5B DXCC: expensive wallpaper, bad investment

I warned you last time (here) that I started thinking about some things in Ham Radio…

Years ago I selected a stack of carefully treasured QSL cards, filled in the requiered documents and took the works to the ARRL DXCC Field Checker for Belgium. I paid a fee and received a certificate that is now framed and a part of the shack: “DXCC CW”. A while later I jumped on the LotW-bandwagon and got an endorsement for another few dozen entities. Honnestly: achieving basic DXCC means squat.  It’s easy. Even 250 entitites CW only is easy. It’s easy with a setup like mine that is. Running QRP with an indoor antenna might be a bigger challenge.

A little harder but still quite manageable is 5 Band DXCC. Since I put up the 80m vertical and added a touch of QRO, even on 80m there is nothing hard about working 100 entities from here in EU. I have lost track of the score in paper cards let alone finding the cards. So thanks to LotW one day I achieved 5B DXCC CW. Nothing I consider special and I didn’t specifically work towards it – it just happenend along the way. And I was glad I discovered it, as you can read in my “5BDXCC in CW” post a few years ago.

So why not apply for the 5BDXCC award through the LotW system? A few clicks, a few bucks – et voilà. Not so it seems. I didn’t find a way to do this in one easy move. So I quit looking. Then I came across AE5X‘s post called: “Economics of DXing – the $200 5B-DXCC“. I quote:

For 5B-DXCC, the ARRL requires such an applicant to apply (and pay for) 5 separate DXCC certificates. You can then pay an additional fee for the plaque to adorn your I Love Me wall. The 5 certs cost $135, the plaque is $65. At first that sounded expensive since everything is virtual.

AE5X concludes that 200 US Dollars for LotW 5B DXCC is a bargain compared to ‘the old skool paper QSL alternative’ which takes longer and sending direct cards to rare entities with return postage for a few hundred cards is much more expensive. He’s right when you look at it his way.

ON5ZO's Alternative DXCC Wallpaper
ON5ZO's Alternative DXCC Wallpaper

But I look at it ON5ZO’s way, of course. 200 US $ for what? For another paper on my wall that apart from myself hardly anyone ever sees? As a written proof of me having 5x 100 entities confirmed on the 5 regular HF bands? My LotW DXCC standings table already shows it and is as good as a written proof! And a 5BDXCC plaque is something that you actually buy. I can go to the awards and trophy shop in the next town and have myself engraved a plaque for whatever achievement.
Furthermore I have a rule about money spent on the hobby. Every possible purchase or investment is checked against these simple conditions: “Will it bring me more DX? Will it improve my score in contesting? Will it enhance my fun on the bands?”. Well: 200 $ for 5B DXCC fails miserably on all three.

25 replies on “5B DXCC: expensive wallpaper, bad investment”

Jeff that’s an important point about the nuebmr of contacts. If I remember correctly, some of the earlier contests had rules that really limited the nuebmr of contacts you could make. Now, a multi-two station here in the States could garner 7,000 contacts in a weekend. With all the associated QSL costs.Nice addition. Thanks.

Very good point about the cost and how you at your shack justify the outlay of money. As for me the only DXCC I am going for is the 75th Jubilee award. But for me it may be a bit difficult as I am QRP and am running an attic dipole. Up to this point I am at 68 countries worked thanks to the ARRL CW contest that just pasted.

I’ll give you the opposing viewpoint, as I paid for both 5BWAS *and* 5BDXCC certificates *and* plaques via LotW:

My rule on expenditures: I work pretty hard to earn my money and pay the rent, the grocery bills, for kids needs, family needs, ever increasing costs of gas for the cars and oil for the furnace, save for retirement, etc. At the tiny end of this funnel of money, a bit trickles out that I spend on fun for myself.

I became a ham in 1969, and have never had more than a wire antenna or vertical up in the air. I’ve always loved talking to people far away and tracking DX countries was always fun but I didn’t even get DXCC until 1987 – I just looked at the cards coming in from the bureau until I had 100 different countries. That certificate was very cool – I enjoyed receiving it in the mail and it was worth the $12 or whatever it cost.

I did what the Japanese call “the long QRT” from 1996 to 2009 as family and work took precedence. I got back on in 2009 and LotW was an amazing thing to me – I could actually see progress towards 5BDXCC and I had a blast chasing band-countries and band-states for 5BWAS – I never even tracked it before. LotW didn’t cost me anything to use – an amazing thing.

In December 2011 I pushed my 10M total above 100 and got the last few states on 10 as well – 5BDXCC (actually 8B!) and 5BWAS (actually 6B with 160m) at essentially the same time. When I was a novice operator, those awards seemed to me to be the apex of operating, only achieved by old timers with huge amplifiers and huge antennas. Especially those wooden plaques! Getting there will wires and towards the end small amps was a very satisfying achievement to me.

When I figured out the cost of getting the ARRL certificate and plaques, three things went through my mind:

1. Yikes!
2. LotW is free – I’d rather spend the money on supporting LotW than send most other things I could support in ham radio.
3. Only I will see those plaques in my basement, and the certificates will go in a drawer but I’ve always wanted them on my wall.

Points 2 and 3 outweighed point 1. On point 2, I have no guarantee any of my $$ actually will help LotW get better, but I think some of it will.

On Point 3: I’m didn’t get the plaques for anyone else but me to look at! Every time I look at those plaques I think of 40 years ago working my first ON on 40M CW and how exotic that felt – and then think about checking LotW and seeing that 5B4 10M QSL that put me over the top for 5BDXCC, and how much fun that was – the $$ spent still feel worth it.

Also, when I’m trying to work 3C0E and hear the QRM on his frequency, and the pileup that never listens and all the other sad aspects that pollute DXing, I look at those plaques and think “serenity now, serenity now” (a “Seinfeld” reference that may be NA-specific..) and it keeps me from pulling the plug and going on another long QRT!

73, John K3TN

You’re totally right Frank, I might do it myself this way.
CQ fees however are not expensive, I have a few WAZ awards (chasing WAZ RTTY and 5BWAZ now) and they came for like 16 US$ when I wasn’t having CQ membership, I think it’s now 12US$ if you are.

I’m now aiming especially for 5BWAZ (entry level, 150) with this stupid piece of wire I have and 100W, that’ll keep me busy for another while! (134 zones confirmed)

Hi Frank,
I know WAZ is more difficult but that’s where the fun lies and I have to be honest, I’m pretty proud having WAZ CW on the wall here. That CQ awards will be through LoTW I knew about, alas WPX is first in the row, I hope that the WAZ program follows quickly.

I guess you’re right on the wire, worked some really nice DX the last few years including pretty rare ones in the Pacific.
You never know what will happen.

73, good DX.

I did the check: I’m missing 5 zones on 80m. That will be the hardest I guess, with stuff like KL7, KH6 and deep pacific rarities. Once I heard a loud and workable KH7 there, but it was in ARRL CW of course!

DW4WIN also tells me I only have 39/40 on 10m which is strange: although I worked a few z2 on ten, it says I’m missing zone 2!

All 40 zones worked on 15,20,30 and 40. Only a few missing on 17 and 12. Maybe in 2024 when cycle 25 peaks?

We’ll see what LotW says once it supports the WAZ award.

You say: “You never know what will happen.“, well that’s exactly what the fun is. Sometimes nothing, sometimes the best DX. Of course it’s more fun to work DX than to work nothing. 🙂

Someone even sent me a blank original ARRL DXCC template! I don’t know where he got it from, but you just need to add your name and call with some graphic editing software ‘et voilà’ 🙂

Where can I get that template? Sure would like to have one. I am one of those totally bummed out with the ARRL 5BDXCC award. Sounds like a cash cow to me.

Jim, a friend sent it by mail and I thought I saved the attachement but it seems I didn’t. QRX – I asked to send it again.

QSL. I did get the regular DXCC certificate, which I do have. But this process to submit all 5 bands at $31 for the first and $12 for the other 4 and then another $31 for the 5BDXCC is not something I want to do plus endorsement costs. But current counts are:
80 = 118
40 = 107
20 = 116
15 = 114
10 = 103

and 30 = 202, 17 = 155. Sure seems like enough to me.

I’ve given up ever getting this from the ARRL. Big waste of $$, IMO.

Well, meanwhile I don´t even care about getting the QSL from a rare one. I just put them down in my log and enjoy. I don´t need the ARRL to tell me that I´ve worked them all. The last thing I would spend 200 bucks for is a piece of paper ….

Lots of very good points. I have looked at DXCC and any Amateur award differently. I have a small station, one dipole about 200 feet on a side and fed with 450 ohm ladder line, also a inverted “L” for 160 with about 4000 feet of radials. I operate just 100 watts and CW only. Ok now saying all of that, my feelings are if I can work DXCC with a small station I feel pretty proud of what I have done. In fact I have worked 9 band DXCC (160 – 10) all CW all with the 2 antennas and 100 watts. I have 317 countries with 312 current countries. Also I have DX Challenge and stand at 1460 confirmed and 1536 worked, for the next award there Yes all the certificates and plaques cost a lot but it’s a one time cost. Having been licensed for 41 years, if you spread the cost out it’s not too bad.
Bruce NJ3K

Obtaining DXCC with a 241m high tower, a tribander and QRO = easy.
Doing the same with 100W and modest low non-resonant antennas = harder.
DXCC with QRP and indoor antennas = very hard.


Hi Frank,

This is the ‘why spent money on a hobby at all’ discussion. I have the 6m and 160m DXCC certs … don’t like the easy things hihi … but I share John’s K3TN thought. Every time I look at those certs, I do remember those nice 50MHz QSO’s I made: European first on 50MHz with J6, that difficult QSO with VP8, that 20 seconds (!) opening to V7 where I worked V73AT etc. etc…

And then, other people spend money on a painting they like, why not on a $200 piece of wood that confirms something that you put time in and have fun with. I could even take this further: why put anything on a wall? What is the purpose of having something hanging on a wall at all? I guess you have things on your wall in the house too? This is a non-discussion really. Why drive a more expensive car than a Dacia? Why live in a big house if a small appartment also keeps you dry and warm.

I would spent money on this because of the memories that comes with it. And I don’t know why I like a blue car more than a red one so I can’t answer the question why I like a piece of wood with some colors on it. 🙂

… and see you in a contest ! … don’t have you in my log yet I just noticed 🙂

I think you may have misunderstood the ARRL’s requirements for 5-Band DXCC. I have the award, but I did not need to obtain or pay for individual awards for each band. The current ARRL website says this:

“Special note: If you also want the 5 individual single-band certificates, check each box for these on part three of the LoTW application process. In this case you will receive 5 single-band certificates in addition to the 5 band DXCC certificate. But, if you only want the 5 Band DXCC certificate do not check anything relating to the 5 individual bands.”

ARRL is not trying to gouge you or anyone else with fees for unwanted awards. If you don’t want the individual-band awards, don’t order them.

73 de Barrie, W6DX

Hi Barrie

Funny, this old post still gets quite some views, and even a reply now.
I was commenting on a post by AE5X (who took his site down a few months ago). I have a friend who paid exactly the same amount, if I remember. I don’t think the ARRL is ripping people off. DXCC and the whole award system built around it, is their business. It’s up to us wether we pay or we don’t. I have lost interest in the DXCC award program and thus prefer not to spend any money on it.
That said, maybe there will be a day that I will do a paid upgrade for a new sticker. I have the basic ‘CW only’ award on the wall. I’m not even sure but I think the last sticker says 150 or maybe 200. That’s how much I care ;o)
I found the WAS award harder to achieve. That one is on the wall too. 9 BAND WAS, that might be a nice goal. But KH6 and KL7 on 80/160 with my setup???


Hi Frank–

I was lookingg for information about using LoTW credits for the WAZ award, and somehow the search engine found your post. Who knows how the Google monster thinks?

I still chase DXCC; I need two more (Heard Is. and Crozet Is.) for Number 1 Honor Roll, which is a lifetime goal of mine. I may apply for 5 Band WAZ also; I think I already have the needed cards and/or LoTW credits.

Good luck on your 9-band WAS! Obviously you have too much spare time!

73 de Barrie

What to say other than a bad investment for bad A4 or A3 paper.
I think such ARRL awards should be free as a reward for our efforts in developing our movement, not as a business challenge.
each amateur radio federation of countries should award such prizes to its members according to the same rules, but not pay ARRL $ for worked QSOs.
Every work and working time is rewarded, and radio amateurs pay when they finish works.
I don’t remember you paying a prize in any sport? maybe I’m wrong ..

In the end, almost everything boils down to money.
I can understand the ARRL charges a fee but my inital beef was the fact that it costs WAY TOO MUCH and I don’t give a damn about the DXCC award program.
Working DX is fun, working contests is my passion.

I got my DXCC in 1974 and figured that was all I needed. I had more cards and the dx was in my log. But 30 years later, I decided I wanted to get credit for them and took them to the ARRL to be added. All went smoothly, but I also realized that around 1980 I worked 5 or 6 rare ones and hadn’t bothered to follow through on the QSLs. Now I’m kicking myself when I see those high on the most wanted list and let them slip through my fingers. I’ve always said the awards and cards are just for me, but now I’m retired and am more into it. I wish I could still get those rare cards and I no longer have a tower and big tri-bander (plus some are now deleted). I’d say get them when you can and use LoTW which is a real game changer. I’m a former QSL manager, but I love getting cards the next day rather than waiting several years! Awards are personal achievements — that’s all — but are part of the hobby and part of the fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.