A summary of radiosport topics for the casual contester
As we wrap up the calendar year, we can look forward to a month of contests that almost any ham can get involved in and have fun in.
The month starts and ends with a pair of topband (160 meter) contests. The dark days of December (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) provide many hours of low-absorption F-layer skip that allows those low frequencies to travel far, and with thunderstorm activity at a minimum, atmospheric noise takes a break.
The first weekend (December 3-5) features the ARRL 160-Meter Contest. Though it’s a US-based contest, stations worldwide can participate. US and Canadian stations exchange RST and their ARRL or RAC Section (not just the state); DX stations send RST only. Multipliers are those Sections, and each DX entity.
The other 160-meter contest is an interesting one and a favorite of topband enthusiasts. The Stew Perry Distance Challenge features scoring based on the distance between stations as well as the power of the station worked. You get a 2-times bonus for working a 100-watt station and a 5-times bonus for working a QRP station, so work those weak ones! The exchange is your Maidenhead grid square, which is how the log checker determines the point values of your contacts. And that log checking happens fast – preliminary results are usually posted just days after the log submittal deadline. The contest, in honor of noted topband operator Stew Perry, W1BB (a Silent Key), is run four times a year, but the December run is the most popular. This year, it’s the night of Saturday, December 18.
In between, December 11 and 12 (UTC) brings us a contest that literally any ham can enjoy. It’s the ARRL 10-Meter Contest, and since Technician-class licensees have both CW and phone privileges from 28.0 to 28.5 MHz, they can join in the fun. Ten meters isn’t always an easy band to work, especially off the sunspot peak, but contests tend to make their own propagation, so expect to be able to make a bunch of contacts regardless. Exchange is simply RST and state or province. An added feature is the inclusion of Mexican states as multipliers, and multipliers count once each on CW and SSB, giving you a reason to give your “fist” a try (or if you’re a CW guy like me, to find your microphone and plug it in).
One of my favourite (yes, favourite) contests is the Radio Amateurs of Canada Winter contest. It’s a 24-hour contest that usually happens on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s Day, except in years like this when Christmas falls on a Saturday, when it gets bumped earlier by a week to December 18. Canadian stations send RST and their province (which is easy to guess based on the callsign) and non-Canadians send RST and a serial number. It’s an “everyone works everyone” contest (you’re not restricted to VEs) but point values favour Canadians – it’s 2 points for stations outside Canada, 10 points for Canadians, and 20 points for stations with the RAC suffix (e.g. VE3RAC) – bonus stations affiliated with the RAC, operating from each province and territory on both CW and SSB. Canadian ops are very cordial, and the contest has a friendly, neighbourly tone.
And although it’s not really a contest, be sure to dust off your J38 and get on the air for Straight Key Night, which takes place on New Year’s Eve in the US (0000-2359 UTC on New Year’s Day).
A contest tip
Make contesting more fun by setting a goal for yourself. Winning overall is highly improbable in most contests, but you could aim for top score from your state or call area, a personal best score or highest score in your club, or to work some new entities (states or countries) for WAS or DXCC awards. And don’t forget to submit your log to the contest sponsor, post a summary to 3830scores.com, and upload your contacts to Logbook of the World.
For full details on these and many more contests (91 total for December alone), along with links to the rules and log submittal instructions, visit WA7BNM’s Contest Calendar site.
- December 3-5: ARRL 160-Meter Contest
- December 11-12: ARRL 10-Meter Contest
- December 14 (in the US): NAQCC Monthly Sprint, a 2-hour slow speed QRP CW activity where straight key sending is common. (Note: some schedules list the date as December 8, which is incorrect.)
- December 18: RAC Winter Contest
- December 18-19: Stew Perry Topband Distance Challenge
- December 19: ARRL Rookie Roundup (CW), for all amateurs but with special aim toward hams licensed three years or less
- December 21 (in the US): NAQCC Milliwatt Sprint, aimed at those running 1 watt or less.
- December 30: Youth On The Air Contest, aimed at hams 25 years old and younger but all are welcome
- Every Tuesday: Phone Fray, 30 minute SSB quickie
- Every Wednesday: CWops Mini-CWT, four one-hour CW sprints throughout the day
- Every Friday and Sunday: K1USN CW Slow Speed Tests – speeds max out at 20 wpm