Sunday, February 28, 2010

My Amateur Radio "Lifetime Achievement Award" - 5BDXCC at 100 W

Saturday's mail brought a moment that any ham who has mailed off their QSL card collection can understand. A registered-mail cardboard box arrived containing all of the cards I had submitted for my 5BDXCC. That's pretty much a ham-lifetime of QSL cards, many of which mark once-in-a-lifetime contacts, from stations that cost hours of effort to contact, and more hours to get a card back from. I have never spoken to anyone who mailed away their collection of cards who wasn't at least a little unnerved by the experience. It is nice to have them home and have them all filed away neatly in their card boxes where they belong (I make my own). They've been gone since the week of Thanksgiving '09.

There, on the small form the ARRL returned with the cards, was a little asterisk after "5BDXCC". The footnote said, "* = Awarded". My certificate and plaque should be here soon, I guess.

5BDXCC is rightly considered a good measure of a quality HF station, effective from 3.5 to 30 MHz, and an operator dedicated to DX’ing. It brings to mind visions of rabid DX’ers running a “California” kW, way too much speech compression, splattering 20 kHz up and down from their transmitter, mindlessly yelling their callsigns into a microphone, while an 80 foot tower bristling with thousands of dollars worth of antennas sprays the ether – and burns their grass. Or, perhaps, a station on a farm with multiple towers, and arrays of full-sized verticals standing over miles of buried copper radials. Without that sort of station, working 100 countries on the 5 “classic” HF bands of 80, 40, 20, 15 and 10m is impossible, right?

Would it change your opinion if I said I got the whole 5BDXCC worked with 100 W output power? What if I added that I have always lived on pretty conventional 100’x125’ or smaller suburban lots? How about if I said that while I do have a tower, I’ve never owned one taller than 25’?

Your next thought is probably that it takes a lifetime. In my case, it did take many years, but it's not like I had the goal of getting it from the start of my amateur “career”. I was first licensed in 1976, and have always been drawn to DX’ing. As a Novice in those days, the place to hang out was 15m, where the band opened daily into South America, and a couple of stations would come into the Novice band to hand out “first DX” contacts. It’s really an extension of being a former shortwave listener, where the question was always “how far can you hear with that thing?” Radio monitors also call themselves “DX’ers”, you know. Over the intervening years, I was always drawn to DX’ing and gradually a started keeping track of which countries I worked and started collecting cards.

A few years ago, while submitting cards to update my 20 year old DXCC certificate and apply for CW-DXCC, I realized that 5B was really within reach, with some effort to work the bands I had previously ignored. For example, I had nearly 200 countries worked on 15m, over 100 on 10m, but only around 50 worked on 20m, 80 countries on 40m and only the
US on 80m. At the time, I had DXCC confirmed on two bands, 15 and 10. From the time I started to seriously pursue 5BDXCC until I logged #100 on 80 and completed the task was under 5 years. Getting from DXCC worked and confirmed on two bands to DXCC worked and confirmed on five, required both strategy and tactics.

Chances are, this is the last award I'll ever submit cards for. Chances are, with my modestly-sized station, the Honor Roll is out of reach. So this is my lifetime achievement award. If you're one of the stations I worked, thanks! If you're interested in trying to work 5BDXCC with 100W or less, drop me a comment and we can talk. If you, by chance, stumble across this and are puzzled by the whole jargon mess (5BDXCC, QSL, ham radio), likewise feel free to ask.

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