Youth@HamRadio.Fun: Contesting Like Crazy


By Sterling Coffey, N0SSC

The last stretch of the year yields cold temperatures, snow and, if you live in Missouri, 60 degrees and rain. But most importantly, there’s a calendar full of contests -- just look at November and December’s ARRL Contest Calendars or Bruce Horn’s Contest Calendar. Both are chock full of the year’s best contests. Somehow, between all my studying I got to play in quite a few. As former ARRL Youth Editor Duncan McLaughlin, KU0DM, said on Ham Nation episode 27, his best recommendation to getting youth activity is contesting and DXing, where we can exhibit our natural competitiveness and feel an adrenaline rush with every new country or contact. Here are some highlights of my favorite contest from the past few weeks:

ARRL November Sweepstakes

One thing I forgot to mention from last month’s column is the ARRL November Phone Sweepstakes, which in 2008 was my first phone contest ever (ironically my very first was the CW Sweeps)! My radio, G5RV antenna and I contacted 69 ARRL sections in 249 QSOs. It was a lot of fun. This year at W0EEE, we upped the ante with a full 80 Section sweep and a claimed score of just more than 100,000 points. We had a lot of help from Ward Silver, N0AX, once again, and got a few new hams on the air, too! Awful noise caused by the building’s HVAC system kept us from getting bigger numbers on 40 meters and below, but we still had a lot of fun!

ARRL 160 Meter CW Contest

Contesting on the topband is very interesting, with magic propagation here and there seemingly whenever it decides to. As mentioned before, the noise from the HVAC system, as well as regular noise of thunderstorms many miles away, caused some havoc. But this contest is not a voice contest. With CW, an amazing amount of data can be heard through the worst of conditions. Paired with a 500 hZ CW filter, this contest was a breeze. I must admit, however, that I am still learning CW, and I apologize to the fellow contesters that didn’t catch a thing! I operated this contest without any assistance from programs like CW Skimmer that allow you to decode CW through a computer. Jumping into a CW contest with a shoddy knowledge of the code really helps your code speed better than most CW learning programs out there. But as a contest, it was also a lot of fun staying up for a while to make only 52 contacts and 25 sections.

CQWW CW Contest

This is a big one. Stations from all over the world get on the air and crowd the bands with seemingly hundreds of stations spitting CW at or more than 30 words per minute. I got to take a back seat to this contest to watch Ed Karl, K0KL, and Ward double their old score to get more than 3 million points and more than 150 countries! The reason for their success? Ten meters! This year, the 10 meter band opens around the world during the daytime, following the Sun’s path around the Earth. Check out a video I made. The QSO rates the two can reach is unbelievable! It was a ton of fun, and I learned a lot and even made a QSO!

ARRL 10 Meter Contest

The ARRL 10 Meter Contest ranks high in my favorite contest list. It’s both a CW and SSB contest, which is great for younger operators. It exploits the amazing propagation of the 10 meter band. Normally the band closes at night, when the F-layer of the ionosphere disappears, lowering the maximum usable wavelength below that of the 10 meter band. For me, I used it! One of my first QSOs of the night was a station in Imperial, Missouri, a suburb of St Louis, about 80 miles away. For a band that only seems to work during the day, I knocked the Missouri and Illinois multipliers right of the block, several hours after sunset. One Illinois station that I couldn’t work was K9CT, a huge multi-op station east of St Louis. You can hear here of the interesting “backscatter” propagation radiated by K9CT’s massive arrays, and my helpless attempts to work them during the day. Check out their YouTube channel to see exactly what I’m talking about! In summary, we contacted several new stations, especially Japan and Russia, two countries I’ve never heard on the radio despite being over 3 million hams over there!

“Why so many CW contests? I can’t copy Morse code!”

In 2007, the FCC dropped the CW requirement for all Amateur Radio license classes. This move was not without debate, but in the end, it has brought so many new hams to the hobby. Currently, more than 700,000 people in the US have an Amateur Radio license, which is an all-time record! Nevertheless, with this came the possibility that CW will slowly depart from the radio waves, as many new hams don’t want to expel the effort to learn the code. It might be true that we’re hearing less and less ragchew CW QSO’s on the air, but tune in during a contest and be blown away. No other human-copyable mode is as efficient and usable during high noise situations. I encourage everybody to learn the code! Here are a few links to programs that make it easy to learn CW:

A few weeks of 10-20 minute sessions will yield great results. Once you have a background, start listening on the air. Use a program to decode the CW while you listen as your brain makes even more connections. Then start playing in CW contests! You will learn CW, and you’ll never go back to voice!

Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!
Sterling Coffey, N0SSC

Sterling Coffey, N0SSC, is a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. Interested in wireless communications from a young age, he welcomes e-mail from readers