I hadnít used my GI callsign for over four years. In fact, if you think I was rarely QRV during my final year at University, I hadnít used it to any great extent in almost six years. After I moved to London, I pretty much dropped out of ham radio for a few years. But sooner or later, the bands were always going to lure me back again. It happened when I was at home on a short break in August 2004. Glancing through my logbooks reminded me just how much fun I had had. When I got back to London, I started making serious moves to get back on the air.
By the time of my Christmas visit I had re-established contact with my GI friends and had a few people who were willing to let me use their shacks during the break. I was able to get my Ďrealí callsign back on the air again, and as I was operating away from my home location, I had to sign /P.
It was a weekday afternoon just after Christmas. Conditions were nothing special, but a lot of hams obviously were off work that week. I couldnít get much going on 30 metres, so I dropped down to the bottom end of 40, and found a few hundred Hertz of space at 7.0015. Thanks to the shameless dumbing down of amateur radio in the UK, GI doesnĎt have the biggest number of CW operators, so I was off to the races. After 10 or 15 minutes, I was down to reports and names, when a Finnish station told me that he was in EU-055. Aha, an IOTA reference! Probably my least favourite awards programme. I replied that I was in EU-115, hee hee. Now, anyone seriously interested in IOTA would now this is the reference for the Irish mainland, not a rare IOTA in the slightest. I even added hee hee to show it was wee bit of a joke. But it was the trigger for one of the funniest experiences Iíve had in over a decade of hamming.
A HA station spots me on the cluster as Garry (wrong!) in EU-115. I suppose the /P made people think this was some sort of DXpedition. And the packet watchers came like a hurricane. The pile-up got big. I had difficulty picking out calls. I had to operate split as I was drowned by the pile-up with hammeringly strong short skip signals. Of course, when you have 24/7 packet access to the cluster you donít need to learn anything else about operating beyond recognising your own callsign (and if youíre EA5ECY you donít even need to do that, as you seem to think your callsign bears some resemblance to UX0BB!) and hitting the button that sends 5NN. You donít need to listen to what the station is actually sending. Or recognise when someone is taking you for a ride.
100 QSOs later my host was staring to get bored, and I too was getting fed up with some of the appalling behaviour in the pile. When my fellow WWYCer Fabian DJ1YFK called in I decided to call it a day. Two other stations kept calling within a 250Hz window despite my giving his call first time!
The alertness prize goes to G3SWH who was the only person sharp enough to ask me my QTH. By the time this happened I was laughing too much to even try and explain, so I just sent EU-115 and left it at that.
As I said, I do feel a bit guilty about doing this especially as I was taking up prime a DXing spot at the bottom of the band at local sunset, but I do wonder why people spend time in pile-ups chasing stations that are clearly of no interest to them for awards. I also wonder why people who clearly have internet or packet access donít check things like where the particular IOTA reference is. Is that all ham radio is - a reason to hit a little button that sends your callsign for ten minutes just so you can hit another button to send 5NN at the end of it? Is that why interest in ham radio is waning - because we donít talk anymore?
Don't get me wrong, I love contesting as much as anyone, but all day, every day? Really? How boring!
To be fair, this isn't new. Back in the olden days, a mysterious operator called Slim, appeared on the bands signing 8X8A from Cray Island. This was alleged to be a new island which had errupted from the mid-Atlantic, which was sure to be accepted for DXCC status. Complete nonsense, probably made-up by a ship's radio officer who was very bored, but he managed to fool over 10,000 hams into making QSOs before he went off the air. I presume this was about the time when the island of Surtsey did indeed errupt from the mid-Atlantic. That counts as TF, though!
So what did I learn from this experience?
Firstly, I learned that my pile-up skills are badly out of shape, and my sending goes to pot when I'm under pressure. Itís a lot easier to clock up a 180 hour on Morse Runner than it is in the real world. If I get a licence for my holiday in Oman, Iím sure Iíll get a bit of practice, though!
I also, sadly, learned that we Europeans are simply the worst operators in the world. Sure, only a minority of us are, but that minority is large enough to spoil a pile up by destroying rates, and give Europe a bad name in the radio world. Why is it every DXpeditioner has the same story - Japanese a pleasure to work, a few bad American operators especially on SSB and the Europeans are a nightmare? Iíll tell you why they say that - because weíre shit, thatís why!
Finally it taught me just how great operators like 4L5A and CT1BOH are, who can run much bigger pile ups at 3 a minute solidly for 48 hours. You fellows can help out at our club station anytime! Either of you fancy doing Region 1 HF Field Day from G-land?
See you soon when I run a DXpedition from EU-005 in the near future! Maybe from the park at lunchtime when the weather improves!
Article written 30 December 2004