I mentioned in my very first post that, until very recently, I've been away from ham radio for a long time. Nearly 30 years, in fact. I was licensed when I was 11 or 12, then mostly lost interest around 15 or 16. Imagine that. There were other priorities, I guess :)
I made a couple of feeble attempts to rekindle my interest, but after a few months I became distracted with other things, namely my family, raising kids, and working. I'm now 44 and I still have all of those things going on, maybe more than ever, but for whatever reason the hobby has taken over in a wicked way. A good way, that is. This time I can tell it isn't just a passing fancy. For one, the amount of money that I'm sinking into it. And, two, I'm starting to plan around contests and DXpeditions.
There's no question, I'm very much a 'little pistol' - 100 watts, vertical antenna - but I'm having a ball because, despite the odds, I'm getting through pileups by listening, being patient, and remembering the advice given by Bob Locher W9KNI in "The Complete DX'er", a wonderful book that's a real joy to read. You don't even realize that you're learning some important skills of the trade as you're reading.
So the other evening I was asking myself why I thought I was getting through on pileups on a regular basis, considering that a lot of the folks I was going up against probably had better radios, more power, better antennas, and had been doing it a lot longer than I had. Well, I think it's primarily due to listening. Listening how the DX operator works, does he tend to tune up or down? Is he working folks that are sending fast or slow? I'm surprised at how many DX operators are sending at 20 wpm or less and guys are coming back to them at 30-35. No wonder there's so many requests for repeats. Likewise, I'm surprised at how many folks either don't understand or hear when the DX operator sends "UP". Yet there they are, blasting away directly on the DX's frequency. If you listen, there's a pattern that the DX operator adheres to. Many are quite brief: signal report and that's all. Yet you still have these guys that answer with signal reports, QTH's, Names, and (of course) they repeat it all twice.
The thing is, I guess, since those same guys 'worked' the DX, they figure all is well, that's how to play the game. Nevermind that oodles of hams all over the world are fuming at the boneheads.
And that's another thing that's changed about the hobby compared to how I remember it back in the 70's and 80's. The exchanges are much shorter. I actually like this. It gives more people the chance to work the DX. Is it more impersonal? Sure, but at least I have a chance now.
So, again, why am I working these guys? I listen carefully to who they answer, provided I can hear them - most of the time I can. If the DX station works 3 or 4 guys in a row that are zerobeat on a single frequency, then I don't stand much of a chance - my 100 watts just won't bust through. But I'll still give it a chance by moving slightly to one side or another. Maybe he'll grow tired of the constant beeping and tune up or down just a hair? Or, I'll wait until the bitter end to send my call, hoping that I don't intrude on when he starts sending. If he's working split, then that's not really too much of a problem, a tailend call usually doesn't disrupt the frequency he's transmitting on if there's enough separation.
And, realistically, here's another reason that I'm working these guys...my expectations are low. What do I mean by that? Well, for me, being somewhat of a newbie again, I'm thrilled to work anyone in Europe, even the common ones. Serious DX'ers would scoff at me, I'm sure. But, at the same time, there seems to be an awful lot of guys trying to work the same ones that I am, so I'm not alone. And hopefully I'll hone my skills and continue to improve enough to nab some rare DX.
I was listening to the traffic jam over TI9KK last evening on 30 meters CW. For one, I've never heard so many people on 30 meters before, and, two, 200 watts sure sounds damn powerful. I wonder, are they all running a maximum of 200 watts? It was downright depressing to listen. I gave a few calls, but eventually gave up because of folks not adhering to the op's request for split and his growing frustration with everyone. He went QRT twice, but returned both times. I managed to work them on 17 mtrs USB on Sunday, so while I'd love to have them on CW, I don't see it happening until late in the game.