Managing 6m Pile Ups!
Issue 47 Six News, November 1995
By Chris, GM3WOJ.

With more and more countries having permission to operate on 50MHz, and more "HF" Transceivers having 50MHz coverage, many new operators are enjoying the excitement and unpredictability of 6m propagation. However, many of these new DXers may have no experience of being "in demand" and being called by a "pileup", which can happen for a variety of reasons. There is nothing worse than realising after the band has closed that you did not make the best use of the band opening.

This short article offers some practical hints - to maximise your enjoyment of handling the pile-up, to avoid you missing any "rare DX" that may be calling you, and to avoid frustration on the part of the stations calling you. The final section gives hints on calling a DX station in a pileup.

HF Band "Pile-ups"

Despite the bad operating habits which are often heard, there are clear lessons to be learned by listening on, for example 20m, to a major DXpedition working stations when the band is open to one of the main population centres e.g. Europe. Generally, the expedition will transmit on 14.195, and will work split frequency, listening from 14.200 to 14.210MHz. The disadvantage of this is that 10KHz (+14.195) is unusable for normal QSOs, but the advantage is that the frequency spread enables a good operator to maximise QSO rate - several hundred per hour.

POOR Pile-up handling!

A good operator will NEVER USE ANY OF THESE METHODS (all of which actually decrease the QSO rate):

Lists - the operator writes down a list of partial (e.g. 2 letters) or full callsigns, and works them in strict order, ignoring all other stations -what a waste of time (if the operator adds a reports and the full callsign as he acknowledges the station having called, the QSO is half-complete!)

Net-control - some well-meaning station acts as a "go-between" and prepares a list as above - an even worse waste of time, because many stations may be able to hear the DXpedition better than the "net control", or may call anyway without actually being able to hear the DXpedition at all!

By numbers - the operator asks for e.g. "only 8's" and then proceeds to handle this by (a) possible long wait before your number is called (on 6m Es any delay can lose you the QSO!) - causing frustration, and (b) inexperienced operators work far too many stations at each number - some countries have an imbalance of issued callsigns - anyone beaming to 0-land only and saying "9's only" will have on-one calling!

Telling the Pile-up off! Often you hear poor operators complaining about the behaviour of the pile-up, even telling specific stations that they will not be worked - again this is a waste of time - a good operator will just turn the beam a fraction or ignore deliberate QRM - there will always be a station stronger than the QRM (if not, pretend that there is, and the QRM will eventually go away!)

ON4UN sums it all up in his book with the recommendation that you stay at home if you can't handle a pile-up - many otherwise well-organised DXpeditions cause nothing but frustration because of their poor operating techniques.

GOOD Pile-up handling!

Propagation on 6m tends to change much more rapidly than on 20m and really the best method of working stations quickly is to handle the pileup, with them calling on your transmit frequency - the following hints may help:

Calling in a Pile-up

If you are a station calling a DX station, you have two clear objectives

- to break through the pile-up and work the station, and secondly, to do this as quickly as possible, giving time to work other DX. Whether you agree with it or not, DXers are a competitive breed, and tend to want to work a station first, before passing on information or helping a friend to work them.

On 50MHz, Es conditions are a great leveller - a station running l0W output can often work a DX station before a 1Kw output station - this never happens on 20m!

Timing - timing your calls is the real key - on 6m there can be slow or rapid QSB, and signals may suddenly peak up at your QTH - if you miss this chance you may not get another one. If signals are steadier, listen for a few minutes to ascertain what precise method the DX station is using to pick a station to work - is it just the loudest station or are they working just the last station heard etc.

Callsign - Choosing whether to send your full call or just two letters is a difficult decision (often the DX station will ask for one or the other) -sending just two letters can be effective, but it is often a surprise that three or four stations with the same two letters in their call may be calling at the same time! Generally, your full callsign, sent once quickly, using clear phonetics, is the best choice. A rare prefix is a great advantage, but part of it still has to be heard. Never send the DX stations call - they know who they are, they know that you are calling them (assuming no other QSOs on that frequency!) and you are just wasting time.

Listening - if you spend a lot of time listening, rather than calling CQ DX, you will often be lucky and hear a DX station calling - maybe before the pile-up has found them - this makes life a lot easier. Obviously someone has to call CQ or no QSOs would ever be made, but generally you can leave this to someone else. All the above hints are really common sense - try listening on 20m (don't pick up the bad habits!) and most of all have fun with the DX pile-ups!

73 Chris, GM3WOJ.

Chris Than GM3WOJ, UKSMG members #35, is one of the 40 original UK 50MHz permit holders, and has been QRV on 6m since February 1983 - he has worked 110 countries from his QTH in 1077WS, and as GM3WOJ/P was the winner of the 50MHz section of the RSGB VHF National Field Day in 1989 (the only year that 6m has been included in this contest!).

To return to the archive page click here