Remote Control Operation and the DXCC Program

After DeSoto described how DXers could count their countries worked, it wasn’t long until an award was created to recognize their accomplishments. The DX Century Club was announced in QST for September 1937. Creation of the award was due in large part to the efforts of its Managing Editor Clark Rodimon, W1SZ. In QST for November 1937, a list of DXers was published listing the DXers who had submitted their near 100 country totals to ARRL. (Yes, of course Rodimon’s total was listed…)

Among the original Century Club rules was one that required that all program participants make their QSOs from within the boundaries of their own call areas, where such call areas existed. Otherwise they had to make their QSOs from within the same country. Within a few months, recognizing that there were problems with this requirement – where DXers could move a short distance to another call area, requiring a restart – the rule was changed such that one could move a station up to 150 miles without having to re-start one’s participation in the DXCC program. This so-called 150-mile rule continued in place until mobility in the U.S. became so great in the 1970s that a change was deemed necessary. At that time, there was considerable discussion about this change. With the change to “anywhere within a single country,” the problem for large countries was resolved, though the problem was transferred to small countries – of course, that’s a different matter.

In the original DXCC listing, DXers were shown in order of their accomplishment. Those with the largest number of countries worked were at the top of the list. Those with fewer were farther down. Logic says that this order was arbitrary. How could it be any other way? Certainly those from the US Midwest could not be competing with those from the East Coast or Europe.

But, could it have been another way? Listing by countries worked implies competition. What if the listings had been alpha-numeric? Why not? An alpha-numeric listing today would greatly facilitate finding the score of a particular individual. Such a listing would also make sense since there really isn’t any meaningful competition intended by the sponsor. Any competition should be defined only by the participants.

Now, with the technological advantages we all enjoy, a dilemma exists:  How to deal with the use of Internet-based remote control. Regardless of competitive aspects, there is an inherent propagation advantage gained in DXing using multiple remote stations – or just receivers – in far-flung locations, even within a single country. Many of us have an aversion to others DXing via remote control, where the DXer’s station can be anywhere – multiple locations – within any single country. But while we don’t seem to mind complicated remote control schemes – or even ‘phone patches – the internet is just too easy. This issue raises hackles among many program participants – to the extreme that some DXers feel any use of remote control is simply cheating – period.

Since the ARRL Board decision in the summer of 2015 allowing internet-based remote control points virtually anywhere, considerable discussion and discontent has arisen. Practically speaking, outlawing remote operation is really pointless as there is simply no way to enforce rules limiting this type of operation. (Of course, these remote operations have been going on for years, and the rules changes have just raised our consciousness.) Our Federal Communications Commission has its own problems regulating remote operation since the Internet facilitates operation from other countries, and only the control operator – not the station owner — is responsible.

To help address this matter, after a short introduction, the DX Forum panel at the International DX Convention in Visalia – 2016 will spend much of its hour listening to opinions from members of the audience on Remote Control DXCC. What is the solution?

If you are coming to Visalia in April – and we hope you are – come prepared to stand up and express yourself. If you cannot make the trip, write to me with your well-thought-out opinions and we’ll include them in the program.



Cheating by Remote

Something unusual occurred on 8. January, 2016. ZL9A, the DXpedition to Antipodes Island, ZL9A announced the following on their Webpage:

“Please note that contacts with remotely controlled stations will NOT be accepted.”

No further comment could be found. There was no indication relating how they would determine that a station is “remotely controlled.” Whether they were referring to any remote operation, or more likely illegal remote operation, such as an operator signing an illegal callsign was unclear. An example Illegal operation would be a European callsign identifying a USA remotely controlled station.

(Note, using a non-USA callsign through a USA remote station is patently illegal, though a representative of the FCC has admitted that enforcement is/would be “difficult” if the apparent control operator is located outside FCC jurisdiction, since at this point, the station owner has no responsibility.)

I assume that the ZL9A group is saying that if they hear a signal with a callsign associated with an area to which there is no possibility of propagation at the time, they will not recognize it; they will not log it. I believe it is appropriate for any DX station to take such a stand. Though we should applaud them for taking this action, due care on their part is still required.

When at H40AA, I remember a QSO with a station signing “W1__” while I was operating on Topband. The West Coast was weak but copyable, but this W1 – well after his sunrise – was sounding very much like a “local” station from the northwest of H40. (I still have a tape of that QSO and the sound of that W1.) It was not from a remote station, but most likely a “friend” make the QSO. It is usually very easy to distinguish between signals coming from the expected area and others coming from somewhere else.

With the proliferation of technology facilitating remote operation via the internet and the resulting liberalization of DXCC rules allowing the remote control operator to be in virtually any location in the Universe, I believe this abuse was and is inevitable.

This is not a bad thing, however. It is not that the cheating is occurring, as cheating has occurred virtually since DXCC’s 1930s beginning. What is significant is that it can now be more easily recognized, perhaps because it is so blatant. What needs to be done now is to “out the perps” and maybe even the station owners; let the world know what is going on. Call out such stations so that they will be recognized “on the air” by their callsigns.

The case for liberalization of the location of control points was and is based on the fact that illegal remote operation of some form or other has been common practice and will continue to be common practice. A head-in-the-sand approach accomplishes nothing. (Legal remote control is another matter, of course.)

If “outing” of these illegal practices occurs and leads to a more common knowledge of who is doing it, the decision to liberalize the DXCC remote control rules will have been worth the risk, and the practice will become self-limiting. To sweep these occurrences “under the rug” serves no purpose, and perpetuates the problem.

As time goes on, DXpeditions in particular will hear more and more of these occurrences. I lobbied for the DXCC rule change, and it is my fondest hope that the change itself will lead to an accelerated “outing” of those operators who insist on breaking the rules.


A Little Story

“Yes you can, but…”

Back in the 80s, I went to Clipperton twice. Each time with different teams. The first, in 1985 was a large, multinational group. The second a year later was a much smaller group, all closely related to North California. These were my first DXpeditions. Prior to these trips I hadn’t thought of DXpeditioning myself. I had wondered if I was qualified, and whether I should even throw my hat in the ring. When asked however, I jumped at the chance to participate, and it worked out, at least for me. Little did I know at the time how much of a learning experience each of these trips would be.

How the two groups worked out, and what I learned would eventually provide the material for some very useful lessons. In the first case, I learned quite a bit about personalities and how they all worked together – or didn’t. That one eventually defined the difficult job of leadership. The second case was one of much greater unity. We were all familiar with one another, and worked much more smoothly together. It was a dream. But there was still more to learn.

A short time after these trips, some of the team members learned that not everyone in the world has the same point of view regarding how you — as a group – performed as DXpeditioners. This was many long years ago, but some lessons take a long time to fully understand. If you go on such a trip, your return home will be lots of fun. Your friends will all be very happy about their accomplishments – working you.

At some point though, another truth may emerge. If you want to learn how well you really performed – on a worldwide scale – visit one of the target areas – the difficult ones – and make your case to those DXers. Depending on how honest your hosts are, you might see and hear a different point of view of your success.

In both of our cases, as we returned home, we were overwhelmed with praise about how well we performed. It was great. Everyone was happy. Of course, those greeting us were the noted locals, all having a “chip shot” to Clipperton and filling their logs with QSOs from the long to the short wavelengths. But, a few months later, some cracks appeared in the picture. In the mail, I received a letter from one of our southern contingent containing a translation of an article that appeared in the Spanish CQ magazine (Spain). It contained considerable criticism about how we had handled the European operators; what we had done wrong.

Sometime later, while preparing for a trip to Auckland Island (ZL9), I had the opportunity to meet Martti, OH2BH in Las Vegas. (I was traveling and made a point to change my return flight from Chicago to pass through Las Vegas so that we could meet for an evening.) During that evening, Martti and I spend many hours talking and discussing DXpeditioning. We talked until the sun came up. In that one evening I learned more about DXing and DXpeditioning than on any single occasion since.

Of course, what I learned wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. But, it had become more than clear after our Clipperton trip that we hadn’t satisfied the whole audience. So the increased clarity was helpful. Though the trip was conducted at the bottom of the sunspot cycle, solar storms notwithstanding, we still could have done better. When we had those difficult openings, we hadn’t made the best of the opportunities. We faced the “Wall of Sound” hardly even recognizing what it was.

Today, many DXers and contesters believe that if they can pull a callsign out of a pileup, they can be successful DXpeditioners. Without a doubt, finding calls in the pileup is an important DXpeditioning skill. But it is only the tip of the iceberg. Contesting requires an important skillset. DXpeditioning also requires an important skillset – a somewhat different one – though there is some overlap.  If you are very good at one, however, you are not necessarily equally good at the other. A DXpedition is not a contest, and if you think it is, you will likely fail when trying your non-native activity.

To succeed as a DXpeditioner, a Contester or a DXer, start with an open mind and learn what you can from those “who can.” More than anything, understand that an education is the process of learning what you don’t know. If you ignore this, you will very likely fail.

N7NG for the DX University

DX University Summit Meeting in Rome

For many years, members of the three primary population centers have been characterized and labeled usually as a group following major DXpeditions. They are usually characterized in different ways. The Asians (primarily Japanese) have been seen as highly disciplined. According to some analysts they are disciplined to a fault. According to some DXpeditioners, the Japanese are too organized, tending to slow the proceedings. Usually though, they are a relief and a delight for DXpeditioners. Operators in North America are often described as efficient and quick. High rates are achievable when working large numbers of these operators. Much of the time they are overly aggressive, but their similarities are numerous.

European operators on the other hand are usually characterized by continuous calling and lacking in cooperation. Rates are said to suffer because of these traits. For this, they are often labeled as troublemakers. It is interesting that more often than not, we refer to “ The Europeans” as a single group. Who are these “Europeans?” Should we put them all in the same box? Are they really all the same? Or do their differences deserve more study?

To pursue this question, we first need to consider that how the members of a particular population center are characterized depends heavily on who is doing the evaluating. We need to understand that these descriptions are highly dependent on popular perceptions and attitudes.

The operating performance level achieved by various DXers depends increases greatly when the levels are determined by members of the same group. When we are reading an evaluation referring to “The Americans,” “The Europeans,” or “The Japanese,” we need to be suspicious. This is an indication that objectivity is missing, and methods and attitudes may need adjusting.

When a groups’ characteristics are described in this manner, we can all be fairly sure that more understanding is required. Would we really expect all members of a particular group to be the same? Is the makeup of the group even properly defined? What does it take to make pundits think a bit more before commenting? Well, it takes research and thinking seriously about the problem. There isn’t much room for shooting from the hip anymore.

Some members of the DXpeditioning world are very successful in dealing the vast diversity of personalities and cultures present in the modern pileup, other operators are significantly off course. This in-turn suggests that given the proper approach, most any pileup can be managed.

There are aspects of pileups that can’t be controlled. There is the pathological, deliberate QRM (DQRM). There is virtually nothing that the DXpeditioner can do to assuage these sources. On the other hand, some DQRM is provoked by the DXpedition operators themselves through their own actions. Procedures such as allowing a pileup to exceed a reasonable portion of a band is one such provocation. I witnessed a serious situation in the last week as usual on 17 meters. Opening a DXpedition with maybe only two stations, one on 17 meter SSB is almost guaranteed to create a problem. In this case, DQRM resulted directly.

So what should be done to improve the situation? Let’s consider “The Europeans.” What can we do to be able to say: “As a group, they really have it together.” Is it even possible to moderate their pileup behavior? Maybe, maybe not. It might take a radical solution, but I know we can do better because some have done it.

Martti Laine, OH2BH, is one of the most successful DXpeditioners and Contesters in our increasingly difficult times. In cooperation with the DX University Martti has written a paper describing how to successfully work Europeans. The paper is entitled: “DX Chase: It Takes Two to Tango” and subtitled: “Working Europe from the rare ones can be difficult. Here’s how to do it.”

This past weekend, October 10th and 11th, the paper was presented and discussed at a DXing Summit meeting in Rome organized by IK0FVC, Francesco; OH2BH, Martti and IK0XFD, Giordano, President of the Rome branch of Associazione Radioamatori Italiani (ARI). This paper isn’t a list of Thou Shalts or How to’s. It isn’t a list of Best Practices. It is rather a more thoughtful discussion of the differences of the world, attitudes, and lengthy discussions of some more specific operating procedures, why and how. Careful thought, study and adherence to what this paper proposes – and what follows (it’s probably a work in progress) – is almost guaranteed to improve DXpeditioning across the board.

And a caveat: (You knew there would be a catch, right?) If and when all of this fails to make us better DXpeditioners or DXers, there is a new — or revised — Q-Code: ‘QTX’. This code is a less blunt way of telling an operator – DXer or DXpeditioner – to stop transmitting for some time and then come back with a retuned method or mind. “WW2XX QTX – 10” means that WW2XX should stop transmitting and only return to the chase after spending the next ten minutes adjusting his attitude or procedure. This is sort of a penalty box. The DXpeditioner can put the DXpeditioner in the penalty box, OR the DXer can put the DXpeditioner in the box. (Good luck you say? Maybe. But if I were a DXpeditioner and I heard a series of “Z81X QTX – 30” I might think again.

DXpedition Planning Video from K0IR

Ralph Fedor, K0IR has had the prime responsibility for planning a number of major DXpeditions. His experiences include expeditions to VK0IR, K5D, FT5ZM and K1N, Heard, Desecheo, Amsterdam and Navassa Islands. Each of these expeditions culminated in world-class results.

At the 2015 DX University session in Visalia CA, Ralph presented a program describing important aspects of DXpedition planning. There were a number of significant ideas in that presentation, not the least of which was the notion that a DXpedition owes a voice to DXpedition supporters — investors if you will — prior to the trip; that the investors are entitled to a voice in defining the DXpedition’s parameters.

Ralph has recently been named Chairman of the Board of The International DX Association, Inc., INDEXA an IRS (USA) 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization. In coordination with INDEXA, the DX University is presenting a video summary of the DX University presentation. Click here to view Ralph’s summary of that presentation.

— N7NG

The Complete DXer

Bob Locher, W9KNI is IMO, a classic DXer. Over 30 years ago – in 1983 — Featured imagehe published a book called The Complete DXer. According to Bob, the book was intended to make the point that DXing is a fun endeavor that requires skills that can — and must – be learned.

Bob’s book describes the “Classic DXer.” It is essentially a “how to” book as were many others published during the same era. But, Bob’s book is different – delightfully so. It was different then, and it still is. It was not written as a set of directives, laid out point by point: “thou shalt do this or thou shalt not do that.” Rather, the book was written as a narrative, from the point of view of a real DXer, describing the things that successful DXers do – as they are being done.

At the outset, I need to put this discussion in perspective. To a small degree, The Complete DXer is obsolete in the 21st century. Many changes have taken place in DXing in the last 50 years, and certainly in the last 30 years. DXing has changed repeatedly as technology has moved ahead. Further, our perspective on our own DXing continues to change as we work more and more DX without “un-working” any of it.

The most significant of these changes has been the Internet. The Internet has changed the world forever, of course, and these changes include effects on DXing. Many of the changes are not only technological, but also changes in how we view DXing. For example, DXers no longer need to sit for hours at their radios listening for needed DX stations. Moreover, since we can never “un-work” our DX, the games that we play and what we wish to work change periodically.

While “one ringer” telephone alerting networks had long existed, there was nothing like the fullyinterconnected, Internet-based DX data gathering and distribution systems that exist today. The Internet has changed DXing forever, yet all-in-all it has probably changed for the better. We are all aware of the stress placed on family harmony by DXers needing a 160 meter QSO, but not knowing: “When will you be on 160.”

Why am I recommending a 30 year old book? It’s simple: Extensive listening on the air suggests to me that many DXers need to learn some of the techniques that fall into the “classic DXer” category. Primary among them is listening; knowing what’s going on at all times.

Despite the steady flow of information provided by the introduction of the Internet into DXing, however, The Complete DXer still makes a point: DXing is fun. It describes the hunt for DX, and it emphasizes that DXing is a game that can and must be learned. The Complete DXer describes – among many other things – the technique of listening; being aware of what it going on. Absolutely nothing is more important in DXing. When it comes right down to actually making a QSO, the Internet is a no match for actually listening. The third (and latest) version of The Complete DXer provides a valuable perspective on modern DXing. If nothing else, it puts a ‘modern DXer’ into a framework to understand the all-to-often neglected essentials of DXing. The Complete DXer and a companion A Year of DX published in 2010 are very readable and helpful additions to your DX library. They are currently available from the ARRL.

— N7NG

Think About It

Martti, OH2BH and I have been spending quite a bit of time recently working on a paper that presents thoughts on how DXpeditioners can more efficiently work Europe. The idea for this paper has been in the works for long time, but was spurred on recently by some specific finger-pointing at European DXers for their lack of cooperation in various pileups. There has been some support for that complaint in the US, but at the same time, there has been opinion from Europe that the problems lay with the operating methods of the DXpeditioners. Since the DXpeditioners seemed to do fine with US-based DXers, the thought was that the problem lay with the DXpedition to Europe circuit. Since the US to US-based DXpedition QSO rate was very good, it probably wasn’t the fault of DXpedition operator technique. Already, we had two points of view.

This was just one example. It’s always easy to generalize about things. Generalizing, however is a bit of a cop out. It’s easy to lump everything into a single category rather than thinking about – and defining — all of the possible elements that might define a problem. I note that things are often more accurately analyzed in terms of a spectrum; that is not just one way or the other, not just black or white, but varying from one extreme to the other, along with all in between. Problems and solutions are usually complex. Generalizing might make you feel good in having a simply defined problem, but it offers few solutions. Solutions are usually more complex.

And so it seems with pileups. It may be that the difficulty with Europe can be defined as “a lack of cooperation.” But, it is highly unlikely that it is that simple. That term is pretty much useless if a real understanding is desired, and it suggests other ideas that probably aren’t true, anyway.

So, let’s get away from generalizations. Rather, let’s think about the problem, if in fact there is one. There are a number of parameters that can describe a pileup. One is aesthetics. What does the pileup sound like? Is it calm or chaotic? Is it running at a high rate or low? Is it angry? How is the accuracy? Is it disrupting the band for others? Is it fun?

I have long maintained that some of these parameters can be mutually exclusive. For example, if the rate and accuracy are good, what the pileup sounds like isn’t particularly important. Of course, if a pileup is chaotic, it might not be as much fun, even if you are getting in the log on every band-slot, but it might still be effective – you are in the log. So, we need to define the elements and decide what is important.

On the other hand, if the rate is low, we might be worried. Rate is important. A good rate keeps DXers thinking they will be the next entry in the log. So, if the rate is suffering, we might start looking for remedies. If we are analyzing a European pileup and US DXpedition ops, we might start by thinking about the rate at which US DXpedition operators are able to work Europe versus the rate at which they work their USA buddies. Generally, operating style and technique are assumed to affect the QSO rate and indeed, characterize the pileup. Since we maintain that the operator is primarily responsible for the nature of the pileup, a significant difference between USA and European pileups might suggest a flaw in our theory. How is the DXpedition operator doing?

What about language? Does everyone really understand what is going on? When to transmit? When to listen? Did the DXped op just call out a Southern European for calling out of turn and did that Southerner immediately realize that he was now in the log? Let’s think about it. Europe comprises some 24 “official” languages, and it is probably reasonable to assume that EU DXers being in a somewhat older demographic probably aren’t as fluent in those 2nd 3rd and 4th languages.

And, maybe there are other factors.

Within Europe, there is a more diverse viewpoint, opinion, identity, individuality, sensitivity and passion. How much have any of us thought about – or addressed – any of these factors? What do we mean when we talk about “Europe?” We often talk about Europe as though there was just one single European character. When we think about it, we should easily realize that there is simply no single, characteristic “European.”

And this is all just the tip of the iceberg. We have discovered that to point a finger at EU and make a single assertion doesn’t really accomplish anything useful. Try sitting down and making a list of all of the factors that might affect the QSO rate between Europe and US-based DXpeditioners…and when you have analyzed that one, try the same exercise with QSOs between a US pileup and Europe-based DXpeditioners.