WVDXA

One day last week I came across this article from the West Virginia DX Association blog. One thing led to another (that’s why they call it the Web) and I ended up discovering a treasure trove of hints and kinks that will be helpful in my DX Marathon quest.

So much so that I decided to join the WVDXA to gain access to the collected mind share of that large group of active and successful DXers. Despite my residing outside their area, I’ve been warmly welcomed and now participate with the group via Slack, mailing list, and online meetings.

Collaboration with like-minded enthusiasts is a critical element to achievement in this endeavor. And the added kinship makes DXing feel much more like a guild than just another facet of amateur radio.


The Final Courtesy

“The final courtesy of a QSO is a QSL” - ARRL Operating Manual.

QSLing is weird on the face of it. You worked someone via radio but you still need “proof” of that contact. It’s as though you don’t believe you did what you just did. I’m all but certain the practice began in the days of spark when ‘Junior’ made a contact using Morse code and his parents seemed skeptical when he told them about it. After all, they couldn’t decode the weird sounds pouring forth from the loudspeaker.

But when a paper card was delivered by postal mail a few weeks later, the deed was confirmed and ‘Junior’ was vindicated. This may not be historically accurate, but I’d bet a growler of some tasty brew that’s precisely how the practice of exchanging QSL cards came to pass.

These days the price of postage can be prohibitive, especially for a very active operator who might make 10,000 or more contacts a year. QSL bureaus exist to offload some of these costs, but it takes time packaging all the cards and then it often takes two or three years to complete the exchange. Bureau use may be coming to an end anyway as it may not be be sustainable for a myriad of reasons.

I make use of Logbook of the World (LoTW), a way to electronically submit contacts (QSOs) for confirmation and ARRL award credit. This is fast and easy but the adoption rate is not terribly impressive to me.

At present, just 56% of the contacts I’ve uploaded over the last decade have been matched. Being a CW enthusiast most of those contacts were made using that mode and I’ve found CW operators less likely to QSL via LoTW. On the other hand, a high percentage (over 90%) of digital contacts that I’ve made have been verified via LoTW - often within hours of completing the contact.

We’ll circle back to these particular points in another post.

While the DX Marathon doesn’t require QSLs, my ultimate goal is to add to my DXCC totals and that does require some form of confirmation. Accordingly, I’ve decided to resume direct exchange of paper cards in addition to LoTW. I had ended that practice in 2015 but going forward I’m willing to reciprocate directly, even though I don’t expect that will be very fruitful.

I remain unwilling to pay for any confirmation other than electronic. For instance, I’ll use Online QSL Requests when expedient, but I won’t tuck a few greenstamps into an envelope sent around the world via postal mail, etc. as it seems a poor practice in the 21st century.


Minor Setback

The shack re-model work was going well until a few days ago.

New shelves, painting, shiplap on one wall, new flooring, lots of things to get done and my wife is my constant construction buddy. I don’t do much without her keen eye and better judgement about how to decode the instructions and assemble stuff from IKEA, etc. She also handles all the painting chores inside the house so when she fell this weekend I knew some of that work would have to be put on hold.

We thought her ankle was broken and the X-RAY technician said he couldn’t diagnose it but there it was for all to see, a clear break. But when the doctor examined the X-RAY he said that break was from long ago. His assessment was that it was severely sprained and would benefit from rest, ice, elevation and a tight wrap. We can only assume she must have broken that ankle long ago and didn’t realize it.

Today is the fifth since her accident and the swelling is down considerably though her foot has turned black and blue. But with an ankle brace she has been able to hobble around and has been improving daily.

I’m hopeful we will be able to resume the re-model work in the shack quickly because when I woke this morning it was 49F outside, perhaps a gentle reminder that summer is waning and this terrible, awful year continues to slip away.


The Equipment

My shack is built around an ICOM IC-7610.

I’ve never owned an HF amplifier and am limited to 100 watts. I’ve no plans to add an amplifier this year, but if and when I do it would likely be a 500 watt solid state amplifier like the KPA500 from Elecraft.

The 7610 has a built-in antenna automatic tuner but it’s inadequate for the wire antennas I generally employ. That’s why I also have an ICOM AH-4 auto-tuner. It’s been a great purchase and handles whatever oddball aerial I’ve thrown at it. ICOM says it “covers all amateur bands from 3.5 MHz through 50 MHz with a 23 foot or longer wire antenna” and I’ve found this accurate. It’s designed for a variety of locations, outdoors, on a back porch but mine is installed in the shack.

An IC-7300 serves as a dedicated digital station as well as a capable back-up for the 7610. Everyone knows about the 7300, it’s an excellent performer and probably the highest-value HF transceiver currently on the market. It integrates with the AH-4 to share the wire antennas, but I’m going to add a new vertical so these can be used simultaneously though I have no clue (yet) how to multiplex transceivers with logging and contest software.

Finally, I have an ICOM IC-9700 for all-mode VHF/UHF/1.2 work along with an Elecraft KX3 for field work though the KX3 can also serve as a back-up as it arguably has the best receiver in the shack. These two probably don’t factor in my DX Marathon quest, but they round out the station and provide me access from 160 meters to 1.2 Ghz as well as pick-up and go radio possibilities.

That’s the primary hardware line-up and I’m certain it’s more than adequate for my needs in this journey. The WORK is going to be integrating and automating as much of this as possible, and making it all friendly to operate.


The Plan

If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there, but after more than forty years in this hobby, I’ve found it much more useful to have a plan.

Amateur radio is like an action movie with endless sub-plots. You might think it just a means to communicate with someone else but that’s an overly simplistic view. In order to keep it fresh and interesting for more than a century, radio hams have become good at making up all sorts of games and challenges.

Contesting is one such “game”. Rules are made up and contest dates selected and at the appointed hour the bands light up with operators trying to make more contacts than anyone else within the constraints of the contest rules. DXing isn’t much different except the rules in the world of DX chasing can make a small cluster of rocks in the middle of the ocean a new “country” to be worked and confirmed.

Then when that game gets too small, there are embellishments. Say you’ve worked a hundred different countries, but have you done it using CW only, or RTTY only, on a single band, or at QRP? These kinds of twists and turns captivate the interest of those who consume each new challenge with a vigor that keeps them feeling refreshed, challenged, and coming back for more.

I’m not immune to the allure of these many sub-plots and here in the waning days of summer, in the year of the global pandemic, I’ve decided to follow a new radio pursuit, the DX Marathon. It’s a year long event that really resonates (no pun intended) with my radio interests. I’m not a competitive person and my aim is not to “win” in any category. I’m more interested in honing my radio skills and seeing incremental improvements in my score over several years.

I intend to jump into that fray on January 1st which affords me months of preparation and I need that running start. I’m presently working to remodel the shack and install new antennas. There’s a lot more that goes along with that. Like improved station grounding, lightning protection, ergonomics, new computer and software, and various hardware additions.

Lot’s of work ahead.


Colophon

Just a few more details about the site before getting started.

Navigation is simple. The latest 21 posts will appear on the main page in reverse chronological order. As these age and scroll off the front page they can still be located using the Archive link at the top of tha page. Clicking on the title of a post will take you to its permanent link and if you want to share a post elsewhere, that revealed address is what you should use. Get back to the main page by clicking the Home link at the top of the page.

A full RSS feed is provided for the last ten posts. Use the link at the top of the page to subscribe using your favorite reader.

I’ve designed this space to be as clutter free as possible. My preference is a plain white background with black text. You won’t find much in the way of graphics here. Where I want to include photos I’ll link to them. I despise advertisements and am particularly critical of those that pop-up, pop-under, pop-over or are plastered on a Web site like graffiti on the subway. I don’t use cookies and have no reason to track you. No music or audio files will automatically play when you show up here.

You’re welcome!

Links to books or devices that appear here might direct you to Amazon or some other retail site, but I have no affiliation with any of these and are for information only. I’m neither a shill or a grifter and don’t get paid to say nice things or to direct you to other sites with pecuniary interest. I’m not employed by anyone in the amateur radio industry and any endorsement made here is based on my direct experience (I own it) and is only a personal recommendation.

You’re welcome!

I’m using Google fonts (Oswald and Ubuntu) and Jekyll handles mobile rendering well. This site should appear properly on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. The Web server is running on Linode, a Linux virtual machine located in North America.

I can’t think of anything else to tell you about the site. If you’ve read this and the previous post I congratulate your interest in tedious details. I wanted to make this info available at the outset and now it has become part of the permanent record.


Prologue

I use a static site generator to create these pages. My input is plain text and the resulting output is formatted HTML.

Jekyll is the tool that makes this possible. Written in Ruby by Tom Preston-Werner, GitHub’s co-founder, it is distributed under the open source MIT license.

I’ve always preferred simple Web sites. Especially having spent several years using Wordpress. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, except for the databases, comment moderation, and frequent pesky updates to install. I would have opted for handcrafted HTML as I did for more than a decade, but I’ve grown weary of manually fiddling with CSS. I wanted a clean, uniform look across the site with as little hassle as possible.

Now I write posts and pages using plain text and Markdown in a text editor, run those files through the processor and upload the output. I keep the original files on my laptop and copies on my server. If that hardware is ever hacked or fails miserably the re-installation requires only a simple file upload and I’m back in business.

That’s why this site doesn’t look like the standard Blogspot and Wordpress templates that are widely used in the ham radio blogosphere. While I don’t want to deal with comments (too much hassle), I did want to present new posts in reverse chronological order and I wanted to generate an RSS feed for my content.

Jekyll automates all that simply and after a few months of shaking things down and getting it all tweaked, I’m ready to put this thing on auto-pilot and resume chronicling my ham radio adventures.