Manual Keying for QRP DX QSOs in the ARRL DX CW

As expected, given current propagation conditions, fewer QRP contacts were possible in the ARRL DX CW than in previous years (, Actually, the surprise was that it was still possible to make QRP DX contacts in four HF bands (40m, 20m, 15m and 10m) in five continents (EU, NA, SA, OC & AF) and even with DXCC’s rarely seen in the log (i.e., KL7, KH6, MD2). Also, as is usually the case for this contest, many DX IOTA were contacted:

QSO map

The rig (Icom 703+ @ 5W) and the antenna (endfed long wire hanging from a silver maple in the backyard, with a single set of elevated counterpoise wires and the LDG RT-100 at feed-point) were the same ones used in previous contests. The major difference I introduced this year was the use of the MacBook Pro running RumlogNG instead of the IBM ThinkPad T60 running RCKLog. For this, one of the USB ports in the MacBook was connected to the Signalink USB and the other to the serial port of the CT-17 Icom CV-1 level converter (via a Keyspan US- 19HS high speed USB-to-Serial adapter).

RumlogNG (version 3.10.1) is a superb and free radio-amateur logging software with contesting capacities developed by Tom DL2RUM specifically for Mac computers running OS X 10.11 and up ( It also has sophisticated keying capabilities, which I decided to ignore in an effort to reproduce as close as possible the CW operating mode in the pre-computer era. My only concession to technology was to let the keyer in the 703 create the dots and dashes for the iambic paddle (whose iambic capabilities were also otherwise ignored). Reception was in the mind (a great practicing oportunity), though more often then not I still require the callsign to be repeated more than once. Background noise was only a problem in the 40 meter band, but QSB was huge in the upper bands. Character sending speed was fixed at 25 wpm but I prolonged the spacing between characters as required. Several times the callsign had to be broken into preffix and suffix. The “VA3” was usually readily acknowledged, although a few times it was heard as “KA3” or “VE3 or even “VE2”. The suffix was more of a problem, with the “PCJ” being returned as “PC”, “WCJ”, “PKJ” or even “PCW”. Since keying was manual, it was easy to tailor the transmission to the needs of the remote operator, the main limiting factors being his patience and his determination for completing the exchange. Receiving the power used by the other station was easier than receiving serial numbers: usually it was “K”, “KW”, “5TT”, “1TT” or “ATT”, but also “7TT” and “NN”.

Sixty-five DX QSOs and fifty DX multipliers in five continents are unlikely to yield any certificate or award. However, the above self-imposed limitations, the challenges of operating QRP with just a long wire antenna, and the prevailing propagation conditions did add to the excitement felt each time a new DX station acknowledged reception of the complete exchange…