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The ARRL Contest Update
March 7, 2018
Editor: Brian Moran, N9ADG
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IN THIS ISSUE
NEW HF OPERATORS -- THINGS TO DO

The weekly Thursday evening NS RTTY sessions are a good place to iron out issues with your RTTY configuration, and get ready for the upcoming North American Sprint, RTTY contest this weekend. If you like the more traditional RTTY contest format, the BARTG RTTY Contest is just over a week away. The BARTG contest exchange includes three sets of numbers: signal report, contact number, and UTC time. Make sure you have your logger set up correctly, and you might want to have an additional macro for contact number and UTC fills.

For a more relaxed time, there are plenty of QSO Parties to get on different bands and different modes. Be sure to check the rules for each as the exchanges vary based on the event.

CONTEST SUMMARY

8 Mar - 21 Mar 2018

Complete information for all contests follows the Conversation section

March 8

March 9

March 10

March 11

March 12

March 13

March 14

March 15

March 16

March 17

March 18

March 19

March 21

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NEWS, PRESS RELEASES, AND GENERAL INTEREST

The 2018 Contest University course outline is available on the Contest University website. Many 'Professors Emeritii' will be returning this year to present, and one new session that caught my eye is "Utilizing Digital Modes FT8 and MSK144 for Competitive Advantage in VHF Contests" to be presented by W5ZN. Contest University will be held May 17, 2018, from 7:00am to 5:00pm, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dayton, Ohio.

A number of ham radio related interest groups previously hosted on Yahoo are moving or have moved to other services. If you can't find your favorite group, or notice that the activity seems less than you recall, check some of the other popular services such as Groups.IO, Google Groups, or even more traditional email reflectors like Contesting.com. For example, the support group for N1MM Logger+ started moving to Groups.IO on February 27.

If you are using N1MM Logger+ in one of the upcoming RTTY Contests, make sure you're using version 1.0.7099 or later. An issue was fixed recently that may affect serial number incrementing.

Today's Amateur gear containing microprocessors usually has provisions for upgrading the software via a computer link or memory card. DX Engineering has published a blog article on Firmware Upgrades including the steps to take to make sure updates are trouble free.

According to an article in EETimes, there's a new telephone museum in Waltham, Massachusetts, encompassing the range of telephone technology, from the early patents to telephone system signaling to today's modern cellular phones. According to the museum website, it also offers workshops in basic electronics and a curriculum is also being developed into after-school programs for school-aged youth in the Boston area. One of the goals is to inspire participants to become Electrical Engineers.

Nordics on the Air (NOTA) is the first regional spinoff from the Youngsters on the Air (YOTA) program. Organized by the Swedish Amateur Radio Association SSA, this year's event took place March 1 through March 4, and consisted of social, educational, and competitive events focused on Amateur Radio.

From Gary, ZL2IRB: "This is cool, especially for those of us participating in the ARRL International Grid Chase: Gridmapper, a Google Earth mapper, courtesy of Johan, WG7J, that slurps up an ADIF log file and spits out the grid squares we have worked and confirmed. It's easy enough to just use but if the options puzzle you, click the question-mark-diamond at the top of the web page."

Azimuthal Map is a great new way to view Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) data on various maps and graphs, thanks to HA8TKS and CT1BOH. Go to the Azimuthal Map website, then check "Dxcall" and enter your own call sign to see where you are being heard displayed on a Great Circle map. Other tabs at the top provide many other useful ways to look at the live data RBN data, including a scrolling "band map". (Bob, N6TV)

The Visalia DX Convention Contest Dinner will be held Friday, April 20, 2018, at the location of the International DX Convention in Visalia, California. Now in it's 19th year, the event is hosted by the Mother Lode DX and Contest Club. Tickets for this event must be purchased in advance via the Contest Dinner website by April 16, 2018. This year's dinner program by K3LR is entitled "25 Years of Multi Multi Contesting at K3LR." (Jeff, WK6I)

The HF Voyager is an 'autonomous, ocean-going drone' with a remotely controlled Amateur Radio station on board. According to Rusty, W6OAT, it's possible to work the craft using FT8 on 20 meters. Depending on battery state and whether the functionality is enabled by the remote operator, the craft will respond to direct calls and upload completed QSOs to its website. (via Elecraft email reflector)

WORD TO THE WISE

A pallet for an HF Amplifier. This unit, from http://rf-kit.de/ has the heat spreader and heatsink attached [Photo courtesy of rf-kit.de]

Pallet

A pallet, as related to an RF amplifier, is module usually consisting of one or more solid state devices, input/output networks, and bias circuitry. Standardized, pre-tested modules can be easier and more cost effective for homebrew constructors than individual transistors requiring specialized printed circuit board layout, mounting, and soldering techniques.

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS

DR9A, the Northern Black Forest Contest Group, posted video of their 2017 effort in the IARU VHF Contest. The video intersperses operating with detailed drone footage of their antennas. Note how rotators aren't used on 432 MHz, since they have fixed, stacked Yagi antennas in eight directions. (PackRats Cheese Bits via Ward, N0AX)

KPBS reporter Megan Burks interviews Dennis, N6KI, at the NX6T contest station. Dennis was relating his experiences handling MARS traffic during the Vietnam war, which will also be the topic of his presentation "US Army Hams during the Vietnam War" at the International DX Convention on April 21, 2018 in Visalia, California [ Photo courtesy of Dennis, N6KI ]

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RESULTS AND RECORDS

Preliminary results for the 2018 January ARRL VHF Contest have now been posted. There were a few new records, including the first-ever SOFM entry submitted by N2VHZ in the Midwest division with 1 QSO, 1 Multiplier on 144 MHz. "Submitting a log, no matter how small, counts for more than one would think."

Preliminary results for the 2018 ARRL RTTY Roundup have also been posted. Despite the relentless decline of band conditions, the total number of contacts in submitted logs was slightly higher than 2017. Ten meters was good for fifty total QSOs. In the first-ever Heavy Metal overlay category for those using mechanical teletype hardware, WA3FRP made 275 QSOs and used 1.5 quarts of machine oil. Just kidding about the oil.

OPERATING TIP

Search and Pounce to Run

On busy, crowded bands, finding a clear frequency to run may take a while. Earn some points while you're looking by searching and pouncing until you find a good spot. Don't forget, the object is to find an empty frequency to run, so only work stations that are calling CQ. Tune past contacts in progress, and don't get involved in pile-ups.

TECHNICAL TOPICS AND INFORMATION

During last summer's solar eclipse, researchers at MIT's Haystack Observatory and the University of Tromsø, Norway, observed bow waves created in the ionosphere by the shadow of the eclipse. The waves are created because the "eclipse shadow is supersonic with respect to the local sound speed in the upper atmosphere" according to Phil, W1PJE, a co-author of the study. The referenced article contains a visualization of the collected data.

According to an article referenced on SpaceWeather.com, decreased solar activity can allow more cosmic rays to penetrate Earth's atmosphere. Those rays can be harmful to humans, and also negatively affect radio wave propagation by increasing ionospheric radio wave absorption. (David, WA1OUI)

New polymer technology is behind a recent breakthrough in capacitor energy storage, and future commercially produced capacitors could rival or exceed the energy storage capacity of current Lithium batteries, according to researchers. Capacitors offer higher current capacities than batteries, but traditionally can't store as much charge. (Ward, N0AX)

The Arecibo radio telescope will be managed by a consortium led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) under a new operating agreement. Starting April 1, the consortium will administer the 54 year old facility. Repairs after damage by Hurricane Maria and upgrades to expand the capabilities to serve new users are high on the to-do list. The facility's dish is 305-meters in diameter, and on 430 MHz has an EIRP of 2.5 terawatts (pulsed).

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CONVERSATION

This issue's Conversation is written by Duffey, KK6MC, the author of the results article for the 2018 January ARRL VHF/UHF Contest. He is an avid UHF/VHF contester and rover. His first VHF experience as a novice, WN0MWN, was with a Heathkit Twoer and a home brew 3 element beam. He is particularly interested in how the complexion of VHF/UHF contesting is changing and is trying to make analytic studies and objective evaluations of the impact recent innovations have had on VHF/UHF contesting.

The Digital Modes and the 2018 January ARRL VHF/UHF Contest

James Duffey, KK6MC

These observations are meant to provoke some productive and objective thought and discussion on using the digital modes in VHF/UHF contesting and are not meant to criticize any specific individual. Digital modes are here to stay in contesting and we need to figure out how best to use them to benefit everyone in the contest.

The January ARRL VHF/UHF contest had significant FT8 and MSK144 activity. Many new calls were heard on FT8 that had not previously been heard in VHF/UHF contests. Both activity and number of QSOs made on 6 meters were up from previous years. Nearly a third of QSOs made on 6 meters were reported as digital. Yet, there were complaints about the digital activity. These complaints included:

  • FT8 is not suitable (or is useless) for VHF/UHF contesting
  • The use of the digital modes detracts from QSOs made on CW and SSB
  • HF signal reports were being used in a UHF/VHF contest
  • 'Newbie' ops were not using WSJT-X in the proper FT8 contest mode
  • FT8 operators did not use or know proper contesting procedure or etiquette

I think that these are all symptoms of using a mode that is less than a year old and that many of these issues will be addressed as the mode matures. But we can productively direct how these problems are resolved if we deal with them objectively and rationally.

Some of these complaints are easily addressed through education, for instance spreading the word that one should use the contest mode on FT8 during a contest. Others are harder, such as dividing time between analog and digital modes.

Even though the January contest did not have widespread Sporadic E (Es) propagation, many ops found out that marginal, weak, and short-lived Es openings could be worked using FT8, and they were rewarded with additional points and multipliers. And, despite the difficulties in getting MSK144 to recognize the /R suffix for a complete exchange, at least one rover found MSK144 to be a good roving mode and gave out rare grids to several ops. There were also several meteor scatter QSOs made while in motion by rovers.

However, I find it odd that after years of collectively wringing our hands over steady or declining participation in VHF/UHF contests that some are now criticizing the increased activity that the digital modes, primarily FT8, are bringing to contesting. I realize that there is more to the sentiments some express than that, but to me, any increase in activity is good, particularly for the January contest when propagation is often flat.

I think that there are three primary reasons that FT8 and MSK144 are popular:

  1. FT8 offers many of the advantages that CW offers on VHF. To people who have entered the hobby over the past 25 years without knowing the code, this is a powerful attraction, and one not to be taken lightly.
  2. Using both FT8 and MSK144, even a modestly equipped station on 6 meters can work other similarly equipped stations out to the limits of one-hop Es (approximately 1300 miles). In some areas it is possible to work all contest participants within this radius. This is not easily possible on either CW or SSB with a modestly equipped station.
  3. A lot of ops use FT8 on HF and many of those skills translate directly to 6 meters, although not necessarily to VHF/UHF contesting. With the proliferation of HF+6 meter rigs, this familiarity provides a large pool of potential VHF contesters. It's up to us as experienced VHF/UHF contesters to educate these potential new VHF ops on how to operate contests. Materials to help educate these "newbies" on VHF contesting practices, both digital and analog, should be disseminated on local contesting, VHF, DX, club reflectors and newsletters. We should spread the word far and wide on how to set up FT8 in contest mode for contests, and show them how to do so.

It does not do much good to complain that FT8 ops would do better on CW if they don't know CW. And there are a lot of ops on FT8 that don't know CW. But if conditions support it, they should go to SSB, and we should spread the word that when the indicated SNR on FT8 is over a certain threshold, say +6dB for SSB and maybe -14dB for CW, the band is probably open and they would have higher rates on CW or SSB depending on the operator's skill.

During VHF/UHF contests, operators are accustomed to switching modes to pick up more points, since CW and SSB don't prevent contacts with the other mode. Using FT8 in this way in a contest is more difficult since its band segment cannot support CW and SSB signals without inducing interference to the other FT8 operators in the band. Operators using FT8 must choose how to spend their time.

Neither CW nor SSB are good alternatives to MSK144 for meteor scatter QSOs during a contest. MSK144 has proved very productive and is here to stay. FT8 can also be used to make meteor scatter contacts, and hence there are now more operators that can utilize this type of propagation. I think that this is good. Matching the propagation mode to the appropriate digital modes is an operator skill to be learned.

The assertion that the digital modes take activity away from the conventional modes is a real effect and one I have observed first hand. I am not sure how best to deal with this, but educating today's FT8 operators on the conditions when contacts can be made on SSB or CW would be a start. They can go to the analog modes after their FT8 QSO is complete, after a minute or so. After doing this a few times, hopefully it will become second nature. The conflict between MSK144 and other modes is not as easily resolved as the time commitment required for meteor scatter is longer. I have heard ops explain that they work FT8 because that is where the activity is and there is nothing to work on CW or SSB, and at the same time rovers in those same areas will complain that there is no one to work on CW or SSB because all of the ops they usually work are on FT8. Emphasizing FT8 over CW or SSB because of lack of analog activity is a self fulfilling prophecy.

FT8 operators should be encouraged to monitor various forms of assistance so that they can be alerted when CW and SSB contacts are available. For example, an operator can keep an APRS window and local VHF chat room/activity windows open to alert that there are other sources of QSOs and points.

I think the digital modes offer great contesting opportunities for the entry-level operator and modestly equipped stations. Education and guidance are still needed to turn digital operators into VHF/UHF contesters.

Constructive thoughts and comments are welcome.

That's all for this time. Remember to send contesting related stories, book reviews, tips, techniques, press releases, errata, schematics, club information, pictures, stories, blog links, and predictions to contest-update@arrl.org

73, Brian N9ADG

CONTESTS

8 Mar - 21 Mar 2018

An expanded, downloadable version of QST's Contest Corral is available as a PDF. Check the sponsor's website for information on operating time restrictions and other instructions.

HF CONTESTS

CWops Mini-CWT Test, Mar 7, 1300z to Mar 7, 1400z, Mar 7, 1900z to Mar 7, 2000z, Mar 8, 0300z to Mar 8, 0400z; CW; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; Member: Name + Member No., non-Member: Name + (state/province/country); Logs due: March 10.

AWA John Rollins Memorial DX Contest, Mar 7, 2300z to Mar 8, 2300z, Mar 10, 2300z to Mar 11, 2300z; CW; Bands: 40, 20m; RST + Eqpt Type + Eqpt Year; Logs due: April 8.

NCCC RTTY Sprint, Mar 9, 0145z to Mar 9, 0215z; RTTY; Bands: (see rules); Serial No. + Name + QTH; Logs due: March 11.

QRP Fox Hunt, Mar 9, 0200z to Mar 9, 0330z; CW; Bands: 80m Only; RST + (state/province/country) + name + power output; Logs due: March 15.

NCCC Sprint, Mar 9, 0230z to Mar 9, 0300z; CW; Bands: (see rules); Serial No. + Name + QTH; Logs due: March 11.

RSGB Commonwealth Contest, Mar 10, 1000z to Mar 11, 1000z; CW; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; RST + Serial No.; Logs due: March 16.

South America 10 Meter Contest, Mar 10, 1200z to Mar 11, 1200z; CW, SSB; Bands: 10m Only; RS(T) + CQ zone; Logs due: March 26.

F9AA Cup, SSB, Mar 10, 1200z to Mar 11, 1200z; SSB; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 2m; RST + Serial No.; Logs due: April 10.

SKCC Weekend Sprintathon, Mar 10, 1200z to Mar 12, 0000z; CW; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6m; RST + (state/province/country) + Name + (SKCC No./"NONE"); Logs due: March 18.

AGCW QRP Contest, Mar 10, 1400z to Mar 10, 2000z; CW; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; RST + QSO No. + class(pwr) + (AGCW Member No./"NM" if not member); Logs due: March 31.

Oklahoma QSO Party, Mar 10, 1500z to Mar 11, 0200z, Mar 11, 1400z to Mar 11, 2100z; CW, Phone, Digital; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6m; OK: RS(T) + County, non-OK: RS(T) + (state/province/country); Logs due: April 12.

Stew Perry Topband Challenge, Mar 10, 1500z to Mar 11, 1500z; CW; Bands: 160m Only; 4-Character grid square; Logs due: March 26.

EA PSK63 Contest, Mar 10, 1600z to Mar 11, 1600z; PSK63; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; EA: RSQ + province code, non-EA: RSQ + Serial no.; Logs due: March 26.

TESLA Memorial HF CW Contest, Mar 10, 1800z to Mar 11, 0559z; CW; Bands: 80m Only; RST + Serial No. + 4-character grid square; Logs due: March 16.

QCWA QSO Party, Mar 10, 1800z to Mar 11, 1800z; CW/Digital, Phone; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6m; last 2 digits of year first licensed + name + (state/province/country or QCWA chapter); Logs due: April 10.

Idaho QSO Party, Mar 10, 1900z to Mar 11, 1900z; CW, Phone, Digital; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; ID: RS(T) + County, non-ID: RS(T) + (state/province/country); Logs due: April 10.

QRP ARCI Spring Thaw SSB Sprint, Mar 10, 2200z to Mar 10, 2300z; SSB; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; RS + (state/province/country) + (ARCI number/power); Logs due: March 24.

North American Sprint, RTTY, Mar 11, 0000z to Mar 11, 0400z; RTTY; Bands: 80, 40, 20m; [other station's call] + [your call] + [serial no.] + [your name] + [your state/DC/province/country]; Logs due: March 18.

WAB 3.5 MHz Phone, Mar 11, 1800z to Mar 11, 2200z; SSB; Bands: 80m Only; British Isles: RS + serial no. + WAB square, Other: RS + serial no. + country; Logs due: April 1.

Wisconsin QSO Party, Mar 11, 1800z to Mar 12, 0100z; CW/Digital, Phone; Bands: All, except WARC; WI: county, non-WI: (state/province/country); Logs due: March 26.

4 States QRP Group Second Sunday Sprint, Mar 12, 0000z to Mar 12, 0200z; CW, SSB; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; Member: RS(T) + (State/Province/Country) + Member No., Non-member: RS(T) + (State/Province/Country) + Power; Logs due: March 14.

CLARA Chatter Party, Mar 13, 1700z to Mar 14, 1700z, Mar 17, 1700z to Mar 18, 1700z; CW, Phone; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 2m; RS(T) + Name + (state/province/country); Logs due: April 15.

QRP Fox Hunt, Mar 14, 0100z to Mar 14, 0230z; CW; Bands: 80m Only; RST + (state/province/country) + name + power output; Logs due: March 15.

Phone Fray, Mar 14, 0230z to Mar 14, 0300z; SSB; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15m; NA: Name + (state/province/country), non-NA: Name; Logs due: March 16.

CWops Mini-CWT Test, Mar 14, 1300z to Mar 14, 1400z, Mar 14, 1900z to Mar 14, 2000z, Mar 15, 0300z to Mar 15, 0400z; CW; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; Member: Name + Member No., non-Member: Name + (state/province/country); Logs due: March 17.

RSGB 80m Club Championship, CW, Mar 14, 2000z to Mar 14, 2130z; CW; Bands: 80m Only; RST + Serial No.; Logs due: March 15.

QRP Fox Hunt, Mar 16, 0100z to Mar 16, 0230z; CW; Bands: 80m Only; RST + (state/province/country) + name + power output; Logs due: March 22.

NCCC RTTY Sprint, Mar 16, 0145z to Mar 16, 0215z; RTTY; Bands: (see rules); Serial No. + Name + QTH; Logs due: March 18.

NCCC Sprint, Mar 16, 0230z to Mar 16, 0300z; CW; Bands: (see rules); Serial No. + Name + QTH; Logs due: March 18.

BARTG HF RTTY Contest, Mar 17, 0200z to Mar 19, 0200z; RTTY; Bands: 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; RST + Serial No. + 4-digit time (UTC); Logs due: March 26.

Russian DX Contest, Mar 17, 1200z to Mar 18, 1200z; CW, SSB; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; Ru: RS(T) + 2-character oblast, non-Ru: RS(T) + Serial No.; Logs due: April 1.

Virginia QSO Party, Mar 17, 1400z to Mar 18, 0400z, Mar 18, 1200z to Mar 19, 0000z; CW, Phone, Digital; Bands: All, except WARC; VA: Serial No. + county, non-VA: Serial No. + (state/province/"DX"); Logs due: April 15.

Louisiana QSO Party, Mar 17, 1400z to Mar 18, 0200z; CW/Digital, Phone; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6, 2m; LA: RS(T) + Parish, non-LA: RS(T) + (state/province/country); Logs due: April 17.

Feld Hell Sprint, Mar 17, 2000z to Mar 17, 2159z; Feld Hell; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10, 6m; (see rules); Logs due: March 21.

UBA Spring Contest, SSB, Mar 18, 0700z to Mar 18, 1100z; SSB; Bands: 80m Only; ON: RS + Serial No. + UBA Section, non-ON: RS + Serial No.; Logs due: April 1.

Run for the Bacon QRP Contest, Mar 19, 0100z to Mar 19, 0300z; CW; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; RST + (state/province/country) + (Member No./power); Logs due: March 25.

Bucharest Contest, Mar 19, 1800z to Mar 19, 2059z; CW, SSB, Digital; Bands: 80, 40m; YO: RS(T) + QSO No. + Sector/County, non-YO: RS(T) + QSO No. + Country Code; Logs due: March 31.

QRP Fox Hunt, Mar 21, 0100z to Mar 21, 0230z; CW; Bands: 80m Only; RST + (state/province/country) + name + power output; Logs due: March 22.

Phone Fray, Mar 21, 0230z to Mar 21, 0300z; SSB; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15m; NA: Name + (state/province/country), non-NA: Name; Logs due: March 23.

CWops Mini-CWT Test, Mar 21, 1300z to Mar 21, 1400z, Mar 21, 1900z to Mar 21, 2000z, Mar 22, 0300z to Mar 22, 0400z; CW; Bands: 160, 80, 40, 20, 15, 10m; Member: Name + Member No., non-Member: Name + (state/province/country); Logs due: March 24.

VHF+ CONTESTS
SARL VHF/UHF Analogue/Digital Contest, Mar 10, 1000z to Mar 11, 1000z; Analog (CW/SSB/FM), Digital; Bands: 50 MHz, 70 MHz, 144 MHz, 432 MHz, 1296 MHz; RS + 6-character grid locator; Logs due: April 2.

UBA Spring Contest, 2m, Mar 11, 0700z to Mar 11, 1100z; CW, Phone; Bands: 2m Only; ON: RS(T) + Serial No. + UBA Section, non-ON: RS(T) + Serial No.; Logs due: March 25.

AGCW VHF/UHF Contest, Mar 17, 1400z to Mar 17, 1700z (144), Mar 17, 1700z to Mar 17, 1800z (432); CW; Bands: 144 MHz, 432 MHz; RST + "/" + Serial No. + "/" Power class + "/" + 6-character grid locator; Logs due: April 2.

Also see SKCC Weekend Sprintathon, Oklahoma QSO Party, QCWA QSO Party, Wisconsin QSO Party, CLARA Chatter Party, Louisiana QSO Party, Virginia QSO Party, Feld Hell Sprint, above.

LOG DUE DATES

8 Mar - 21 Mar 2018

March 8, 2018

March 9, 2018

March 10, 2018

March 11, 2018

March 12, 2018

March 14, 2018

March 15, 2018

March 16, 2018

March 17, 2018

March 19, 2018

March 18, 2018

March 21, 2018

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

ARRL Contest Update wishes to acknowledge information from WA7BNM's Contest Calendar and SM3CER's Contest Calendar.

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