Wisdom from CQ-Contest
N6TR on Canned Speech - 1992
The K1EA DVP keyer sounds like a neat piece of hardware. I think we have all dreamed of operating a phone contest without a micro-phone. I doubt many of use will actually do this in a serious contest, but having it available to handle the routine QSOs will certainly decrease the fatigue factor. However, there are appear to be some expectations that I feel are unrealistic with this device.
First off, while the comparison of a live voice to the recorded voice proves the hardware is working, this does not mean your live voice and the recorded voiced are going to sound the same during the course of a contest. There are two major reasons this is true. First, your voice and what you say will change depend- ing on your rate and target audience. The other is that your voice is going to change during the contest as you use it up. You could create a number of different messages that are appro priate for different times of the contest with different rate situations, but you may have a hard time predicting the situation and how your voice will be sounding ahead of time. Is this important? Does it matter if people know you are using such a device? This is a point that will probably be debated, but I feel that if non contesters can tell you are using some sort of prerecorded message, they are less likely to give you a contact. Most phone contests require you to appeal to a larger audience than just the contesters. The people at the top of the boxes all know they are giving a performance during the contest and it is necessary to lure in the non contesters so they will help you out.
Many of these people are listening to you while doing something else in the shack. They turned on their radio and tuned in a
loud station and are "reading the mail". Eventually, you need to get the person to go over to the radio, press down their PTT
switch and say their callsign. The most effective way to do this is to make your performance interesting and fun so they want to
be a part of it.
If they are comfortable listening to you and start feeling like they know you, and you say something like: "Only 2 hours to go
and I need 200 contacts to break the record", they will probably make an effort to work you. I have operated the California QSO Party a number of times from California. In 1982, I set a new record mostly because of the rates I had in the last couple of hours. I used the technique of saying how many minutes were left in the contest and how many QSOs I needed. The response was amazing. Even some of the members of the household came and watched me operate.
As the contest wears on you, and your voice changes. This can be part of the act. If you sound like you can barely talk, you can use that to your advantage. I have had many "sympathy" contacts on Sunday.
To me, the use of a DVP keyer would eliminate my ability to draw in non contesters. I would sterilize my operation to the point
that it is no longer a human performance. I don't work many phone contests seriously these days (maybe one or two a year),
but I do search around for a few hours on Sunday and help guys out. I think I would be less likely to work someone using such a
device. For some reason I feel insulted if someone is using it to try to work me. If he can't take the time to really talk to me, why should I go to the effort to work him? I really do not enjoy working people who are using a CQ tape and then answer me
with a totally different voice than the one I heard in the CQ.
Another issue with this type of operation is the image contesters portray to the rest of the amateur community. Phone contests are
much more visible than CW contests. If you have ever listened around 20 phone minutes before the sprint starts and compare it
to what is happening 5 minutes into the contest, you may feel ashamed to call yourself a contester. I am not sure what effect
universal use of the DVP device would have on this image, but I am afraid it would not be good. If people catch on to the fact
that we are calling CQ over and over again by just pressing a button, I would have a hard time feeling that their use of the
frequency might not be more worthy.
I know it is the same thing as punching the button on your memory keyer, but the CW bands are not as crowded as the phone bands and there are not anywhere the number of people listening to us. Also, it is possible to use a memory keyer without anyone being
able to tell the difference between a live performance and a prerecorded on. Again, I feel strongly that this is impossible
on the second day of the contest unless you keep rerecording your messages over as your voice changes, or just never use your live
The recorded receiver audio feature is another matter. This can be used without any impact to your performance. This feature
alone may be worth the money. I plan to support the DVP card with my logging program mainly because of this.
My point in writing this is to make sure people think about how this device will affect their score in ways they may not of
before reading this. If I have made you think seriously about some of the potential downfalls about using this device, then I
have achieved my goal.
Has anyone thought about how to efficiently handle the multitude of stations who call you with just the last two letters of their
call? Boy I hate phone contests anymore!! Maybe the DVP can record "Please whole callsigns only" in 100 different languages.
You could use separate transmitters pointing into different directions and have it in the appropriate language for each
different beam heading. Japanese for 300 degrees, Spanish for 150 degrees and a random language for 30 degrees.
N6AA on pileup management - 1998
Periodically this reflector is subjected to well-intentioned advice about CQ-ing stations signing their callsigns after every QSO.
Managing a pile-up by judicious callsign rationing is an advanced operating technique that, if executed properly, can squeeze a few extra contacts out of an operating period. Since small differences in operating skill rarely affect contest outcomes, many contests can be won without ever mastering such skills. In fact, most entrants are rarely in situations where such action even matters.
However, there are advantages to not signing after every QSO.
1) If you can make another contact without signing your call, the time you would have used to sign the call can simply be used to make additional contacts.
2) By keeping some potential callers off balance until they know who you are, you may be able to reduce the size of an excessively large pile-up to a size where you can copy callsigns.
3) There are a number of highly-skilled operators with small signals. If these individuals sense that you will allow their skill to get them through, ahead of competitors with bigger signals, they will stick around, trying to work you. If they sense that you are a plain-vanilla operator, signing your call every time and then working the loudest station, they will go away since they know how weak they are.
4) If you are a common CQ-ing station, many S&P'ers will call you only once. When two stations reply, and you finish the first contact extremely rapidly, and give the second station the impression that you know he was there, he may call again, even if you completely missed his callsign.
There is a downside, in that you may cause other operators to take actions that may lower your rate. Certain operators may feel that their superior stations and/or favorable locations entitle them to know your callsign where their identification skills and experience are not advanced enough to determine it, or enough about you to know whether to call, without hearing you actually sign it. They may QRM your weak, target stations by sending, "Call?" They may work you without knowing your call, which of course, is usually only bad if they are duplicates.
There is considerable skill involved in maximizing the benefits while minimizing the liabilities incurred.
The callsign-signing decision may change after every contact. Factors that may impact the individual decisions include:
1) Do you already know the callsign of another station in your pile-up?
2) How many people are tuning the band listening, and what percentage of them have already worked you? Have you made 10 or 5000 QSO's on the band?
3) What is your signal like in your target area?
4) Is your call EE5E or KH5K/JQ9YXJ/M?
5) Do you have an overall picture of what is going on in your pile-up?
5a) Can you say something like, "There are now 5 or 6 calling, and 3 or so have been there for some time. There have been no new additions to the pile- up during the last few contacts?"
5b) Or, can you say, "One weak guy, with a long call, has been here for a while. He sends fast and always zero beats the last station. Maybe I can
sneak him through."
5c) Or, are you simply struggling to copy callsigns, and therefore unaware of your pile-up structure?
If you feel that the callsign should be signed after every contact, this strongly indicates that your operating skills have developed to the stage where you should indeed sign your call after every contact.
However, when you give unconditioned advice to others suggesting that they absolutely always do the same, note that you are primarily broadcasting your skill level rather than giving good counsel.
Dick Norton, N6AA
K1AR on the secret of success - 2005
Shhhh...it's a Secret!
You know, this radio stuff is actually pretty easy. Unfortunately, it has become overly complicated by the technoids/over-analyzers of the world, most of which have never actually won a contest. So, here's the secret to winning (and don't tell ANYONE ELSE):
1) Put up some decent antennas at a reasonable location that favors your interests in contesting (e.g., NM for SS, NH or D4 for CQ WW). Beams are good -- doesn't really matter what kind or how many elements. Try to include some device to turn a few of them. Wires add value. Verts can be good, too. 2) Buy a couple used IC781s 3) Buy a couple of decent amps that put out around 1500W +/-. 4) If you really want to hang out there, get some SO2R crap and wire it all together. 5) Install a PC with a logging program. 6) Wait for your favorite contest and operate it. 7) Send your score in.
The following are evil distractions:
1) Any new radio product
2) Kenwood anything other than an 850 or perhaps a 930
3) IC-pro blah, blah, pro, blah, blah
4) Unmodified FT1000blah, blah
5) Electric fences
1) Stop reading all of the endless technical banter that people write about this subject and use your newly acquired free time to get on the air and become skilled at understanding propagation, callsigns and your station.
2) Operate enough so that people know your call by simply sending the first few dits.
3) Answer your QSLs.
If you do most of the above, you will do well in contests. Again, my only request is for you to please keep this information to yourself.
73 John, K1AR
N5KO on what REALLY makes you good - 1996
> If I were in your class, what would I appreciate about your
> ability or technique? Or in other words, what would another
> highly accomplished contester know about your skills that I
> miss because I'm just an awed "apprentice"?
> > (If you're too modest to talk about yourself, apply the question
> to the your personal contesting "hero", the guy you vow to beat
> this year.)
In my view, this is one of the true dilemmas of radio contesting. You, as the hypothetical "apprentice," do not have the knowledge or experience to be able to appreciate the skills I have developed that make me the hypothetical "major league contester." And similarly, I take for granted many of the fundamental skills that are necessary for you to advance to the next level.
I like to offer up two quotations that sum up my general beliefs on the topic. The first is from someone in my peer group, and second is from someone who I would categorize as a personal contesting hero from my formative years in contesting, although I doubt he actually knows this :-) ).
"With experience comes knowledge and cunning. I can't stand here and tell you the secrets, as many of them are second nature to me now." -- KR0Y/5
"The best of the best gained their winning edge practicing the basics over and over in numerous forgettable events, often using inadequte radios and second-rate antennas. Discovering how to overcome such obstacles are lessons never forgotten." -- NCJ Profile of N6RO
And now for a bit of a digression:
I have observed many "second tier" (and others down through the neophyte ranks of) contesters think that there is some set of winning "tricks" that the "first tier" contesters use to beat them, and if only someone would let them in on these terrific secrets, they would be first rate contesters themselves. These people are setting themselves up for disappointment, because I'm going to let them in on the biggest secret of all:
"There are no secrets!"
It turns out, as with most things is life, that skill and hard work pay the most reliable dividends in the long run.
Now for some specific advice. None of these things are mandatory to win, but collectively they really add up:
o Know the code. 50 WPM conversational is a nice milestone --note: don't try this at home with pencil and paper.
o Know the bands. Nothing like knowing the right band to be on to improve your score.
o Know your station. Knowing whether or not your station has the gusto to run people or crack pileups under given conditions
on a given band is a real time saver.
o Stay in the chair. You can't be the loudest station on the air if you are not on the air.
And now for some general advice:
o Operate a lot. Experience is king. I learn something every time I operate.
o Solicit advice from a variety of experienced people. Some of the "experts" will be more compatible with you on a personal level than
others, so shop around and get a variety of points of view.
To wit, after I post this message, I will get a few notes from various folks, about half of which will say "I really identified with what you wrote. You're a genius!" and the other half of which will say "You're a moron. Get stuffed!"
--Trey, HC8N (QSL via AA5BT), WN4KKN/6
Improving concentration by K5TR - 2007
> operators, and I'm struck by the fact that I do not seem able to
> consistently get the sort of results they do, even from the same
> station. This is particularly the case in hell-bent contests like
> the CW Sprints, but I have the same feeling about the first evening
> in Sweepstakes, and to a lesser extent in the big DX contests.
There are more things that just focus and concentration - I think much of it is learned by operating many many contests until most of the operating actions and techniques become second nature. It has been very interesting to me over the last few years hosting different operators here at my station. One of the ops has been WM5R - and since he has been coming back for a number of contests year after year I have gotten to see his operating skill evolve.
When Ken did his first ARRL 10 meter contest from here there were a number little things that he was doing or not doing that were making an impact on his score and rate.But the one thing that really struck me was not any one operating style or error - it was that when he was running stations that was about all he could do. He just did not have the mental bandwidth to do anything more than run stations on one radio and get them in the log. He could not think about where he should turn the antenna or answer a short question from me or for that matter use a second radio.
Over the years I have seen this change, Ken can now process much more information, he can use the second radio, he can answer my questions etc. He is no longer just doing all he can to work guys and get them logged.
I have seen this evolve slowly over time and each year of the 10 meter contest he was doing a better job of operating. It was not only the 'mental bandwidth' issue but many things that were learned by doing contests over and over - improving his skills with each one.
I still almost always learn something every time I operate a contest.
> To the extent that I can isolate the problem, I think it lies in the
> inability to keep myself totally focused in the moment. Even in the
> midst of a 120-150 hour on CW I find myself not always totally
> "zoomed in" on the pileup. Watching good ops, they seem to have a
> really special focus that I find hard to maintain, even for a 4-hour
> If there's anything to be done about this, I'd like to try, even
> though at age 65 I am inevitably losing some of my edge. So I'm
> wondering what others have done about this, whether there are
> particular techniques that you use to help stay focused. I don't
> know what I'm looking for here, so any suggestions would be welcome.
> If you want to send them to me off the reflector, I'll summarize
I don't know what will work for you but here are a few the things that have really helped me over the years.
- Contests have a duration that is fixed. The contest ends in 4, 12, 24, 36 or 48 hours. You can not get any of the time back that passes by during the contest. I found that once I really understood that it helped me stay in the moment and not think about my place in the results or what I will be doing next week or whatever. The time is NOW. The time is now to make contacts.
- I have learned to push myself through the rough spots and low points.Instead of letting them get you down you need to learn how to push
and work through these points. You must keep pushing if you want to have a good score. There will be some pain along the way, there will
be times when you are having problems finding rate or a frequency or whatever but you need to keep going - this is no time to give up.
The contest will be over at a fixed time - you can rest then.
- I find I do best if I do not have rate sheets or projections of how I should be doing - as often as not these can just be very depressing if you are not doing as well as you were hoping or as well as last year. So over the years I have avoided having these around or setting goals like that - it just did not work for me. As I have done more and more contests I have gotten to the point that even if I am not doing as well as last years rates or score I do not let that bother me - because I have learned that even if you are not doing as well as your 10th place score from last year you could be
winning the contest. You just need to keep pushing forward.
- I keep pushing myself to tune the second radio, to keep callingCQ etc. Sometimes it is hard to keep it going when the rate sags in a DX contest to 20/hour but it is the slow hours that that are the hard ones - they are also the ones that you have the most chance of improving on percentage wise. Changing a 20 hour to a 30 hour is a much bigger deal than changing a 100 hour to a 110 hour. The slow times are very important.
Anyway - maybe there will be something useful in all of that rambling. Those are some of the things I have worked on over the years to help me do better in contests. I also hope that it is not to scattered as I just typed that off the top of my head.
-- George Fremin III - K5TR
How do you get better? by K5ZD - 2008
"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" the guy asked his cab driver. The reply, "Practice. Practice. Practice."
I think we all can acknowledge that practice is an important part of learning and improving any skill. Sports players practice, sometimes for years. Kids learning musical instruments practice. Very few people are a "natural" who can just pick something up and be instantly good at it.
Why does no one ever talk about practice with regard to radio contests?
I find the SS CW contest is the best single thing I can do to be ready for WW CW. Why? Because it lets me practice my SO2R techniques. After doing SS CW, I find I can sit down in WW CW and immediately go into SO2R mode without much thought or effort.
Other ways to practice in radio contests:
- Start at the bottom of the band and see how fast you can search and pounce your way to the top. Then go back to the bottom and do it again. The first time is about knowing how to acquire the next signal and dump in your call (or decide to keep tuning). The second pass is the valuable one. It helps you practice call sign recognition, duping skills, and how to dig between the fast loud guys.
- Work a QSO party or smaller DX contest that is focused on one area. See if you can work every station you hear from that area. Again, this helps you practice recognizing signals from a target area and duping skills.
- Work Field Day running high power. No better simulation for practicing running skills. :)
- Work RTTY contests to learn SO2R skills. In RTTY, the computer is doing the brain work and the QSOs have a fairly consistent timing and pattern. This frees you to practice the keyboarding skills of jumping between the two logging windows. For even higher level of practice, try running on two bands at the same time (while never transmitting on two bands at once). The goal is to do it so smoothly that no one listening can tell what you are doing!
- Search and pounce in a contest using low power. Almost everything I learned about busting pileups came from my early years in ham radio with 100 watts and wires in trees. You take a different approach when you are not the loudest guy in the pileup. Learn that different approach and then be amazed when you apply it while running a KW!
- W4AN used to do work in his shack with two radios turned on listening to two different stations. He would practice copying both. You probably won't be able to copy solid on both, but you will learn how to quickly shift focus back and forth. The goal is to get this skill happening without thinking.
- Get on the air between contests and make some QSOs. Nothing helps your CW sending more than having to think and send at the same time. :)
Most of all, have fun!
How do you get better? A few more ideas by KQ2M - 2008
Lots of excellent suggestions/techniques and ideas from those who know. Here are a few more....
1) The CQWW Log database is an INCREDIBLE source of operating information/strategies and techniques based on ops actually working people in the contests!
Want to know what propagation paths are/were possible on a given weekend? Then read the M/M, M/2 and single band logs of serious competitors.
Want to see what the competition was doing in your category? Then look at their log.
Even with having operated contests seriously for 35 years and still having most of the logs (with handwritten notations!), I am still learning; and "reading" the logs of others is an invaluable source of operating ideas/ information and strategy. With a few hours of "study" I can quickly figure out what I am doing better than others and what I can improve.
Also, looking at my old logs is also a good review of band conditions at various points of past cycles that I may have forgotten about, including those easily missed and obscure, short-lived band openings.
2) I "operate" daily with five computers and LCD's watching and trading in the stock/bond/commodities and other markets in "real-time". In these exceptionally volatile times, nothing prepares you for the mental/physical demands of SO2R like the mental focus required to watch and then integrate the visual and text information from five computer screens with 100 charts+ and 400+ quotron symbols, plus simultaneously watching CNBC and answering my office phone. Of course I am also making split-second "real-time" decisions to buy/sell while all this is happening, just like the split-second operating decisions we must make during a contest. However, unlike contests, there are no time-outs or rest periods when the markets are open!
3) Listen to complex music (all types from Jazz to Classical to Rock, etc.) and try to pick out all the instrumental and vocal parts, one by one. When you get good at that, "dial it up a notch" and then try to "see" the artist actually playing their part of the piece with the actual fingering while you are focusing on them. The focus on the next artist and the next and so on.
The more complexity and detail that you can "see", the more successfully you are training your brain to develop concentration and focus and to multi-task.
4) I regularly watch DX-Summit on one of my computers to get the "feel" of daily propagation as it changes around the world. I also check the various www.noaa.gov solar activity websites and monitor auroral cndx and A/K/SF indices in real time. After a while of doing this on a daily basis, I can usually reasonably predict the A/K/SF indices just by looking at DX Summit spots and seeing what bands they are on.
Although a lot of unusual propagation paths and weak stations are not spotted, overall this is a very useful strategy for learning current propagation and what to expect during a contest. Despite the often busted callsigns, this is an excellent way to become familiar with the DX and DXpedition callsigns BEFORE the contest, so you know who to look for DURING the contest.
5) There are a myriad of other ways you can take things from your daily life and work and make them tools for training your mind and body and improving your operating skills. All it takes is a little imagination and creativity plus effort, and having fun.
There is a simple equation that I use every day:
Learning = Improving skills = Having fun!
73 and CU in CQWW CW!
Secrets of Operating Sweepstakes, mostly by N6TR
[editor's note - this article was derived from a series of CQ-Contest posts in October 2003. Jim Neiger, N6TJ started it off with the message called "Secrets of Contesting, Chapter 13." Larry "Tree" Tyree, N6TR, responded with a series of messages specifically focused on Sweepstakes, which he has won several times. There are a few elisions and corrected typos in the following text, for the sake of readability, but this is basically the whole story, as written by N6TR.]
First, N6TJ starts the discussion –
As we rapidly approach CQ WW DX, it's appropriate, I believe, to re-state the axioms constituting what I call Secrets of Contesting, Chapter 13. Follow these, and you cannot go wrong. Ask Jeff Steinman N5TJ. You think he's JUST a good operator? No, I have it with irrefutable evidence that Jeff learned all of these when he was five years old. (If you don't believe me, take a minute during the upcoming WW and ASK Jeff if this isn't true. He won't mind..........)
Top Ten Basics of Successful Contesting
1. Perseverance 2. Belief in yourself 3. Resilience 4. Invulnerability to negative evaluations by others 5. Willingness to outwork your opponents 6. Courage to meet challenges 7. Acceptance of risk 8. Pride in your work 9. Impregnable determination 10. Plan for success. Be at the right place at the right time.
N6TR responded -
Well, I see Neiger found some management book and put out some cool-sounding words about contesting.
And yes, N5TJ is an alien.
And while the CQ WW DX SSB contest is fun if you are DX, or in one of the 13 original colonies, it is after all, just a phone contest.
The ARRL SS CW is coming up one weekend afterwards, and will be the focus of some posts from myself leading up to the big event. Hopefully, I can give you some more practical advice than "believe in yourself".
My personal goal is to make the top ten in the high power box. And no, I will not be at W5WMU this year. Since I am going down to HC8 for the CQ WW CW contest, I am going to operate from home this year - in Boring, Oregon.
Secrets of SS CW #1
Really, you need to believe in your signal more than yourself. Pressing F1 really doesn't sound any different on the other end no matter what your curent image of yourself is. Some people might not call F1 enough if they don't believe someone will hear them, but that should never stop them from calling. If you need to call guys in order to work someone, that doesn't mean you should ever stop calling CQ.
This might seem like bad advice - until you factor two radios into the equation. Even if you are weak, you can still get lots of answers to your CQs. I ran 5 watts last year, and still well over half of my QSOs were the result of a CQ.
How is that possible with a weak signal? I'll give that secret away later on. But for now, the message is you NEED to have two radios. If you are weak - it is even MORE important than if you are running a KW.
Get an all-band vertical and your old tube radio setup for that second radio. This will be enough to work most of the people you hear CQing and will free your main radio to call CQ all weekend.
Please note that when I say call CQ all weekend, the only real limitation is that you can't transmit at the same time you are transmitting with the second radio. Other than that - yes - you should be CQing the whole contest. Picking the band and frequency to be doing that is a more complicated process, and we will address that in more detail later on.
So - the FIRST SECRET of success in the ARRL SS CW is TWO RADIOS. You can even use your 40 meter dipole as your second radio antenna. Think outside the box and make it happen.
In my next chapter, I will talk about picking your CQ frequency.
Secrets of SS CW #2 2003-10-15
First off - let's address a message from K5RC (or whatever his call is these days):
"Think outside the box and make it happen. Oops! You just did what you accused N6TJ of, using management cliches. Let's be consistent if you are going to be iconoclastic."
Thanks for thinking of me as an icon Tom. I will attempt to avoid cliches like the plague and search for viable alternatives in my future musings.
Also - raise your hand out there if the first time you saw the word "paradigm" in print was in the NCJ in Tom's editorial. I thought as much.
Instead of talking about frequency choices today, (you don't really need to know that just yet), let me talk about a different issue that requires action sooner, rather than later.
This has to do with your family. Back when we were all single and didn't have anything QRMing our contest life, it wasn't a big deal to make arrangements to have the weekend free to jump into the SS. However, most of us now have more complicated lives and getting a weekend to ourselves is not so easy. It is beyond the scope of this document to instruct you on how to get this weekend reserved for your activity - but you need to make sure this important step is done.
Furthermore - you should not feel bad about doing this once or twice a year. When is the last time you got to spend some quality time in front of the radio?
In fact, there is a twisted way of looking at this that provides some motivation to really pour yourself into the event.
If you are like me, the number of hours that you spend in front of the radio over the course of a year is always decreasing. I find that a contest is often the only way I can get some time to play radio. It is scheduled in advanced so that the normal activities associated with family life can be pushed aside, and it is intense activity - which can help you get your "fix" in a shorter period of time.
So - make sure you have the time marked off on the calendar - make sure everyone knows that you will be focused on the radio and ask for support. Then, look at this as an opportunity to play radio without interruptions or guilt.
This frame of mind will help on Sunday when things are slow and you wonder why you are doing this. If you remember, that this is your time to play radio - you won't want to cut it off too soon. I find I can even get on for contests with really slow rate - just because it is fun and happens so seldom anymore.
We will cover "Sunday" as a whole subject in a future posting.
Adding onto yesterday's posting about two radios, if you are not yet using a logging program in the SS, you should consider it. Some of the logging programs are pretty good at orchestrating your two radios so that you are not transmitting on both of them at the same time, and so you have fewer dead times where nothing is happening. You can do a Google search on contest logging software or look in a recent NCJ to see what's out there. Getting one and being comfortable with it will go a long way to enhancing your two-radio performance.
Finally, we have recently uncovered some audio files used by one of the old contest clubs to help improve their performance during the SS. Many great secrets are demonstrated in these recordings. They are required listening to anyone who is serious about competing. Hopefully, after hearing them, you will be less so.
You can find them at this URL:
Many thanks to K5TR for making these available on the web.
73 Tree N6TR tree at kkn.net
PS: If you have some specific questions about the SS, serious or otherwise, please pass them along and I will try to address them.
Secrets of SS CW - #3 2003-10-16
Okay - let's clear up any old business first. Rich, VE3IAY asks the following "nuts & bolts" question:
" Tree, you said: 'Get an all-band vertical and your old tube radio setup for that second radio." I can understand that you might want your best antenna, your best receiver, and your loudest signal on the run radio, since you will presumably be making the majority of your contacts there. However ... If you have one frequency-agile computer-controllable radio and one old boat-anchor which is neither, wouldn't you want to use the newer radio as the S&P radio to take advantage of its agility, the bandmap in your software, etc., and reserve the boat-anchor for CQing so you won't have to retune it as often and the lack of computer control is less of an issue? Or do I have my head stuck firmly inside the box so I can't see the forest for the trees?"
Very good point Rich - and I think you are thinking correctly about your choice of radio. Using the old Drake line as your CQ radio and your TenYaeComWoodCraft computer interfaced radio for your secondary radio makes great sense. We haven't talked about the bandmap yet, but obviously the bandmap will be much easier to pull off if you have a computer-interfaced radio.
Obviously, the best choice is if you have something like this setup:
But something like this can be put to use as well:
Another question from Dan, W8CAR:
"Tree, I'll take you up on some not so serious questions. Why is it the stations in 8 land make fewer contacts in SS than 6 land stations. After all, there are no stateside stations to work to your west (well, okay-HI ).
Well, this is a great lead into today's topic - population density. The basic problem with being in W8 land is that you only have good propagation to KP4, California and parts of The Yukon (the parts where there are no hams). This phenomenon is sometimes called "The Black Hole" indicating that W8 is in a region where RF signals have a hard time exiting. However, we now know that the black hole is actually over Chicago and is the reason the Cubs didn't make it into the World Series (c'mon guys - that poor fan who tried to catch the ball did the same thing any of us would have done in that position. You're looking at this ball coming at you at 100 MPH. Talk about your whole life changing in a millisecond...).
People on the west coast just point their antenna east and can work most everyone on the high bands.
"Also, is it true that a California Kilowatt is more than a 'regular' kilowatt because your taxes are higher?"
There is no truth to the rumor that the power crises was cause by a group of W6's trying to get through first on a pileup to a DXpedition.
The only person licensed to use 6KW in California was Jack Riggs, who is now a silent key.
Also, there is no truth to the rumor that a WA6 station had a driven element melt and fall down onto the roof of his shack because he was running too much power. We are sure it melted for some other reason.
For more details about this - go and listen to those NCCC recordings again.
"Now that California has a new governor - is the rumor true that NCCC members get Hummers if they win SS again (presumably since you won't have to pay that 'car tax' thing that Arnold is going to eliminate)? "
I doubt this will be any kind of problem since we all know the NCCC isn't capable of winning the SS (how's that for reverse psychology?).
Today's subject has to do with skip zones and population density. For those of you going to KP4, you can skip this lesson since you have great skip into all parts of the US.
As you probably know, different bands have different optimum skip distances based upon the time of day and the condition of the ionosphere. It is important that you have some understanding of how these factors work together and how that will influence your band plan.
One picture here is worth a lot of words:
You can quickly see from this photo where your contacts will come from in the contest. The brighter areas are the ones you need to think about how you will put your signal there for your CQ radio.
For example, if you are hearing the west coast and Maine on 10 meters, but the W9s are 30 db over on 20 meters, you will get some results from CQing on 10 meters, but after you have worked 100 west coast stations and both of the Maine stations, you will be better off switching to a band that has a bigger audience that can hear your signal.
However, the real payoff is if you can figure out how to be loud in the brighter parts of the country - when they are not hearing very many other people except you.
For example, if you are on the west coast and are hearing loud stations from W9/W0/W5 on 20 meters late, you probably should keep milking that situation. Your signal stands out on the band. If you QSYed to 40 or 80 meters, you are now weaker than most of the other stations these people will be hearing. However, the converse is true if you are in the midwest. You will find as 20 meter's skip gets longer, you aren weaker compared to the west coast into your target audience, and you should think about using a lower frequency where the skip distance is more favorable.
True - you do need to work those guys who are close to you - but a lot of that can be done with the second radio. Many times in the SS CW, almost all of my QSOs on 80 meters will come from the second radio. Sure, I could get a few answers to my CQs there, but I will probably get a lot more on another band where my signal is better into the high population areas.
Another component in this complicated equation is your station. There are probably bands that your station is more competitive on than others. Your band plan should play to those strengths as much as possible, but don't try to fight Mother Nature too much. A dipole on the right band will often be more productive than a 5-element beam on the wrong one.
So, think about it. Listen on the bands leading up to the contest and get an idea on what strategy will work best for you, your location and your station to maximize your exposure to the population densities.
If you are in W8 land, you are going to have a harder time figuring that out than the rest of us. Sorry Dan.
Secrets of the SS CW - #4 2003-10-17
W1YL/4 - Ellen White noticed a lapse in my memory in my last posting:
"The only person licensed to use 6KW in California was Jack Riggs, who is now a silent key."
and she writes:
"Perchance did you mean Johnny Griggs, W6KW, radio pioneer and an ARRL Director?"
And she is correct. Thanks "LN".
Well, now that you have figured out your band strategy and got that second radio warming up, we can start talking about some of the interesting operating techniques that you can use in the SS. Many of these are different depending on Saturday versus Sunday, so I will often indicate which applies to which period in the contest.
Another interesting thing about the SS CW is an attribute that it shares with the NCJ sprints, your callsign is part of the exchange. This means that often your exchange can act as a CQ. This is an important thing to remember.
On Saturday, you will probably have good success calling CQ. Part of the reason for this is because everyone else who is calling CQ is tuning a second radio looking for guys to work. Also, there are a lot of people who will be operating the contest who are not seeing these posts and are just being nice by tuning around and handing out some QSOs.
Let's pretend your rate in the first hour is going to be 90 QSOs. Let's also pretend that you spend about 20 seconds exchanging information. That adds up to 1800 seconds that you are busy in a QSO, or exactly half of the hour.
Since you don't CQ 100 percent of the time, it is easy to see that you will spend more time in a QSO than CQing. Given a constant probability per unit of time of having someone tune across your frequency, that means your next QSO maybe more likely to result from someone tuning in your QSO.
This has many implications. The difference between an average hour in the first hour and an excellent one often turns out to be many minor things - added together.
There are obvious ones - like sending stuff in the right order, not wasting time sending un-necessary information, copying things the first time without having to ask for repeats and having a clear frequency.
However, there are some more subtle things you can do.
During the first hours of the contest, you should always be prepared for someone to be ready to call you as soon as your QSO is complete. If you listen to the top operators, if they think there might be someone there, they will just send "TU" at the end of the QSO. Many times, there will be someone there calling in. This does three things:
1. Improves your rate - you didn't have to send your call or SS or CQ.
2. Rewards the patient guy who might be weak, but stuck around to call you a second time. This is a good thing.
3. Helps relieve the power crises if you are in California (less sending).
If more than one person answered your previous CQ, or your sixth sense is telling you someone is listening, just send TU and see what happens. If nobody calls you after 723 milliseconds (+/- 10 ms), then you can launch a very quick CQ. I use something like "SS W5WMU SS". This will help encourage those who didn't figure out that you were ready to be called after the TU, or they didn't know your call. Putting the SS in the front is a good sync character so they are warmed up to hear your call. Putting the SS at the end makes it clear that you are ready to be called in case someone tuned you in during the middle of your call.
If this CQ goes unanswered, you can then launch your CQSS W5WMU W5WMU SS message and start tuning around on the second radio.
Since your QSO is on display - it needs to happen in such a way to encourage someone who is listening to it to stick around and work you. This is an art form on SSB, but there are still some things you can do on CW. You should be making it clear that the QSO will not take a long time to finish. You should respond quickly to the station you are working. You should be sending fast (at least 32 WPM if not more), and you need to finish the QSO without having to ask for repeats. Increasing your sending speed slightly is a good way to signal to the other calling stations that you heard them, and are trying to hurry so you can pick them up. Any kind of interruption in the normal QSO flow will have people reaching for their VFO knobs.
This brings up another point - there are times where it might not be in your best interest to work a really weak station during the first few hours of the contest. We have all had that one killer QSO that takes 2 minutes to finish because a weak station gets stomped on by someone trying to move in on the frequency. You should focus on the low hanging fruit during the first few hours of the contest, and spend more effort on the weaker signals when the rate has slowed down on Sunday.
We will talk about what to do when you are weak in another post. Hint, do not waste any RF energy on unnecessary information and don't repeat stuff until asked.
So - in summary - be aware of how the time spent sending and receiving the exchange can be used to attract new stations, and do all you can to optimize your rate as a result. Don't be afraid to end a QSO with a quick TU, see if someone is there, and then send a quick CQ if not. This can add a handful of QSOs to your better hours near the start of the contest.
SS CW Secrets - Weekend Edition - #5 2003-10-18
This will be a short secret - since it is the weekend.
This has to do with how to find those rare mults (like VY1JA or that VO1 station). This typically isn't an issue if you are "cheating" and using packet.
Put your receiver in as wide of an IF bandwidth as you can. Then, slowly tune around listening for a pileup.
This is very effective on Sunday, when typically all you hear on the band is people calling endless CQs. The pileup will stick out and then you can zero in on the needle in the haystack.
Look for those stations above, or below, the main activity. Don't stop tuning just because you stop hearing people calling CQ. Due to packet, it is possible for a rare station to sustain high rates well up the band.
The other quick topic to cover is knowing how your radio works with CW offsets. If you are going to be calling stations off frequency, you might not be heard. Even if you are, your signal might be getting QRMed from the stations "next door". Furthermore, it can create confusion where a different station things you are calling them, and they put you in their log.
Most of the modern radios are pretty good about matching up their monitor tone to the frequency that you should tune stations into in order to work them. However, it is a really good idea to manually check it and be super confident.
If you have two radios setup, this is an easy process. Tune in any kind of signal that you can use as a standard (loud station on the band). Set the TX power of your transmit rig as low as possible. Tune in the same station at the tone you think is zero beat. Send a few dits and see if the tones match in the other receiver. If not, then you need to work on either readjusting your offset, or the tone you are tuning people into.
Once you have checked one radio, reverse the process and check the other.
Some people find that setting their two radios up to different frequencies helps their brain sort out which radio is which when listening in stereo.
Getting this right becomes even more important if you are one of the weaker signals on the band.
SS CW Secrets #6 2003-10-22
This posting will mostly answer some questions that I have received over the past few days. I will talk a little about bandmaps and checking your feedlines.
"And then, of course, there is that old adage - most well known in the real estate business world ... 'Location, Location, Location.' If you are VY1JA or similiar.. you will be wanted no matter what band you choose to operate! Of course, with every upside, comes a downside, and his downside is the Aurora Borealis! Pretty to look at... but oh.. such a signal sucker....:-) "
Well, location has two elements - how well can you work lots of people, and how rare is your ARRL section. Being in a rare section certainly is an advantage because many people are motivated to obtain a clean sweep. This attention often results in pileups during the times you have good propagation.
The reason VY1JA doesn't win the contest is that there are long periods of time when nobody can hear him. He can hear you just fine... but his signal doesn't make it far enough South.
KP4 or KP2 are great QTHs because they not only have pretty good propagation properties, but you are also a rare multiplier.
Chris, KL9A writes:
"Keep these secrets coming... just once in my life I'd like to be able to say I've done an entire SS. What do you have to stay motivated on SATURDAY, not just Sunday? :)"
Wow - the young people are very impatient. Most of us old farts don't have a problem being motivated on Saturday. The prime motivation on Saturday is seeing if you can meet your goal for the number of QSOs you want to make in the first 12 hours of the contest. If you are finding it hard to keep focused before about 0600Z, then either you really aren't interested in this contest, or your rate is lower than it should be. The first 9 hours of the contest pretty much is a rate-fest.
John, K4BAI makes the following comment about QSK:
"And one of the most important things you failed to mention, but I think is implied, is that you MUST have full QSK. You don't really know what is going on on your frequency if you are using VOX keying and you can waste valuable time transmitting at the same time as the station you are working (or the station you thought you were working). I know that complicates SO2R work, but, at least for the SO1R guys, QSK is almost essential."
"Many good ops have not come to understand that."
Well, I guess I am one of those good ops. There are really two schools of thinking here, and I think it gets down to personal taste. I have used QSK back in my CW traffic handling days, but I find it hard to use in a contest with two radios. I am sure that there are times where it would be helpful to hear what is happening on my transmitted frequency, but to be honest, I haven't been able to afford amplifiers that would support QSK so it isn't an option anyway.
"K4PJ, ex K4LPW and W3DGM, was the first contester to impress upon me the importance of QSK in contesting. (I also use it in every day operating.) He was absolutely right in my opinion. Too often, when the VOX drops out, you get something on the frequency from the station you think you are working, but you only get part of it. With QSK, you know he is transmitting as soon as he starts and you can figure out if he is actually working someone else, or if he missed part of what you were trying to send. You will waste less time with queries to this station and figure out quickly if you should ignore him and go on to the next one. (This also gives you a clue that you should open up your filter to get this guy when he next calls you off your frequency. You also hear the QRM start up as soon as it does and you can much more easily figure out what is going on on your frequency than if you are completely deaf to the frequency while you are transmitting. "
So there you go. I won't dispute that using QSK will improve your efficiency, if you have the right equipment for it and it doesn't distract you from your two radio activities. However, I am not sure I would position this as a "MUST" have in order to do well in the SS.
Bob, AA0CY writes:
"What secrets and suggestions can you provide for those whose goal is solely a clean sweep, especially for those whose stations don't even make it into the little pistol category?"
Obviously getting a clean sweep using packet it a lot easier than not using packet. However, I feel that it isn't very gratifying either.
If you are not using packet and the clean sweep is your ONLY goal, I am not sure the strategy is all that much different than it is to maximize your score. There are mults that are easier to work if you are CQing. I think the best approach is a balanced one using two radios - one CQing and one looking for those mults.
Even if you are down to your last mult, this still might be the most effective strategy.
If you only have one radio, then it is a lot harder to know what to do. I guess you would need to alternate between CQing and S&Ping to maximize your exposure. As you get down to the last few mults, are probably more likely to find them S&Ping.
Another e-mail I got was from someone who was concerned about having me suggest speeding up your CW to indicate that you heard another station calling. The point is taken. You do have to be careful doing this and if someone called you at 24 or 26 WPM, it probably isn't a good idea to speed up to 38 WPM while sending the exchange. You should only do this if you are confident that the station you are working will be able to copy at the higher speed.
John, W4AU writes:
"I think your series of SS hints has been great. One thing I hope you will cover is how (if it is possible) to use the bandmap feature of TR to best advantage, even if you're are not cheating (using packet)."
Well, that is a good of an idea for today's secrets as any. First off, the bandmap feature isn't a TR exclusive feature, so the discussion will talk about bandmaps in a generic sense.
For those of you that haven't seen a bandmap, it is a display that shows a list of frequencies, with callsigns next to them. The entries of the band map typically come from "dupe checks" you have made while turning around the band. It can also get information from packet.
The main thing the bandmap can do for you is to help you more quickly determine if a station you have just tuned in is a dupe of not.
One feature that might be a TR exclusive is that the bandmap will show you the received information for a station that you just tuned in without any keystrokes. So, if you have K7RAT in your bandmap on 14037.2 and you tune in a loud signal on that frequency and hear "67 ORE", you can see that it is probably still K7RAT there and you can move on.
Another piece of data in the bandmap is some kind of time information so you can see how old the bandmap entry is. In TR, this is done with color coding. This information paints a visual picture of what parts of the band you have recently tuned, and which ones you haven't explored for awhile. To use this feature, you will need to update entries that already exist in the bandmap when you tune across them again.
If you are comfortable with the bandmap, it helps improve your S&P efficiency by decreasing the amount of time it takes to determine if you have already worked at station, and helping you see what parts of the band you haven't looked at in awhile. It also gives you the ability to come back to a specific station that might be hard to work with the current conditions. You can then easily find the station to try again later.
A necessary bandmap feature if you are using two radios is for it to be available for the second radio so you can see it while CQing on your run band. Otherwise, you might need to network two computers together and use one for your S&P activity and the other for CQing.
One of the things I started doing last weekend is checking my antennas and really working hard to make sure everything is up to snuff. The first test you need to do is with minimal power - best done with one of the handheld SWR meters. Often a bad connection will be "fixed" if you pump some power through it. These connections will often unfix themselves in the middle of receiving an exchange. If you see a bad SWR - search for the root cause. Look for bad connectors, or connections.
Once you have everything working at micropower, then you can put full power in and make sure things stand up. Listen with the 2nd radio and see if you hear any garbage that might indicate some arcing somewhere or other interference between bands. Make sure your coax cables are well marked and can easily identify which is which during the heat of battle.
SS CW Secrets #7 2003-10-24
I received a great question from Jay, K4OGG:
"You are S&P on R2 and working a station that is running. After the running station gives his/her exchange do you send his/her call sign before sending your exchange? Is it 'quality control' to do so or is it a waste of time? "
Many people would quickly answer this as a waste of time. However, it might be a good thing to do in certain situations and perhaps is also a good thing to do on Sunday - where taking a couple of seconds to make it clear who you are working is appreciated by all.
If you are aware that two people thought you were answering them, it is a very good idea to make sure they understand who you are working. If you have any doubt about the callsign of the station you are calling, sending his call as part of the exchange offers some chance for them to correct you if you got it wrong.
During the first few hours, some people will be a little impatient hearing their call sent - especially if you are sending it slowly. If you are using software to send your exchanges, you can send the call faster than the rest of the exchange.
If you are QRP (or weak for other reasons), you run the risk of extending the length of your exchange too much by doing this and having more QRM moving in on the frequency.
If you are doing a good job of zero beating, there will be less of a chance of two people thinking you are calling them.
Well, let's talk about frequency selection. I am not going to give you a set rule that clearly defines what the right frequency is. However, I will share some observations that I have made over the years that might help you improve your frequency selection.
First off, avoid W1AW code practice frequencies. I got blown off of a frequency on 40 meters one year from W5WMU because of this (up at 7.048). Someone did come on ahead and try to warn me that code practice was going to start up... but it is impossible to QSY a little bit in the crowded parts of the band and I had no choice except to go to another part of the band.
I will assume that you have sufficient CW filtering to hang out on most any frequency. Some people use very narrow filters, but I am not sure that is the best approach for the SS. I have survived in the most crowded parts of the band with a pair of stock 500 Hz filters in my TS850. My clear channel typically will fit right in with those filters. If someone calls me off frequency, I might need to narrow down to pick them out from my next door neighbor.
Using narrow filters will make it harder to hear people that are calling you off frequency - and also "allow" people to move in closer to you than the "average" distance that most people maintain. You will also get people upset at you because you might think a frequency is clear, and most of the other stations will think you are too close. You should only use narrow filters when receiving a specific station that is too close to another signal. I can't over emphasize this point. When I use a radio with the super 400 Hz filters, I do not feel that my ears are properly connected to the band.
Having two radios is a big asset in finding frequencies. If you are looking to QSY to a new band, you should be S&Ping there. If you find a clear sounding frequency, you should "try before you buy" while keeping your current run frequency. If you find there is nobody defending the frequency, then you can jump down. Using two radios has totally removed the pressure to find a new frequency that single radio people often feel.
When K1TO won the SS CW, he operated right up to the end of the contest while I had off time to burn during the last half hour. I found Dan down around 7010 and was surprised to hear him getting lots of answers to his CQs. I used this information to my advantage during my recent QRP effort - spending a lot of time down around 7005 - with very good results. The extra band is a great place to get away from the big signals clogging up the more "desirable" frequencies and actually get some pretty decent rate. The same goes for frequencies up near the top of the band.
On 15 and 10 meters, you might not hear much activity from .080 to .100, but don't stop there. There seems to be a group of people who like to hang out in the novice band (even though they are not novices). I always try to spend a little time up there on Sunday when every QSO is hard to find.
When operating on the higher bands, you need to realize that the weak signals on the band that are within your skip zone probably represent your biggest threat than the louder ones. The loud ones will stay away from your frequency because you are loud too. Someone who is skipping over you might not be able to hear you at all and think your frequency is totally clear. It is hard to win that frequency battle unless you can get people to come back to you that he hears. Sometimes, you just have to give up and find another frequency in this situation.
Want to see if a frequency is in use? Many schools of thought here, but the basic process is to listen for some length of time (the length of a typical exchange is about the right time - 10 seconds or so) and then transmit something to see if someone is there. If K3ZO comes on your frequency and calls CQ, that is just Fred's way of asking if the frequency is in use. Don't take it personally, just make some noise, and he will go away (unless he generated a pileup in which case you are probably dead meat).
Many people will use di-dit dit to ask if a frequency is in use. This is much less of a interruption than "QRL?" or a CQ. If you do a couple of them and nobody sends anything back, then try a quick CQ or two. If nobody complains about this, then you are probably ready to seriously use the frequency.
If someone asks if your frequency is in use - sending a quick "di-da-di-di-dit" is probably a good idea if you are in the middle of receiving an exchange. A great time to do that is when the station you're working is sending his callsign, if you can time it that way.
Sometimes, someone will actually "own" the frequency, but they were busy finishing up a QSO on another band. This gets into an area I can't really give good advice on. It depends on how long the person is away from the frequency. If a new station comes on frequency and does due diligence at seeing if a QSO is in process and you do nothing to indicate that you "own" the frequency, then I am not sure who really has the "right" to own the frequency. Generally, one of the two stations will quickly back down and you have to make your own decisions. Personally, I am not sure anyone who agrees to be in the contest can expect there to be no challenges to their frequency during the event. If you are not in a QSO with another station, I am not sure calling CQ really indicates frequency ownership. Certainly, you will get people mad if you constantly take their frequency from them, but it is part of the game and if someone that can't hear me well shows up on my frequency, and starts getting lots of responses to his CQs and I am getting nothing, who really should have the frequency anyway? Even if I have been there for 4 hours, it isn't clear that I can justify continuing to own the frequency if I can't produce enough activity to keep the frequency clear. You can almost take this to the point of saying that nobody owns any frequency when they are just CQing. If someone can take your frequency away from you, then it isn't clear to me that it is a bad thing in the context of a contest.
If you are having great success at running on a frequency and for whatever reason, some turkey comes and takes your frequency over, you should realize that if you were able to make hay on that band before, you can probably establish yourself on a new frequency pretty easy. The concept here is that if you do not have a competitive signal on the band, you won't have much success running. If something happens that forces you to move (like W1AW code practice), you probably can QSY and make stuff happen fairly quickly.
Sometimes your neighbors on the band will have a different opinion of how close you can be to them than you do. They will come on your frequency and ask you to QSY, or start moving in a little bit closer to your frequency to try and push you down. You need to realize that sometimes this is being done because they are being pushed from the other side of their frequency. Maybe someone tried to squeeze into a gap in the band.
When this happens, and if you do have some room you can move down into, it is a great thing when people re-space themselves on the band as things change. If that doesn't work, then you need to stick to your guns and see what happens. It can turn into a situation where one of you will have to QSY and it is always interesting to see how the decision gets made on who it will be. One great thing to do that sometimes works if is the station crowds down too far, and you can jump over them and take over the gap he made above him. I do that about once a contest.
Back when N5TJ was QRP, I noticed he was the next station up from me on 40 meters when I was at W5WMU. Call this "drafting". I guess he didn't feel that he was going to have much competition to the frequency since I was so strong. However, he seemed to have a good rate. I haven't ever done this myself, but it is something to keep in mind that might work. This sometimes works out on the higher bands as well, where a strong station might open up a hole in the band, but you can get some rate going working people who are close to that station that can't hear him very well.
There will always be times where you aren't sure you are on the right band. I will often listen to stations that I know are in a similar situation as me who are on the other bands and see how many responses they are getting compared to me over a period of a few minutes. For example, if I am on 15 meters at W5WMU and I hear someone like K5GN on 20 or 10 meters, I can compare my rates to his to see if I am holding my own CQing. This is a good technique on Sunday.
Well, that's most of the things I can think of. Hopefully a one of two of them will be useful - and feel free to document any I didn't mention that are in your own personal war chest.
This weekend will be filled with some minor repair work around the station. Need to get a rotator rebuilt so I have a rotatable 10 meter antenna, and I have to fix a hardline connection for that antenna as well. I think I might take Friday off from work to finish up the preparations. That is one thing I really enjoy when going to W5WMU is having Friday to take my time getting everything all set without rushing. I remember one year where I was having 20 db over S9 line noise towards the west. This was going to be a BIG problem. We called the power company and got very lucky. They had a couple of crews working just down the street from us and they came over that afternoon and found a cracked insulator and replaced it. Wow!! If you are in a similar situation, you can get a quicker response if you use some key words during your phone call. I think the one that worked best was "arcs".
Code speed - start the contest around 35 - 37 WPM. Slow down as the rate does. You will probably want to be around 30 WPM on Sunday or a little less.
One other little trick for those of you who are reading this all the way through - if you have 2 or 3 stations calling you and they are QRMing themselves so that you can't pull one of the callsigns out. You should try to use a well timed ? to solve the problem. This is more efficient than coming back to a partial callsign. If you send the ? right after the FIRST station has finished sending his call, the other stations will not hear it and there will be a nice opening for the first station calling to send his call again. This will often be the station who was sending faster, so the resulting QSO will take less time, increasing your chances of the other stations sticking around (after all, they are sending slower, so they are less likely to move on). I'll even do that if the slower station is really loud, just so I can work the faster station first.
My brain is starting to run out of ideas. I'll talk a little about what to expect on each band in my next posting. However, please send me any thoughts or questions that I can share.
SS CW Secrets #8 2003-10-30
First some mail from your readers:
Warren, NF1J writes:
"The one thing I was hoping you'd talk about, and haven't yet, given the target audience is accuracy. Especially since in Sweepstakes, (a), the exchange is the most complicated, (b), the top ten can be separated by a handful of QSOs, (c) you get a lot more people than normal who aren't very good at CW, and (d), the contesting community has gotten puritanical as far as checking every single submitted log (which, IMO, is a bit much)."
Puritanical? Well, perhaps. Since I am somewhat involved in the log checking process for the SS, I can certainly agree that we do check every single submitted log. As far as that being too much - I guess I have a hard time knowing where to draw the line - and in the end, I don't think there is any reason not to check all of the logs. I should point out in self-defense that log checking is not used to deny anyone getting a clean sweep mug. You can get that mug even if you don't copy the information correctly.
"And if you're a contester who's taken the summer off, and might be a bit rusty, it's probably too late now to get some practice in."
No, but being aware of the issue and taking some extra time to make sure you have things right might be enough for some.
Here are more thoughts that Warren put together:
"Generally, CW copying errors fall under two categories. Counting errors, and transposition errors.
Counting errors are when you drop or add a dit or a dah. For example, B vs D, J vs W, S vs H, R with F, U with V, M vs O, 2 vs 3 and > 7 vs 8. Many people tend to add one that isn't there, or drop one that was there.
Transposition errors are even more insidious. There are a lot of people who'll confuse N with A; F with L, 3 with 7, 2 with 8, and the like. You'd think it would be impossible, but it happens time after time after time.
What to do?
If you're rusty, practice. If you're not rusty, but you're going to be serious, practice anyway.
SS is the one contest where you hear the call sign twice. Therefore, there is never any excuse to get a call sign wrong.
If you're going to send at 38, you need to be able to copy 100% at 38. Don't work at a speed higher than what you can copy--it just makes trouble for all of us.
In SS, you deal with a lot of what I call "unexpected numbers". You expect a certain number as part of the call sign; you know the precedence is going to be one of six letters; the sections are all predetermined; but there's no telling what someone's check is going to be, and they can change from year to year (trust me). So if you've not been listening to a lot of CW numbers lately, maybe this is a good week to tune in some W1AW CW high speed transmissions.
Finally, probably the largest cause of copying errors is simply a failure to ask for a repeat. Don't be afraid to sound foolish by asking for a repeat of the exchange, or any part of the exchange. If you guess, you *will* guess wrong, nearly every time. If your mind isn't right, to paraphrase Cool Hand Luke, you'll fail to communicate."
Great stuff Warren. About all I can add it remind everyone that their log will be checked regardless of how small or large it is. If you sent in a log last year, you can see your report card (Log Check Report) on the ARRL web page that shows the contest results (and if you are logged in as an ARRL member).
Over 99 percent of your callsigns and received information will be checked. Over 70 percent of your log will be cross-checked. If you are not sure of the information you are putting in the log, then you should take the time to get it right. Otherwise, you will likely lose the contact, and possibly a penalty to go with it.
Shelby, K4WW writes:
"Tree, I have been "reading through", and even kept them for reference, your SS CW Secrets. Being "CW challenged" above 24-26 WPM, I think your advice should/could read "when in S/P, call the CQing station at their speed", not necessarily a specific number, just don't make them uncomfortable and intimidated, or they may "just disappear"! Many lose a contact with me, not sure if that matters, just because they won't QRS for me to "get it right"! I find that if I wait until Sunday afternoon to get on, my chances are greatly increased, simply because I'm the "new meat"? I also plead guilty to "not being a novice, but calling high in the band", almost always in the "novice" area of the band! Usually enough will find me, to allow me to make the necessary 100 contacts, and the others just miss getting "the one that could make a difference"?"
Great points and thanks for sharing. Yes, when answering someone calling CQ at a slower speed, or if someone answers your 38 WPM CQ at 27 WPM, it is only common sense that you should slow down. Certainly getting on during Sunday will find more stations sending below 30 WPM.
"Off times? Best to sleep at night from 12-6 or...?"
Ah yes - another thing I was going to cover and forgot.
Let me back up a little first. The SS is really two different contests. One is called Saturday and the other Sunday. You will find your average rate on Saturday is about twice what it will be on Sunday, or even a bit more. Therefore, it is important to maximize your operating time on Saturday and save your off time for the slower periods of the contest.
As a general rule, I always try to operate the first 12 hours of the contest without any breaks (or one at the most). After that 12th hour, it seems that most of the stations who are active are sleeping. Depending on my circumstances, I will get back on the air with 3 or 4 break times to use during Sunday.
There are other stations who will never stay off the air for longer than 30 minutes and they basically don't sleep. They will end up way ahead of you on Sunday morning when you wake up, but it isn't clear that they will be ahead of you at the end of the contest. Personally, I find I function much better on Sunday if I have had some sleep.
If you find you need to take a break for some kind of equipment problem early in the contest - try not to let it upset you too much. One year at W5WMU, I had to take 30 minutes off in the first hour, but was still able to win the contest.
I am not sure any break strategy that has you on the air for 11 1/2 of the first 12 hours can be very broken.
So - what kind of rates should you expect? Depends on your power level on the first day, but on Sunday, I think most everyone's rate is the same. If you are QRP, you have more stations that you haven't worked, and that helps your rate on Sunday.
For high power stations, your rate on Sunday will be about half of what you had on Saturday. In some cases, they will be even less than that.
Here is some data I just pulled out of the 2002 SS CW logs. It shows the distribution by hour and by band for all of the QSOs showing up in the electronic logs that were received. Since I have logs from both sides of many QSOs, these numbers are higher than the "actual" QSO numbers, but you can use this as a relative indication of where the activity is and when.
Total logs processed = 1158 HOUR 160 80 40 20 15 10 TOTAL 2100 0 66 2296 5240 7923 15367 30892 2200 0 1 2198 5333 11198 12770 31500 2300 0 2 2960 7748 13145 5727 29582 0000 0 79 5652 10082 10942 1765 28520 0100 0 863 8542 12488 5693 40 27626 0200 0 3244 11287 11552 772 11 26866 0300 0 5765 14532 5903 8 10 26218 0400 0 7101 15450 3414 0 0 25965 0500 0 7743 14495 1433 0 1 23672 0600 0 7369 11517 280 0 0 19166 0700 1 5747 7664 22 0 1 13435 0800 0 2618 3850 1 0 5 6474 0900 0 697 893 0 70 73 1733 1000 0 142 697 50 33 11 933 1100 0 916 1931 55 0 17 2919 1200 0 2640 6188 458 20 4 9310 1300 0 453 9461 4050 269 72 14305 1400 0 4 5277 8427 3276 70 17054 1500 0 1 3094 8886 7104 1334 20419 1600 0 0 965 7552 7602 5087 21206 1700 0 0 581 5294 6557 7255 19687 1800 0 0 170 4401 6403 7288 18262 1900 0 0 487 4672 6707 6832 18698 2000 0 26 746 5201 6339 6126 18438 2100 0 0 1834 5186 6404 5106 18530 2200 0 17 2796 5400 7760 2679 18652 2300 0 401 4163 6356 6367 443 17730 0000 0 1544 5310 6617 3120 31 16622 0100 0 2613 6952 6291 474 0 16330 0200 0 4164 6502 4115 0 0 14781
As you can see, the hours 0900, 1000 and 1100 are great ones to get some shuteye. Some club must have had an activity hour at 2000 on 80 meters!
This year, things might be shifted down some if 10 meters isn't open. Although with the crazy stuff going on with the sun this week, who knows how conditions will be.
Well, I am going to send this off. I might not make another post until after the contest as things are rather hectic.
Good luck in the contest and hope to work you in the SS!
K3ZO on Operating in the WPX Contest - 2010
The strategy in this contest is a lot different than for other DX contests because multipliers only count once, not once-per-band. And there are a lot more multipliers out there to be had, so it is worth much less to get into a pile-up you might happen across.
Also for a single op you have to take some time off so it pays to know what hours are most productive and when you can afford to be off without jeopardizing your score too much. Finally, you get double points on 160, 80 and 40 for working stations outside the USA.
Therefore, a few basic principles apply, as follows:
1. Run When You Can
The way 15 meters was this past weekend, even a low power contestant with a tribander has a decent chance of getting a run going as long as the band is wide open to Europe. At 1800 UTC the band was still going strong in that direction. As time goes on the Europeans start to lose skip further to their east so towards the end of the opening, say 1700-1900 we become the only game in town and even if you couldn't run earlier that is the time to try again.
After the 15 meter band closes to Europe, 20 will be its hottest to Europe during two or three hours after that. It's a hard place to find a run frequency but if you're going to be able to run at all on 20, 1800-2200 will likely be the hours of greatest success.
2. Hit 40 As Soon As Your Station Can Get Results There
Since you get double points for DX on 40, 80 and 160, your QSO rate only has to be a bit more than half of what it is on 20 or 15 to get comparable results. Therefore S&P on 40 and 80 is certainly preferable to S&P on 20 and 15 if you are faced with making a choice. When the run dries up on 20 give 40 a try.
3. Plan Your Times Off Taking Propagation Into Account
As a single op you have to take at least 12 hours off. You will want to favor times when the bands are wide open to Europe because that is the natural source of points. It may be fun to have a nice run of USA stations but you're only getting one point for each of those QSOs so for contest points Europe is the name of the game. This past weekend the period from 0800 to 1030 UTC was really the dregs. Plan to get some ZZZ's then unless you get a kick out of putting four-suffix-letter VK novices into the log on 40 meter SSB.
A few propagation observations based on conditions in the spring of 2010:
The evening opening on 20 to Central Asia is back. It's worth spending some time there 0130-0300 UTC even if 40 is wide open to Europe, because you can put some Asian prefixes into your log. In this time period, along with lots of loud UA9's and UA0's I found a couple of JT's, a VU3, an XU7, some BA's and BG's not to mention JA's. JA's peak earlier, 2200-2400 UTC, and it's better to be there for them Saturday afternoon rather than Sunday afternoon because our Sunday afternoon is their Monday morning.
This past weekend 80 was best to Europe around 0400-0500 UTC. Before that I found the MUF still so high that there was noticeable absorption still present on 80.
The newfound lack of broadcast signals in the area 7128-7200 makes 40 a great band for harvesting SSB QSOs; no more need to work split except for an occasional S&P foray; most SSB QSOs now take place simplex.
73, Fred, K3ZO on the PVRC reflector