Last updated: 2014-04-27
Notice: © 1994 to 2014, Chris R. Burger. This document may be reproduced as required for personal use, and may be freely referenced from other Web sites. However, publication elsewhere, in full or in part, requires express prior written permission from the author.
At least since the Second World War, the DX Century Club (DXCC) has been the prime benchmark for DXing achievement. As the name implies, the basic admission requirement for DXCC membership is that one has to provide proof of two-way contacts with at least 100 countries. A standardised list of countries (now called "entities" in a case of political correctness gone haywire) is maintained, and now sports 340 current countries. Approximately 55 countries have been deleted. They still contribute to an individual's all-time totals.
The basic DXCC programme has been expanded over the years, and separate DXCC awards are now available for each HF and VHF band (except 5 MHz) and for Mixed, Phone, CW and RTTY modes. There is also a Five Band DXCC (5BDXCC) award for over current 100 countries on each of 3,5, 7, 14, 21 and 28 MHz, and an Honour Roll for those who need less than 10 current countries on a specific mode (Mixed, Phone, CW or Digital).
South African participation was reasonably high from the early days, with several dozen South Africans on the annual membership list in the Fifties. Unfortunately, as the Rand has continued its inexorable slide, participation dwindled to less than half a dozen members in the early Eighties. Apart from application fees, there was also the matter of shipping QSL cards to be checked; the cards had to be sent to ARRL Headquarters in Newington, Connecticut, and enough postage had to be provided for their return. These costs mounted up, and with the cost of the dollar being what it is, many have opted not to make an annual submission.
Around 1985, I started publishing an extract of all South Africans in every annual membership list. This list eventually grew into the South African DXCC Gallery, containing all South Africans who have ever received a DXCC award. The Gallery is supplemented by a list of DXCC Firsts in south Africa and a DXCC history for South Africans. The latter contains a complete list of all South Africans and their totals in every published annual list, going back to the start of post-war DXCC in 1947.
South Africans have earned every type of DXCC, except that for 432 MHz. There are currently several South Africans on the Honour Roll, on Mixed Modes, CW and Phone. The Satellite and 144 MHz DXCC lists each feature a single South African, while the other single-band DXCC lists all contain several locals.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, the ARRL investigated ways of making the DXCC programme more attractive, a process that culminated in the DXCC 2000 revamp. These changes included the proposal that offshore checking would be allowed through authorised national checkpoints. Fortunately, we had been in regular communication with the DXCC administrators over the years, and when the first countries to participate in offshore checking were selected, South Africa was one of only nine countries on that list.
During 2001, Tjerk Lammers ZS6P completed the accreditation process. Apart from having to be an ARRL and a DXCC member in good standing, Tjerk also had to write an examination on procedures. He can check most QSL cards, and forward the certified application to DXCC for further processing. The cards never have to leave the country.
The introduction of the Logbook of the World transformed the DXCC programme. Its electronic confirmations have not only reduced the time required for confirmations from months to hours, but have also greatly reduced the cost.
The final change was introduced in 2012, when the Online DXCC system went live. Applicants wanting to submit paper cards now enter their own QSO details into the system before submitting the cards for checking. Careful applicants can maintain lower error rates, while ARRL has passed the savings in manpower on to applicants in the form of lower fees and quicker turnaround times.
Presumably as a result of these changes, South African participation in DXCC has shown a great resurgence in recent years. During 2013, around 60 applications from 29 different ZS stations were processed. These stations represented the ZS1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 call areas.
There is some effort involved in DXCC participation. Apart from making the contacts, one has to obtain confirmations and submit an application to ARRL.
Why would one want to do it?
There is certainly no reason why a DXer cannot chase countries in isolation, and in silence. The DXCC list provides a good benchmark for what constitutes a country, as the country (or "Entity") list has evolved for more than half a century. Using this list, it is quite possible to pursue DX on your own.
I find DXCC appealing mainly for one reason: the fact that it offers a mechanism for objective scrutiny of one's DXing achievements.
We've all heard individuals making impossible or unlikely claims. They may be misguided (like miscopying a callsign and firmly believing they had worked some exotic DX) or deliberate (in a pathetic attempt at fame). Although such individuals are occasionally unmasked, they don't seem to get the hint that their activities are frowned upon. In the interim, legitimate claims from other operators are debased by those false claims.
It is easy to make spurious claims. It is much more difficult to fake a DXCC application, and one can accept that DXCC totals are unlikely to be inflated significantly. To be sure, there are those who fib even in their DXCC applications, but one can assume that the checking process will weed out all but the most determined of cheats.
The bottom line: When you're comparing unaudited claims of DXing prowess, there is definitely room for doubt. However, when you're comparing DXCC scores, there is little doubt: Most of those on the list have played by the same rules, gone through the same scrutiny and come up clean. You really are comparing like with like.
Incidentally, even if you are that way inclined, resist the temptation to make exaggerated claims. Your peers will probably have a very good idea of your actual standing, and you will inevitably pick sour fruits if your claims exceed your actual achievements, when those claims are challenged in public.
In fact, many DXers pursue paper cards in any case. Paper cards are interesting to look at and fun to collect, regardless of whether you need them for DXCC credit or not.
Although one can easily obtain QSL cards for 100 countries through the bureau, anyone who is in a hurry must definitely pursue QSLs by air mail. Most pragmatic DXers use a combination of both methods. Using the bureau for common countries saves a lot of money, but takes time. Some rarer countries can only be confirmed by direct air mail or through a QSL manager. The Internet features many excellent sources of QSL information. Make good use of these sources; they save considerable effort and expense, as misdirected QSLs are very unlikely to be answered.
Think carefully about relying on the bureau for a rare confirmation. Although most QSL managers play by the rules, some do not and using the bureau is a waste of time. Unfortunately, QSL managers who do not use the bureau are often more mercenary than most, and may not be around when you decide one day that you want a QSL. By then, it may be too late and your once-in-a-lifetime QSO may remain unconfirmed forever. If you are serious about your DXing and you are not financially destitute, it is probably not a bad idea to order QSL cards for your really rare contacts immediately.
The quickest and most cost-effective way of requesting air mail confirmations is an Online QSL Request System (OQRS). Such a system allows you to enter QSO details and pay a small fee (normally via PayPal), after which a QSL is mailed to you directly. When you take into account the cost of mailing a request and providing return postage, an OQRS is often not a bad bargain. Many DX stations use ClubLog to power their OQRS. If you are looking for a direct card, ClubLog is not a bad place to start. If the log is there, you can check whether your contact is in the log. If the station has an active OQRS, you can submit your request directly and expect a card reasonably quickly. Just don't forget that major DXpeditions have tens of thousands of requests to work through, so a delay of a month or two is not unreasonable.
These days, there are three ways of applying for DXCC:
LotW requires a once-off registration process, to establish your legitimacy with ARRL. Once you have registered, you can submit logs relatively effortlessly, without a significant risk of your logs being tampered with. Many DXers regard the registration process as painful. However, it is a once-off process. Once it has been completed, you should never need to register again.
Once you log into LotW, you can see see your current DXCC standing by selecting Awards and then the DXCC account corresponding to your callsign. A table will appear, showing the available credits. Once you have enough credits to apply for DXCC, use the Application button and work through the different stages. Select the credits to be applied to your DXCC.
Once your application has been submitted, the relevant credits will move from the first to the second column (i.e. from "New LotW QSLs" to "LotW QSLs in Process"). Once the application has been processed, the credits will appear in the "DXCC Credits Awarded" column.
Within a day or so after processing, your new totals will appear in the daily DXCC lists.
Online DXCC is a completely separate system from LotW. You need separate login credentials. Once you have logged in, you can start entering details from your paper QSL cards. The order is not important, as long as the QSOs are entered in the same order as the cards are kept in the pile.
Once you have entered all the QSOs, print the application form. Now submit the form and all the QSL cards, in their correct sequence according to the application form, to Tjerk for checking.
You must supply Tjerk with the following:
You must also provide a means of payment for the application. The easiest is a credit card, of which you can enter the details at the time of application.
Tjerk may delete some cards from your application, if he finds any errors in your data entry, alterations on your cards or other non-compliance with the rules. DXCC rules state specifically that cards with alterations are unacceptable, regardless of whether those alterations were made by the originator or not. Once Tjerk has checked that your cards correspond to your list, he will mail the certified application directly to the ARRL. He will then return your cards to you. If you're going to submit the cards to Tjerk in person, be sure to make prior arrangements. It may take Tjerk some time to check all the cards. Remember that he is doing it as a volunteer, and is not being compensated for his services.
Depending on the workload at ARRL, your application could be processed quickly or not so quickly. In the past, a turnaround time of six weeks was regarded as normal. These days, LotW applications are routinely processed within a week (sometimes in minutes!) while Online applications can take a week or two. The worst time to apply is in January, as it is the time when the DXCC Yearbook is compiled, and there may be a delay of several weeks before all December applications are complete. Only then will they start working on January applications.
Once your application has been processed, the ARRL will mail you a copy of your records and any certificates you may have earned. There are endorsements for more than the 100 basic entry level, and stickers will be included to honour all your achievements. Additions to the DXCC are recognised instantly on the daily DXCC listings, and in the annual DXCC Yearbook. The Yearbook is now circulated electronically to ARRL members, and contains a summary of activity during the year, a complete membership list for all DXCCs and a number of interesting articles. Usually, there are articles of general interest, and some describing several of the year's most spectacular DXpeditions.
Once your DXCC has been issued, you are entitled to use the letters DXCC on your QSL card. While the basic Mixed or single mode award is relatively simple, and can be earned in just a few months, a higher endorsement level or a single-band DXCC on a band such as 1,8 or 50 MHz is an achievement you can be proud of. Only five ZS stations (ZS6LW, ZS6EZ, ZS4TX, ZS6P and ZS1AU) have ever worked all countries, so there is another goal that you might want to set yourself. A very challenging goal is Five Band DXCC. You will have to learn a lot about propagation to complete the required 100 on 80 m! 5BDXCC is a great accomplishment by anyone's standards, and only approximately a dozen South Africans have reached this milestone. 5BDXCC can be extended by earning DXCC on additional bands. 8BDXCC is relatively easy, but 9BDXCC and 10BDXCC are not trivial. They require you to tackle bands that can only be described as challenging. Only three South Africans have earned 9BDXCC, and only one has earned 10BDXCC.
Tjerk cannot check cards for 1,8 MHz contacts. All cards for 160 m contacts have to be submitted directly to ARRL. They are checked more carefully, including the time of day to ensure that the contact was possible, presumably because the possibility of altering 18 MHz cards is too great.
The rules would allow Tjerk to check cards for 1,8 MHz cards if he held a DXCC on that band. Perhaps you can contribute to future local card checking by joining my efforts to apply some friendly yet urgent pressure to Tjerk in this regard...
If you have cards that Tjerk cannot check, or you have cards with minor alterations that you feel that ARRL would accept even though Tjerk has rejected them, you can submit them directly to ARRL. Unfortunately, you cannot combine a certified list and single cards in a single application. If you are going to send any cards, you have to make a completely separate application.
In days gone by, most DXCC participants submitted cards only once a year. The postage costs and the amount of paperwork contributed to that situation. Also, most applicants waited until they had 102 or 103 or 104 confirmations before applying for a DXCC certificate, as there was always the chance that a card or two might be rejected.
These days, the rules of the game have changed. If you have 100 credits on LotW and the system says you are eligible for an award, you can apply immediately with no fear of rejection. With so many single-band and single-mode DXCCs being available, perhaps applying for each certificate as you qualify will provide you with a reasonable frequency of application.
Practically speaking, one can make only one submission in a year. Most people submit their applications in December, as 31 December is the closing date for submissions for the annual DXCC Yearbook lists. Personally, I now apply whenever I pass a significant threshold (e.g. 300 countries) on a specific band or mode. This policy resulted in four applications during 2013; some via LotW and some with paper cards via Online DXCC. I am also accumulating my 1,8 MHz cards. Once I become desperate enough, and if Tjerk has not obtained his DXCC on this band by then, I'll have to make a direct submission to ARRL. I may also include the odd card that has small alterations that do not materially affect the information on the card. Tjerk's instructions are unambiguous: Altered cards have to be rejected, regardless of how frivolous the alteration appears. He has also been instructed not to get involved in arguments about his decisions, but rather to refer queries to ARRL. And, believe me, Tjerk takes those instructions seriously!
A final note about Tjerk's duties: He cannot make any judgements about the legality of a specific station or its DXCC credentials. He also cannot rule on specific dates on which a station was or was not legal. He only checks that the cards correspond to what is entered on the application form. Once the forms have been submitted to ARRL, they will make a ruling on the legality of any specific operations, and advise the applicant directly.
The implementation of LotW and the appointment of a local DXCC card checker remove the last excuses that many DXers have offered against DXCC participation. The cost issues around sending cards to the USA and getting them back, and the risk of mail loss have both been addressed. There is now no excuse; get those cards together and apply for the world's most prestigious DX award! We hope the participation levels will soon get back to where they were in the Fifties...
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