Thursday, January 15, 2009

VHF Contest School: What Bands/Freqs to Use?

(by Todd Sprinkmann, KC9BQA)

The bread and butter band of any VHF/UHF contest is 2 meters. A close 2nd is 6 meters. Farther behind is 70 cm, and in 4th place would be 1.25 meters.

With 2 meters being most popular, that's why I'm so gung-ho about getting new folks involved. If you're reading this email, you almost undoubtedly have 2 meters. So you can contest, starting next weekend. Don't worry about someone who has 3, or 4 or more bands and big antennas. Everyone has to start somewhere.

First off, this is important: No contesting on repeaters. Also, no contesting on the national 2 meter simplex calling channel of 146.52. You also avoid 146.505 and 146.535, to give room for 146.52. Now you know where NOT to contest.

Here's info on each band:

** 2 meters: SSB call freq. is 144.200. Tune between roughly 144.150-144.250 for contest activity. Don't hog 144.200, but certainly feel free to use or monitor it. Use only SSB or CW on 144.150-144.250.

On FM, lots of hams use 146.55 simplex to call. Again, if it seems busy, don't be afraid to spread out. In more sparsely populated areas, you're probably best off having everyone meet on 146.55. 146.565, 146.58 can be used if you need elbow room. If those get too crowded, also go 146.49, down to as low as 146.40. Use only FM on 146 or 147 simplex. No SSB. Honestly, I don't know if guys condone CW on Simplex. Maybe they do. Someone let me know what the policy is, please.

Simplex frequencies are only between 146.40-146.58. And 147.42-147.57. Stay within these limits. Don't want to be hitting any repeater inputs! Also remember not to use 146.505, 146.52 and 146.535.

** 6 meters: SSB call freq. is 50.125. On 6, you can only go up from 50.125. Don't do domestic contesting between 50.110 and 50.125. It's reserved for the DX window. If for some reason, you hear a Mexican, Puerto Rican or Caribbean station there, go right ahead and work them. And then congratulate yourself on stumbling into your first DX on 6 meters!

You may hear some guys contest there anyway. Don't hassle anyone about it -- just know that you work USA only on 50.125 and above. Up to about 50.170-50.200. Use only SSB or CW on the lower portion of 6 meters. 6 meter FM call freq. is 52.525. I've never done much here, but I know plenty of folks do. I should see how my horizontal antennas for 6 M SSB load up on 52.525. But, if you've got a 6 meter rig, and FM only, then put this in play for the contest, same as you would with 146.55 FM. You can work people here. Or nearby, if 52.525 is busy.

If for some reason 6 meters opens up with sporadic E skip, then you're going to have some REAL FUN. Stations may suddenly come in from Florida, Texas, New York, anywhere. Then you need to spread out; in a big E skip opening during a contest, you may have activity up to 50.300. This is rare during winter (common during summer) but just be aware it could happen. I know guys also do sporadic Es on 52 Mhz FM; I've just always been a SSB guy on 6. It's all good. I always keep a rig tuned in the background to 6 meters during any contest. 50.125 is probably best if you're just monitoring. Once 50.125 comes alive with skip, you want to spread out, up the band, and find a place to call CQ and get your own little pileup. E skip can happen "THAT" suddenly. In 5+ years of contesting I've had many times where 6 was open for hours on end during the summer. You can work 70, 80, 100 grid squares and 20, 30 states in an afternoon and evening. Easy. That alone is a good reason to start VHF contesting. If you've never given 6 a chance, you're missing out. Even marginal antennas work lots of DX in strong E skip openings. Talking single loops, dipoles, sometimes even mobile whips. You'd be amazed.

**1.25 meters. I like calling this band 222 or 223. I know plenty of guys who have FM equipment for 223. I know this because I make the most FM contacts in a contest (remember, I'm primarily SSB when contesting) on either 146 or 223. I will call CQ Contest occasionally on 223.5 FM, just in case someone's listening. I suggest you do the same. 222 SSB call frequency is 222.100. Problem with beginners and 222 SSB is that it's hard to find rigs with SSB capability for 222. So while 222 is a great band with better propagation than 144, it's a bit of an orphan. Nobody in the USA makes a commercially available rig for 222 SSB. You have to find a vintage Yaesu FT-736R or 726R, or you have to use an IF rig with a transverter. Which is beyond beginning contesting. If anyone is ever interested in getting on 222 SSB, ask me or any other experienced contester for help. It's a great band.

So let's leave it at this: If you have a 223 FM rig, then you know it's a great band. Use this band in the contest! Keep an ear open and call CQ around 223.5 FM.

** 70 centimeters. I call this band 432 (SSB) or 440 (FM). Because gear for 432 SSB is commercially available (it's often thrown in on the newer HF rigs, along with 6 and 2) this band is more popular than 222 in contests. I would say 100% of contesters have 2 meters, 80-90% also have 6, about 20-30% have 222 or 223, and about 30-50% have 432. So this band gets some good use in the VHF/UHF contests. 432.100 is the SSB call frequency. You may bump into activity between 432.070 and 432.130 with SSB. You may also hear some activity on or near the 446.00 FM Simplex call frequency.

For beginners, these are the 4 bands you need to concern yourself with for next weekend's contest. Even if you have only 2 meters, go right ahead and contest! Spread the word to your ham friends to try this out. It's no fun unless it's active. Have fun with it, give it a try.

The next article is going to give some valuable tips on how to put this info to practical use. In other words, how actual contesters do things in a contest.


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