The Bands Heat Up for the 2011 ARRL August UHF Contest
VHF/UHF weak-signal operators across North America are making final tests on their stations in preparation for the 2011 ARRL August UHF Contest, scheduled for the weekend of August 6-7. Most VHF+ SSB/CW operation takes place on the two lowest-frequency bands of the VHF spectrum: 6 and 2 meters. But a lot of activity takes place above 144 MHz in the UHF portion of the radio spectrum and beyond. This contest will focus on 220 MHz and above and there will be lots of activity -- and hopefully lots of propagation, too!
In the summer, high-pressure zones can begin to form in the atmosphere. According to ARRL Contest Branch Manager Sean Kutzko, KX9X, if these zones stick around long enough and are stable enough, enhanced propagation can occur in the troposphere, extending the normal usable range of UHF+ frequencies from line-of-sight to several hundred miles. “Several cloudless days with very little wind are signs that enhanced tropospheric enhancement could be coming your way,” he advised. “A great site to watch for tropospheric enhancement is William Hepburn’s tropospheric ducting forecast page.”
If you’ve never made a QSO in the UHF Contest, Kutzko said that this is a great time to start: “While the lowest-frequency band permitted in the UHF Contest is 220 MHz, the most-active band is usually 432 MHz. Many of the “DC-to-Light” rigs being offered today include 432 MHz, and antennas are reasonably small. Many commercial Yagi or horizontal loop antennas can be purchased very inexpensively, and easy homebrew UHF antenna plans are available in The ARRL Antenna Book and The ARRL Handbook.”
Kutzko said that a good beginner’s station consists of a 220 MHz FM radio with a vertically polarized antenna, a horizontally polarized antenna -- such as a Yagi or loop -- along with a 432 MHz rig that can work SSB/CW. “You’ll find that 220 MHz FM will see some activity, especially if you live near a large population center,” he explained. “Monitor the national FM calling frequency of 223.5 MHz for activity. Be prepared to move off the calling frequency should conditions warrant. For 432 MHz SSB/CW, 432.100 MHz is the frequency to monitor. Again, be prepared to move off the calling frequency if there are excellent conditions; too many people on the calling frequency make for some tough conditions to copy signals. It’s bad form to monopolize the calling frequency.”
Where to operate from? Kutzko said that while your home is an obvious choice, keep in mind that since antennas are so small and portable -- along with many of the rigs -- operating from a hilltop is very easy: “Equip yourself with 10-15 feet of mast and set it up next to your car on a high point in your area and you’ll be in business! The contest exchange is simply your Maidenhead grid square. You can even be a ‘Rover’ and operate from your car from more than one grid square if you want.”
The ARRL August UHF Contest runs from 1800 UTC Saturday, August 6 through 1759 UTC Sunday, August 7. Find the complete rules here. Logs must be received by 1800 UTC Tuesday, September 6, 2011. Submit your Cabrillo-formatted logs via e-mail. Paper logs can be sent to August UHF Contest, ARRL, 225 Main St, Newington, CT 06111. Here’s hoping to see you the weekend of August 6 on the “Ultra-Highs!”