*EDITORIAL* Mobile DX…Limited Only by Imagination

Mobile dx is great fun and limited only by one’s imagination.  Furthermore, mobile stations are the most versatile of all!  Both statements seem to be a bit boastful?  Right?  Mobile ops can’t really feel they can do as well as a  base station can, with its tower, beam and all the gear?  Can they?  Well, I’m a mobile SSB DXer and I’m just as serious about making contacts as any home base dx chaser and I assure you…we can!

In my opinion, mobile stations are really only limited by an operator’s imagination, just as operating from a mobile doesn’t make him any less serious a station than one with a 6 element quad at 40 meters running 500 watts.  Our objective is the same — we both want to work Dx and we both want to add to our worked DXCC list and contacts worldwide.

It’s true that we mobile ops are limited in some small ways, but we also have many great advantages in other areas not available to home base stations…

One thing that needs to be talked about first is that being a mobile station does NOT make us a QRM generating AM splatter machine; nor do all mobile stations run “loud and proud”, with echo boxes, roger beeps and noise toys!  Far from the stereotypical image one might have of mobile ops, serious SSB DX Hunters working from the mobile do not and, in my case, will never!

As you can see by the Youtube video recording below,  mobile SSB ops are just as courteous and respectful on the band as home base guys…

SSB mobile stations can be a simple stock radio and magnet mount antenna combination such as mine; or one consisting of mast mounted verticals, wire dipoles or tilt and raise towers with stacked yagi beam setups.  In fact, mobiles are limited by the imagination and wants of the operator, the same as any home based stations.  Granted, we do not have as much room in an auto/caravan as the average shack but this is about our only disadvantage.

From the US state of Texas, I operate a very simple station — 100% mobile — with a magnet mount 60 inch antenna, on most days running 15-70 watts (Pictured right).  Not a “big gun” by anyone’s standards; simple and loads of fun to operate and capable of working great dx.  How is this possible you might ask?  Well with my limited station, I find that if I tune the band and listen more then I’ll have more success working the ‘new ones’ or ‘rare activations’.  In fact, I spend much more time looking and listening than calling, something I believe would help most stations —  mobile or home base — to listen twice as much as we talk.  In truth, I feel this is especially critical for mobiles with our limited antennas.

When I work activations and pile ups on rare stations I rarely try to call unless the dx is at least a 5/5 signal or better as I don’t want to add QRM to an already congested frequency. I understand my limited antenna system does not hear — nor does it transmit as well as larger antennas — so I pick my ‘dx battles’ carefully.  As a mobile, you know your signal is half or less that of the stations you’re competing against so ‘call timing’ during a pileup is an art you’ll learn well!

Mobile ops have some very distinct advantages to the home based operator.  In addition to the propensity to listen more and rely more on skills such as ‘call timing’ to break through a pileup, we’re not tied to the noise generated in and around the home.  No home has been designed to be radio friendly.  My personal home QTH has a “normal” noise level of S-5 + most days caused by electric lines hum, compact fluorescent light noises, computers, TV’s, etc.  Instead, I’ve seen noise levels reduced by 2-4 S units simply by moving 100 feet or closer to the saltwater bay locations near my home.  At home, however, I’d have no way to reduce most of this noise.

Evidence suggests that mobile stations are all around as they truly are the most versatile.  Many mobile DXers can move to a high hill or mountain point, park the station, put up a simple dipole in the trees and work dx to a worldwide audience!  Simple and very effective.  I’ve also made amazing contacts with maritime mobile stations too, guys operating from inland waterways in Europe on barges, IOTA mobile stations, normal auto based mobiles, ships and fishing vessels many miles offshore, etc.  A mobile QRP station I worked once was running 1 watt from an office tower in New York City, a walking mobile station.  I’ve also worked an airplane (aeronautical dx) on 11 meters just a few weeks ago!  Awesome!

Some mobile ops like myself will drive to the beach or a magnificent waterside park and enjoy low take off angles from our verticals antennas and also the reduced noise levels, both great for working dx.  On the other hand, some lucky mobile stations enjoy the best of both worlds and operate from high points overlooking saltwater.

Some days, I enjoy the versatility of mobile ops by operating a station from a city park near my home.  There I enjoy seeing people walking dogs, biking, swimming and fishing.  You just don’t get this while working as a base station.  At times, people are curious enough to ask questions about the radio and many enjoy listening to a distant dx country – just as much as we do working the contact!  Even a short 1000 km stateside USA contact is a real wonder to most non-radio folks, things we think of as “normal or not real dx!”  You never know – such contacts with non-radio folks might spark an interest that turns into another radio hobbyist!?!?!?

Other times I chase dx from the beach at the Gulf of Mexico, a short 12 km drive from my home.  The wonderful sights, sounds of the outdoors is a great bonus!  It’s normal to see a multitude of different sea birds and occasionally a coyote or deer foraging in the sand dunes.  At our local beach I can setup with saltwater surrounding my station on three sides for miles. In this area, noise levels are normally very low and my receiver hears much better than at my home or in any other city environment. Couple this low noise with some propagation and you have the formula for great DXing.

Here in South Texas you never know what will come along the beach…  We even see a few cowboys (Pictured right)!  Compare this to the average home shack!  Mobile stations just might have an advantage?  We certainly do in this area and I’m sure other mobile DXers would have similar tales to share.

I’ve found that the dx receive conditions are much better along the sea shore than in my city or at my home.  Noise levels are dramatically reduced and many dx contacts are made not moving the signal meter at all!  Only the audio coming through!  During low propagation with higher background noise these contacts would be completely covered up. Until I operated a mobile at these type locations I just wondered what was down in the noise levels, now I do know – many dx contacts!

Just a few days ago, for example, I worked a long path 43 division operator.  He and I were both signal 0, audio was readable, just audio coming through. This contact was 10-15 minutes over 20,000+ kilometers.  Amazing!

I have, at times, decided to set up mobile for half a day or all day if my time allows.  I take some coffee, a cooler with snacks and make dx contacts for several hours with just the beach sights and sounds as a background.  It’s very relaxed dx and great fun.

Such ‘one man expeditions’ give me an opportunity to start DXing during the early morning and evening hours as the grey-line dx begins.  Working the grey-line as the band begins to open is exciting.  Grey-line propagation lets us hear and log contacts from rare, not often heard countries. For mobile stations with our limitations in antennas, this is a powerful tool to gain access to areas of the world we might never hear.  For me, the evening dx is just as exciting too but from another side of the world most days.

Many ops like myself take advantage of the ability to move from one location to better ones such as those mentioned previously (e.g. hilltops, ocean shores, etc.).  Once we arrive, a simple ground plane antenna can then be setup and it’s away we go.  It doesn’t take long either.  Setting up my short 10 foot mast with a 5/8 wave vertical is done single handed in 20 minutes or so — unroll a short coil of coax and I’m on the air.  The vertical is marked for quick assembly so setting SWR is quick and easy once I’ve made the initial setup. If my time is limited, though, I just use the auto top magnetic mount antenna and still make many contacts.

And if the dx can’t make me stay for the day….the fishing normally keeps me with something to do!  In about 20 minutes, for instance, I can have a couple fishing rods baited and be out in the Gulf to check the fishing!  It’s just impossible to have a bad day with the mobile setup and fishing bait in the water!

I really like to see a spot on the clusters that note “M” as a mobile.  These are contacts I really seek out and enjoy.   Most ops I QSO with, however, don’t know I operate mobile if they’re not told during the QSO.  Many are very surprised!

For my part, I’m always interested in the setup of other mobile ops….their radio, antenna/s and where they’re operating from.  What I’ve found is that mobile stations are extremely varied….from simple to complex.  Today with wireless networks covering most areas, for example, connecting to the web with laptops/tablets or a phone is very simple. Even shooting and posting web videos for contact proofs is easily handled by mobile setups.  After all, we’re not the old channel 19 am monsters anymore, rather ‘high-tech mobile radio shacks on wheels’.

My personal mobile station (Pictured top) is a rather simple setup – just a radio, antenna and my tablet computer.  This makes searching out my favourite Dx Cluster, spotting rare contacts, or checking a radio club website for  activations, just a few mouse clicks away!  Checking emails from my contacts or scheduling a time for QSO’s can be done as fast from a mobile connection as in your home office in all but the most remote areas.  Most mobile radio stations these days are really at the cutting edge of new technology!

Some mobile station ops take these basic station ideas much farther, setting up more complex stations including mobile tower setups, rotors and large beams!  Nothing is overlooked…computer logbook entry, cluster monitoring, computerized maps and beam headings……mobiles are truly limited only by the operator’s imagination!  These top of the line mobile units, in my opinion, have as much versatility as any home base station.

The station pictured left is designed for comfort and to work dx from.  Set-up in France, high on a bluff overlooking the English Channel, dual operators calling and making worldwide dx contacts!  These are serious ops with serious stations, which include wireless computers and data, rotors, movable masts complete with a yagi beam. Everything you would want in a home radio shack but designed as a mobile.  Take these ‘engineered for dx’ stations to any location and the worldwide communication aspect of our hobby really opens up!  Does it get any better? I think it does!

Combine these radio working conditions with a serious op and you have a station that can compete and do well in any dx contest.  They may be a mobile station but they can work dx activations and rare divisions as well as any home based station. I dare say better than most?  Essentially, with serious setups like these stations the words “Mobile” takes on a new meaning!

Pictured below right, this 3 element yagi beam is secured high on a headland, overlooking the saltwater in one of the best ever dx locations!  The beam in this photo is looking across the English Channel across England and working stations into the Americas and beyond.  Setup in France on a high overlook, it takes advantage of low noise, signals transmit with low take off angles over the saltwater, miles of open water.  Add any band conditions, even low numbers to this setup and the logbook will fill up in a hurry!  Not what most folks think of as a “mobile station”.

Just a few days ago, in low band conditions, I was about to go home for the evening when I heard a 43 division station calling CQ.  It was late afternoon, early evening, the band was closing and stations were very weak.  I returned the call on a QSY frequency and learned he was mobile.  I explained that my station was mobile also and that my location was at a saltwater bay.  He also was at saltwater, at a beach setting up as a mobile to work dx for the day.  The 43 division station asked if I could take a few minutes and give him a signal check after he put up a beam? I told him my conditions were bad but would be happy to return his call if I was able to hear him this late in the evening. I was very interested in his mobile setup so I waited about 15 minutes, then started calling as he turned a yagi towards south Texas. I was very surprised, once his beam was oriented to Texas as his signal came up from 4/4 off his Wilson 1000 to a 10 db over 9 levels on the beam.  He was at a beach using a crank up tower and yagi combination attached to his caravan/motor home. This is the mobile dream station, in my mind, a home on wheels with a radio shack and access to the best dx locations. Our QSO lasted well into the night-time of south Texas…..mobile to mobile!  His station overlook description could only be described as fabulous!

Another area where mobiles have a great advantage, in my eyes, is when operating an activation.  Undertaking an IOTA activation tells me you’re most likely a mobile. Waterway activations are maritime mobiles in some cases too. Land based activations are many times motor homes or auto based stations as well.

As you can see by the video recording above, the mobile station really is the most versatile of all stations. We’ve all seen web photos of all types of mobile ops…guys operating from backpacks doing a SOTA activation, from bicycles and motorcycles, autos and vans, trucks, boats, barges, sailboats and more.  They can be battery powered, solar powered, running ¼ watt to 1000+ watts, all with one thing in common……they are all mobile operations.

I know of mobile ops who’ve worked and confirmed well over 100 DXCC.  What’s more, many of these contacts were made during sunspot minimums.  Me personally, I’ve worked 90+ DXCC during the last couple years with only a mobile radio and a 60 inch magnet mount antenna. I say these things not as a boast, but rather to explain and show what can be done with very simple, low cost, mobile station.

The dx stations and beam pictured above working the world from an overlook in France might work 50+ divisions in a single weekend!

In wrapping up, these are just a few pictures and observations from a mobile op’s point of view, so please understand my comments are not meant to be negative towards home based stations.  Instead, they highlight the many great things about operating from a mobile station of any type — that it’s great fun and limited only by an operator’s imagination.

We mobile guys are serious dx hunters and I’m sure I speak for most when I say “hope to hear you on the air!” from the great outdoors!

73 de Garry, 333 Southern Texas