THE CONTEST YEAR AT-A-GLANCE
The 2011-2012 contest season is upon us. Time is running short to make improvements to our stations, get used to the new software that we downloaded, or get better acquainted with that new mode that we learned. One of the things that we should be doing as a club is deciding in which contest(s) we’d like to operate in one of the multi-operator categories. The following is a list of the major (and some not-quite-so-major) contests in which our club has participated in the past, with some recommendations for multi-operator efforts:
The CQ Worldwide (WW) RTTY DX contest is September 24-25. This contest offers an excellent opportunity for a multi-operator entry, either as a multi–single or multi–two. As I mentioned during the last meeting, as a club we seem to have really latched onto the idea of RTTY contesting and have gotten quite good at it. Because it’s a digital mode, it allows folks to sit around and chat while actively making Qs, as well as providing an excellent forum for contesting training and practice.
In October there are a couple of contests that, while not considered “major”, present good opportunities to practice or maintain skills, check out our stations, or work DX. The Oceania DX Contest Phone contest occurs on the first weekend. Many rarely-heard Pacific stations get on the air for this one, which provides a great opportunity to chase DX and test low-band antennas. Its CW counterpart is the next weekend. The Makrothen RTTY Contest is also the second weekend of October and provides some good DX opportunity as well as great RTTY contesting.
Of course, if we’re talking about October, then we’re talking about the CQ WW DX Phone Contest! This is one of the biggest and most popular contests of the season. Few contests provide the same excitement, DX, and fun as the CQ WW contests. DXCC is easily within reach during this contest. This is another good multi-op contest, although of course as a phone contest our ability to sit around and shoot the bull is significantly impaired. We do well in the Multi-Single category in this contest, and are always in need of overnight operators willing to do battle on 40M and 80M.
November IS Sweepstakes month! The ARRL Sweepstakes is a very old and popular contest, with the CW portion falling on the first weekend and the SSB portion on the third weekend. They are, in my opinion, a true test of an operator’s ability to copy exchanges, as it’s a lengthy one. With a modest effort, one can achieve Worked All States in a single weekend on both modes.
The very next weekend after the SSB Sweepstakes is the CW portion of the CQ WW DX Contest. This is a fantastic way to improve your code speed. But, you don’t need to know the code to work the contest. Interested in how to do that? Ask me!
Generally speaking, winter offers the best conditions for 160 Meters, as atmospheric noise in the northern hemisphere is at its lowest. The first weekend in December offers the ARRL 160-Meter Contest. This CW contest is one of the best chances to work both stateside and DX stations on Topband, and lasts 42 hours with no time limitations. The Stew Perry Topband Challenge is the third weekend of December. This self-styled “friendly” contest offers a lot of chances for smaller stations to work good DX as the band is less crowded. This contest runs concurrently with the ARRL Rookie Roundup’s CW portion, which is, as its name implies, specifically designed to get rookies on the air and work not only each other but “Old Timers” as well. It’s a great way to foster interest in those who are new to contesting.
January is a HUGE contest month, with something for just about everyone. The ARRL RTTY Roundup takes place the first full weekend of January and runs for 36 hours. It’s very popular with the US RTTY crowd and offers a great way to get Worked All States in this mode. It’s very friendly and you only give a signal report and your state for an exchange, so QSOs can go quickly. The second full weekend brings us the North American QSO Party, CW, which is just what it sounds like. It’s another great contest, only 12 hours long (so you won’t get quite as numb in the derriere), and its SSB counterpart is on the third full weekend. Part of this contest’s exchange is the operator’s name, and you get some pretty funny and weird ones. You can make one up just to make it interesting.
Following close behind is the CQ 160-Meter CW Contest, which is another great way to get those needed states and countries on 160 Meters. Throw a dipole up into some trees and try it!
Finally, for us RTTY enthusiasts, is the BARTG RTTY Sprint, a 12-hour contest that is concurrent with the CQ 160-Meter Contest. So you can stay up all night and work Topband and be up all day “diddling”!
February brings us the contest in which I think we have been most successful as a club, especially from a multi-op perspective. The CQ WW RTTY WPX Contest is a slugfest that provides great excitement and fun for RTTY operators. Our club has won #1 World in the Multioperator, Two Transmitter (M2) category from NP3U, as well as US and North American M2 awards from KI1G and as single operators too, so we pretty much have this contest down. It’s a prefix contest, meaning the multipliers are based upon the call sign prefixes worked. If you have a fairly unique prefix you become very popular.
The ARRL International DX Contest, CW, is February 18-19. In this contest, we are the DX, so you can call CQ and have many DX stations answer you! This is a great contest for low power operation, because the DX stations are looking for us. The next weekend is the CQ 160-Meter Contest, SSB, which can be an especially tough one for low power operators or those of us with small antennas for Topband. But the results can be worth the effort, so give it a try!
Rounding out the month of February is the North American QSO Party, RTTY. This is as much fun as its CW and SSB counterparts.
The first weekend of March brings the ARRL International DX Contest, SSB. Just like the CW version, we are the DX, so everyone is listening for us. March provides interesting propagation, and next year I would expect some decent high band activity. The third weekend gives us the BARTG HF RTTY Contest, a 48-hour RTTY-thon that has really gained popularity the last few years. If you’re serious about RTTY contesting, this is not one to miss!
That same weekend is the Russian DX Contest, which is very popular in our club and the contesting community in general. So if you get tired of hearing diddles in your head you can switch to this contest and work zillions of Russians as well as other DX.
The last weekend of March is for the 36-hour CQ WW WPX, SSB Contest. Good propagation should prevail, so dust off that microphone (if you can find it) and give it a whirl!
April doesn’t have what most contesters would consider to be “major” contests, but there are four state QSO parties (MI, GA, MI, FL) and one Canadian province QSO Party (ON) to keep you busy. I’m sure the April showers will keep us inside on at least one of these weekends. Might as well contest!
The first full weekend in May provides us with “our own” contest, the New England QSO Party. This is a very popular contest in the US, and thanks to John, W1XX, our club has really gone all out to make it fun and full of RI and CT signals. Next year I expect we will be challenged to do even better than 2011 (which CTRI won in the club category). There is talk of us getting special 1×1 call signs for this event, which will make us even more desirable to work, so stay tuned!
The last weekend of the month is for the CQ WW WPX Contest, CW. Lots of good DX is to be found, and don’t be shy about working CW!
June is the beginning of the VHF contesting season, and the ARRL June VHF QSO Party is the second weekend of the month. This contest has gained some popularity in our club, as members have found that they can actually win a certificate with modest participation. 6 meters is a fun band to work with 100 watts and a simple antenna, and when conditions are good you can work all over the US and beyond. If you have 2 meters you might be surprised at what you’ll work. Just last weekend during the ARRL September VHF QSO Party, I worked into Delaware and northern Vermont on 2M, using a 13-element beam at 25′ and 160W!
ARRL’s Field Day is the last full weekend in June, and provides the opportunity to find out if you can operate under emergency conditions (but you don’t have to). There are many stateside stations on the air, so it’s also a great way to work those last few states for WAS.
Many people don’t normally consider July a good contesting month but nothing could be further from the truth. The 24-hour IARU HF World Championship falls on the second full weekend and is a fast-paced DX contest with lots of participation. In 2014 New England will host the World Radiosport Team Championship, which is a sub component of this contest. It’s a huge world-wide event and will surely bring the entire radiosport community’s attention to our little corner of the US.
The next weekend is the 12-hour North American QSO Party (NAQP), RTTY. This is the last big RTTY contest of the year, and gets lots of activity. It coincides with the CQ WWVHF Contest, which lasts 15 hours longer, so you can work both contests. It’s an interesting mix of HF and VHF, RTTY, CW, and SSB, all in the same weekend.
The first full weekend of August brings the NAQP, CW. The North American QSO Parties are good fun and give us a chance to work each other in a competitive but friendly way. The third weekend is for the sideband version of this contest.
There are a multitude of other contests during the year, of course. Many state QSO parties, DX contests, etc. The best place to see the entire contest calendar is Bruce’s, WA7BNM, Contest Calendar web site at http://www.hornucopia.com/contestcal/index.html. There’s something for everyone, so jump in and check it out!