CQ Contest CQ Contest…. for some, these are poetic words. I can say I am one!
For me, contesting allows me to pit myself against the powers of the sun and propagation gods/goddesses. To eek out that one weak QSO while RF bombards the airwaves is very exciting and rewarding, especially when working a contest from the WEST COAST!
While I have had the pleasure of working a contest from the K3LR Multi-Multi station, being part of an incredible team, I enjoy the solo effort as N9JA as well as running the N7IH club station during the CQ WW Phone contest.
If I had to list my all time favorite contest experience, I would have to say the 2001 effort from Bhutan as A52A with a great DXpedition group lead by Dr. Glenn Johnson, W0GJ. There is nothing like being on the receiving end of a pile-up! So, you can see I take great joy in contesting.
For those who have never tried contesting, the biggest question that comes up is how to get started. There are several contests running every weekend and my favorite contesting resource is the WA7BNM’s Contest Calendar. While basic, this is a great site to plan your contesting experience. Yes, I said plan!
To maximize your fun, you should definitely have a plan. Planning includes things like what bands to operate in during specific times of the day, operation hours, and most importantly your nutrition for the contest. While this sounds a bit extreme, it is too easy to get caught up in the action and crash or worse yet, be on the wrong band at the wrong time calling CQ without having anyone respond.
If you are the competitive type, you should identify how you want to participate in the contest. Selecting the right category can either bury you in a crowd of contesters, or bring you to the top of the list! When I work as N9JA or the N7IH club station, I prefer the low power category, assisted.
You should also be aware that amateur radio contesting is one of the few sports where you absolutely must cooperate with your competitors to make the event work. The other station needs to give you the correct exchange and vice versa in order for both teams to build their scores. Nowhere else does this happen in any form of competition.
As mentioned above, I particularly like the phone contests and really enjoy the DX contests like the CQ World-Wide DX SSB in October along with the ARRL International DX Phone and the CQ World-Wide WPX SSB, both in March. Also, I can’t forget about the IARU HF Championship held the second full weekend of July.
There are also some fantastic CW contests as well as RTTY contests which are really growing in participation. We believe in contests so much, that Icom America is an award sponsor for several including sponsoring Contest University.
Another big favorite of mine is the ARRL Sweepstakes held in November, with CW the first full weekend (November 7-9 this year) and phone the third full weekend (November 21-23 this year). Icom is proud to be the Sweepstakes principal awards sponsor.
With this contest I really like the ‘contest within a contest’, if you will. Sure, there are the big guns whether from a multi-multi or just a really good home station. But with Sweepstakes you can also try for the “clean sweep” of working all the US and Canadian sections. That doesn’t take the best station but it does take persistence and good operating.
That also points out that you don’t need to enter a contest with the intent of winning your category, although that’s a nice goal. You can also focus on your own goals. Like beating your buddy’s score, or beating your score from last year. Or, as in the case with Sweepstakes, you can qualify for a Clean Sweep Mug by working all the sections. At a minimum, you can qualify for the participation pin by making 100 QSOs.
A few years ago we produced the video below on operating the ARRL Sweepstakes. It provides a great perspective on contesting:
QSO parties are yet another way of getting involved in contesting. The North American QSO Party is put on by the National Contest Journal. They hold CW, SSB, and RTTY versions twice a year. These 12-hour contests are perfect ways to get involved without investing your entire weekend.
The state QSO parties operate throughout the year and offer a low-pressure way of getting on the air and making some contacts. For those who are trying for the county hunter awards, these are fantastic ways to work those rare counties that are on the air just for their state’s QSO party.
Icom America sponsors a number of contests, including the NAQP contests and ARRL Sweepstakes noted above, as well as the North America SSB Sprint and CWOPS CW Open. We’re so committed to contesting that we even operate our own, the D-STAR QSO Party.
RADIO SPORT – WITH DX IN THE MIX
Yet another thing that I like about contesting it that it gets all the stations on the air at the same time. Plus, since the object is to make as many contacts as possible, the pile-ups around rare or not so rare DX stations are small and sometimes non-existent.
Contesting is simply the very best way to build your DXCC total. In fact, it’s not unusual to earn DXCC in a contest weekend. On the other side of the coin, it doesn’t matter if you make thousands of QSOs or only the three countries that you need to complete your DXCC. The major contesters are delighted that you’re on the air.
I’ll make a pitch here as well for the VHF contests that are on the schedule. As propagation conditions can vary from one contest to the next, they very much depend on people getting on the air and making some noise. Plus, all our HF rigs now have six meters. This is the perfect way to get on VHF and experience the Magic Band first hand, when everyone is on and looking for contacts. Or use your Icom FM rig to enter the FM only category.
GET IN THE CONTEST
If you have an HF station, it’s time to get involved with contesting. All Icom radios are ready for contesting in any mode. It doesn’t matter if you’re running 100 watts or more, or even if you’ve turned the power level to 5 watts, there is a competition category that fits you. There are even some categories and entire events just for rookies!
You don’t have to be super sharp, or as I noted above, make hundreds or thousands of contacts. Just getting on the air will be welcomed by everyone involved in the contest. I do ask that you read the contest rules, particularly about the contest exchange. Listen to a few exchanges to get the feel for what’s exchanged, how it’s exchanged, and then give it a shot.
You’ll do just fine and I’m sure you’ll have a blast. We’ll do our best to get the Icom Club Station N7IH activated here at HQ. We would appreciate your contact.
Ray Novak, N9JA
Senior Sales Manager
Lifetime Amateur Radio Enthusiast