I started in the DX game during the latter years of operation by the great W4BPD and W9WNV. My first DX was F5IP on 15M CW. That was in February of 1968. My station consisted of a Lafayette HA-700 receiver and a Lafayette Starflite (Heath DX-60 clone) transmitter.
The antenna was a base-loaded vertical with a ground rod and single radial as the counterpoise. Remember, I was only 15 years old at the time, and US Novice class licensees were limited to 75 watts and crystal control. Later that year I upgraded to General class and started DXing on 20/15M CW and 10M AM. By this time, I had also upgraded the
station to a Hallicrafters SX-117 receiver and a Johnson Ranger transmitter. I was still only running 75 watts, but at least I had a VFO now! It slowly dawned on me that the band was open to certain parts of the world at certain times of day, but even then, it wasn't always predictable.
I soon learned that it was futile to go head-to-head with the high power, large antenna guys. I noticed that the big guns typically called as soon as the DX stood by, and always zero beat. So, I tried delaying my calls
waiting for a break in the pile-up, and
then quickly slipping in my callsign. It often worked. On CW, I also tried purposely moving off zero beat a bit, to make a slightly higher pitched beat note. It made my signal stand out (assuming I wasn't completely covered up), and it often worked as well. This technique has the potential to be even more effective now than it was then (late 60s). Since
nearly everyone today uses transceivers, they almost always transmit zero beat (assuming they know how to operate their radios). Back then however, the only "serious" transceiver was the Collins S-line, so people using separate transmitters and receivers were often slightly
off frequency anyway (by accident).
In 1969, I started guest operating at some of the larger local stations. All these guys had rotary beams, and I soon realized that I often didn't know which way to point the antenna. I learned quickly
the hard way! It could be argued (in fact it was by some of my school chums) that ham radio DXing improved one's knowledge of geography.
My own experience however, was that knowing the heading to Tromelin or Spratly didn't do a thing to improve my grades. Others might argue (in fact, my parents did) that the time spent playing radio was time that would have been better spent studying. In retrospect, I turned my teen-age hobby into a lifetime profession. So who was right?
My first taste at operating from "the other side" occurred in 1970. Thanks to Gus Roblot, FP8AP (SK), I was able to visit St. Pierre et Miquelon and operate as FPØIZS (I was WA1IZS at the time). The pile-ups were intense, and I found it to be both exciting and exhausting.
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