Radio amateur activities
The ham spirit from hobby to contests
Like any organization, radio amateurs represent a community of individuals, with this small plus of sharing a common interest for radioelectricity and telecommunications by shortwaves. We all belong to the ham community respectful of the ham spirit...
Theoretically one think that people belonging to the high society or having an excellent education should be more clever than others, better prepared also to critical situations, more experimented, more diplomatist, etc. But I have to temper your feeling. Because as individual, whatever our social position, we are not different from the other people, we are males or females with our qualities and our failings, our concerns and hopes. And this is for all these reasons that sometimes the ham spirit is debased on the air.
Indeed, any psychiatrist will tell you that our private life is not much different from our public one. At a level or another we try to reproduce everywhere our own behaviours, to place our marks, etc. These are means of protection and a way to give a sense of security to our actions, all the more when they are opposite to the established rules, with all side effects that such attitudes can produce. Therefore from time to time we are face to selfish people who lack of the most elementary fair play...
The Amateur's code
Instead of discussing about the psychology of the amateur radio, let's see what is the historical definition of the ham spirit and the few usual cases - unfortunately becoming too numerous - in which it is no more respected.
Fair play on the air
Speaking of ham spirit is often consider as a boring action by gossips and all disruptive people. The "problem" is not ignored by ham magazines and most of them publish from time to time extracts of correspondence highlighting some unexpected attitudes reported by an amateur on the air or at another occasion (DX-pedition, contest, etc).
I would like to insist here on the behaviour of some amateurs on the air in reviewing some typical cases.
Vulgarity and the code of ethics
I hear for time to time vulgarity on the air and coarse words addressed during pile-ups or local QSOs to foreigners for one or another reason. If the reaction is sometime justified to preserve our rights on the air, this is sometimes made in a language that the correspondent does not always understand. This attitude is not smarter than the action at the origin of the conflict and does not help the correspondent to understand where could be his error.
It is not hard to be polite towards the foreigner or simply toward the disruptive OM, and telling him preferably in his language or in simple English what is his error and how to correct it. I had for example the bad luck to work on a QRP frequency when an OM began to call without asking if the frequency was in use. Of course my signal was weak and maybe that he didn't hear me. I switched to 100 W and I interrupted him quickly to remind him polite that he was on the QRP preferred frequency and that I appreciated that he QSY. He apologized, didn't know that there was a QRP frequency, and QSY.
Some times later I found him in QSO a few kHz up, and I worked him as any other station. Of course I took the opportunity to explain him what were the different QRP preferred frequencies and to check my website for detail. This is a good example of consideration as defined by the ham spirit. Unfortunately there are tens of other examples where the ham spirit is debased.
So-called reserved frequencies
While working DX stations on 20m, it happened that I heard a tactless OT just arrived on the frequency asking polite but harshly to foreigners to QSY because of they were "on his frequency" ! This request was surprising, all the more from an Old Timer. What happended then ? In their language, foreigners answered him that he had a nerve and they resume their QSO...
The OT probably not understood their comment. In all cases he never accepted to be rejected out of "his" frequency and began to harass the previous group of OM in QSO. That last well ten minutes during which each group sent vulgarities and other name of birds to each another.
We cannot accept such a behaviour and I will never belong to this family of rude and so-called hams...
At another occasion, ragchewing on 40m on a weekend, the operator of a national radioclub argued that he had this QSO on this "reserved frequency" for years, and began to jam the frequency although the national publication lists well that the QRG is at a specific frequency "ħQRM" as one told.
It seems that some amateurs, and not necessary the youngest, do not like to be disturbed in their habits, and lost the elementary fair play rules.
Recently the European DX Net couldn't work on its preferred frequency of 14.243 MHz. It worked on 14.245 MHz. At other occasions I found the Net at 14.242 MHz. Nobody "moans" and requests to the previous user to change of frequency. We are friendly, bands belong to all the ham community.
Is this fequency in use ?
More than once, amateurs do not care to know if the frequency they want to occupy is already in use and begin to tune or vocalize, sometimes during several minutes, then then start calling without listening... Others ask well if the frequency is in use, but don't wait the answer, and less than a quarter of second later begin to send their CQ...
In fact most of them are just calling over a working QSO including a DX station or a QRP that arrives very weak in their direction, and didn't even wait for one minute to hear the station.
If this tactless OM had first listen to the frequency a few minutes or take the time to wait for the answer to his question, the amateurs in QSO should have answered him : "Yes, the frequency is in use. Thanks for asking. Please QSY".
QRP operators are more exposed to heavy traffic and rudenesses than other amateurs. Lee, a swedish amateur working on 30m band, in the CW part at 10116 kHz, and was asked by power stations to QSY from his dedicated QRP frequency, concluding in an email he addressed me :
- Am I stupid stubborn if I regard "the screaming crowd" having wrong in their demand on me and the station I work, to leave the scen ?
- Wouldn´t it be standard to tell the DX-station instead to move away from "my" QRP-QRG ? It would let the "police-brigade" - on calling QRG - free. Free to do others then watching and screaming: "QSY!"
His message sounded so desperated that he suggested me to publish it : " If you should have the same point of view on this, it could maybe be mentioned on your site." What is done.
While calling CQ or CQ DX, some listeners hear you, but request that you repeat your call instead of waiting a few seconds. "QRZ ?" You repeat. Sometimes they don't want to work you and you stay alone calling CQ. Others expect to listen to a DX station, they begin the QSO then realize that you are not a "most wanted" or that you don't speak well their language. When they are polite they apologize quickly but don't confirm the QSO. A sad attitude.
These few situations are far to reflect the ham spirit that we all appreciate that, I remind you, speak of friendship, consideration and non interfering.
Compressor and bandwidth
Some OM use antenna systems, amplifiers, microphone or transmitters very badly tuned, producing high SWR or a modulation so compressed or so bad that they generate much QRM over a wide range of frequencies. Sometimes you can't copy them at all. I have observed this lack of tuning more than once.
Recently on 20m band, I experimented an OM making QRM 5 kHz up and down to his QRG to work locally a station a few thousands kilometers away although the propagation was correct and didn't require amplification. Such amateurs don't care of the efficiency of their station or whether or not they spread over 10 kHz or so, and disturb more the air than they work on ! I remind you that in this 10 kHz interval, we can place up to 10 CWer and 5 SSB stations... If I am not wrong, the ham spirit invits us to work with an efficient equipment, equals to the skills that helped us to win our license.
Amplifier and QRM
Some amateurs use kilowatt-class amplifiers simply to pass through a pile-up and be heard from a DX. This is not a problem in itself, unless they disturb by the same occasion the other amateurs in QSO up to 20 kHz around their frequency ! Others, seeing or rather hearing that their usual calling frequency is busy, accept so-called to move but they voluntarily shout on the air a fraction of kHz near your frequency hoping that their method will force you to QSY. Hopefully, sometimes DSP filters and notch of high-end transceivers can reduce that QRM to that of a small hiss...
As remind us some DX operators on the air, far from you the idea that you can crush or "shut-up" the other hams to have more chance to work a DX. On the contrary, this is the best way to increase their vitality and to fight for this DX ! In the same way, usually a DX station will not give any priority because you arrive stronger than another one or own a rare call sign. It is however common to work in priority an YL calling. But except this case which is appreciated, this behaviour is also far to respect the ham spirit of our community.
The only case in which the big gun and linear always win is when the small gun transmits with so low power (say less than 100 W in SSB) that he cannot be heard by the DX station, his signal being flood in QRM created by nearest or more powerful stations. And calling in adding the "/QRP" suffix will not help you, all the less when you are not a QRP station and far from the prefered QRP frequency ! Unfortunately, nowadays in SSB and is a lesser extent in CW, working pile-ups with amplifiers is became the ordinary way to work them.
What means to give a signal report ? Does it means give to all your contacts a "59" whatever propagation conditions and your real receive conditions ? Surely not, but many do it with DX stations although their signal arrives for example 43 or 53 at best. "59" means that the signal is clearly readable at first contact and the signal very strong and does not require to be repeated.
If you experiment QRM or noise and have to play with your DSP to extract the signal or prick up the ears, its readability is 3 or 4 and its strength can hardly be S-9. There are codes to respect in this regard. Some arg that as soon as they can work the station they give him a signal report of 59 in SSB and 599 in CW, what means that the QSO is perfectly audible and they don't worry about the real working conditions. And indeed, if I check the QSLs I have received, most amateurs apply this strange rule...
Hopefully if I check QSLs I have received from DX stations, some respect the real signal report given on the air and transcript it correctly on their QSL. There is however an increasing number of stations giving a signal report completely false.
Some amateurs really don't know the meaning of "59". Some OM including novices experience difficulties to work some stations, local or DX. When they work at last a station, they ask to repeat up to 5 or 10 times the call sign, as many times the name and the QTH. At the end they shorten the QSO and give a... "59 ! QSL !". So long for a so short contact... At another occasion during a pile-up the operator probably said 5 or 10 times the famous "again ?" to work a station, and at the end gave him "59 !"...
In these examples, was the DX or the contest operator as readable and booming as that ? Surely not ! Either the readability was 3 or 4 or the signal strength much weaker to have requested so many times the same information. It is thus a nonsense to give 59 whatever the real readability and signal strength. In such conditions, be consistent: better to suppress the S-meter and the signal report !
Some QSLs received
Some amateurs seem to practice another activity than you and me. Working local or regional stations, instead of calling say 15 seconds and to wait between 5 and 10 seconds for a possible QSO, they call, call and call during minutes, wait less than 5 seconds and begin again to call ten times longer than expected. Nobody can work them because their calling procedure is much too long, their waiting too short; in fact they don't permit to amateurs to call them. When they stop calling and work at last a station, it is to give him a simple signal report à la "59 ! QSL !" and to call again without waiting the answer of their correspondent... This is rather surprizing and disconcerting. They are hopefully a handful, or I haven't met all them on the air yet, Hi!
In fact working DX stations, you don't follow the same calling procedure as working locally. Indeed, while DXing, it is useful to seat to the DX station to imagine how he will identify your station, mainly using a beam. If you call "CQ DX" a couple of seconds only and wait a longtime, nobody can hear you and few amateurs have the time to identify your call. You must stay longer at the mike and repeat your calling procedure during say 30 seconds to the attention of DX stations, preferably to a continent or even a country (calling "CQ Asia", "CQ Japan", etc).
There are several reasons to make longer calls when DXing than working with local stations. First there might have propagation problems. Or your correspondent is probably not tuned of your frequency and, sweeping bands, he will be on yours in 2 or 3 minutes only. Then if by chance someone hears you, his beam is not necessary steered to your direction and he needs some tens of seconds to rotate it in the right direction.
But to achieve this he needs that you speak a little more. If he hears you with his antenna now in the right direction, he experiments maybe noise or QRM. To identify you correctly he needs that you speak longer to activate DSP functions of his transceiver and try to extract your signal from the background hash. And even if your signal is strong, he has maybe picked up your call just after you announced your call sign... All these reasons make that you cannot send simply a "CQ DX" a short time (10 sec) with the hope to work DX stations. Most will even not heard you, and all the more using a dipole or a vertical and bare foot in SSB (100 W PEP). All these circumstances are as many reasons to make your calling procedure much longer, and then to wait and prick up the ears for a while. DXers will thank you.
List and split
To work a DX station you have also to count on the lucky factor and the way that some operators work. Some DX operators for example want to work in simplex (using the same frequency for RX/TX) taking each incoming station by his suffix. A few OM work by prefixes (WPX) or make lists. These two methods slow down the overall numbers of QSO that the operator can record and tend to make nervous the most patient amateur. They are useful for a small operator recording several contacts each minute but not for a larger organization.
A network for example, like the European DX Net uses lists of call signs. That means that you cannot make a QSO with that DX before all the actual list is worked and your call sign written on the next one. Hopefully these lists are never too long and all amateurs, even working bare foot, have usually a chance to work DX stations. In fact these lists are useful if they help in managing the activity of the net control but this is not the best solution for the operators of a DX-pedition as the rate of QSO is really low...
Some QSLs received
Indeed, in most pile-ups many hams from all parts of the world are on the frequency and have to wait that the operator hear their call sign or rather their suffix. When working in simplex against kW-class competitors (I mean the other hams equipped with linear amplifiers), you have all chances that the operator does never hear you. Therefore a directional antenna and sometime a linear are recommended to work the most distant DX lost in the middle of nowhere, over 10 or 15000 km away.
Sometimes the DXer will not hear you clearly and will ask you to repeat your call. But this is not a problem as he "caught you up" ! With some chance all other amateurs will make silence during your QSO and you will get his QSL. I said with some chance, because it arrives that another station has the same suffix as yours, 2 or 3 identical letters... You are out of luck and you will have probably to to call again and again. With this method, in which hundreds of amateurs are calling together the DX on the same frequency, the rate of contacts slows down by a 10-factor. More than once I heard stations that gave up after have "shout" their call sign during several tens of minutes without working the DX, hoping probably that he would be on the air a next day.
Working a DX-pedition in pray to a pile-up without splitting RX and TX frequencies is a nonsense due to the number of stations working on the same frequency.
Imagine that in a large DX-pedition like XW1HS (2002) the 16 operators were standing up 24 hours a day during several weeks and work, in average, 240 stations per hour or 1 station each 15 seconds day and night !
It is no question that these thousands of amateurs call simultaneously on the same frequency ! If in a range of frequencies you can place 100 CWers side by side, in SSB, and working bare foot (at the nominal output power of your TX), you can place five times less stations due to the wider bandwidth (from 2.5 to 5 kHz).
Therefore the best way is working with a fast operator splitting "5 to 10 up" in order that each station has a chance to work the DX in good conditions. Of course this occupation and spread on bands is not recommended below 14 MHz and either for an individual if you wish that all amateurs have a chance to work on the air, but for a large DX-pedition installed for a few days or weeks in one of the most wanted DX entity, we will be the first to grant them this privilege.
If your station is not prey to a heavy pile-up but enough to be overloaded, a last solution is to work by numbers, this is also a very efficient method, even if slower and less efficient than splitting but it requires less space on the band.
Say a last word about the behaviour of some radio amateurs calling a DX station in prey to a pile-up. Not all respect the fair play rules. Some amateurs from South and East Europe continue to give or rather to repeat endless their suffix or their complete call inspite of the DX station is already in QSO or asked a specific suffix to come again to work him.
If it is common to give his suffix several times at the end of the previous QSO when the OM gave his "73", it is useless to call again as soon as the DX station has called a new station. These tactless amateurs want to be hear at any price even to the detriment of the other OMs on the frequency and without respecting the amateur radio currently in QSO. I don't think that this tactless amateur would appreciate to be treated the same way.
Some QSLs received
At last, there is the special status of the 30m band in Region 1. Today some major administrations do not always respect recommendations of IARU, the watchdog and the spokesman for the world amateur radio community, in term of band and mode allocations, hence conflicts that we sometimes meet on bands between stations working in digital modes and phone.
Recall that the 30m band was won by IARU at WARC79, at the same time than two other "WARC" bands, the 17m and 12m bands. In Region1, for years WRC and IARU have decided to share the short 30m WARC band between only narrow band digital modes and CW (see band plans in my download page) and to prohibit any phone or contest activity. However, ART in France and OFTEL in the U.K. to name two large administrations have decided that this band was open to all modes, in contradiction with the established rules. Therefore from time to time phone QSOs emitted from France or the United Kingdom on the 30m band override voluntarily digital communications including QRSS established by amateurs from the other countries.
One must known that the 30m band is so short, 50 kHz, that a handful phone QSOs saturate the band where 10 times more digital stations could take place ! When you are concerned by these very special digimodes and suffer from these bad practices, you really wonder what became the ham-spirit...
To defend their unqualified attitude, these amateurs arg that IARU is not an official organization recognized by their administration, what is false, and that they respect their national regulation. Face to their ingratitude, we can answer them that without IARU, the ham bands 'd have disappeared for long time from the electromagnetic spectrum whatever the actions of their national administration ! So better to respect the rules established by IARU and WRC at the risk to see one day bands being the subject of conflict or unused be allocated to other services... what we already known in UHF.
Actions of IARU are thus very appreciated by most of their national representatives as they protect the ham bands from the covetousness of other services, what doesn't seem to understand some of his members. Forward them the message, you will please the worldwide ham community.
10 good intentions
To sum up all we have told, here is a short list of 10 good intentions in order to respect the ham-spirit. Do not hesistate to share it around you, in magazine, forums and radio clubs as it seems very useful...
Contests are another affair. During these special events many stations want to get points and highest scores. There are chances that contest stations around your frequency reduces your chance to pick up the weakest signals. In several occasions operators themselves use 5 kHz or more around their frequency and submerge all nearby QSOs with useless noises although they could easily work within 3 kHz of bandwidth in SSB and as narrow as 1 kHz only in CW.
During contest days all advanced amateurs know by experience that there will be some "perturbations" on bands; in fact it is often hard to work as usual, to find a free slot for ragchewing or DXing. There are of course, but conditions are not the best and many users give up for a while amateurs bands to practice backoffice activities. Unfortunately, years passing, more and more weekends are dedicated to contests leaving very few slots for usual QSOs.
Most of these fair play rules being not applied by European radio amateurs, including from european Asia, it is not surprizing that most of them experiment difficulties in working DX stations compared to US or japanese hams who worked most of these remote stations with fair play. This is to remind you friendly these few rules that I published this request. Take advantage of these recommendations. The ham community will thank you.
For more information
Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur (PDF in several languages), IARU
DX Code of Conduct, DX-Code.org
Pile up behavior, W2LJ
Pileup behaviour, ZS6A
Electronic Code of Federal Regulation (Hamspirit and code of conduct), ARRL
By a fortunate coincidence, ARRL published an article titled "Is the Frequency in use" in his "How's DX" column in Sep 2004 issue of QST p84 to remind to all amateurs that "no one owns a frequency". Due to a real lack of fair play from many amateurs working on the air, regularly readers publish similar comments in QST "Correspondence" column as well and HamSphere has done the same.