Sad But True

This is one of those topics that usually turns nasty in a short period of time. I have written about this a few times in the past, but it is usually a subject I avoid. Why? Because nothing I write or say will sway those who feel strongly against it. I am talking about amateurs who complain about operators who participate in contests.

It never fails to see a few different threads spring up around the Internet bashing operators, the bogus exchanges or any number of other contest related items. Some operators might consider a contest a “waste of time” as I have seen posted before. When ANY contest springs to life over the course of a weekend, there is a good chance it will be wall to wall signals on the main bands. Depending on the contest mode (CW/RTTY/SSB) different portions of the bands will be used, so enthusiasts who don’t participate can use the remainder of the band.

Take for example this past weekend and the ARRL International DX Contest, there were signals on 20M throughout the entire band! But I did hear a few non-contest QSOs taking place, one which was a rather rude exchange between two operators who were allegedly being QRM’ed by a contest station calling CQ. Their answer was to key up their linear amplifier on the contester.

Sorry, but that should NEVER be the answer to any sort of problem, regardless of a contest weekend or not. Unfortunately not all operators are considerate and there seems to be some animosity between the contest and non-contest operators.

Many question the “mindless” exchange which usually includes a “59? signal report. I’ll admit that all of my contest QSOs have been 59(9) in every contest I have entered. But this past weekend I was able to pull out some “weak” (100w & 200w) signals with much louder stations around running a kilowatt plus. In my opinion I had to use skill in first finding the signal, tuning it and then making a valid exchange.

During a contest weekend there is ALWAYS a portion of every band available to use for those who are not participating. Many operators either dismiss the WARC bands or don’t want to break from their routine or a frequency/band they use daily, usually at a specific time.

I will admit there are some practicing poor operating habits during a contest. Mindlessly calling with their call sign when a DX station is looking for a specific region. I forgot what station it was, but they were looking for West Coast stations only, when suddenly W8 and W9 are calling. And yes, I did check QRZ and none of those stations were situated on the left coast of the USA. Then there are those that I eluded to earlier who tune up on a DX frequency for whatever reason.

Then there is the CW only contester who enjoys to join in on the bashing as well. Why, I don’t know. Contesting is contesting, the only thing that changes is the mode. The ’599? exchanges end up occurring in CW and RTTY just as they do for SSB. I see no reason why a SSB contest needs to be referred to as a “cesspool.”

As for myself I am not in a chase to be the top contester or win awards in every contest I enter. I do it because I enjoy chasing DX. Contests give you that opportunity to add some “new ones” to the list. Out of 71 QSOs this past weekend I had 54 that I had never worked before on phone. So while I had no goals set for this contest I saw this as a successful contest from my standpoint.

In conclusion, I don’t favor participating in EMCOMM, but I won’t be caught calling them derogatory names or bad mouthing their activities. I don’t participate in daily nets, but I don’t knock those individuals for their operating habits. Why? It does no good. Amateur radio is a extremely diverse hobby, there is room for everyone to participate and do what they enjoy. But to speak your mind on the Internet, which if I recall is NOT amateur radio, does nothing to promote what a great hobby we all participate in.

Unfortunately no matter how much I ramble about this topic it will continue to rear its ugly head prior to and after a contest.

ARRL Sweepstakes: Goals

I make no bones about it, I am still green when it comes to contesting, but that does not mean I cannot participate and have fun while I am on the air. Sure my work schedule and personal life seem to collide with nearly every (major) contest weekend, again I must remain flexible when it comes to operating time. Last year after participating late in the contest season, I was able to get a feel, both as a team participator and a single operator. While spending more time at N6RO with the experience that gathers for contests is only part of the equation. While operating solo, I get time on the radio, I get to work all the contacts, make the decisions (S&P or RUN), change bands and time off, just to name a few. While I don’t have all the antennas to get maximum output on all the HF contest bands, I have enough to get on the air and participate.

I feel that participating in a contest only helps to hone my skills as an operator. I don’t put much interest into signal reports at any time. Contests (and some non contesting QSOs) are notorious for always providing a ’59’ or 599′ report. So what? Don’t take away from the fact that I copied a call sign correctly or pulled a weak station out of the noise. Since this is the first year I will participate in all the major (ARRL & CQ) contests I am looking forward to better my attempts from the previous year and set goals for those contests I have never participated in.

The first contest I participated in was the CQWW CW Contest, the last weekend of November, 2008. And while there was nothing really spectacular about my score, it was the first time in a contest situation. CW of all modes. Later during the season I participated in RAC Winter Contest and the OK DX RTTY Contest. The RAC was interesting, because I spent time at N6RO participating as part of the team, before operating from my QTH.

January, 2009 was probably my busiest month, as I participated in both NAQP (CW & SSB), as well as RTTY RU, since there was a big push by the NCCC to have a good club showing. I also spent some time in the BARTG RTTY Sprint. In a way I have really taken to RTTY contesting the best. That takes nothing away operating either CW or SSB during a contest.

ARRL Sweepstakes will be the first time I have participated in this contest. It is an interesting exchange to say the least. It is not copy a call sign and 599 and move on. This contest seems to be the favorite of many amateurs, for a reason I have not yet experienced. The exchange is five parts:

[serial #] [precedence] [call sign] [check] [section]

The serial number is what contact that is in your log. The precedence is how you are operating; SOLP, SOHP, MO, Unlimited or school. Call sign is your call sign, while the check is the year you were licensed. Finally the section is your ARRL Section, for me, that is EB or East Bay. The other caveat of Sweepstakes, you can only work a station ONCE, regardless of band. Each of the 71 ARRL sections and the 9 Canadian sections are your multipliers.

So how will I do? I don’t have any idea. From all the talk with a few other other guys most will start on 20M, where should be a very high rate. For me, I doubt I will run a frequency, which means I will be search and pounce from the start. With the hex beam, I could probably squat on a frequency and run.

I am hoping to put in 9 hours straight at the beginning of the contest. Not sure if that something that will happen or not. Sunday is pretty much all lost to work, cannot call in sick on a Sunday. I will get home approximately 2300 and hopefully finish out the contest (4 hours). That would total 13 hours in the contest and in reality, lets make that a total of 12 hours since 1 hour will be lost to distractions. If I can do a total of 400 QSO, that is 30/hour. I would think that would make a good goal to shoot for, but it means that Q rate will need to be strong at the start of the contest. While I would also like to get a “clean sweep” the first time out, ’75’ is probably more realistic. Since each QSO is worth 2 points that would give us a total of 800 points multiplied by 75 for a total of 60,000 points.

While the goal is a lofty one, I am looking forward to a full afternoon and early evening operation. Hopefully 40/80M are worthwhile after the sun goes down. 15M and 20M (at least RTTY) has been very nice recently for me. I think most of that has to do with the hex beam. Anyway I look forward to Sweepstakes! See you after the contest.

CQ Bitch Fest CQ Bitch Fest

Being involved in online communities, I guess it comes as no surprise that regardless of what community you join there will ALWAYS be individuals who have nothing better to do than complain. The online gaming community I helped create and support was probably the worst, but I am beginning to see that dark and ugly underbelly of amateur radio come to life during contest weekends, online.

There is no love lost between the groups labeled as “contesters” and “non-contesters” and the arguments are always the same when they show up online. The contesters claim “its only a weekend” or “go work the WARC bands.” Non-contesters who want nothing to do claim the big amps and high towers fill up the bands and make any sort of ragchewing or operating nearly impossible. This after the week leading up to a contest, like many are usually fairly quiet, outside of a DXpedition.

Let’s not forget about the plethora of nets that meet on designated frequencies. While these nets do not “own” the frequency they lay claim to a frequency nearly 24/7. Take for example the Maritime Net on 14.300. I can understand non North American operators calling CQ on this frequency, but if a frequency is not in use, then it is free for anyone to use.

Another contention from the non contester is the false exchange of every QSO being “59.” This after it takes numerous calls to get the other station’s call sign correct. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not much for ragchewing. Sure there are times I get on a topic or subject with another amateur and we end up talking for 30-45 minutes. I don’t have any problems, but it’s not primary interest in amateur radio.

As for contesting, I am just a rookie, still wet behind the ears trying to improve my operating and scores every contest I entire. While I would love to be a full time participant at N6RO, the local “big gun” in Oakley, CA I am nowhere near the quality of some excellent operators who frequent that locale nearly every contest weekend. But, observing and getting my feet wet working some of the “slower” bands during a group effort is a way to improve myself.

So how do we appease everyone in the amateur radio community? You can’t. Contests will continue and the complaining from both sides will continue. Best thing I can do, not to visit these online communities during contest weekend because of all the negativity that emerges during the weekend. I will continue to do my best during these weekends to work as many stations as possible, not only to improve myself but to provide support and contribution to my contest club.