The Budget DXer

I am working on a book called The Budget DXer. In it, I will tell the stories of several hams who are very successful budget DXers. One of the stories is about Ralph King, K1KOB. Ralph helps us out here at the RADIO WORKS when he is not chasing DX. Ralph has worked about everything there is to work, so he has taken up new challenges, such as Packet and other digital modes. It keeps him interested, he says.

I still work the 'original digital' mode, CW. I know I'm behind the times since I don't have a computer-aided ham shack. I do use a keyer and occasionally monitor a DX Packet cluster, so I don't know if that disqualifies me as a truly traditional 'original digital' operator or not, but CW remains my favorite operating mode. Hold on, I'm getting off the subject. Let me get back to Ralph. He has a few very interesting ideas that he has shared with me. I want to pass them along to you.

You've heard of Murphy's Law? Well, here is part of "Ralph's Law for working DX."

Ralph's Law #1 If the SWR is below the lazy 8, it's low enough.
Ralph's Law #2 You can't work 'em if you don't call 'em.
Ralph's Law #3 When the QSL is on the wall, no one knows if you were the first station to work a DXpedition or the last.
Ralph's Law #4 Don't be intimidated by the size of the pile up. Sooner or later the 'Big Guns' will all shut up and take a breath. That's when you drop your call.
Ralph's Law #5 You gotta wanna do it.

I'm not so sure about Ralph's first law, but the others make a lot of sense. Of course, Ralph has the advantage of years of practice to develop his operator skill. He knows where to look for the DX. He'll get up in the middle of the night just to see if the band is open. There are pages good ideas and techniques that the Budget DXers like Ralph and the other fellows I've interviewed have to pass along.

Let me tell you about Ralph. He doesn't run an exotic station. A Yaesu 757, an old MFJ-969 transmatch and a 14 year old linear with a pair of 3-500s grace the operating bench along with a computer and TNC. The beam is a 36 year old TA-33 that he purchased used several years ago. The rotator was manufactured in 1957 and sits atop 40 foot tower. The tower is high enough to clear the house, but just barely high enough to support

He just couldn't compete on 80 and 40 meters until he put up his CAROLINA WINDOM. 5 Band DXCC followed soon!

The CAROLINA WINDOM that he put up to complete his 'Five Band DXCC.' Ralph was using a multiband sloper, but just couldn't compete for the 'rare ones' on 80 an 40. He said he would have finished his Five Band DXCC 18 months earlier if he had put up the CAROLINA WINDOM sooner and quit messing around with his sloper. Just between us, I think he built the CAROLINA WINDOM out of scrap parts he found around the shop. New or scrap parts, it didn't matter, he had the signal it took to work the hard DX . . . and he had his 'Five Band DXCC' in no time at all. Ralph is a first class example of a 'Budget DXer.'

Here is another example of a Budget DXer. This station works only DXpeditions and contests. Time just doesn't permit casual day-to-day DXing. The rig is a TS-820 purchased several years ago for 400 bucks. The external VFO is the only accessory. The rig feeds a CAROLINA WINDOM driven through a Dentron DTR-2000 linear and a Dentron MT-3000A transmatch. The cost of the entire station was just over a kilobuck. The antenna support trees are not included in the cost! This low cost station has worked every DXpedition since it was put on the air several years ago. A CAROLINA WINDOM is the primary antenna, not only because it has busted through the pileups like a beam, but because it's the RADIO WORKS' test station. What else would we use? Besides, it's a real kick to bust through a pile up using a $70 wire antenna.

While we're talking about 'Budget DXing' and using simple, high performance antennas, there are other excellent examples of high performance DXing with RADIO WORKS' wire antenna systems. The SuperLoop produced 50 countries on 40 meters in only 5 hours one Friday evening. This five hour sprint was during a contest. I could have worked more countries but the goal was to see how fast I could work 50 countries on 40 CW.

Another major feat was to work 100 countries on a single weekend using a single wire antenna on all bands. This was a single operator operation, no spotters, and no 'packet.' Done! Check that one off the list.

The following week, a customer called to thank me and report how well his CAROLINA WINDOM was working. He had worked 225 countries in just 8 months on the air. That's eight months from a brand new license to 225 countries in the log. Not bad, in fact it's great.

The best feat so far in the continuing saga of the RADIO WORKS' high performance wire antennas was the Navassa '92 operation (see story in this catalog). Of the 33,000 QSOs made during the week long DXpedition, 27,500 QSOs were made using CAROLINA WINDOMS. 27.5K QSOs and DXCC on several bands and all with CAROLINA WINDOMS: That's some fine operating! Of course, credit is due to five fine operators and a desirable DX location.

Big deal! Anyone can work the world if they're running a kilowatt.

Sure, high power helps, but it doesn't matter how good the equipment is, if the antenna is a poor performer, the results will be poor. Besides, the fellows on Navassa were running 100 watt rigs and they had to have enough 'smoke' to control huge pileups. In fact, it only take a few watts combined with a high performance CAROLINA WINDOM, SuperLoop, or VRD to work the world. To prove it, I have just installed a MFJ-9020 QRP rig connected to a 20 meter VRD.

My personal station includes a 'vintage' TS-930 transceiver. Most of the time it's coupled to a CAROLINA WINDOM or CAROLINA BEAM. Lately, though, I use VRDs more and more. Running 125 watts output it's easy working into Europe, the Caribbean, South America, and Russia or what's left of it. And, that's just casual operation. I work what's on the band or in the contest. The only stations I hunt are the DXpeditions, especially those using RADIO WORKS' antennas. (That was my station in 1991. That has changed over the years as you can see if you visit "Jim's Hamshack." However, the budget DXer spirit remains though it may not be obvious looking around my hamshack. However, you'll notice a complete Collins S-line in my shack. That entire setup, the transmitter, receiver and linear amplifier cost under $1000. I use this station much more than I use my three kilobuck Yaesu transceiver. Of course, I still use wire antennas exclusively. Combine the Collins S-line and a CAROLINA WINDOM or SuperLoop and you're not only a budget DXer, you're a DXer with a competitive signal. And, if that was not enough, you'll sound a whole lot better than 90% of the stations on the air.)

It comes down this: You don't have to have a $2500 transceiver, driving a $2000 linear, feeding a $700 beam, turned by a $400 rotator on a $2000 tower to have a lot of fun and success in the world of DXing, but you do have to have a good antenna.

The RADIO WORKS builds the best!

Simple, high performance wire antennas get the job done. You can count on the RADIO WORKS for the latest and hottest performing wire antennas available anywhere.

This article was originally written in 1991 and appeared in the RADIO WORKS' "Reference Catalog." I finished the "Budget DXer" some time ago, but I was not satisfied with the book and I put it aside for awhile. Something important was missing from the text. What was missing was your experiences, suggestions, observations and hints. I have all sorts of data and articles on how to be successful in the "DX fast lane," but you are the guys who have the real stories to tell. As they say, "You've been there and done that."

Here's your chance to help someone else by sharing your DX experiences. It doesn't have to be some great feat. In the spirit of the Budget DXer, the most encouraging and helpful thing we can do is to let others know that you really can be a DXer and not spend a fortune. You've done it.

If you have something you think might be helpful, or maybe just a good brag about something you did, drop me a note. Topics can cover antennas, operating techniques, equipment selection, whatever. I'm going to compile all the input I receive into a "Been there, done that" chapter.