The 2013 ARRL DX Phone Contest – Occasionally, Everything New Works Out

ARRL DX Phone Contest Ops

AB1OC Operating In The ARRL DX Phone Contest

I participated in the 2013 ARRL DX Phone Contest from our recently completed New Hampshire, USA shack. This was my first serious effort in a Phone contest, and I participated in the Single-Operator, High Power Assisted category within the W/VE segment of the contest.

We have been enhancing our station’s contesting hardware and software recently. These enhancements included the addition of a microHAM MK2R+ SO2R interface the week before the contest.

microHAM MK2R+ SO2R Interface

microHAM MK2R+ SO2R Interface (Courtesy microHAM)

The MK2R+ provides a single interface to the two radios (an Icom IC-7800 and an Icom IC-9100) at my operating position. It allows one microphone, one set of headphones/speakers, one set of paddles, both radios’ FSK interfaces, and the MK2R+’s built-in sound cards to be used with both radios flexibly. I used the MK2R+ along with our logger’s voice keyer as part of the contest. I only operated using a single radio, the Icom IC-7800, in Single Operator 2 VFO (SO2V) mode in this contest as I wanted to prove in the MK2R+ in a relatively simple configuration during the first contest that we used it in. The MK2R+ also controls and shares our SteppIR DB-36 antennas between the two radios at my position.

The other major station enhancement for this contest was my first use of the N1MM Logger. N1MM is a very sophisticated contest logger that provides many features to enable a more competitive contest effort.

N1MM Screen Layout (Left Monitor)

N1MM Screen Layout (Left Monitor)

Anita (AB1QB) used N1MM as part of the 2013 CQ WPX RTTY Contest a few weeks back, so we had some experience with it prior to this contest. N1MM presents a lot of information, and I configured it to display various information on two monitors. The picture above shows the N1MM on my left monitor during the contest. This screen is the primary one that I used to operate. It contains the logging and control windows for both VFOs on my Icom IC-7800 (lower left), the spotting cluster data and band maps for the same (upper left and center tall vertical windows), and the Super Check Partial call sign checking window and my contest score window  (to the right of the two logging windows). The final two windows on this monitor are the control window for our rotators (Ham Radio Deluxe, upper right) and N1MM’s cluster telnet window (lower right).

N1MM Screen Layout (Right Monitor)

N1MM Screen Layout (Right Monitor)

The N1MM setup on my right monitor displays statistics and results for my contest operations. The windows here include my contest QSO rates (upper left), map of multipliers (countries) worked by Band (upper right), the logged calls during the contest (lower right), and my QSO rate and score statistics throughout the contest shown graphically (lower right). The graphical contest statistics are provided by a program called Athena.

Contest QSO Statistics

Contest QSO Statistics

As you can see from the picture above, Athena provides a great deal of information about my performance by Band in real-time during the contest. It is also an excellent tool for analyzing your performance after the contest is completed.

So how did the contest go? I operated for about 40 of the 48 hours of the available contest time. The following shows my final “claimed” score for the contest.

AB1OC's Claimed Score

AB1OC’s Claimed Score

Analyzing these results against other scores posted in my category on the 3830 website was very useful. When I compare the scores posted to these stats, I am pretty satisfied with the performance of my station on all bands but 160m. My 160m performance was a little weaker than the top stations in my category in this contest. My planned addition of a DX Engineering  8-Circle Receive Antenna System, which will cover 160m, plus some longer radials for my 160m Inverted-L antenna, should help.

I made extensive use of N1MM’s cluster data and band map features plus N1MM’s voice keyer to operate in Search and Pounce Mode at QSO rates which exceeded 150 QSOs per hour at times. These rates were far better than I have ever been able to achieve. N1MM’s voice keyer, coupled with some focus on improving my operating technique while running, allowed me to approach QSO rates of 200 per hour at times while running. This, coupled with decent coverage of the available multipliers, resulted in a good overall score – by far my best.

Multipliers Worked In Contest

Multipliers Worked In Contest

One of my goals in every contest is to work as many DX stations as I can towards various DX awards. This contest was also my best effort to date in this area. The picture above shows the final set of multipliers (these are DXCC entities, think of these mostly as countries) during the contest. At the 24-hour point, I worked 100 DXCC entities, earning a Phone DXCC Award in 24 hours. My final count for the contest was 120 DXCC entities.

I learned a lot about how to select which bands to operate at various times during the contest as well as how to use some of the best capabilities of N1MM. I was also able to improve my operating skills as the contest progressed. I am looking forward to the next major Phone contest so that I can apply all that I learned and hopefully perform better. I hope to finish in the top 20 within my category for this contest, which fulfills one of our major goals when we set out to construct our new station.

– Fred (AB1OC)

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