Why Ham Radio?


Scorpion SA-680 Screwdriver Antenna

Fred’s Truck with Antenna

Every so often, I drive Fred’s truck into work and people ask me what that big antenna on the back of the truck is for. I explain to them that it is for Ham Radio.  But the reply is usually, why ham radio – isn’t that outdated technology?  We have cell phones and IM, etc…what do we need Ham Radio for?  So I thought I would put down my thoughts as a relatively new Ham about why I enjoy spending so much of my time with Ham Radio.

amateur_radio_could_save_lives_in_times__2205260000_9445423_ver1-0_640_480

Amateur Radio for Public Service

Public Service

The number one reason we still need Ham Radio along with all the other technology we now have is for public service.  When there is a disaster and cell phones, television, etc are all not working, Ham Radio operators provide the critical communication.

Ham Radio operators help locally to keep hospitals and first responders in contact with each other to help those affected by the disaster.

Hams also use our ability to communicate around the world on HF bands to help family members around the world to get in touch with loved ones affected by a disaster.

Ham Radio operators have been on the scene helping in every disaster from the earthquakes in Nepal to the recent flooding in California.

hamsats

Amateur Radio Cube Satellites

Technology and the Maker Movement

I only became a Ham 5 years ago but many of my fellow Ham Radio operators got their license when they were in their early teens and used what they learned to launch their careers. Many have had very successful careers in STEM fields, all launched by their interest in Ham Radio at a young age.  As technology advances, so does the technology used in our hobby.   We even have a nobel laureate, Joe Taylor K1JT who is a ham. Joe has developed weak signal digital communication modes that let us communicate by bouncing signals off the moon!

As technology has advanced, so has the use of it in Ham Radio.   Most Ham Radio operators have one or more computers in their shack.  Many also have a software designed radio (SDR), where much of the radio functionality is implemented using Software, we use sound cards to run digital modes, which are a lot like texting over the radio, and we use the internet extensively as part of operating.  We can also make contacts through satellites orbiting the earth and even the International Space Station.

Most hams love do-it-yourself technical projects, including building a station, home brewing an antenna, building a radio or other station component.  In my day job, I am a program manager for software development projects, but its been a while since I have built anything. As a Ham I taught myself how to code in Python and about the Raspberry Pi and I built the DX Alarm Clock.

vk6lc

QSL Card from VK6LC in Western Australia

International Camaraderie

One of the coolest things about being an amateur radio operator is that you can communicate with other hams all over the world. Ham Radio is an international community where we all have something in common to talk about – our stations and why we enjoy ham radio.    The QSL card above is from a memorable QSO with Mal, VK6LC, from Western Australia, who was the last contact that I needed for a Worked All Zones award.  I must have talked to him for 1/2 hour about his town in Australia and his pet kangaroos!

world-map

Amateur Radio Map of the World

Geography Lesson

I have learned much about geography from being on the air and trying to contact as many countries as I can.  There are 339 DX Entities, which are countries or other geographical entities and I have learned where each one is in order to understand where propagation will allow me make a contact.  I have learned a great deal about world geography. Through exchanging QSL cards often get to see photos from so many areas of the world.

dxcc-challenge-award

DXCC Challenge Award Plaque

Achievement – DXing and Contesting

DXing and Contesting provide a sense of achievement and exciting opportunity for competition. Many Hams work toward operating awards. You can get an operating award for contacting all 50 states, contacting 100 or more countries, contacting Islands, cities in Japan, countries in Asia, or anything else you can imagine.  Each of these operating awards provides a sense of accomplishment and helps to build skills.  Contesting builds skills through competition among Hams to see who can make the most contacts with the most places in 24 or 48 hours. Contesting also improves our operating skills and teaches us to copy callsigns and additional data accurately.

anita-instructor

Teaching a License Class

Teaching Licensing Classes – Passing it On

Recently I have joined a team of club members who teach license classes to others who want to get licensed or upgrade their existing Amateur Radio licenses.  Teaching provides a way to improve my presentation skills and also helps me to really understand the material that we teach about Amateur Radio.  It is always a thrill at the end of the class to see so many people earn their licenses or upgrades.

There are so many interesting aspects of Ham Radio which is what makes is such a great hobby.  Getting your license can open up a world of possibilities.  Upgrading to a new license class provides more opportunities to communicate over longer distances.  Ham Radio clubs, including our local club, the Nashua Area Radio Club,  provide many resources to help you get your first licenseupgrade to a new license class, and learn about the many aspects of our hobby.

2014 Es Season On The Magic Band – A Journey Towards A 6m VUCC


6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMaps

6m Band Opening Viewed On DXMAPS

I decided to become active on the 6m band this year. This 6m Sporadic E (Es) season was in full swing about a month ago when I got active on 6m. The picture above is from the DXMAPS website and shows one of the daily openings that we’ve experienced on 6m here in the US during the last month. The DXMAPS website is a good tool for monitoring for VHF/UHF band openings (10m and higher). The site collects and plots cluster spots and propagation mode information on a world map in real-time. This includes spots from CW Skimmers which monitor beacons on the VHF and UHF bands. This allows one to determine when a VHF/UHF band is open and the directions for possible QSOs from one’s location. As you can see from the picture above, there was a solid 6m opening on this particular day from my QTH in New England to the Midwest, the Southeast and the Caribbean! You can also see the beginnings of an opening into Europe.

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLabs SpotCollector)

Cluster Spots During A 6m Band Opening (DXLab SpotCollector)

The graphic above shows spotting cluster data (we use the DXLab Suite at our station). You can see the details of the stations being spotted during the opening.

The 6m band is often called the “magic band” because it exhibits many different propagation modes including Sporadic E (Es), Tropo, Aurora, Iconoscatter, Meteor Scatter and even Earth-Moon-Earth (EME or “Moon Bounce”). You can find a good introduction to the magic band, its propagation possibilities and some ideas on how to get started on 6m on these sites:

I would also recommend Six Meters: A Guide to the Magic Band by Ken Neubeck, WB2AMU. While the equipment information in this book is somewhat dated and it can be a little had to find, it contains excellent information on propagation modes and operating on 6m.

Many of the 6m propagation modes can be very short-lived so one must be prepared to make short contacts at the start of a QSO. The typical 6m exchange would include callsigns, signal reports and grid square (more on grid square below). The 6m band is typically very quiet and will easily support QSOs that do not move one’s S Meter even with the rig’s preamps on!

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

SteppIR DB36 Antennas At Our QTH

We planned for 6m operation when we built our station a couple of years ago. Our primary antennas for 6m are our SteppIR DB36 yagis at 105′ and 65′. These antennas are used separately on the 6m band (we can run them as a 4 over 4 array on 10m – 40m).

SteppIR DB36 With 6m Kit

SteppIR DB36 With The 6m Kit Installed Below Our 2m and 432 MHz Yagis

Out SteppIR DB36 Yagi’s feature a 36 foot boom and have a 6m Passive element Kit installed which provide two additional elements on the 6m band. The resulting gain and front/back performance are in the range of  typical 5 element 6m mono band antennas. Having two independently directional antennas for 6m has turns out to be quite useful in contests and when monitoring for 6m openings. These antennas have 6 elements on 6m and are pretty directional. Typical operating setups at our QTH would have one antenna pointed to the West or toward Europe while the other is pointed south to monitor for openings to the Southeast and the Caribbean. In these configurations, we can instantly switch between two directions using our microHAM Antenna Control System.

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

AB1OC Operating Position On 6m

Both of our two operating positions are 6m capable. They both feature Transceivers with good receivers (a Yaesu FTdx5000 and an Icom IC-7800) and both have PW-1 Amplifiers which provide 1KW output on the 6m band.

QSOs By Band

QSOs By Band As Of Early 2014

Before the 2014 Spring Es Season, we had only done limited operating on the 6m band. I did participate in the 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest and operated on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands during that contest. I also did some 6m operating as part of the 13 Colonies Special Event in 2013. In total, I had made about 200 QSOs on 6m and had worked 10 grid squares by the beginning of the 2014. Most of these 6m contacts were with stations in the US with a few to the Caribbean. My longest DX up to that point in time were a few contacts 6m stations in the Canary Islands on the northwest coast of Africa.

JT65 QSO On 6m

JT65 QSO using WSJT-X and JTAlert On 6m

At the start of the 2014 Spring Es Season, I decided to get serious about earning an ARRL VUCC Award on 6m. This award requires one to work and confirm 100 grid squares on the 6m band (it’s also available for 2m and higher bands). I began by studying 6m propagation modes and monitoring the calling frequencies on the 6m band. We work a combination of modes on 6m include SSB Phone, CW, and digital (using JT65). The CW and JT65 modes are very useful on the 6m band when the propagation conditions are marginal. We recently upgraded to Joe Taylor’s WSJT-X software which supports both the JT65 and JT9 weak signal modes. This WSJT-X software coupled with JTAlert software from HAMApps integrated the JT65 and JT9 modes very well with the DXLab suite that we use for logging and other DX’ing work at our station.

There were some exciting times on the air during the early part of the Es Season this year. Two that stand out were my first double hop Es contacts with hams in California and several openings to the Midwest and the Southeast where the band went from dead to very active in a period of 5-10 minutes! This is typical for the 6m band but it’s quite an experience to go from calling CQ with no answers to being in the middle of an almost instant small pileup!

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Claimed Score In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

I also decided to operate in the 2014 ARRL June VHF Contest again this year. I decided to operate in the Single Operator, High-power Category on 6m only. I was able to make a little over 300 6m contacts in this contest and managed a score that was significantly better that my 3 band effort in this contest last year. My QSOs were primarily SSB phone mode but I also managed a number of contacts in CW mode and a few digital QSOs using JT65.

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest

AB1OC Worked Grids In 2014 ARRL VHF Contest (N1MM Logger)

As you can see from the screenshot from the N1MM logger that I used for the contest, I was able to work quite a few grid squares. We had a very nice opening to the Southeast and Florida during the contest period and this resulted in lots of new 6m contacts and even some small pileups at times!

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

AB1OC Worked Grids In The Americas

By the end of the contest, my total grids worked was up to 98 and this put me very close to my goal of earning a VUCC on 6m. At this point I was hooked on 6m!

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

AB1OC Worked Grids In Europe And Africa

A couple of days after the contest ended, I took a look at the DXMAPS website and saw that a good 6m opening was occurring to Europe. I got on the air and was able to make my first ever contacts into Europe on 6m. The opening was a “spotlight” one (covering a limited area) that involved double hop Es propagation in Spain, Portugal, France and Morocco. Over the period of about an hour and a half, I made some 30 contacts into these countries. A very exciting time on the air and one that I will not soon forget!

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

AB1OC Worked Grids Around The World

With the opening to Europe and some continued operation on 6m I am currently at 122 Grid Squares worked (with 91 confirmed so far. My 6m QSO count stands at 755 with 112 new grid squares and approximately 550 QSOs made in the last 30 days.

The website used to plot the grid squares worked and confirm in the previous pictures is WG7J’s GridMapper site. Its a really nice tool to visualize the grid square one has worked or still needs to work.

At this point, I am totally hooked on the 6m band! While a yagi antenna with 5 or more elements helps a lot on 6m, I have found that it does not take a big station to have fun on the band when it’s open. I have worked many station in the US who were using wire antennas and verticals with 100w or less. See the following youTube video for an example of a simple 6m setup. Another good 6m intro video can be found here. If you have not given 6m a try, I encourage our readers to take a look at the band. It is really quite a lot of fun.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Contest Results for Anita (AB1QB) and Fred (AB1OC)


Anita’s Best Contest Result To Date – 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest

Anita’s Best Contest Result To Date – 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest

Anita (AB1QB) and I really enjoy working contests to build our skills as operators. Anita has steadily improved her RTTY contesting skills over the last 18 months as is getting to a point where she is quite competitive. He best finish to date was a 5th place finish in the world in the 2013 BARTG RTTY Contest in the Single Operator All Band Category. BARTG RTTY is a pretty major worldwide RTTY contest and her 5th place finish is a great accomplishment given her limited experience (Anita is licensed for just about 3 years). You can read more about Anita’s experiences in this contest here.

AB1QB 2013 ARRL RTTY  Roundup Certificate

Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 ARRL RTTY Roundup

Anita’s first serious contest attempt was the ARRL RTTY Roundup in January 2013.    She placed 1st in the New Hampshire section in the single operator high power category.

Anita’s (AB1QB)’s First Place NH Finish - 2013 (RTTY) North American QSO Party

Anita’s (AB1QB) First Place NH Finish – 2013 (RTTY) North American QSO Party

Anita also finished first in our state during the 2013 NCJ North American RTTY QSO Party. Anita is a regular participant in RTTY contests and she at the point where she is entering some RTTY contests for the second or third time. Her goal is to improve here score in each successive attempt a RTTY contest that she has competed in the past. She is also getting better at contest strategy particularly in the area of band/time planning.

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish in NH – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

Fred’s (AB1QB) First Place Finish In The NH Section – 2013 ARRL June VHF Contest

I received a very nice surprise in the mail recently – a certificate for my very first VHF contest effort (the ARRL 2013 June VHF Contest) last year. Since this was my first VHF contest, I operated only in SSB phone mode with the goal of learning what VHF contesting was about and testing the VHF side of our station for the very first time in a contest. I operated in the Single operator High Power Category on a combination of the 6m, 2m and 70cm bands. It was a very nice surprise to receive a 1st place certificate for NH for this contest!

I am planning to enter this contest again this year (2014) in the 6m single-band, high-power category. I am working on completing my first ARRL VUCC Award on 6m and I am hoping that the contest will help me toward this goal.

Contesting is a great way to improve your skills, work DX, make progress towards operating awards, and just plain have fun. I’d encourage our readers to give contesting a try. You do not need a “big” station or a lot of power to have fun in contests. There are many articles on contesting and contest station design here on our blog. A read through of some of these should help you to get started in contesting if you’re interested.

– Fred (AB1OC)

AB1QB/AB1OC Enter The 2013 CQ WW RTTY Contest


AB1QB Hard At Work During The 2013 CQ WW RTTY Contest

AB1QB Hard At Work During The 2013 CQ WW RTTY Contest

Anita (AB1QB) and I (AB1OC) recently participated in the 2013 CQ WW RTTY Contest. Band conditions were fairly good and we had some fun experiences in this contest. We entered the contest in the Multi-Operator, Single-Transmitter (Multi-Single) High Power category with a goal of finishing in the top 10 in North America.

Our Claimed Score for 2013 CQ WW RTTY

Our Claimed Score for 2013 CQ WW RTTY

One of us was on the air for almost the entire 48 hour contest period and we managed a final claimed score of a little over 2.7M which will hopefully allow us to achieve our goal for this contest. We were active on all 5 contest bands with the best results in terms of both QSO counts and multipliers on 40m, 20m and 15m.

N1MM Setup For 2013 CQ WW RTTY

N1MM Setup For 2013 CQ WW RTTY

We again used the excellent N1MM logger along with both the MMTTY and 2Tone decoders. The use of multiple decoders really helps to get callsigns and exchange information correct. Using multiple decoders to process  received transmissions (plus the built-in decoder on our Icom IC-7800 Transceiver) gives a 3-way vote on decoded QSO information.

A Notable Spot - AB1QB Booming Into Cyprus!

A Notable Spot – AB1QB Booming Into Cyprus!

We focused on working into Europe and Asia/Oceania in this contest as these two regions provided the maximum QSO point value and were both very active in the contest. As you can see from the above spot, we had a very strong signal into Europe and Western Asia which helped generate many QSOs while running. We also worked quite a few contacts in Japan with a total of 120+ QSOs with operators in Japan during the contest.

We both had a great deal of fun during this contest and were very happy to post our best score yet in a contest of this type. We’ll be anxiously looking forward to the final results when they are available.

– Anita (AB1QB) and Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Field Day


CW Station Operations

CW Station Operations

Our club, PART of Westford, MA USA, held our 2013 Field Day event at the Concord Rod & Gun Club again this year. We operated three HF Stations (SSB Phone, CW, and Digital) as well as a VHF and a Satellite Station this year. All of our operations were QRP 5 watts and used solar/battery power. The photo above shows Bob (W1IS) and Bill (AA1O) operating the CW station. Our day began with the setup of our antennas and the four stations.

Field Day Tri-Bander

Field Day Tri-Bander

Anita (AB1QB) and I handled the HF beam antennas for our Field Day Operation. This included a Hy-Gain TH-3JRS Tri-Bander loaned to the club by Allison (KB1GMX) which was installed 20 ft up on a guyed military push-up mast.

15m Buddi-Beam

15m Buddi-Beam

We also brought our 15m and 10m 3 element budi-beam mono band yagis which we designed for portable operations. These antennas plus a G5RV and a 40m wire beam made up our HF antenna farm for Field Day. All of these antennas were brought to a common interconnect panel where they could be connected to any of the three HF stations. We setup all of these antennas at home the week before to confirm that they worked as expected and to ensure that they could be erected safely and quickly at our Field Day site.

VHF Tower

VHF Tower

Another part of our team spent time to put up a Rohn 25G tower for our VHF Station. Allison, (KB1GMX) led this effort and supplied yagis for 6m and 2m. Operating on these bands QRP 5 watts is quite challenging and Allison was able to make a fair number of contacts by utilizing her considerable VHF operating experience.

Digital Station Battery Power

Digital Station Battery Power

With the antennas up, we turned our attention to the setup of the digital station and its associated battery and solar power. The digital station is the most challenging in terms of off-grid power because we need to power both the Transceiver and a Personal Computer as the latter is integral to generating and decoding digital mode signals over the air. The power system for the digital station consisted of two 65 Ah dry cell deep cycle batteries and a solar charging system. The batteries were sized to allow operation of the digital station for the full field day period of 24 hours in the event that we had limited sunshine due to clouds or rain.

Solar Panels

Solar Panels

The battery system used SunSaver MPPT charging system setup in a 30 Vdc configuration along with two PowerFilm 90W folding portable solar panels wired in series. We had good sunlight during the daytime and the solar panels were able to keep our batteries fully charged. The CW and SSB phone station used a few sets of smaller batteries and a solar panel to recharge them.

SSB Phone Station Operations

SSB Phone Station Operations

All three of our HF stations used Elecraft KX3 Transceivers. The KX3s turned out to be an excellent choice for our Field Day operations as they have low power consumption, a good receiver and provide excellent usability and external interfacing capabilities for automated logging, CW and digital operation. The photo above shows Scott (NE1RD) and Lyman (W1LKS) operating the SSB phone station. We used PCs on all three station to automate logging. We used Andy’s (KB1OIQ) xlog logger for the Phone and CW stations and the N1MM logger for the Digital Station.

Digital Station Equipment

Digital Station Equipment

Anita and I were the coordinators for the Digital Station and we decided to update the configuration of the digital station this year. In addition to the Elecraft KX3, we used a Windows 8 PC running N1MM/MMTTY/2Tone/FLdigi to handle the logging and digital mode processing.

Digital Station Software

Digital Station Software – RTTY Mode

N1MM provided a more contest-oriented logging setup as well as the ability to run multiple digital decoders to give us the best possible chance of receiving digital transmissions without error. For RTTY signals, we used a combination of the MMTTY and 2Tone encoder/decoders. For PSK signals, we used FLdigi. After some initial tuning, we got good results with this combination of software.

Satellite Station

Satellite Station

Bob (KB1SWZ) put together a very competent Satellite station to complete our Field Day setup. Working LEO birds QRP 5 watts on Field Day provided to be quite a challenge as its hard to compete with the many higher power stations contending for the birds on Field Day.

Toolbox Talk

Toolbox Talk

With all of the stations setup and ready to go, we provided a series of “Toolbox Talks” to help members of our club understand our field day stations and how to use them. Shown above is Scott (NE1RD) explain how to use the Elecraft KX3 which was central to all three of our HF stations.

Digital Station Operations

Digital Station Operations

One of the best parts of Field Day is that it provides the opportunity to spend time with newer operators and young people to introduce them to many aspects of Amateur Radio and to provide them with opportunities to get on the air and try new things. Shown above is Fred (AB1OC) explaining the operation of the Digital Station.

Field Day Feast

Field Day Feast

We are fortunate to have our club sponsor a nice meal as part of our Field Day event. Charlie (W1ADL) and Rick (W1RAG) did a great job with food for our event this year. In addition to a great meal, this provides all of the club members participating in our Field Day event a chance to socialize and have fun.

We operated for the full 24 hour period again this year and managed to make a good number of contacts with our QRP setups. The totals for our effort were 722 QSOs (up from 587 in 2012) with a final score (including bonus points) of 7,355. A special thanks to everyone who contributed to or was part of making our 2013 Field Day event a success. We also very much appreciate Joe’s (KB1SSA) efforts to help us secure the excellent facilities at the Concord Rod and Gun Club for our Field Day event.

– Fred (AB1OC)

Experiences From The 13 Colonies Special Event


New K2K New Hampshire QSL Card

The K2K New Hampshire QSL Card

The 13 Colonies Special Event for 2013 has come and gone and I wanted to share our experiences as one of the Special Event Stations for New Hampshire. We operated for 6 1/2 days mostly on SSB Phone and some using Digital Modes. The response to the event was even bigger than last year with some 80,000+ QSOs being made by the 13 Colonies stations. The pileups during the first few days of the event were huge! We did quite well for New Hampshire completing over 6,200 QSOs. We also operated on all of the non-WARC bands that our station can support.  The following are some statistics from our operations during the event:

Band

Mode QSOs
160m SSB 51
80m SSB 214
40m SSB 1,651
CW 1
20m SSB 3,626
Digital (PSK/RTTY) 329
15m SSB 233
10m SSB 95
6m SSB 18
2m SSB 5
Grand Total  

6,223

K2K  Operations From Our Station – QSOs By Band And Mode

We worked all states in the US including Alaska and Hawaii, several US territories and some DX. The DX participation in the event was quite good and this enabled us to work stations on all Continents across the world.

There are always many memorable QSOs during an operation like this and this year’s event was no exception. Some of the QSOs which stand out include those with young operators and operators who made their first HF QSOs ever. I also had an operator from Guadeloupe  (FG4NN) respond to my CQ calls on 6m as well as several stations in Japan calling in during my digital operating sessions. We also encountered several /AG folks (operators who had recently upgraded to General Class). The QSOs on the Top Band (160m) and on the 6m and 2m Bands were also special as these bands are less commonly used during the 13 Colonies Special Event. Most everyone that we talked with were very appreciative of the event which is what makes doing something like this so much fun!

We will have quite a bit of QSL work to do along with the other 13 Colonies Stations and this will no doubt bring back more good memories from our operations last week. Thanks to everyone who made the 13 Colonies Special Event a success this year. We are already looking forward to 2014.

– Fred (AB1OC)

2013 Contest University At The Dayton Hamvention


Contest University Session

Contest University Session

One of our favorite things to do at the Dayton Hamvention is to attend Contest University.   Fred (AB1OC) and Anita (AB1QB) attended Contest University for the first time in 2012 and found this to be a great learning experience about Amateur Radio in general and Contesting specifically.  The instructors are the same people who consistently place highest in contests. They share their knowledge with the rest of us at Contest University.

Here are some of the sessions that I attended at Contest University 2013:

  • Radio Sport Contesting, It’s More Than Rules – K5GN – The message from this presentation is that with contesting, everyone is under the honor system – there is no referee in your shack making sure that you follow the rules.  Technology has brought even more innovative ways to cheat than in the past.  But the best contesters do not cheat – your time is better spent learning to improve your skills.
  • Tips on Being a Better Single Operator – K5ZD – Randy Thompson is the director of the CQ WW contest and is an excellent speaker.  In this presentation he shares many tips on improving your contesting skills based on his experience contesting and analyzing logs.  I would highly recommend this presentation, which can be viewed from Icom’s YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc .   Some items that I learned are:
    1. Automate as much as you can – band changes from your software, rotator control, PTT output to the radios, etc.  It is possible to set up your station so that you can click on a spot and your rotor will turn your antenna, your radio will tune, and the entry window of your logger will open with the callsign filled in.
    2. Station layout is imortant – make it easy to reach the items you go to most and difficult to reach the ones that you should not (eg. don’t accidentally switch antennas while transmitting)
    3. Have a strategy – look at your past logs and the logs of your peers (Logs are public for some contests, like the CQ WW contest).
    4. Understand the rules and use this information to determine when to change bands, when to run, when to hunt for multipliers
    5. Get your station ready 1 week before the contest and get a good night’s sleep the night before.
    6. There is a real time score reporting website – cqcontest.ru – See below for an example showing AB1OC’s score midway through the CQ WPX CW contest.
    7. Don’t give up if its not going well – keep pushing – the next QSO could make the difference.
AB1OC CQ WPX CW Real Time Score Display

AB1OC CQ WPX CW Real Time Score Display

  • Setting Up for RTTY Contesting/Operating a RTTY Contest – W0YK – The presenter, Ed Muns, operates as P49X from Aruba in the major RTTY contests and consistently has stop scores.  I attended this talk last year, but with some RTTY contests under my belt, I was able to get much more out of the presentation this year.  He provides alot of good technical information about how RTTY works, how to set up RTTY, comparisons of hardware and software for RTTY, and what the various program options do.  Some learnings:
    1. Using multiple decoders for a given signal helps to get a good copy on at least one.  The new 2Tone decoder from G3YYD can decode signals under some conditions where other decoders (MMTTY, etc.) cannot.  This avoids asking for repeats and increases your QSO rate.
    2. Using Super Check Partial, a database of active contester callsigns, can also help to accurately  pick out call signs
    3. Callsign stacking  – waiting for 2-3 callsigns after calling CQ and then working them in sequence can speed up your QSO rate.
    4. RTTY is easier than other modes, since the callsign is already decoded for you on your screen.  Take advantage of this to multi-task to increase your rate.  Use Single Operator Two VFO (SO2V) to find stations via search and pounce while running.  Or do search and pounce on one VFO and while you are waiting for your chance to respond to a CQ, look for another station on the other VFO.  If you have 2 radios, and are good at multi-tasking – use SO2R to increase your QSO rate even more.  This is how the best RTTY contesters win.
  • Post-Contest Log Analyzers – K6MM – As mentioned by K5ZD in his talk, analyzing your contest log (or your peers’ logs) is a good way to improve your score in the next contest.  This presentation was about several software packages that can help you to do this.  The most full featured of these is SH5 , which provides 50 different reports on your log.  Some of the reports include QSO rates per hour, number of hours operated, QSO break down by band, and number of countries worked.  It even provides a Google map plot of the QSOs that you worked!  I ran SH5 on my log from the 2013 BARTG HF RTTY contest and a couple of reports are shown below.
AB1QB QSOs from 2012 BARTG HF RTTY Contest

AB1QB QSOs from 2012 BARTG HF RTTY Contest – from SH5 generated KML file

AB1QB QSOs per Hour 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest - from SH5

AB1QB QSOs Per Hour 2013 BARTG HF RTTY Contest – From SH5

Some other topics presented at Contest University included Contest Antennas and Coaxial Cables, Propagation Trends, RFI and Ham Radio, VHF Contesting, Design and Maintenance of Antennas, Towers and Rotators.  There is so much good information, I wish I could have attended multiple sessions at once!

We also attended the RTTY contesting forum at the Dayton Hamvention where we learned about the Reverse Beacon Network and CW Skimmer . These tools are beginning to be available for RTTY.  The CW Skimmer works with participating stations running software that decodes and collects information from received CW traffic.  That data is collected by the Reverse Beacon Network website and displayed like spots from a spotting network.

AB1OC Spots on Reverse Beacon Network (CW Skimmer)

AB1OC Spots On Reverse Beacon Network (CW Skimmer)

Next year, Contest University will be held around the ARRL Centennial which will be held July 17-20, 2014 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA.   Contest University has also been held in Germany, Italy and Australia.

Several of the contest university sessions were recorded and can be found on Icom’s YouTube Site:  http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc .  The Hamvention RTTY Contesting Slides and Videos can be found at W0YK’s website.

There is also some good contesting information at http://www.rttycontesting.com, and the CQ-Contest and RTTY email mailing lists at contesting.com.

– Anita (AB1QB)