A summary of radiosport topics for the casual contester
The contest season is underway! CQ Magazine sponsors several contests each year, and among them, the CQ Worldwide DX Contests are the highlight. There are actually three separate contests on the last full weekend of successive months: RTTY in September, SSB in October, and CW in November. The CQ Worldwide SSB contest, held this year on October 30 and 31, is generally considered the start of the “contest season”, which runs through the other major CQ Magazine contest series, the CQ WPX, or Worked All Prefixes, which wraps up in May. When conditions are good (and they are getting better currently), it’s possible to make a lot of contacts and one can even complete DXCC – working 100 different countries – in a weekend. CQWW CW takes place this year on November 27 and 28.
The granddaddy of all contests is the ARRL Sweepstakes, first held in 1930 and which takes place this month. The CW Sweepstakes is the first full weekend in November (this year, November 6-7) and the SSB running is two weekends later (November 20-21). Sweepstakes is a thirty-hour contest (out of which a station can operate 24) and doesn’t get started until Saturday afternoon (4 PM in the Eastern time zone), so there’s time to get a few things done before settling in. And it doesn’t require a superstation to make lots of contacts – a hundred watts and a dipole will do very well.
A North American contest (there are no points for working non-US/Canada stations), Sweepstakes has a number of unique attributes. Among them:
- you can only work a given station once, regardless of band;
- the multipliers are ARRL and RAC (Radio Amateurs of Canada) Sections (not States or Provinces);
- the exchange resembles a radiogram header, including a serial number, your own callsign, a “check” – the last two digits of the year you were first licensed – and the Section.
The contest requires accuracy and attention, as it’s not possible to get everything just from the callsign or a call history file.
Much has been written about Sweepstakes strategy. One of the best articles was written by members of the Mad River Radio Club. While it is written with an emphasis toward midwestern stations, there’s much good information for anyone seeking to improve their score. Some of the significant takeaways are
- plan your offtimes to coincide with periods of low activity, such as early Sunday morning, if you plan to operate the full 24 hours
- not spending much time on 10 or 160 meters, since you’re not likely to work stations you couldn’t also work on other bands
- employ a combination of running – calling CQ – to build QSO totals, with searching and pouncing to seek out multipliers
- making sure you got the other op’s exchange correctly, and not being shy about asking for a repeat
- if you’re operating part time, spend your time on the air in the first few hours, when rates are highest, and late in the contest when you’ll be “fresh meat”
If you know CW but are still not comfortable at the typical higher speeds, tune higher in the band to find stations sending more slowly. Try copying the other station’s exchange as they work someone else, but remember to log the actual serial number they send you. And good ops will QRS (slow down) if you ask, or if you send your call at a more comfortable speed for you. And Worked All States in a weekend? Yup, you can do that, too!
For full details on these and many more contests, along with links to the rules and log submittal instructions, visit WA7BNM’s Contest Calendar site.
- November 6-7: ARRL Sweepstakes, CW
- November 13-14: No major contests, but many smaller, regional and specialty contests
- November 17 (in the US): NAQCC Monthly Sprint, a 2-hour slow speed QRP CW activity where straight key sending is common
- November 20-21: ARRL Sweepstakes, SSB
- November 27-28: CQ Worldwide, CW
- 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