Monday, January 12, 2009

VHF Contest School: Introduction

Todd Sprinkmann, KC9BQA is my kind of ham. His enthusiasm runneth over and he's out there actively promoting the hobby. A few months ago a local ham, John Kjos (W9RPM), started sending out notices to our local e-mail reflector that a guy just north of Milwaukee was starting a 2 meter SSB net to drum up more activity outside of the major centers of Milwaukee and Chicago. Well each week he'd announce the net and I'd wish I could participate. I have a 10 element beam that I have been wanting to put on the roof since forever, but I just don't get around to it. So I sat on the sidelines.

Finally, one Wednesday afternoon, the notice came out that the net was going to be that night. "Why," I thought, "am I letting the best be the enemy of the good?" So I scampered home after work, grabbed my beam, put it on a 15 foot mast, lashed the mast to one of our clothesline poles, ran some coax into the house, and hooked it to the IC-746. Fifteen feet isn't very high (although I do live on a ridgetop.) And to complicate matters, I have a big barn with a gigantic metal roof that sits right in the path between me and Todd. Could I work Todd with such a set up?

Well, net time rolled around and I sat listening to 144.240. Sure enough, as he swung his beams around toward La Crosse I could hear Todd's signal coming up out of the noise. By the time he had his antennas pointed at me, we could easily work the path (146 miles). Sure, the signals were only S0, but it was solid copy both ways. Cool!

Now Todd has shared a series of VHF Contest tutorials in preparation for the upcoming ARRL VHF-UHF Sweepstakes that are coming up this weekend. I asked him if I could put them on the blog to share with others and he graciously agreed. So here's the first installment. I hope that Todd's evident enthusiasm will be as contagious to you as it was to me.

VHF Contest School: Introduction
(Todd Sprinkmann, KC9BQA)

To start you off, here's a 20 minute clip of net participant N0IRS -- J.D. -- contesting last June. This should give you an idea of how to contest, as well as show you what's possible on VHF SSB, with a good band opening and lots of action. There are numerous instances of JD making 500, 700, 800 mile contacts on multiple bands. Truly an awesome video.

I want everyone who's reading this to know right away that whether you try contesting or not, you are always welcome to check into the nets I host on Wed. and Thur. nights. I know not everyone is into contesting.

My hope, though, is that my enthusiasm will rub off on some of you. That you'll try something new on a winter weekend. That you'll help make contesting more exciting for all of us. There are really only 4-5 major VHF/UHF contests a year, so it doesn't run your life.

Also, if you get your feet wet now, you'll feel more confident when you get involved with the more active summertime contests. It's an amazing thing when 6 meters opens up with sporadic E skip during a contest weekend. You can work 20, 30, 40 states in less than 24 hours, easily. It's also a real thrill when you have great tropo enhancement on 2 meters, and stations with simple verticals are working each other from Minneapolis, to Burlington, Iowa, to Terre Haute, Indiana. I've done it -- July of 2006. CQ WW VHF contest.

When considering VHF/UHF contesting, don't worry about the supposed big-gun stations. Let's try for a shift in thinking. Let's consider who YOU can work on simplex, on any band you have. Let's say it's just a 10-50 mile range. You must be able to think of at least a few dozen stations, potentially. And that's just on FM. If you have SSB capability and a simple omni-directional loop, that range gets into the 50-100 mile territory. Add a decent beam up 30, 40', and now you're capable of reaching out 100-200 miles, or more, if there's enhanced band conditions. It'sjust a matter of deciding you want to try a contest, and then making sure you get enough hams on the air to make it worth your while.

Why do I care about YOU contesting? Because a dead contest isn't any fun. I see very few people promoting VHF/UHF contesting and that bugs me. I am sponsoring a plaque for the high score from various activity areas in an effort to get more folks interested. These plaques will also be going more to the newcomers, or smaller stations. Guys like W9RPM and myself won't be eligible. I'll explain about the Greater EN43 Plaque deal in the next email. The plaques will also be awarded IF and ONLY IF you guys get a certain number of contesters on from your region. So start thinking right now about how you can motivate your radio buddies.

We need more participants! Overall, the Midwest has pretty decent numbers of contesters. But in the past year or two, I've definitely seen a dip in local numbers. Since this concerns me, I'm trying to do something about it. Just like how we've gotten on the air and improved things with these Wed. and Thur. nets.

Take the time to read the Contest School emails I'm going to send out. Feel free to forward them to anyone you think will be interested. Save these emails in case you need them in the future.

Resolve to get on the air next weekend for several hours. Know your grid square. Get ready to call CQ Contest, so others know you are out there. Have some headphones. Turn your squelch down so you don't miss weak ones. A lot of the joy of contesting is finding out that weak signal is in a distant grid square that you had no idea you'd be able to work. In fact, I've learned that the weaker the signal, the more likely it's a tasty catch!

A good VHF/UHF contest is when the bands are at their best. They come alive with hams from all over. To me, it's absolutely the most fun time to be operating.



No comments:

Post a Comment