Thursday, January 15, 2009

VHF Contest School: Being a Smart Operator

(by Todd Sprinkmann, KC9BQA)

When VHF contesting, expect lots of weak signals. Embrace them. :) The weak one may very well be a station in a distant grid. Try to work everyone you can hear. Expect to be asked for repeats. Don't worry about it. Take your time. Speak clearly, use standard phonetics and get the Q in the log. If someone seems a bit impatient, explain to them that you are just gettingstarted. After a few contests, it all makes sense anyway. Gotta start somewhere. January contest is a good one to get your start in.

Use headphones. You're going to need them to hear the weak ones. Cans make a big difference. You should see me crossing two sets on my head, while I listen on 144 in one ear, and 6 meters in the other. Friends have, and they just smile and walk away. :-)

Turn your squelch down. You want to hear the light ones thru the hiss. Also, if you have your squelch too high, you may not hear light stations working each other, and then you may QRM them when you call CQ Contest. This happens anyway in a contest and hey, we all make honest mistakes. Nobody should jump down your throat over it. If it seems like maybe you made a boo-boo, don't stress over it. Just chalk it up to experience and move on. I've never heard a fight on the air in a VHF contest. Hardly ever irritation, either.

I know it's harder than heck for a new operator to feel comfortable calling CQ Contest into a dead band. But try it out anyway. LOL :-) Even if you feel foolish calling 3, 5, 8 times in a row and nobody comes back to you. Keep calling CQ. Sure you can tune around and respond to the ones you hear calling CQ. But if you hit a lull, that's a good time to put YOUR call out there.

When you're trying to find contacts in a contest, or if you're calling CQ Contest (which you should definitely do a lot, for best results), start on 144/146. And perhaps call some on 50/52 (6 meters) as well. And you can even squirt out a few calls on 222/223. But don't bother calling CQ on 432.100. I'll explain why.

In VHF contests, you find folks for an initial contact on the most popular bands, where everyone's hanging out. That's 2 meters and 6 meters. Once you've found a station, you then want to work them on as many bands as you have in common. This is called "running the bands". The more bands you work them on, the more contacts and points you score. Always ask a station if they have any other bands you can work them on.

So say you hear me calling on 144 and you respond with your callsign. I give my grid square, you give yours, we roger the info, put the time in our logs, and then I ask you if you have any other bands. You say you have 6 meters. I look at my 6 meter rig and try to find a frequency that is empty. I say to you, "OK, let's meet on 50.140 on 6 meters. If we have a problem, we'll come back right here where we are on 2, OK?"

So off you and I go to 50.140. If we make contact there, we exchange the calls and grids again, enter them in the log and I ask you again if you have any other bands. You say you have 223 or 432, and I am pleased. :) We check 223.5 to see if anyone's busy there, and it's open. We make contact on 223.5, enter the info in our logs, and then agree to meet on say 432.100 or 446.00, depending on your rigs and antennas. At this point, if all goes well, we've run 4 bands and I thank you very much and say 73, good luck in the contest, blahblah.

Then I go back to 2 meters or 6 meters and start looking for new contacts. I don't start calling for new ones on 432. At the most, I maybe ask if anyone else has followed us up to where we just were on 432. That sometimes happens and it's a neat coincidence when it does. You can work anyone on any band, in any order. That's OK. But... but... the custom with VHF contesting is to call CQ for initial contacts on 2 meters or 6 meters. If you spend all your time calling up on 70 cm or 223, you're going to be missing most of the action.


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