K5LAD - 50+ Years of Ham Radio Memories

Volume XXVII

How old did you say you were?

Key search words:   contest, Logger32, N3FJP, logging

Today, as I write this, it is Friday, September 3, 2010, and as I sat in my hamshack late in the afternoon, only halfway listening to the K3 transceiver, it became evident that 20 meters was really hopping.  I tuned around a bit and heard several Russian stations coming in and they seemed to be involved in a contest.  I do like to operate in some of the contests, from time to time, although I seldom try to make a big showing.   Any awards I've won while participating in a contest have been purely accidental.  Perhaps I'm a bit like the fisherman who doesn't care to eat the fish he catches or the hunter who seldom dresses out and eats what he kills.  The enjoyment, for me, is in the chase, the search, the catching or whatever verb best fits this activity.

 There are many contests available to the ham population, regardless of your license, your skill level, the "elaborateness" of your station or the antenna system available to you.  There are contests, which allow you to shine with a QRP rig of no more than 5 watts and penalize the operator with a high power station.  There are contests for many different modes, whether your interest is in phone, CW, PSK-31, PSK-62, RTTY, Hell, or many other modes available to hams.  There are CW contests where the operator who is not operating at at least 30+ wpm will be ignored and others where you are expected to shun automatic keys, keyers, and CW generated by a computer-type keyboard and operate slowly with only a straight key.

 Operators who are interested in the 10 meter band, VHF and UHF frequencies, and even frequencies so high up that little, if any, commercial equipment is available and the equipment is primarily home brewed, have contests available to them.  These frequencies may interest the contest participants because their license allows the limited frequency operation there but often it is the immense thrill of the capture of a QSO "up there" that makes it especially attractive to participants in those contests. 

 Some of these bands are often not readily available for available propagation and few hams are listening because "that band is probably not open right now."  Contests offer a better chance that more, or many more, operators will be on those bands during that particular time.  Often a ham will discover that the band supports good communications but they didn't realize it because everybody was sitting and listening, just waiting for a signal.  In reality, when everyone is listening........ waiting........ listening........ there's nothing to be heard.   The contest provides the incentive to make a call and see if anyone is out there; what some would call "bringing them out of the woodwork."

There are contests that make it easier for even the casual operator to make contacts with other countries, other states, or specific counties.  Many of the popular contests are sponsored by the ARRL and/or CQ Magazine; others are sponsored by smaller groups or organizations.  Typically, contests that expect certain results are scheduled at the times when it is easier to work stations in that category.  For instance, contests on the 160 meter band are primarily during the winter months when the noise level is at a lower level and participants will have a better chance at success.  Also, many hams know that the ARRL Field Day contest is always held during the last weekend in June so as to take the maximum advantage of the intense summer heat, the high proliferation of bugs, spiders, etc., and the total lack of comfort elements during that time of the year.   To have scheduled Field Day for any other time of the year would have robbed hams; new and old alike, of the joys of hours on end of rope pulling to start an erratic or stubborn generator, the memorable sudden nighttime rainstorms with the high wind gusts that either blow down the tent/s, blows away the logging pages, or brings down one or more of the antennas............ and perhaps ALL of those memorable events.  Field Day, however, does offer another memorable activity and that is the great comradery and delicious meal shared on that Saturday night in June.  That somehow makes it all worth the effort.

 How, then, do you know when a contest is scheduled?  First, most contests are run during the weekends because more hams are more available for operation.  The rules, hours of operation, power allowed, and many other stipulations are as varied as the contests themselves.  Some weekend contests run for only a specific 24 hour period, some a 48 hour period, others list perhaps a 48 hour or more window for the contest but a participant who intends to submit a log sheet to be considered in the competition may only operate 36 hours within that window.

In the contest example I gave in the initial paragraph, I was able to identify the contest by looking at one of the emails I receive each week and save in a safe place.  Each week I get an email from Bruce Horn - WA7BNM.  Bruce keeps a calendar of all the contests available during the coming week including all those to be on the upcoming weekend.  The entry below displays the beginning of the message that contained the information I needed:

====================================================

                               THIS WEEK'S CONTESTS

                          Compiled by Bruce Horn, WA7BNM

                        August 30 - September 6, 2010 Edition

=====================================================

The web versions of this weekly calendar and of the WA7BNM 13-Month Calendar can be found at: http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/   You can also access a text version of the 13-month calendar at:

http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/contestcal.txt

Next, I scrolled down through the message to find some reference to an Asia contest since that's the area I was hearing and who were being worked and working many stations including many US stations.

 ====================================================

All Asian DX Contest, Phone: 0000Z, Sep 4 to 2400Z, Sep 5

   Mode: Phone

   Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m

   Classes: Asian Single Op Single Band (High/Low)

            Non-Asian Single Op Single Band (High)

            JA Single Op Multi Band (High/Low/Junior/Silver)

            Asian Single Op Multi Band (High/Low)

            Non-Asian Single Op Multi Band (High)

            Multi-Single

            Multi-Multi

   Max power: HP: >100 watts

              LP: 100 watts

   Exchange: RS + 2-digit age

   Work stations: Once per band

   QSO Points: (see rules)

   Multipliers: Asian Stations: DXCC entities once per band

                non-Asian Stations: Asian prefixes once per band

   Score Calculation: Total score = total QSO points x total mults

   Submit logs by: October 31, 2010

   E-mail logs to: aaph[at]jarl[dot]or[dot]jp

   Mail logs to: JARL, All Asian DX Contest, Phone

                 170-8073

                 Japan

   Find rules at:

http://www.jarl.or.jp/English/4_Library/A-4-3_Contests/2010AA_Rule.htm

====================================================

Note that it identifies the bands that could be used during the contest, the stations that would be expected to be participating, power levels allowed and several other pieces of useful information.  It also showed how the scores would be determined and if you wanted to submit a log to be considered; when and where it should be sent.  Also, it showed the URL where I could find any additional information.

In particular, I wanted to know what type of report or exchange to make with each station contacted.  Contest exchanges vary widely, depending on the type of contest it is.  The reports vary widely --- they may require each station to exchange:   a state or country name, a county, the year in which they were originally licensed, their CQ zone, their IARC zone, and often a sequential serial number, i.e., #143, next is #144, etc.  You give your report and write down the one they provide.  Personally, I don't really like the contests that make the exchange requirement to be a sequential serial number because it lets you see how you are ranking in relation with other participants.  Obviously if, during the middle of the contest, someone gives you their report -- "59-2429" it means you are their 2429th contact.  When you must give them your report --- "59-116" you know they've done a BUNCH better than you.  It just always seemed to be a bit of a letdown to me but then I was always the one giving the considerably lower number report.  Perhaps if I were the station able to proudly proclaim that much higher number, I'd feel differently about it.  I do know that shall never be the case, however.

Also, often during a contest, a station will attempt to make a contact with a contesting station, even though they are not actually participating in the contest officially.  This is perfectly legal and may allow you to claim credit for a new country, county, or state.  In this case the non-contester would just give a serial number - "59-001"  If that goes well they may want to nab another one and they would give out their next report - "59-002"   If you don't plan to submit a competitive log, the number is insignificant.  Suffice it to say, when in doubt, you report a serial number 1.

By the way, notice that all those exchanges gave the signal report as 59.   Hams sometimes lie -- I hope I'm not giving away a big secret.  A 59 signal report often means:

(1)   I need your QSL card for a confirmation, or

(2)   I'm in a contest and everybody gives 59s, or

(3)   I'm so excited getting you that I'm about to........... well..........I'm pretty excited………… 

Of course it brings a chuckle to listen to a regular QSO on the band where one station says, "I'll give you a 5 by 9 report.  By the way, would you please repeat your name and what state was that?"   I close this paragraph with a repeat of my statement, “Hams sometimes lie.”

In this particular Asian contest, I couldn't quite figure out the reports being given.  I could tell that the Asian stations were giving the same report number, time after time so it was sure not a sequential number.  By looking at the info above from the calendar email, it said you give the signal report followed by your age "59-36" (<-- ha, no that wasn't mine).  Ah, ha, the exchange was, signal report (or ham lie) followed by your age.  That was a new one on me but at least now I knew what I was supposed to give to the Asian station and what I was receiving from them.

The funniest thing I heard was a US ham who badly wanted to work the Asian station but he didn't know (or didn't care) what was the correct exchange so he gave the station "59-01"  The Asian ham asked him again and he repeated the same thing and the Asian ham cleared with his report.   I assume that he just wrote down that the guy's age was one year old.  I laughed for quite some time over that one but that's where I got the title to this article.

I also heard another interesting participant in this same contest; actually I heard him several times.  It was a Canadian ham whose voice was weak, high, and thin.  When he gave his report it was "59-82."  I'd like to think that I was still enjoying my ham radio hobby when I reach that age.............. come to think of it, I just hope I'm still able to enjoy it next year.

In all fairness, I must address the criticism of quite a few US hams who hate the contests because the contesters "take up all the bands where a non-contester can't even carry on a QSO with someone else."  I recognize this and would suggest that even though there are probably several various contests on any given weekend, they don't all span the entire spectrum.  Some are band specific (such as 10 meter or 160 meter) only, some are on areas such as VHF or UHF or perhaps both in some cases but there aren't really that many contests which end up "hogging all the bands" as I've heard some complain.

Actually, the organizers and sponsors of most contests covering the low bands (160-10) prohibit contest operation on the WARC bands, i.e., 30 meters, 17 meters, and 12 meters.  Any ham whose attitude is somewhere between; "Contests irritate me" and "I loath those #$%^&*()_ contests" can find complete contest-freedom on those bands.   As an avid contester, I'd like to be able to use those bands during a contest, but as a logical individual, I understand the need for the separation and think it was a pretty clever and useful rule in the long run.

There are several places on the Internet where you can see listings of current and upcoming contests:  QST and CQ both publish fairly complete listings of scheduled contests.  Even the calendar printed and sold by CQ Magazine is a good place to quickly see what's going on each week.  If you'd like to use the one I use and have written about here, go to:

http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/

Somewhere on this website is the following:

Weekly E-mailed Calendar

Provides a weekly e-mail of each contest and its details for an 8-day period (Monday through Monday), as well as a list of contests scheduled for the next week and a list of log submission information for recent contests. A sample is available. To subscribe to this service, send an e-mail to Bruce, WA7BNM. 

You should be able to send Bruce an email and get on his list.  Obviously there are some "lists" that I wouldn't recommend you be seeking out for inclusion, however, this one is OK.

No discussion of contests would be complete without mentioning logging software to keep track of your contest activity.  Some contests allow contacting a station only one time, some only one time per band or per mode.  Years ago, one of the most difficult jobs for the contester was to keep a careful "Dupe Sheet" to show quickly whether you had already worked a station.  We'd like to think that with our superior intellect, we could remember who we had previously worked and could keep that list in our head.  Unless you have "Rainman" helping you at the logging table, however, it just isn't going to happen. 

There have been numerous tricks and solutions used and published throughout the years to help the newcomer to master the "Dupe Sheet" but the best secret I've found is to use a computerized logging program that does this work for you.   General logging programs like my favorite Logger32  www.logger32.net can be used and, if you're careful, it will show you duplications.  There are other programs that are made specifically for a particular contest and do a masterful job of checking for dupes as well as keeping a running total of your score according to the rules for that particular contest.  The programs I use for most contests are written and distributed by Scott Davis - N3FJP www.n3fjp.com.  Scott's programs are excellent, they are inexpensive, they are effective, and remove one element of worry from the contesting user.

These specific contest logging programs also keep a running total on your score using the correct rules for that particular contest.  When the contest is ended or when you wear out and choose to stop prematurely, the program will print out a copy and/or a file in the correct format for submission to the group sponsoring the contest and will generally even provide you the email or snail mail address to submit your results.  In addition to that, most will allow you to create an ADIF file for your contest contacts.   The ADIF format is the standard protocol for sharing contact logs within different programs.  I can take the ADIF file from my N3FJP contesting program and port it directly into my Logger32 program with only a few mouse clicks.  The contest contacts then become a part of my larger logging program.

The difference between using a general logging program like Logger32 for a contest and a specific contest logging program (like Scott's) is, the general logging program indicates in a sub window that you've already worked a particular station on that band but requires you to keep checking back to that area of the screen's geography.  The specific logging program sees any duplication and almost shouts at you, "HEY!!   YOU'VE  ALREADY  GOT  THAT  ONE!!!.   You can even configure Scott's programs to audibly say in the sweetest female voice, "duplicate." 

 One other thing --- if you enter an ARRL or CQ contest and you submit your score, regardless of how low you think it might be............... whether you know you aren't even in the running with the winners, the contest sponsors will publish your call and contest results in a later copy of their magazine.  If you think you'd like to see your name or call in a national magazine, this is the way to get it done.  This reminds me of a fellow I once knew who played high school basketball.  He only got to play a few minutes in any game and he never got to start.  One day his coach told him, "when you're in that game, if you don't do anything else worthwhile, be sure to commit a foul on a player on the opponent's team.  That way you'll get your name in the paper.  It won't be for scoring a point but if you don't do SOMETHING, even though you played in the game, the newspaper will not publish your name."  So, a word to the wise.............. eh?

By the way, up in that second paragraph you might have seen the reference to Hell.  This is a shortened version of the name Hellschreiber and is a legitimate and popular digital mode available to the ham population.  I just wanted you to know that I hadn't dropped something on my foot while I was writing this.


 written July 3, 2010

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