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The 2007 ARRL 160M Contest

I thought I'd look at the one other 160M contest story I have written which was in 2004 before I got started on this year's story. Actually except for some changes in the numbers, I could probably just copy what I wrote then as the overall contest was about the same this year as 3 years ago. However I believe conditions were better this year than they were then. That makes sense because 160M runs counter to the higher frequency bands. That is, it is best in the low sunspot years, and this year is about as low as you can get.

As those of you who read these reports know, there are 2 big 160M CW contests each year, the ARRL in December and the CQ in January. Before I start with the actual story of this years contest, here are some stats to back up what I said about low sunspot years.

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
05 CQ   -  44 15
05 ARRL - 100 28
06 CQ   -  63 19
07 CQ   - 110 28
07 ARRL - 181 38
Of course there are many other factors involved, but you will note my best results came near a sunspot minimum, namely back in 1995-96 and this year. DNE means I did not enter that contest at all. I first started operating 160M in February 1995.

Those who read my diary and the NAQCC newsletter know there has been some discussion about QRP on 160M, with the gist of the info being that 160M will work, and work fairly well for QRP even with simple antennas. I thought the ARRL 160M contest would be a good chance to put my QRP signals where my mouth is. I wasn't really in a contesting mood, but that spurred me on.

When I turned on the rig and started working stations, I was spurred on even more because virtually all the QSO's came very easily. I began my operation shortly after I got my daily temperature readings at 9 PM local time Friday evening.

My first QSO was with W4HZ whom I've never worked before. I worked 28 stations I've not worked previously. The point is that not only can you work the regular 160M stations with their big antenna farms, but a lot of newcomers as well who may or may not have big established 160M stations.

My 3rd QSO was with my ham 'namesake' K3WW. Chas copied me easily this time. Sometimes he doesn't on 160M. Most of my early QSO's were what I consider local, i.e. to the NE except Maine, S to the Carolinas and W/SW to IL/IN/TN or so. Most stations in that general area are easy for me to work on 160.

However also in the early mix this year were K0KX in MN, N0NI in IA (is there ever a contest I don't work him - HI), K0HA in NE, N1BUG in ME, N0SM in IA, W0SD in SD (he was strong virtually the whole time in the contest), and W5UN in TX. That encouraged me and gave me hope that I might catch one or more of the 8 states I need for 160M QRP WAS. That wasn't to be though. I only heard one of the 8 - WQ5L in MS, but couldn't get him to hear me. I might have eventually gotten him, but a strong CQing station wiped him out, and I lost him as he may have moved to another frequency. I never did hear him again, nor did I hear W5XX in MS who is usually in these 160M contests. I thought I heard a weak station or two give out a LA mult, but I'm not sure. That would have been another new state. I did hear some west coast stations, but not all that strong. So I'm thinking that conditions might not have been quite as good as they were back in 95/96 when I did get most of my west coast states on 160.

It was also nice to work W1AW in the contest. That's only the second time on 160M when they operated from CT.

I've mentioned this before on the web site, but for those of you who don't know, I got a new furnace a couple years ago, and it puts out some VERY strong QRN, especially on 160M. So I had to work around that in one of two ways. I either turned the thermostat down so it wouldn't come on and then take breaks to bring the temperature in the house back up. Or I would let it run and when the noise was there, I'd listen on my 10M dipole and transmit on my random wire. That was a bit tricky switching back and forth especially around 2:30 AM. HI. It did work though as the signals were strong enough to be picked up on the little 10M dipole which did not pick up the furnace noise as much as the random wire.

I stayed up till around 3 AM Friday night / Saturday morning and had 105 QSO's and 36 multipliers in the log at that time which represented about 3.5 to 4 hours work. I only added two more multipliers in the last 76 QSO's I made on Saturday evening / Sunday morning.

That backs up what happens in all my 160M contest experiences. I start off like gangbusters working all the easy top notch contest stations, then the going gets slower and slower as it becomes harder to work or even hear the weaker stations with my minimal setup. Let's look at my hourly rates from this contest to show what I mean. Here's a list showing the hour, QSO's that hour, how many minutes I was in the contest that hour and the hourly rate computed from the minutes.

Hour  QSO's  Minutes    Rate
0200    26      38      41.0
0300    33      60      33.0
0400     1       5      12.0
0500     8      15      32.0
0600    26      60      26.0
0700    11      31      21.3
2300    11      30      22.0
0000    11      30      22.0
0100     9      30      18.0
0400    14      50      16.8
0600    17      45      22.6
0700    10      35      17.1
1400     4      12      20.0

Well, it turned out to be not as dramatic a slowdown as I thought before I compiled the figures just now, but the first 3 hours (discounting the 0400 hour with only 5 minutes) were the only hours I had an hourly rate over 30.

I enjoyed being greeted by name by several of the contesters, even some of those I didn't really know. W0JPL greeted me as 'the QRP man'. I was pleased to hear (and work) several of our NAQCC members, although I'm not sure if they were running QRP or QRO as most of them were very strong. I think I only worked one new area, Prince Edward Island in Canada thanks to VY2ZM. I don't think I've worked PEI on 160 before, but haven't checked yet as I'm writing this while the contest is fresh in my memory before I've completed all my analysis. Also there might be a couple new prefixes in the mix, if not overall, then perhaps for 160M.

One thing I enjoy especially in 160M contests is learning just who the great contesters are as well as those who are not that good. I am pleased when a station I work completes the QSO with no repeats because I hate to slow someone down. Those are the good contesters. Although it is not possible to determine the reason, sometimes stations that are very strong here have trouble copying me. That is frustrating and I get upset, but then realize perhaps they are not poor ops, but just have a strong local noise level of some kind just as I do here. In fact that is probably the case because oftentimes I will try them again later on when they are much weaker and will work them easily. Or it could just be the quirks of propagation on 160M. Who knows?

I think I achieved my goal and objective which was not in numbers but showing that it is possible to enjoy 160M with CW, QRP, and very simple small (compared to 160M wavelengths) low antennas.

Finally I want to close on a sad note. In the contest I often thought of my late friend Dan, N4ROA and how much he loved 160M contesting. Even with his QRP setup, I would often hear and work him here easily. I missed hearing him this year. I'll never forget the thrill he experienced and shared with me when he worked Hawaii in one of the 160M contests a few years ago. We all miss you, Dan.