K3WWP's Ham Radio Activities

CalendarStoriesHonor RollQRP SprintsResultsTips

The 2004 ARRL 160M Contest

This is the first time I've written about a 160M contest. I decided to do this one for a couple reasons. First with the sunspot cycle on the decline, 160M is becoming better as far as propagation goes. The lower sunspot activity means less activity in the ionosphere hence less absorption of lower frequency signals like those on the 80M and 160M bands. Second I want to point out that you can do OK with minimal QRP on 160M, however even with the better conditions, 160M contests can still be quite frustrating for the QRP station with only a very minimal 160M antenna. That's the end of the preface, now let's get on with the story.

With my interest in contesting revived by the NAQCC Turkey event and the CQWW DX contest, I decided to put in at least several hours in the ARRL 160M contest this year. The past few years I had only operated maybe one or two hours at most because it was so hard to make contacts with my minimal setup.

This year however, when I started around 0500Z Saturday, I found that I had little trouble making contacts and reeled off 50 QSO's in the first hour and 3 minutes. That was from working the strong stations and the big contesters with the great ears and good receiving setups.

There is one thing to keep in mind however. With a minimal QRP setup like mine, you are not going to break many pileups. In fact you are probably not going to work a station - period - if someone else is calling him at the same time. In virtually every case when I could hear another station calling someone the same time as I was calling him, I lost out, and had to wait till I was the only station calling to make the QSO. If I was the only station calling, the QSO was pretty easy with an occasional request for me to repeat my section or to correct my call. Oddly enough, one station where there was a pileup of what sounded like 2 or 3 other stations calling did pull me through the pile easily. I say oddly, because it was one of the most distant stations I've worked so far - K0HA in Nebraska.

You notice I said so far, because I'm writing this first part Saturday evening around 0200Z, and I will be getting back in the contest for a couple more hours later. At this point in time, I have 104 QSO's in 30 sections from about 3 1/2 hours of work.

In my opening paragraph, I mentioned frustration. That comes from hearing those west coast W6 and W7 stations so well (and I was hearing several of them with very strong signals), and not getting them to hear even a peep out of me. I know that comes from my poor 160M antenna which is just my random wire up in the attic. At only 30 feet high and being short compared to a 160M wavelength, most of my radiation leaves at high angles. This is great for working the closer stations, and I do quite well out to 400-500 miles or so. However by the time the signal takes another 2-3 hops to make it out to W6 and W7 land, my original 5 watts is attenuated down to perhaps a few hundred milliwatts at most. That is just too weak for anyone to dig out of the noise with the possible exception of those stations with outstanding receiving setups. Another part of the country that is hard to work is the Gulf Coast area. I presume that is because with the warmer weather down there, the QRN is proportionally higher. I have called many LA and MS stations with no luck, and those are two states I still need on 160M. I have worked the West Coast several times in the past, but that was closer to the bottom of a sunspot cycle back in 1995-1997 or so. Hopefully in another year or two, we'll be back at that point again and I can catch some of the 9 states I need to finish my 160M WAS.

For now though, the frustration really gets to me at times. What is even more frustrating though is having stations within my good 400-500 mile radius not hearing me at all. But then I have to realize that not everyone in the contest is a top-notch contest operator able to dig weaker signals out of the mud. Some stations don't bother working anyone who is less than S9. Other stations have strong local QRN that blocks my signals. There are also many other factors involved in why someone can't copy me, but still--------.

I got back in the contest at 0515Z Sunday, and found conditions still pretty good. I had already worked a good many stations and there were less to choose from now. However, I still added 43 more QSO's in 2 hours.

It didn't seem to me that conditions were as good as the previous night. I wasn't hearing as many western stations and those I did hear were not as strong. Also I was having trouble working stations in MN whereas they came fairly easily the night before.

I did manage to work a few of the stations now that I called and called the previous night with no results. AB2E and W9IU come to mind as two examples. Both of those came with just a single call and were easy QSO's.

I thought I'd finish this report by paying tribute to those whom I consider top-notch 160M contest operators, and also some of my 160M contest stats.

Here are those great operators and their state of the art contest stations who've copied my weak 160M signals in at least 8 of the 15 different ARRL and CQ 160M contests I've participated in during the past 9 years.
W3MYA  - VA - 15
VE3EJ  - ON - 14
W3BGN  - PA - 12
KT3Y   - VA - 11
VE3KP  - ON - 11
W3GH   - PA - 11
K3SV   - PA - 10
K3WW   - PA - 10
KE9I   - IN - 10
WK3I   - MD - 10
K2FU   - NY -  9
K8OQL  - WV -  9
N3AM   - MD -  9
N8II   - WV -  9
VE3PN  - ON -  9
AA1K   - DE -  8
K3ATO  - PA -  8
K4OAQ  - VA -  8
K8FC   - NY -  8
K8XXX  - MI -  8
N2NT   - NJ -  8
W2TZ   - NY -  8
W2XL   - NY -  8
W3TDF  - PA -  8
WA8YRS - OH -  8
Interesting to note that all are within my good 400-500 mile range or so. The best outside that range is N0NI in IA.

I also would like to mention those hams from W6 and W7 states that I've worked in the 160M tests, so here they are:
MT - N9ITX/7
UT - N7JW (twice)
WY - W7CW (twice)

And my one non-W/VE QSO - VP9AD
Results over the years (QSO's & Mults):

95 ARRL - 251 37
96 CQ   - 208 38
96 ARRL - 250 33
97 CQ   - 117 25
97 ARRL - 128 26
98 CQ   - 148 31
98 ARRL -  75 25
99 CQ   -  62 21
99 ARRL -  67 19
00 CQ   -  36 17
00 ARRL -  22 10
01 CQ   -  51 21
02 CQ   - DNE
03 CQ   - DNE
03 ARRL -  52 13
04 CQ   -  22 12
04 ARRL - 147 34
That shows a definite pattern related to the sunspot cycle.

And that closes this report which should show that even though it can be frustrating, you still can do OK on 160M with QRP and minimal antennas.