Guest post by Christian, EA3NT

Just arrived home from a 2-week tour of six IOTAs in Panama, and with pile-ups still fresh in my memory, I would like to share with amateur radio operators my conclusions on the most effective ways to conduct a pile-up, or work a DX station in a pile-up, where the expedition operator and thousands of callers must cooperate to achieve the highest number of QSOs.

Thousands of callers are looking for 1 QSO while the DX-operator looks for the highest possible QSO rate.

Needless to say that SPLIT operation is mandatory for pileups. So DX stations will be working in split mode from the very first CQ. Therefore, all callers should work split “by default”, without trying first their luck on calling the DX in simplex…as the usual response will be someone else answering “UP UP”….and this will create useless QRM which could be exponentially increased by police operators, LID, jokers and tuners.

A second kind of LID who breaks a good QSO rate are those TUNING on either the RX or TX freqs of the split. Please be aware that tuning on a clean frequency nearby will be equally effective and definitely will not cause QRM to either the other callers or even the DX station.

Please, CHECK YOUR VFO BEFORE TUNING !!!! (unless you are one of those who enjoys making deliberate QRM for any still-unknown reason)

The QSO rate obviously depends a lot on the operator’s skill to pick-up stations among many other callers. Usually, the easiest catch is the strongest station, and those stations calling lonely in a particular frequency of the split.

Sometimes though, the pile-up is so intense that it is difficult to pick-up anything at all…in such case one “trick” is calling “blindly” to a particular prefix that you know for sure will be calling…for example DL6, F4, JH1, IZ8, IT9…to say a few…

What I realised on this particular trip is that just calling “DL6”, or “F4”, or “IT9” was not enough….the people kept calling and calling,….so the only way to make people stop calling compulsively and listen was saying “59(9)”.

Whenever a report is given, 80% of callers stand by, while there is usually 20% still calling because they have not heard the report. This way the pileup clears out and one station can be picked up easily.

Returning to the QSO rate, not only the operator skills work, it is also the caller going through the pileup who must help. Too many times stations repeat their callsign, two or three times, and even say the DXpedition callsign, ending with TNX, 73 or something else. Please, first of all: There is absolutely NO NEED to mention the DXpedition callsign. The operator already knows it very well !!!

Also, if you hear your callsign clearly DO NOT REPEAT YOUR CALLSIGN AGAIN ! A simple direct 59(9)…or “QSL, 59, TNX” “R 5NN TU” is more than enough !

Only in case you are not sure your callsign has been picked-up correctly, then you can repeat it. Even the DX-operator may ask you to repeat again if there is QRM/QSB….but if you hear it clearly and you repeat it, you will only lose time and even create confusion to the operator, as he will think there is something not correct.

Please, the stations working CW with a computer, remove the callsigns from your MACROS !!! CW uses much shorter messages than digi modes, and many info is unwanted and unnecessary for an expedition.

Something I wanted to try if it was effective on CW was working a pile-up by numbers…and the conclusion is NEVER EVER AGAIN !!!!!
While an average pileup rate allowing any station to call can go from 150 to 220 QSOs/hour, working by numbers reduced the rate down to 75-80 QSOs/hour, and this “modality” may even make the callers more nervous, because the operator must repeat constantly which number he wants, otherwise any number will keep calling and calling.

As proof see 1 spot showing how inefficient working by numbers really is:

US4EI 10126.8 HP0INT/9 CW by numbers poor op …. 0627 15 Sep

So my comment to US4EI is: “ Sorry, I was testing this method, and obviously it is very slow…patience is a virtue ! ”

I would extend the “operating by numbers” technique is equally inefficient for SSB, because it may prevent some areas with a currently opened DX window to get the contact, while perhaps at their “turn” the window might already be closed, making it unfair. While, in the end, the key to get a high QSO rate is being fair to everybody, letting anyone try to make the QSO.

Perhaps, someone will be missing the word “discipline”. Well, it not my not intention to give a lesson to anyone, but simply share among the readers all my impressions during and after the pileups, and how I would have liked them to be. It is a fact that a high QSO-rate keeps the QRMers away, and the callers pay more attention to what the operator is saying, so there is less option to be QRMed. I think the most important fact is the cooperation between callers and dx-operator. So, if a particular callsign or group of letters is asked, nobody else, except the OM holding those letters should answer. Sometimes it happens ! but some other times the mess takes a while to disappear….I suggest to keep calling to the same station until the QSO is finalised, and let the callers (lids) realise that you will not continue calling anyone else until the QSO is done. Eventually, I even QRT for a while and let everybody relax for a few minutes…this turns out to work well!

Also, something I use to do whenever I have to repeat the callers callsigns and the 599 many times is monitoring my TX frequency. I often realise that there is someone making intentional QRM…well, in that case I use to QSY a few Kcs down/up so that I can be clear of any intentional QRM….I would keep moving up/down till my TX freq is clear and QSO rate is already good.

I am sure many experienced expeditioneers will have their own tricks for the pileups to run smoothly. But despite all, COOPERATION, CALM and COURTESY are key for a successful expedition.

Good DX and see you in the pileup !