Why I Like Contesting

The March 2011 issue of CQ Magazine introduces George Tranos, N2GA who will pen the ‘Contesting’ column taking over from John Dorr, K1AR. The column basically introduces himself as he writes about “A wire and a dream.” The articles centers around what draws amateurs to contesting. While I found very little “new” when it comes to contesting, I did take some time to reflect on what draws me to contesting, which I thought I would share, thanks in part to N2GA.

When I upgraded to General in 2005 I was excited to be introduced to a larger portion of the HF spectrum. Until this time I had done very little with my Technician license. I did buy a HT, as well as a dual band mobile for my vehicle while being introduced to Amateur Television (ATV, thanks John, W6DTV former KG6CZX). Unfortunately with some changes to the spectrum and military radar on 70cm, I was forced off ATV and decided not to upgrade my equipment.When I finally purchased the equipment upon my upgrade I was not sure where I wanted to start. After a year of working primarily PSK31 I turned my attention to contesting. While my set up was not optimal, it didn’t need to be I was able to work some contacts as I “got my feet wet” working DX. I had a misconception that I would work the world with 100 watts on SSB. I could not have been more wrong, especially being at solar minimum.

This gave me the opportunity to learn CW (Morse code) as well as purchase an interface for digital modes (PSK, RTTY, Olivia, FH). While learning CW, I did participate in DX and domestic contests. I still remember my first contest, the 2008 RAC Canada Winter Contest. Not only did I work 31 QSOs from my QTH, I worked from N6RO (big gun station) locally. It was a great experience and I was hooked.

But what made contesting exciting, aside from working DX was the fact I could spend as much or as little time as I had participating in a given contest. I was not intending on competing with other hams, but I was competing with myself. It would take a year or two in order to work most of the major contests, but by 2010 I was hoping to improve on previous year’s score. Prior to each contest I would set my personal goal, usually 20% increase over last year and do the best I could.

For the most part, more “BIC” or “butt in chair” time equated to more contacts and I surpassed my expectations. By this time I was looking for a way to get more operating time. I found myself fortunate to fall within the 175 radius of the Northern California Contest Club (NCCC) whose main focus IS contesting! Add to that fact, I had N6RO just a few miles down the road in Oakley and was introduced to him by Glenn, K6NA.

Since my operating time is limited even a few hours of contesting gives the satisfaction I am after. Sure I would love to spend an entire weekend participating in contests, but priorities and family life prevent me from spending all weekend. Thankfully some contests like NAQP are only (try explaining that to my wife) 12 hours long, which is a “short” contest, unlike the ARRL DX Contest this weekend, which runs 48 hours.

I still consider myself “green” when to comes to contesting and HF in general when chasing DX. These contests provide me the time to work DX with a quick exchange and move on to another contact. Right now, I am working on initial DXCC, as well as some other basic awards (wallpaper), which I like chasing, purely for personal satisfaction. Being introduced to the NCCC has also allowed me to tap the knowledge or many like-minded contesters. Many of these individuals have years of experience, which is always great to draw upon. The likes of Ed, W0YK when it comes to RTTY, Jim, K9YC when it comes to RFI, Dean, N6BV when it comes to propagation and the “locals” like Ken, N6RO, Iain, N6ML and Chris, N6WM have really helped the past few years get to me where I am now.

By no means have I peaked as a contest operator, as learning is something you do over your entire life. But I must still work within the restrictions I have. Being HOA controlled I am limited on antenna height (currently 20′ for my hex beam) as a SteppIR BigIR (mainly for 40/80M). After every contest I write my personal “soapbox” and post it to the NCCC and 3830 Refelctor, as well as here on The 6th Floor. This serves as a reminder to me how the contest went, what problems I encountered and where I can improve next year.

While contesting might not be for every amateur radio operator, I encourage others to try it. If I had more time I would probably spend more time on the bands spinning the dial and calling “CQ” and rag chewing, but at this point in life, time is something I don’t have a lot of, so contesting is my niche. Contesting is what YOU make of it. Any contest in which I exceed my expectations I consider myself a winner. Even those that I miss my goals on, I work on seeing the positive side how to continually improve.

QSLing: Revisited

As I kid I recall seeing a small statue in my grandfather’s office that read, ”
The Job Isn’t Finished ‘Til The Paperwork Is Done.” While my grandfather was not a ham operator that saying rings true now. I figured I had to touch on this subject again thanks to the article in the March 2009 issue of CQ titled, ‘Contesting and QSL: Challenge or Opportunity?” by John Dorr, K1AR.

I enjoy contesting and I am still very new and inexperienced I like the rapid exchange of information that constitute a QSO. Sure, every contact during a contest will report “599” but that is of little consequence. I have yet to play seriously for an entire contest so I am not racking up hundreds or thousands of contacts a month due to contesting. I set my personal goals based on my participation and walk away proud knowing I made my goal.

As for my grandfather’s saying it applies to QSL cards. Sure there are online services such as Logbook of the World sponsored by the ARRL and eQSL who now partners with CQ for their awards. But for me that is not enough. Being on the HF bands since June, 2007 maybe this is still new and 20 years from now I won’t care about sending or receiving cards from the contacts I made.

As it stands now, I am about 450 QSL cards behind, thanks in part to contesting. But I plan on getting caught up and sending cards to many of the contacts I have logged. The exception would be those stations I have already exchanged with. When I finally received my cards I was excited to fill in the boxes on the back and mail them off. I was even more excited to recevied one of my SASE in the mail to confirm the QSO.

I think this practice of QSLing is lost, much like Element 1. While operators still use CW, some hams still QSL. It’s rather rude and sometimes frustrating to look at a ham on QRZ and in big, bold letters it reads, “I DO NOT QSL!” In these economic times, I can understand the price behind sending hundred, if not thousands of card out. Sure there is the bureau, which is slow and while a return QSL is not guaranteed it is one option.

Since I began QSLing I have gone the most expensive route by including a SASE for those I have logged. But I have been surprised by the number of return cards I have received. I will have a follow up to this article with the numbers based on QSL cards, LoTW and eQSL. I am appalled at my return rate. Especially those who receive my card and cannot and return the favor by filling their card out and stuffing it into an envelope I provided with postage attached!

Sure, for some hardcore contesters who don’t have a manager or someone to do this task the numbers could be staggering. So maybe, just maybe my card is still in a mountainous pile waiting to be returned. On the flip side, there have been some very good operators who have returned their card and my SASE. Even had a case where the ham sent me his card in his envelope, followed by a second envelope that contained my SASE.

While I have not sent any DX cards out (including VE or XE) I already plan on including greenbacks or IRCs, as well as a SAE in order for the receiving station to make it easier and (hopefullly) quicker to get their card to me. While some might find this going above an beyond what required, this is a portion of the hobby that got me interested as a kid. I would sit for hours thumbing through his QSL cards (Never forget the naked JA cards…LOL!), reading where they came from and then finding them on the world map.

Having the options of eQSL and LoTW as hams do now might drop the importance of sending a QSL card. While I might be behind in sending my cards out, I will get to them all. Hopefully hams worldwide will return the favor and send their card back. As expressed in the CQ article, “…a QSL from Japan may not be a meaningful accomplishment for you, but his/her first USA QSO!”

So as that statue my grandfather had, “The Job Isn’t Finished ‘Til The Paperwork Is Done.” Take the time, make the effort, send/respond to that QSO.