December ARRL Operating Events Offer the Lows and the Highs
For veteran contesters and newcomers alike, December offers two of the most popular operating events of the fall “contest season” — The ARRL 160 Meter Contest, December 5-6, and the ARRL 10 Meter Contest the following weekend, December 12-13. Both contests offer an opportunity to appreciate the diversity and range of the HF bands available.
Often called “Top Band,” 160 meters — actually a medium-wave band — is the lowest frequency band currently available for contest use. While some Top Band stalwarts will operate day and night on contest weekend, operation for this event typically takes place starting at dusk and into the nighttime hours, and it’s an all-CW event. This is mainly a contest where US and Canadian stations work the rest of the world, since no DX-to-DX contacts are permitted under the rules.
On this challenging band, it’s all about your antenna and separating desired signals from the noise. Running 100 W into a compromise antenna of a shortened dipole or an inverted L or vertical with just a few radials, you can expect to work a number of states, if you put in some effort. High power is also an option.
Even in times of scant sunspots, 160 can come alive with signals from other continents. From a low-noise location, it’s possible to work the world with a wire vertical antenna, such as an inverted L, coupled with radials — the more the merrier. Separate low-noise receiving antennas such as Beverages are popular on this band. Top Band operation can be addicting for its combination of challenges, rewards, and variability.
At the other end of the HF spectrum 10 meters can be a “counterpoise” to 160. Operation will occur mostly — but not always — during the daylight hours. The object is for amateurs worldwide to exchange contact information with as many stations as possible on 10 meters.
The band is more likely to be open in high-sunspot years, but 10 meters can be surprising. Gain antennas for 10 can be built with fairly easily, since they’re fairly small (a 10 meter dipole is on the order of 16.5 feet). Building a small Yagi for 10 meters is not difficult. If 10 meters is open, signals from around the world can be quite strong, and contest contacts are fast and exciting.
Check the ARRL Propagation pages for the forecast for your part of the US, and as a gateway for further propagation information.
The ARRL 10 Meter Contest encompasses CW and SSB operation — you can operate either — or operate both modes (mixed), which can be a wonderful way to avoid mode burnout. Check the rules to figure out which category to enter. Effective use of one good 10 meter opening during an otherwise closed-band weekend could place you among the regional score leaders.
Both of these events offer a variety of entry categories and power levels, from QRP to legal limit.
This weekend on 160, listen for special event station W1Q, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of QST. W1Q likely will be on the air during the 10 Meter Contest too. — Thanks to The ARRL Contest Update/Brian Moran, N9ADG