. (Most areas that have significant SOTA activity also have this community/team effect.)

Parks On The Air

Recently, I have become involved with Parks On The Air (POTA), which also has gamification built into it. POTA has the advantage of parks being virtually everywhere. (Unlike SOTA summits, Kansas has parks to activate.) As Joyce/K0JJW and I have traveled around the country, POTA has been a satisfying activity to include in our plans.

POTA has many different award schemes, too many to mention here. I pulled up my awards page to see what I have qualified for:

The objective I have set for POTA is to activate all the parks in Colorado. I want to visit them anyway, so this is a good opportunity to blend ham radio with our travel plans. There are 187 POTA parks in Colorado, so this is going to take a while to complete.


Gamification can be used to make ham radio activity more fun and to more fully engage the participants. Traditional radio contesting is clearly a competition and has the elements of keeping score, having leaderboards (after the contest) and having teammates. However, most contests provide painfully slow feedback. The official results may not be posted until 6 months later. (The 3830 Scores website was created to bypass this delay by sharing scores immediately.) Contesting is obviously a game, so where’s the gamification?

Perhaps your radio club (or just your group of ham friends) can use gamification to have fun. You could leverage programs like SOTA and POTA to create a club activity. Pursue a club goal (activate 50 parks or summits this year), a friendly competition, whatever. POTA lets you activate with a club call while still providing credit for the operator, so that opens up some possibilities.

If you are getting stale in your ham radio operating, perhaps one of these gamified programs would be good motivation for you. It could be SOTA or POTA (both include chasing, so you can do it from home), or maybe some other program out there.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73 Bob K0NR


The post Ham Radio Gamification appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

There was life on the CW portion of the bands from 19:00-20:00 UTC!

20m at 19:10 during the CWops 1 hour contest


With the increase in sunspots and rising flux comes some solar flares and the Kp-index will have it's ups and downs. This afternoon the Kp index up was up to 5 and 6 and that does not my Mike the ham a happy person. Now having said that right in the middle of the high Kp index the bands at 19:00 UTC came alive! It was the weekly running of the CWops test, a one hour contest. Before the contest 20m was dead and at 1900 UTC life was brought to the band. Stations from Canada, U.S and Europe warmed up 20 meters to a nice glow. It's great mini contests like these happen as it shows some action on the bands. 

Another great CW contest is the K1USN SST CW contest this contest happens on Fridays at 20:00-21:00 UTC and Monday 00:00-01:00 ( which for most of us is still Sunday evening) This contest is not one of speed but slower. You will find operators sending from 10 wpm to 20 wpm and if you are not sending at 10 wpm then speed is slowed to match your speed. These are nice contests that only asks for 1 hour a week and it can get  your feet wet with contesting. 

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