I have been dx'ing on 6m since 1988, but not seriously until 13 years later when I moved into my present QTH and become an M5. Since then I have worked over 630 locators and 136 DXCC mostly in Europe but several in North America and the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East and Asia. Every 6m QSO completed using SSB
I do not have a large garden and my property is the usual residential shoe box close to the town centre. I am not on a hill top, but in a valley with hills to the north, east and west. Serious HF dx'ing is not viable from here as I cannot fit in any full size antennas, so VHF has been the main interest. As my site is not the best for 2m dx'ing, I decided that 6m would be the best band that I could get the most from in terms of DX and being able to assemble a good antenna system.
If you have looked at my Studio page, you will notice that I use high end equipment and can run full legal power. This is how far I have decided to come in search of finding more new countries and locators on 6m. Maybe it is a little extreme, but I spend all my spare time sitting next to the radio and so is where I spend my spare money! Obviously, you do not need to run lots of power and big antennas to work dx on 6m, but for me, the only way to work anything new is to break pile-ups and for that reason I choose to have a good performing system. All this does not guarantee success, and there have been times when an average 100w or less, single antenna station has beaten me to the dx and I have missed out.
Contrary to general advice, where so called experts say that to work dx, you must not call CQ, I will and do call every day. I am very happy to have a QSO with anyone who takes the time to answer my call, wherever they are from. I have completed QSO's with many new dx stations in new locators and countries by calling CQ. If nobody ever put out a CQ, then there would be nothing to hear or respond to!
Europe is a very busy continent in terms of there being many countries and operators on 6m. (North American stations are not so lucky, but then they make up for it by working each State is if that were a country!) This is good news for many as it is possible to chalk off lots of locators with minimal equipment very quickly. Alan, 2E0HIN in South-East London lives in a tower block which prevents him from using beams. Not being discouraged, but instead taking the challenge on, he successfully works dx on 6m using just a halo and 50w. Ok, it may take a little longer for him to work a station, but he usually gets there in the end. You can work DX on verticals, halo's, dipoles and HF wire antennas that have been tuned to frequency. Most transceivers have 6m so it is not difficult to give 6m a try. Just have realistic expectations if you are using a compromised system.
There is not much more for me to get as far as Europe is concerned. My thoughts are with dx outside of the EU. It is not easy when using only SSB. Almost every day I see other UK stations spotting exotic dx on the cluster in CW or data modes. These modes make it far easier to achieve a completed QSO over longer distances. So why do I not participate in them? The reason is simply that I believe that it is much nicer to hear what somebody sounds like, even if they are very weak and almost screened out by the noise. I get a real buzz when I hear a voice responding to my call and repeating back my callsign, especially when it is dx. I get a great deal of satisfaction from using only SSB, as the challenge is far greater.
I recently had a break from radio of a few years. I have noticed that the amount of activity on 6m has significantly reduced in terms of SSB contacts. Is is probably due to the rising popularity of 4m and digital modes. It is becoming much harder to find a dx station outside of Europe using SSB. Just a few years ago, you could easily log several North American stations, but they seem to appear less frequently nowadays. It's not that there isn't propagation or are less operators, just that they avoid the microphone which is a real shame in my opinion.
Another challenge for me is that have an hearing disability. I am almost completely deaf in my left ear and the tones of what I hear are towards the low end with no high end frequencies so it can be hard to net exactly on frequency to dx stations. This so far, does not prevent me dx'ing using SSB for the time being, but I want to hear the dx whilst I can!
Everybody will have their own style of operating and favourite modes. As mentioned above, I am very keen to use SSB. There are many sources of information both in books and on the internet about operating techniques and practices. Here I will try and explain the way I operate. Firstly. let me start by saying that I do not consider myself to be a great operator or dx'er. What I try to be is a competent operator within a dx'ing environment that is 6m.
On a typical day, on my return home from work, the very first thing I do is to turn my station and my computer on. The amplifier takes a few minutes to warm up nicely, so during this time I open my logging program (Ham Radio Deluxe), DX Atlas (for real time ionosphere information such as sunspot numbers etc..), dx cluster (DX Monitor) and check the 6m activity so I have an idea of what is likely to occur. I also log in to ON4KST Chat and keep an eye on anything interesting. I have a very careful tune around to see what signals I can hear and choose a direction for the antennas to point towards. By the time I have done this, the amplifier is ready to be tuned, so that is what is done next. The amp is put into operate mode and now I am ready should I hear a dx station.
If The band is busy with signals at S9+, I try to take a look in the gaps for weaker stations. I believe that if there are lots of strong stations, then it means that surely there are some weaker dx, further away just waiting to be worked. This applies to every band, not just 6m. Normally, if there is nothing new that I can hear, I will answer some CQ calls. After a short while of listening to the band, I will usually find a quiet spot and start calling CQ myself. Often I get mini pile-ups of European stations in countries and locators that I have already worked. I always try to listen between the strong stations calling me for anything which is unusual and will give precedence to QRP or mobile stations, but particularly to any dx. It is surprising how many dx stations in rare locators do not call CQ themselves, but instead choose to answer them. At all times, I will keep an eye on the cluster and if anything I need is spotted, I will QSY and turn the beam without hesitation. I use a program called DX Monitor for monitoring the cluster. This allows me to set filters for each band and to set alerts for callsigns that I need to work. For example, recently, Keith G4ODA had a months holiday in Iceland. He put on many different locators, some of which I needed. Not to miss out, whenever TF/G4ODA was spotted, I would be alerted by an alarm and his callsign would stand out from the rest by being in a different colour and in bold within DX Monitor. For successful dx'ing, the use of the cluster is essential, as it tells you the frequency, callsign and locator of the dx. This way, you can choose to ignore anything that is not needed by you, but allows you to quickly find anything that you are looking for.
Once I have found a dx station that I need, I try to make sure that I am on their frequency exactly. If the dx is audible, I will drop my callsign in as soon as the dx goes into receive. I will not usually be the only one that does this, but I may be pulled out of the pile-up. If I do not hear the dx for about 5 seconds, I will call again. If there is one thing that annoys me, it is another station that is very strong with me calling for same dx, but not leaving gaps for the dx to respond, hence chaos happens. When the dx calls "QRZ", only put your call in once at a time, not M5BXB, M5BXB, M5BXB all phonetically in one go. This takes up a lot of valuable time which ultimately means someone will miss out when the dx fades into the noise.
Once the dx station has pulled me out of the pile-up, I try to give them my information as quickly and as clearly as possible. I will already know the dx station's callsign, as I would not call otherwise!! How many times have you heard an exchange within a pile-up and someone asks the dx station, "What's your call"? or "What's your locator"? There is no need to waste time asking them to repeat their information. If I hear them say my callsign, I would not give it again, I would just say "Thanks for the 59, you are 59 in IO91XR, QSL?" The dx should then reply "Thanks for the 59, 73. QRZ" That is the end of the QSO and It is not required for me to say anything more. The dx will be wanting to get another station in their log.
It is not always possible to break a pile-up by just calling when you hear "QRZ" sometimes it is better to try a different tactic like "tail ending". This is where you drop your callsign in as the other station is ending their QSO. Another way is to drift a few hertz off frequency which will change the tone of your voice. This may help to make you stand out from the main bunch.
In my view, pile-ups can be good competition in themselves. Often you will hear other stations you know trying for the same dx as you are. In these instances, you are rivals for the dx and the first one to get acknowledged has the added pleasure of getting one over on the others!
If 6m is quiet, and no signals are heard, I will check the cluster to see if anything is being spotted by other UK stations. Also, I will take a look through the beacon band to see if any are audible. If nothing is being spotted and no beacons heard, then it would appear that the band is dead. So what do I do? I am fortunate to have two independent receivers so the first one is used to monitor 50.150 and periodic searching, and the second sits on 50.110. I listen to just noise for hours at a time whilst doing other things on the PC such as catching up with my work or checking emails or surfing the internet. The latter will include checking VHF websites for any news relating to 6m.
Sometimes I will put out some CQ calls when the band appears to be dead. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! I make use of a voice keyer, which has a few different CQ calls saved on it, so it is just a question of pressing a button and the 'BXB is CQ'ing without straining his voice.
When dx'ing, I tend to use headphones. I use a Heil Pro-Set Plus which has a boom mic fitted. This means I can hear the weaker signals easier and also turn my head to various directions (Looking down at the keyboard, up to the monitor or making adjustments to the radio) whilst in a QSO as the mic stays in the same place.
To help receive the weak stations, I make use of a good quality, mast head preamp. It is amazing the difference it makes. Once it is set up correctly for the right amount of gain, it transforms the receivers sensitivity to a point where you start hearing more very weak signals then ever before. I believe a mast head preamp is a must for serious dx'ing.
As mentioned earlier, my aim is to try and work new countries and locators. There becomes a point when it is very hard to get something new. One could say that it is a waste of time if all you hear is the same dx in the same locators and nothing new is on the band. Well, I have my main running total of what I have worked, and thanks to my logging program, I can keep a score of my annual achievements. So it is fun to work as much as I can to see if I can better last years totals.
Probably the most memorable DX was CX4CR (GF15wc - 11080km)on 23rd April 2003 at 16.33 UTC. I was in QSO with Prem, G0DCP on 50177.5 having a bit of a natter as we do almost every day. I was beaming away from Prem towards Cornwall and Prem was beaming to me. As I stopped transmitting, I heard a weak break. I called "QRZ" and heard CX4CR respond to me. His signal was fluctuating between noise level and S5. It took a couple of minutes to complete the QSO, by which time, Prem had turned his beam and tried his luck. He also completed with CX4CR to his delight. What makes this even more memorable was that I was using an MQ26 HF mini beam and 200w from an FT1000MP Mk V with an FTV1000 transverter. The beam only had 2 elements, so there wasn't much forward gain. This QSO proves that if you spend time on 6m when it appears to be dead, having a local chat or just calling CQ, a surprise or two may happen.
I am happy to arrange any SSB 6m skeds to test tropo, E's etc.. Please send me an e-mail with your request.
As mentioned above, I use Ham Radio Deluxe for logging and mapping. DX Atlas for high resolution mapping. DX Monitor for receiving DX spots via Telnet. ON4KST for chat and live DX map. UKSMG for announcements. SDV for contest logging. There are numerous other resources and tools available from the internet. It is worth spending a little time when the band is quiet to take a look at what's on offer.