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When To Sign Your Call
Home > HF Contesting > Tips and Techniques > When To Sign Your Call
This page discusses when to sign your call during a contest.
This article was written by Doug, K1DG, and originally posted to the CQ Contest reflector. It discusses the Very Important technique of knowing when best to sign your call during a contest.

Recently N6TJ said: 'Nosey very effectively signed his call after EVERY contact, and this did THREE things:

  1. I acknowledge the exchange and call you sent,
  2. I am KH6IJ,
  3. QRZ?

I think that guys running pileups go through three distinct levels of learning how to do it. The first-timers know that (1) and (3) are important. They do not realize that the operators calling them may have just tuned in and need to know who they are (item 2). You hear them on SSB completing QSOs literally with "QSL QRZ?" which is generally insufficient information and leads to a rate-slowing, frustrating-for-everyone chorus of "WHATZYERCALL?"

After a few years and maybe some friendly advice, they progress to the next stage, which is to sign the call after EVERY QSO. This technique is very effective. KH6IJ used it for years, and at the time of his career, it was probably the best going. I used to advocate this technique also, when it was the best I knew how to do.

I have now discovered the third level of skill. This involves knowing when it is possible to omit signing the call and save time. Some operators use a brute-force algorithm (e.g. "I sign my call after every third QSO"). That's not bad, but it can be improved if the pileup is small. It's unnecessary to sign your call if there is another station waiting who already knows it and will call you as soon as you sign enough to communicate number (1) above. (2) and (3) are not needed, because if the timing is right, the station waiting in the wings knows that the next thing you want after ACKing the first guy is a QSO, so there is no need for anything more than a "TU" or "R". In an ideal world, pulling two full calls from every "QRZ?" allows you to do this VERY effectively. Even a partial of the second guy's call is enough so you can call him and not invite QRM-causing newcomers to call. I was astounded this weekend to hear CN8WW, with their multiple-ears-with-different-antennas-and-receivers-on-the-pileup-technology and resources, pull 3 complete calls out of one CQ when I called them. They saved the time involved in signing their call superfluously three times, since all 3 of us knew who they were already.

I believe that the top ops are able to use their judgment intelligently for this adaptive method. As Neiger the Tiger says, knowing when NOT to sign your call is as important as knowing WHEN to sign it. To paraphrase Einstein: "You should sign your call as infrequently as possible, but not more infrequently." The best example of this I heard last weekend was OX/N6ZZ's run on 40 Sunday morning (funny how TJ used Phil's callsign-challenged circumstance as an example of when NOT to ID too often). Phil had a small, skilled group calling, and seemed to know instinctively when to complete a QSO with "R" and when to sign the call. His speed was perfectly suited to the conditions (funny Zone-40 fading), and it was the smoothest run I have heard in a long time; he always answered a correct full call, and I did not hear a single "?" or "CL?" from a potential caller.

It is likely that there is another level of pileup management I have not discovered yet - one that guys like AR, ZD, the TJs, and such have mastered. (Note to self...check to see if N1TJ is available...something strangely Karmic about that suffix) I know those guys have figured out multiplier-finding better, so I still have lot to learn. Maybe someday I'll get good enough at it that my good friend YT3T will also accuse *me* (in jest, of course) of being a packet-watcher. I guess that's the ultimate compliment.

TJ the Elder also said: 'It is IMPORTANT for all to remember, the DX station is in-charge, and dictates as to how he chooses to operate. Everyone else has the absolute freedom to call him, or not. But it's HIS pileup. Let him run it the way he wants. If you think you're better, than YOU go out and prove it!'
W6NL once said that you can't educate an operator during a contest - from either end of the pileup. The 48-hour period is only for making QSOs as fast as possible under the circumstances - and that means working a certain percentage of less-skilled ops. You can only teach by example during the event. I'm glad we have a forum like CQ-Contest to provide the post-contest educational service.

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