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The 2005 SS Contest

There are many different reasons to get into contests besides trying to come up with a first place trophy or certificate. Personally I know with my situation using QRP I'll never win a big overall First Place prize of any kind. And with my simple indoor antennas I probably won't win a prize in the QRP category either if anyone else with a better antenna setup enters. So I enter contests for one of the following reasons, and if I win a prize doing so that's just icing on the cake.

1. To get a new state, DX entity, zone, county, prefix, etc. either overall or on a certain band.
2. To work towards the various awards and challenges presented by the North American QRP CW Club.
3. To hone my operating skills.
4. To pass some time when the weather is bad and I'm stuck indoors.
5. Just because I enjoy the fast paced action of contesting, especially in the biggest contests where there is seemingly always a new station to work and the action is virtually non-stop.
6. I've made many contesting friends over the years, and I love to help them out with an extra QSO or two for their efforts. Also it's just nice to work them and maybe exchange a quick hello if the contest pace isn't too frantic.
7. To get an easy QSO to keep my QRP/CW streak going.
8. To put one more CW signal on the air to increase the multitude of activity on the bands that shows CW is far from dead.
There are probably more reasons I can't think of right now, but you see from the list that contesting can be fun for just about anyone even though you may not win a prize for your efforts.

I got in this year's ARRL SS for several of the reasons described above. My primary purpose was to work Montana to complete the NAQCC WAS award which offers a certificate for working all states while using QRP, CW, and simple wire antennas which is what I use all the time here. All QSO's have to be made since January 1, 2004. Wouldn't you know it, despite working all 49 other states several times over in that time frame, I had no Montana QSO's in my log for one reason or other. I know Matt, K7BG from Montana who is a great contester, so I emailed him to see if he was planning a big effort in the SS this year. He emailed back and said he sure was, mostly on 15M if conditions were good, but 20 and 40 also. We didn't make a specific sked, since that is not ethical in contesting. Also I virtually never make any kind of sked to get something I need. In fact I can only think of a couple of occasions when I have done so. One that comes to mind is getting Idaho on 80M. I exchanged a couple emails with Paul, AC7QG in Idaho, and he offered to sked me for that state. We did work and exchanged QSL's. I remember that not only because it was just about the only time I made a sked to get something new, but because Paul was killed in a plane crash not too long after our QSO.

Anyway, I decided I'd keep a sharp ear out for Matt. When I started the contest I went right to 15M and tuned all over the band listening for an 'MT' or 'T' at the end of an exchange, or a 'BG', etc. trying to find Matt. I wasn't working anyone else for a while, but then I decided while I was looking around, I might as well make some QSO's. I didn't find K7BG on 15M so I thought maybe he was on 20M instead so after a half hour on 15M I went to 20M. I had only made 7 QSO's so far. I did hear a BG along the way, but it turned out it wasn't Matt, but K5BG for a brief disappointment.

Twenty meters turned out to be much more active than 15M, although there was a lot of activity on 15 also. That meant a lot more stations to check out, so again I went into a period of just listening and not working anyone. That lasted about 20 minutes when I decided to work some friends I was hearing including Tor, N4OGW. I also started to work on the November NAQCC Challenge which I'll get to after finishing this part about my search for Matt.

Well, about 57 minutes into the contest, I heard another BG about S7. I waited to get the rest of the info and when the exchange ended with MT I knew it was Matt. I thought to myself, he's not all that strong so I may have to sit here and call several times before he hears my QRP through the pile-up I was sure he had. MT was probably a sought after multiplier since it seemed to be a rare state of late. I was wrong however, and must have called at a lull in any pile-up since Matt came back to me after just one call. We exchanged our info with no repeats needed. He gave me a FB and we went on our way. He was my QSO number 10. I was his #83 so he was indeed doing a big effort in the test.

Now I moved on to my second goal in the contest - to complete the NAQCC November Challenge. For those of you reading this and having no idea what I'm talking about I'll describe what a NAQCC Challenge is. The rest of you can skip to the next paragraph now. The NAQCC is now a year old with 1100 members. The club exists to promote CW and QRP activity. Membership is free and the motto is "No Dues, Just Do." One of the things we 'do' is to present a challenge each month designed to give members a reason to be a little more active on CW. One of our more popular type of challenge is an alphabet challenge. We present a list of words which have to be made by getting letters and or numbers from the call sign of the stations you work. For example if the word was 'GOAL', you'd have to work stations like KG4U, N4OT, WA3B, and N3LX to satisfy the challenge. In November we had words relating to Thanksgiving - TURKEYS, PILGRIM, PLYMOUTH ROCK, 1620, MAIZE, INDIANS, MAYFLOWER, STANDISH.

Completing the challenge was easy since a single call with say a 'T' and an 'I' in it could give 9 of the 59 letters (and numbers) right there. So that was completed quickly, probably within the first two hours if not sooner. After the contest, I decided that was too easy so I went through my SS QSO's and tried to find 59 different QSO's with which to make the required words. The first 84 QSO's in my log gave me them. If you're a QRP operator and these challenges sound interesting, I hope you'll become a member of the NAQCC and join in the fun.

Next I decided that I would try to get a WAS in the contest, and that along with working my contesting friends occupied the next phase of my SS.

By the time I quit on Saturday night at 0510Z, I had worked 41 ARRL sections. Excluding PR, VI, and some of the split sections in states, that made 34 states for me. I had most of the western states already with the exception of KH6, KL7, OR, and UT. I had heard several UT stations, but didn't work any that first day.

Here are some other highlights of my Saturday operation now. I worked KS and NE by the time I had 23 QSO's. Those two states had proved difficult for me in past SS contests, but were more abundant this year and I had multiple QSO's from both states this year. Just over 2 hours into the contest, I worked W2GD who gave me #232 as I gave him my #30. That always makes me wonder if I could rack up totals like that with a big contest station instead of my minimal QRP setup. I think I have the skill to do so, but I probably will never get the chance to find out. Back to going through my log for other highlights. I always get a kick out of working K0RF who seems to be going full speed around 40WPM or more in contests. He had 728 QSO's at 6.5 hours into the contest which seems to say that most other contesters can copy his high speed sending and makes me wonder why more ops don't go that fast. I'll comment more on that later on. That seems to conclude the Saturday part of my story.

My first QSO Sunday morning was a new state - SC from AA4NN. There were still a lot of 'easy' states I needed so I kind of looked around for them, but I also was now just working as many stations as I could. In the 1500Z hour I made 34 QSO's and got the easy states of IL, NC, GA, and TN which had eluded me earlier. The next hour provided 41 QSO's and LA, UT, and MO.

I now had 44 states worked and needed AL, ND, KH6, KL7, DE, and KY for my contest WAS. My search for them slowed down my QSO rate to about 20 per hour or so, but I did get 3 of the 6 states and wound up with 47 for the contest. K4ZGB gave me AL, KC4WQ (QRP) KY, and W3PP DE. I never did hear ND (I was watching for WB0O, but it wouldn't have helped anyway since I subsequently learned from W3BBO that he is now living in NM) nor KH6. I did hear someone working a /KL7 station, but never heard the KL7.

All in all it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the few stations who took a few extra seconds for a personal greeting to me like K4BAI (John), W3BBO (Bob), K3WW (Chas), and perhaps a couple others I can't recall now.

I'd like to cover two other matters about the contest now. Some statistics and a response to some postings on contest reflectors about QRP operation in contests.

I never read any kind of reflectors here since it just takes too much time to sort through the junk posts to find the few items of interest. However Larry, W2LJ forwarded some interesting info from one of the contesting reflectors that I'd like to comment on. A common thread was telling QRPers to QRQ when they send their info. I agree wholeheartedly. Too many QRP contesters send their info much too slowly or even worse send every item in an exchange two or three times. My advice is for QRPers to act just like QRO contesters. Send it fast and send it once. Then it is up to the other station to ask for repeats if he missed anything. Speaking of that, if a station asks for say, your QSO number, send ONLY the number. Don't send something like 'my nr is 345'. Brevity is the key to successful contesting. Going back to speed for a minute. I do virtually all my contesting in big contests like the SS in the S&P mode so if a station is calling CQ at 20 WPM, I answer him at 20 WPM. If he is sending 35 WPM, I send 35 WPM. Summing up my advice. Send at the speed of the station you are calling if you are able to send that fast. If he comes back to you, send each item in the exchange once. If he asks for repeats, send only what he asks for, nothing else.

One other item of interest was that some folks felt that an operator sending a precedence of 'Q' could not possibly be operating QRP because his signals were too strong. Well, another ham who I believe was running QRP in the SS responded that a QRPer running a four bay stack of 5 elements gets around 16-18 DB gain for that antenna making his 5 watts transmitter output into an ERP of 160-320 watts. I've said that for a long time with my point being that it is unfair for those of us who operate truly minimal QRP with our simple wire antennas to compete against a super contest station with a huge antenna farm who runs QRP. There should be separate categories based on antenna types similar to what the NAQCC is doing for some of its activities.

Finally I'm a statistics nut here and I always like to analyze things statistically. Here are some stats from my SS operation that may be of interest even if they don't really prove anything in most cases.

I always like to analyze the CK field to see how many newcomers to ham radio there are so let's do that now:

20's -  1 (W6YX-1924)
30's -  2 (W4GAC, W1AW)
40's -  6
50's - 69
60's - 75
70's - 74
80's - 12
90's - 15
00's -  2 (K7GK-2000, NM1Z-2005)
Assuming everyone was honest in this, it turns out to be as expected with a big peak from the 50's through the 70's when virtually all hams started out using the wonderful mode of CW. The decrease before that is due to age as anyone first licensed in the 40's is probably at least 70 years old or more if they are still living. The decrease of late is of course due to the lack of interest in CW among the new generation of hams who want everything handed to them and don't want to bother to put in the effort required to learn Morse Code. Fortunately all new hams aren't that way, and there are still some excellent newcomer CW operators.

Which states were most abundant for me, and which the least?

AK - 0
AL - 3
AR - 2
AZ - 3
CA - 17
CO - 5
CT - 5
DE - 1
FL - 10
GA - 7
HI - 0
IA - 4
ID - 1
IL - 18
IN - 10
KS - 4
KY - 1
LA - 2
MA - 7
MD - 11
ME - 1
MI - 11
MN - 14
MO - 3
MS - 1
MT - 1
NC - 6
ND - 0
NE - 2
NH - 4
NJ - 5
NM - 3
NV - 2
NY - 4
OH - 14
OK - 4
OR - 3
PA - 10
RI - 1
SC - 2
SD - 2
TN - 3
TX - 12
UT - 3
VA - 11
VT - 1
WA - 5
WI - 6
WV - 3
WY - 2
Of interest: Low totals for NY and NJ when another adjacent state, OH had 14 QSO's. Usually numerous NH and TN with only 4 and 3 QSO's respectively. Hard states to work for me (for whatever reason) in most contests NE and KS with 2 and 4 QSO's. Everything else pretty much as expected.

QSO's by precedence:

B - 96
A - 84
U - 43
M - 24
Q -  7
S -  2
I don't have the stats for this, but the item most often asked to be repeated was probably my CK for some reason. Second most was probably section or number. Precedence was definitely the least asked for.

Highest rate I saw on the GenLog rate meter was 66 per hour. I'm not sure what period of time this is measured for. Probably 10 or 15 minutes. I did have several minutes with two QSO's here and there which is of course a rate of 120. My QSO's by hour and the rate that period are as follows:

2100 - 10                10.0
2200 - 16 (in 34 mins)   28.2
0000 - 18 (in 43 mins)   25.1
0400 - 13 (in 29 mins)   26.9
0500 -  3 (in  4 mins)   45.0
1500 - 31 (in 44 mins)   42.3
1600 - 41                41.0
1700 - 22 (in 41 mins)   32.2
1800 -  1 (in  2 mins)   30.0
1900 - 21 (in 50 mins)   25.2
2000 - 24                24.0
2200 - 22 (in 52 mins)   25.4
2300 -  6 (in  9 mins)   44.4
0000 - 12 (in 40 mins)   18.0
0100 - 14 (in 35 mins)   24.0
0200 -  2 (in  5 mins)   24.0

It seems in most big contests I enter, the 1400-1700 time period is always near the best for me and that's true again in this contest.

Well, enough statistical rambling for now. There are many other ways the info could be analyzed, but I'll stop for now and wrap up.

Thanks to all who took the time and trouble (if any) to copy my minimal QRP signals. I hope my giving you one additional QSO helped out your efforts. I'll see you in the next big contest or perhaps in our NAQCC Sprints.