(Part of an irregular series revealing secrets of Big Gun Contesting and DXing)
The goal of every Big Gun Contester is find a run frequency in order to allow the radio minions the opportunity to go in their log. Every contest.
With the inevitable crowding due to an excess supply of Big Guns and a shortage of run frequencies, the finding (and holding) of a run frequency is one of those skills that separates the wheat from the (little gun) chaff. Determining if a frequency is clear (enough) to run on is one of those tricks of the trade.
Outside the pressure cooker of a contest, the appropriate procedure to determine if a frequency is available is to send QRL? (on cw) or ask “Is the frequency in use?” I'm sure this is codified somewhere among the AR-Double-L's operating manual or on it's website, if you could find it. Although, opinions are divided, a significant number of Big Guns consider this the namby-pamby approach to establishing if the frequency is clear, at least during a contest. Their preferred technique is to simply call CQ Contest, on the assumption that if the frequency IS previously occupied, someone will speak up to defend it. Unfortunately, some of these Big Guns suffer from selective hearing.
The QRL vs. CQ devide appears to have a regional bias. In a recent unscientific survey, there was a distinct preference for the CQ approach by Big Guns north of the Mason-Dixon line while the QRL technique was preferred by those south of it. This bias toward politeness may explain the lesser prevalence of Big Gun contesters in the Southern regions of the USA.
The latest, cutting edge operating technique to establish if a frequency is available for running is to blend the two previous techniques. The new approach is to call “CQRL” to simultaneously inquire if the frequency is in use and to call CQ. This technique combines the politeness and consideration of the QRL query with the more aggressive CQ to attempt to establish a run frequency. In the case where the frequency is already in use, the Big Gun can legitimately claim they QRL'd to ask of the frequency was in use. Otherwise, they have started their run by calling CQ.
So remember, next time you're looking for a clear run frequency, drop in a short CQRL. If no one chews you out, start running!