One of our favorite things to do at the Dayton Hamvention is to attend Contest University. Fred (AB1OC) and Anita (AB1QB) attended Contest University for the first time in 2012 and found this to be a great learning experience about Amateur Radio in general and Contesting specifically. The instructors are the same people who consistently place highest in contests. They share their knowledge with the rest of us at Contest University.
Here are some of the sessions that I attended at Contest University 2013:
- Radio Sport Contesting, It’s More Than Rules – K5GN – The message from this presentation is that with contesting, everyone is under the honor system – there is no referee in your shack making sure that you follow the rules. Technology has brought even more innovative ways to cheat than in the past. But the best contesters do not cheat – your time is better spent learning to improve your skills.
- Tips on Being a Better Single Operator – K5ZD – Randy Thompson is the director of the CQ WW contest and is an excellent speaker. In this presentation, he shares many tips on improving your contesting skills based on his experience contesting and analyzing logs. I would highly recommend this presentation, which can be viewed from Icom’s YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc. Some items that I learned are:
- Automate as much as you can – band changes from your software, rotator control, PTT output to the radios, etc. It is possible to set up your station so that you can click on a spot and your rotor will turn your antenna, your radio will tune, and the entry window of your logger will open with the callsign filled in.
- Station layout is important – make it easy to reach the items you go to most and difficult to reach the ones that you should not (eg. don’t accidentally switch antennas while transmitting)
- Have a strategy – look at your past logs and the logs of your peers (Logs are public for some contests, like the CQ WW contest).
- Understand the rules and use this information to determine when to change bands, when to run, when to hunt for multipliers
- Get your station ready 1 week before the contest and get a good night’s sleep the night before.
- There is a real-time score reporting website – cqcontest.ru – See below for an example showing AB1OC’s score midway through the CQ WPX CW contest.
- Don’t give up if it’s not going well – keep pushing – the next QSO could make the difference.
- Setting Up for RTTY Contesting/Operating a RTTY Contest – W0YK – The presenter, Ed Muns, operates as P49X from Aruba in the major RTTY contests and consistently has stop scores. I attended this talk last year, but with some RTTY contests under my belt, I was able to get much more out of the presentation this year. He provides alot of good technical information about how RTTY works, how to set up RTTY, comparisons of hardware and software for RTTY, and what the various program options do. Some learnings:
- Using multiple decoders for a given signal helps to get a good copy on at least one. The new 2Tone decoder from G3YYD can decode signals under some conditions where other decoders (MMTTY, etc.) cannot. This avoids asking for repeats and increases your QSO rate.
- Using Super Check Partial, a database of active contester callsigns, can also help to accurately pick out call signs
- Callsign stacking – waiting for 2-3 callsigns after calling CQ and then working them in sequence can speed up your QSO rate.
- RTTY is easier than other modes, since the callsign is already decoded for you on your screen. Take advantage of this to multi-task to increase your rate. Use Single Operator Two VFO (SO2V) to find stations via search and pounce while running. Or do search and pounce on one VFO and while you are waiting for your chance to respond to a CQ, look for another station on the other VFO. If you have 2 radios, and are good at multi-tasking – use SO2R to increase your QSO rate even more. This is how the best RTTY contesters win.
- Post-Contest Log Analyzers – K6MM – As mentioned by K5ZD in his talk, analyzing your contest log (or your peers’ logs) is a good way to improve your score in the next contest. This presentation was about several software packages that can help you to do this. The most full featured of these is SH5 , which provides 50 different reports on your log. Some of the reports include QSO rates per hour, number of hours operated, QSO break down by band, and number of countries worked. It even provides a Google map plot of the QSOs that you worked! I ran SH5 on my log from the 2013 BARTG HF RTTY contest and a couple of reports are shown below.
Some other topics presented at Contest University included Contest Antennas and Coaxial Cables, Propagation Trends, RFI and Ham Radio, VHF Contesting, Design and Maintenance of Antennas, Towers and Rotators. There is so much good information, I wish I could have attended multiple sessions at once!
We also attended the RTTY contesting forum at the Dayton Hamvention where we learned about the Reverse Beacon Network and CW Skimmer . These tools are beginning to be available for RTTY. The CW Skimmer works with participating stations running software that decodes and collects information from received CW traffic. That data is collected by the Reverse Beacon Network website and displayed like spots from a spotting network.
Next year, Contest University will be held around the ARRL Centennial which will be held July 17-20, 2014 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Contest University has also been held in Germany, Italy, and Australia.
Several of the contest university sessions were recorded and can be found on Icom’s YouTube Site: http://www.youtube.com/IcomAmericaInc. The Hamvention RTTY Contesting Slides and Videos can be found at W0YK’s website.
– Anita (AB1QB)