The King of Digital Contesting is Here!
Start 2011 with one of the most enjoyable contests on the calendar: The ARRL RTTY Roundup, January 8 and 9. The goal is simple: make as many contacts as possible!
While any digital mode can be used in during the Roundup (including PSK31), radio teletype, better known as RTTY, is the undisputed king of this event. You won’t need to shout into a microphone or master high-speed CW to participate. If you can type – even slowly – on a computer keyboard, you’re more than qualified to try the RTTY Roundup.
From a hardware and software standpoint, you’ll need the following:
--An HF SSB transceiver
--An interface to pass the audio and keying signals back and forth between the computer and the radio.
--Contest software with RTTY capability, or just a stand-alone RTTY program.
You can build your own interface and make the connections to your transceiver’s microphone jack or rear-panel accessory jack. Go to the AA5AU RTTY page and you’ll find instructions on how to build a simple interface. Alternatively, you can buy one off the shelf (ask for express shipping to get the interface to you in time) from your favorite dealer, or directly from manufacturers such as MFJ, West Mountain Radio, TigerTronics, microHAM, RigExpert and others.
Stand-alone RTTY software is free. It works with your sound card to decode the distinctive blee-blee-blee sounds of RTTY into text, and it generates RTTY sound for transmission as well. Windows users will want to check out MMTTY or Fldigi. Mac operators will want to download Cocoamodem. For Linux there is a version of Fldigi as well.
If you want the Full Monty – contest logging software with RTTY built in – there is WriteLog for Windows. You may also want to check out N1MM Logger. It has the ability to incorporate MMTTY. Both of these packages will log all your contacts and alert you if a station is a “dupe” – a duplicate contact, one you’ve already worked.
Don’t wait until the morning of the contest to set up your equipment. Start gathering your tools now so that you have plenty of time to test your station and understand the software. Every RTTY program supports macros that will transmit pre-programmed text messages at the press of a single key. They are true sanity savers when it comes to digital contesting. Create the following software macros for your station. I’ll use my call sign and state (Connecticut) in these examples and assume we’re using the F keys along the top of your keyboard. The codes for beginning and ending transmission will vary according to the software you’ve chosen.
F1: <begin transmission> WB8IMY WB8IMY WB8IMY <end transmission>
(Use this to answer a CQ or QRZ?)
F2: <begin transmission> 599 CT CT WB8IMY K <end transmission>
(You’ve been heard and the station has sent his part of the exchange. Tap this key to reply with your information. Notice that I am sending my state abbreviation twice, just to make sure he copies it correctly.)
F3: <begin transmission> My state CT CT CT CT WB8IMY K <end transmission>
(Keep this macro handy in case the station sends “STATE?” or “AGAIN?”. That’s a sure sign that he is having difficulty copying you.)
These three macros are all you need for “hunting and pouncing” as you tune through the cacophony of RTTY signals. If you are new to RTTY contesting, hunting and pouncing is the easiest way to start. You simply tune from one RTTY signal to another, waiting for the opportunity to strike. Stations may solicit contacts by sending “CQ RU” or “CQ Test.” Or you may tune across a station that is just finishing a contact. When you see something like “TU WB8IMY QRZ” on your screen, its time to jab the macro button!
If you want to try calling CQ yourself, you’ll need a few more macros to handle the exchanges – and nerves of steel if you happen to live in a “rare” state such as Delaware, Wyoming, North Dakota, Hawaii, etc. You may suddenly find yourself on the business end of a pileup!
The contest kicks off at 1800 UTC on Saturday and ends at 2400 UTC Sunday. You’ll find the complete rules here.
During the daylight hours you’ll find most of the Roundup action between 14.075 and 14.120 MHz. But don’t neglect 15 meters (between roughly 21.075 to 21.110 MHz) or 10 meters below about 28.100 MHz. If propagation is favorable, these bands could be hot.
As night falls, shift your attention to 40 meters between 7.040 and 7.100 MHz as well as 80 meters between 3.570 and 3.600 MHz.
You do not have to be a “big gun” station to have fun in the RTTY Roundup. Every contact counts as a point, so even the big guns are more than happy to add your call sign to their logs. In the space of 24 hours you’ll work DX and possibly gather contacts with enough US States to qualify for a Worked All States award. Best of all, you’ll be able to look back through your log and see how your station performed as propagation conditions changed, or as you tried a different antenna (contests are terrific for testing station performance).
The RTTY Roundup is “family friendly,” too. If you’re a casual contester, you can start and stop at any time. And if you’re operating late at night, slip on a pair of headphones and enjoy the music of RTTY. Your loved ones will drift off to sleep hearing nothing more than the soft patter of keyboard keys.
By Steve Ford, WB8IMY, QST Editor