Deliberate QRM (DQRM): What is it and What Can Be Done About It?

The Northern California DX Foundation is Looking for Answers

We’re sure you’ve heard the expression, “A few rotten apples spoil the whole bunch.” This seems to be increasingly, and alarmingly, applicable to ham radio these days. The rise of deliberate QRMers—those who anonymously create excessive and intentional human-generated noise often during rare activations—is hurting the hobby we love, and from all reports, it appears to be more than just a handful of poor-intentioned operators throwing proverbial wrenches into the proceedings. 

As noted by DX chasers during 3Y0J Bouvet Island 2023, DQRMers flooded the airwaves in full force. Here are a few of the posts from the 3Y0J Facebook page:

  • “The horrible intentional QRMing of this DXpedition is the worst I’ve heard. I’ve been a ham since the mid-1960s, and there have always been some bad actors out there. But it seems that they have all ganged up to cause trouble for this DXpedition and to the good hams out there trying to work them.”
  • “Been DXing since 1974 and this time, the DQRM was far worse than ever before. People who claim it was just one or two sick jammers apparently didn’t listen very much. I listened without transmitting for over 10 hours before I finally worked them. There were DOZENS of jammers at any one time on CW, and it was just as bad at the end as on their first day of operating.”
  • “I am thinking that those who would deliberately QRM a DXpedition wouldn’t bother to get a license.”
  • “We must discuss ways to reduce this evil.”

When the dust settled, many hams were quick to point out that these bad operators represented a minuscule percentage of hams—millions of whom play by the rules every day. Plus, they argue that highlighting their actions gives new and prospective hams a negative impression of a hobby that doesn’t deserve to be tarnished by the worst among us. Still others wondered if making it easier to obtain a license by eliminating the CW requirement has produced a pool of people who don’t fully appreciate what a privilege it is to be called a ham. Some longtime DX chasers said, in certain cases, the blame may partially rest with DXpeditioners who lack the experience to manage the chaos on the other side of the pileup.

We asked some operators at DX Engineering for their take on this ongoing issue.

“DQRM has been a problem for as long as I can remember tuning the bands, whether in a roundtable, contesting, or chasing DX,” said David Vest, K8DV, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist and Honor Roll member with 337 DXCC entities and the nine-band DXCC under his belt. “Lately, though, especially with Bouvet, it reached an all-time high. Sometimes the DQRM is just the unneeded activity of the ‘UP’ police, which in my opinion causes others to then get fired up and join in. Now, what was one guy sending/saying ‘up’ is ten or more.”  

“DQRM is really hard to explain to new guys, and it can discourage them quickly,” Vest continued. “And that’s part of the sad truth about it. I’m not ready to give up, and I know as soon as the next top-ten most-wanted DX comes along that the DQRM machine will get fired up again. I just wish those guys would learn the fun of the chase instead of wanting to be a DQRM generator.” 

Vest said he has had the most success fighting DQRM on CW using IF shift, narrow filtering, and other noise reduction controls which work as long as the DX has a decent signal.

“If they are really weak, then most times you just have to move on and wait for another opportunity,” he added.   

Wayne Smith, K8FF, DX Engineering customer/technical support specialist and Top of the DXCC Honor Roll for mixed modes, noted that DQRM has become “much worse of late.”

“A lot of it comes from frustration from ops that have poor antennas and can’t even hear the DX station,” he said. “They might have some satisfaction from preventing others from a QSO. We all know how many calls we receive from customers with HOA-restricted antennas or attic antennas. They don’t have a chance of hearing the DX much less of working them.”

Whether their motivations are nefarious, a reaction to being frustrated by not getting through themselves (i.e., If I can’t make a QSO, then no one will!), the result of inexperience or impatience, or simply to make mischief for their own kicks, DQRMers who are disrupting DXpeditions that took months of planning are a great concern in the ham radio community. Determining why the deliberate offenders engage in fringe, anti-social behavior like operating a “pirate” station using the same call as the DX station is a question better handled by a criminal psychologist. More importantly, hams want to find out how to identify and stop those who are lurking behind the din.

“In the past there has been some success in tracking down the perpetrator using reports from different monitoring stations and narrowing down the area, but this takes a lot of time and you could still be looking in an area the size of Texas,” Vest said.

Read this insightful article from Roger Western, G3SXW (SK) on how a notorious DQRMer living in Italy was identified by a group of sleuthing hams. In this case, the culprit was also a legitimate DX chaser who, upon making a QSO, began operating in a manner that would prevent others from doing the same. The goal of publicizing the successful identification of the perpetrator was to put other offenders on notice that their anonymity was at risk.

A New Initiative: The DQRM RPF Project

If you have an idea on how to pinpoint DQRMers, the Northern California DX Foundation wants to hear from you. The group recently wrote:

“The Northern California DX Foundation recognizes the negative aspect deliberate QRMers are having on our hobby. We believe this is a problem that can be mitigated by applying amateur operators’ vast knowledge and receiving tools to good use. In order to spur research into solving the problem the NCDXF Board of Directors at their latest Board meeting allocated $100,000 to help develop solutions. 

“NCDXF will entertain grant proposals from individuals and/or groups that specifically outline their approach to identify bad actors. A group of directors led by Craig Thompson (K9CT) and Don Greenbaum (N1DG) will weigh the probability of success of these proposals as well as monitor the progress of the grantees. 

“Funding is available for R & D as well as implementation of the technology. It is hoped that manufacturers will also assist us with equipment and resources. 

“NCDXF will shortly outline specifics for how to apply for these grants.”

Leave a Reply