A new ham just got his first brand new rig (a Kenwood TS-590s) and he’s been asking questions about this contesting thing. Another friend (John, HK3C) who has been a Ham for years lives in Columbia which is situated along the equatorial zone (which provides enhanced propagation possibilities around the world) and he’s thinking of jumping in as well.
So what’s with the contesting thing?
Over the next few days I will publish a bunch of posts about how to get started, what to use, what you should have and what you can do without. We’ll look at rigs, filters, antennas, headphones, voice and CW keyers, microphones, contest rules, propagation reports, and strategies to win and strategies just to have fun.
First contesting isn’t as easy as it looks but it can be kept simple. Contesting allows us to both improve our operating skills on CW, SSB and digital modes as well as demands we keep making our stations more contesting friendly (I’ve been working on my contesting station for the last eight years and it’s running pretty well right now although I am thinking of adding a 100-watt rig.)
So how to begin.
First you don’t even need a rig! What! Yup you can go contesting at somebody else’s place. I did this for years at the VA3SK’s place in Corbeil, Ontario. The Corbeil Contest Club was run out of a converted horse barn on Ken’s father-in-laws country property just south of North Bay and a five hour drive from Toronto.
Ken and Mike, VA3MW, (who BTW is featured in the Nov. issue of QST on page 20 flying his quad copter) and Paul, VA3PC among others including Greg, VA3GGF and Tony, VE3RZ and myself spent many a late October working the CQ WW DX SSB extravaganza.
(That’s Mike on the right and Greg on the left getting a line up over a tree.)
Some years at the North Bay location we were in shorts and t-shirts and some years there was two feet of snow on the ground.
We were so far up north that some nights the Aurora Borealis was bright enough to read a newspaper at midnight. Pretty but deadly for contesting as the aurora would wipe out everyone everywhere (although I can remember one night when we could hear stations in southern Ontario on scatter working into Europe which we couldn’t hear at all).
On the night’s it snowed we kept warm by stoking an ancient wood-burning firebox into life. Regardless of conditions we always had the hockey game on a black and white TV.
Antennas included a full-size three element beam on 40 at 120 feet (It’s an amazing moment to turn the beam towards Europe and hear stations 20db/S9 pounding in) and a TH7DXX at 70 feet or so and a Hygain Explorer on another 70 foot antenna. Added to that was a bunch of dipoles, beverages and verticals.
But I digress.
You don’t need to drive to North Bay to get into contesting. Just convince one of your (contesting) friends to enter the single transmitter, multi-operator category and bingo you’re contesting.
One of the nice things about running in the single transmitter, multi-op category is you are allowed to have a rig that is running (calling CQ Contest) on one band and a second rig working only stations which are multipliers (usually a mult is a new country or new prefix depending on the contest).
The second rig is often a less equipped box hooked up to a temporary antenna (a multi-band vertical or G5RV-Jr. in the front yard) and is run by newer operators. Mults in the log means bigger scores overall so keeping the mult station going even in the dead of night is important.
In order to run multi-op, single transmitter it really helps (I’d say essential) to have both rigs networked. For situations where both rigs are in the same building it’s easy to run an Internet cable from one logging computer to the other.
Once the computers are connected it’s pretty easy to link whatever contesting software (N1MM which is free or Writelog which isn’t are recommended) so both computers use the same logging program and each can see what the other is doing) and be on the air.
Now having said all that, there’s no law says you have to run a second transmitter in the multi-op, single transmitter class. If you and a buddy want to work the weekend using one transmitter that’s your call and it’s a good one when you’re just getting started. (The CQ WW DX SSB contest goes for 48 hours and you should be on for most if not all that time.)
But you will need logging software that provides rig control. The basic rig control just ties your rig to your computer so your transmit frequency can be automatically entered into the logging program. Some contest managers now insist that the exact frequency and time be logged and not just the band.
Okay that’s enough for now. The next post will be on how to plan your contesting weekend.