KI4GDR (with mike) and KI4GDQ at BARS Field Day
At this past months Bullitt ARS meeting we discussed our 2011 Field Day effort, the pros and the cons. The biggest con was a lot of our operators didn’t understand how to make a contest QSO. This months ARRL Contesting newsletter has one of the best articles I’ve seen in quite a while. The article, in its’ entirety, follows.
Reprinted with permission of the ARRL. Copyright ARRL, 2011.
How To Have A (Contest) Conversation
After the last issue was emailed to readers, I received a most reasonable request. “This issue shows how NOT to make a Field Day QSO. How SHOULD I make a Field Day QSO?” Here is a good example of how experienced operators (i.e. – your editor) can forget that criticism without instruction is not helpful. One has to demonstrate the right technique so as to illustrate why the wrong technique is, in fact, wrong! So here goes…
First, a disclaimer. There is no One Perfect Method for efficient, effective contest operating. The “right” technique depends on band conditions, how many are (or aren’t) calling, the intensity of the competition, and the skill of the operators on each end. What follows are guidelines and I am assuming that the contest is a phone contest. The reader should be able to apply the same principles to CW and digital contest operation.
To make a lot of QSOs in a fixed period – the goal of nearly every contest – you need to minimize the time you spend making each QSO. The first step in minimizing the duration of a QSO is to remove all unnecessary verbiage. In a perfect world, the only thing you should hear going back and forth during a contest is call signs and exchange information. It should sound like this:
1 – CQ Field Day KOØA
2 – [pileup]
3 – W1ABC 2 Alpha Missouri
4 – 1 Alpha Eastern Massachusetts
5 – Thanks KOØA
Not a wasted bit of transmitting exists in that exchange. Lines 1 and 5 are “bookends” in which KOØA identifies and solicits QSOs. (This style of operation is sufficient for W1ABC, as well.) This is the standard to which you should aspire on either end of the QSO. In Line 3, KOØA has pulled out a full call sign from the pileup, sent it to notify everyone who the QSO is with, given the information in the expected order and stopped transmitting. KOØA does not say, “Please copy…” or “You are…” or repeat any information or say, “Over” or “Go ahead” or any number of other things that take up time but don’t add anything to the flow of the contact. In Line 4, W1ABC responds when called, gives the contest information, and stops transmitting. That’s it – no extra “stuff” to slow things down. In Line 5, KOØA acknowledges that the information was complete and the call sign ends the transmission. No “QRZed” or “CQ Field Day” or “from” is required. If no stations call, then a longer CQ transmission starts the cycle again. (A nit to pick…when a station says “You are” and then describes their own configuration, shouldn’t that really be “I am”?)
When should you deviate from this ideal? There are lots of reasons to do so. In Line 3, KOØA should not give out any exchange information until sure of enough of the caller’s call sign that only one station is likely to respond. For example, if KOØA doesn’t get the last letter of W1ABC’s call…”W1AB-something 2 Alpha Missouri, what’s the last letter?” W1ABC should respond with something like, “W1 Alpha Bravo Charlie, last letter is Charlie, 1 Alpha…etc” Why does W1ABC repeat the full call? To confirm that the missing letter is the last one and that the call is not W1CAB or just W1AB. Similarly, if KOØA has W1ABC’s call wrong, W1ABC might simply respond with, “W1ABC”. At that point, KOØA can resume with Line 3 shown above.
What about repeating your information? If not requested to do so, don’t! 9 times out of 10, even a QRP station will be perfectly readable in Line 4 above. The other callers are standing by (hopefully) so KOØA is probably going to get the information on the first transmission – don’t waste time with unrequested repeats! If a repeat is requested, repeat only the information requested.
Should W1ABC give KOØA’s call sign in Line 4? Whenever there is any question about the intended receiving station give the call sign. It is very common under crowded contest conditions for two stations to be extremely close together or even on the same frequency if they are in each other’s skip zones or have antenna nulls aimed at each other. When this happens, don’t depend on timing – give the other station’s call sign before sending your own information. If you don’t, you take a chance that the “wrong” station will log you. The extra information often saves losing a contact (and the multiplier and the possible penalty).
What if W1ABC misses some of KOØA’s information? Then W1ABC should request a repeat (“What is your section?”) BEFORE proceeding with “1 Alpha Eastern Massachusetts.” W1ABC should not transmit any exchange information until all of KOØA’s information has been received. If W1ABC waits until after sending the category and section to ask for a repeat, KOØA will likely assume W1ABC received the information OK and will proceed with Line 5 too soon. This gets everything out of sync for everybody, including any callers waiting to contact KOØA. Yes, W1ABC could wait until KOØA’s next contact to copy the information but I can tell you from personal experience – it doesn’t always work out that way! Get the information you need during the contact and don’t assume you can get it on subsequent contacts – that’s a big waste of time for you.
Obviously, there are many more variations on the basic theme. By practicing, you’ll learn the basic principles of snappy, crisp operating. To learn more about effective, efficient operating, listen to the top operators on the air while they are “running” and try to emulate them.
Learn to pull a full call sign out of a pileup whenever you can
Give your full call whenever calling in a pileup
Transmit exchange information the same way every time
Eliminate wasted syllables and words
Speak clearly without rushing or mumbling
Speech audio should be non-distorted and free of background noise
The top operators are flexible, too. When conditions require it, they will “change gears” to a faster or slower technique in order to maintain the flow of information and keep the contacts coming. Just like a long-distance runner who only lifts each foot enough to clear the ground, the top operators only transmit enough information to keep making contacts. You might not think the difference between “Thanks” and “Thank you” is worth much, but if in a 48-hour contest the goal is upwards of 5000 contacts, saying the extra “you” 5000 times is significant. This may be “cutting the tags off the teabags” as the backpackers say but work on eliminating non-essential transmissions and see if your log doesn’t fill up a little quicker!
Should this be the style of operating for casual, non-contest contacts? Of course not! But it would be completely appropriate for a net control station trying to run an emcomm net with many calling to check in, pass traffic, report status, etc. When trying to handle that load “extra stuff” can really gum up the works. The habits and skills formed under contest conditions help make you an effective operator when the chips are really down – in a disaster or emergency situation when every minute counts.
73, Ward NØAX