It's 23:45Z on Friday night. You've just turned on your radio and you're now right to go, right? Well, Probabily not. It is always a better aproach to check the bands at sunrise and sunset daily toward the end of the week to get a feel for the prevailing conditions before the contest. Here are some good questions to ask: Has the flux been failing or rising? When did 10 meters open to Europe yesterday and the day before? Has 15 meters been good to JA around 24:00Z (the start of the contest)? The moral of the story is check bands mid-to late-week. You'll be glad you did, and your score will reflect the difference in the end! (Tnx YCCC)
When things break in your station, the next logical step is not to put your climbing belt on. Two events in my contest operating this past fall prove this point: 1) An intermitent in the 80 meter system turned out to be a bad barrel connector in the shack and 2) a seemingly faulty rotator turned out to be a connector that fell off the back of the control box. In both cases, I was ready to go outside and start climbing towers. In both cases, I didn't even need to put my shoes on. When in the heat of battle, think about the " easy stuff" first when you have stations problems. Contest operating takes enough out of you without climbing towers unnecessarily.
Speaking of technology, have you given any thought to given your equipment tune-up? Like a car, your station equipment needs preventative maintenance, too. Consider having a qualified technician (assuming that's not you!) run your transceive (s) through its paces. Maybe you'll learn that that weak Asian station on 10 meters (you know, the one everyone else could hear) was really a problem with your receiver. No matter how proficient at operating you may be, you're only as good as your equipment.
Do you really study contest rules (especially the ones you participate in), or are you the type who breezes through the numbers and puts the magazine in the pile across the room? I've found over the years that contest reports can truly be revealing about your own results - both good and bad! Try reading the next contest summary with the idea of seeking out areas of improvement. With the summer coming, there's no better time to begin thinking about antenna projects and getting those strategic juices flowing.
This may be old news to many of you, but I can't tell you the number of times I have received a thank-you on the air from someone who has received my QSL card. A little goodwill and attention to answer your QSLs will go a long way toward having many of those same stations give you a call in the next contest.
Operating in a disadvantaged mode is a good practice for the real event. In my case, that's using a dipole at home (tower going up this summer, really!), resulting in huge benefits when operating from more capable stations in major contests. If you have a bigger station, try calling guys without your amplifier, no matter how you choose to reduce your signal (and for many of us, that come naturally), the result is that working guys in this mode sharpens your skill, requiring you to emphasize operating versus brute force methods. I guarantee these "learned" techniques will pay off in the next contest you go after for real!
As I complete this month's column, I'm about to head out for my annual treck to the Dayton Hamvention. Aside from the usual social benefits of hanging out with my fellow contesters. I'm reminded again that one of the best ways to improve one's contest results is to learn from others. Whether it's at Dayton or a local club meeting, you'll never know how the "other guy" does it unless you ask. There's a lot of experience and brainpower out there in contest-land. And nobody has learned it all. I submit that anyone can benefit from the experience of others. However, it begins with a little self-initiative. Make the effort to get some free advice this summer. Whether it's antenna theory or identifying the right kind of operating chair to buy, someone will have an answer (or at least an opinion) to your question. The contest e-mail reflectors and club Web sites are a great source to try this out. But you'll never know unless you make the first move. Give it a try!
Dou you really know your radio? I found mysel totally befuddled the other day when I temporarily got stuck in a strange memory mode with my "borrowed"TS-950DX. The thought occurred to me: (1) How well do I really know this radio? and (2) What features am I missing out on that could improve my contest score? The reality is that most of us use the volume, VFO, and RIT functions and call it a day. However, there are more features in most modern transceivers that are worth checking out. I may be the only contester who hasn't taken the time, but I'd guess your score might improve a bit if you take a test drive via the radio's ml!
RF interference is most often thought of in terms of your neighbor's television. However, it can be a menace in your shack, too. With the complexity of contest stations ever increasing, it's not enough anymore to run a few quick tests to see if RF is getting into the wrong places. Take the time, before this contest season, to test all antennas and bands, taking particular note of antenna direction (i.e., beat your own house) to make sure the first time you discover a bad internal RF problem isn't during your first CQ in this year's CQWW SSB Contest! And, remember you can never have enough ferrite on hand - all shapes, all sizes.
One of the worst experiences in contesting is to be visited by a neighbor complaining about some form of interference. This month, take some good advice and prepare an "RFI kit" that can easily be used to solve RFI problems. An assortment of filters, ferrite, and other items in a shoebox may keep you on the air and help avoid more serious neighborhood problems. Take the time to be RFI prepared. Not only will scores improve, so will your future operations as the neighbors spend more time talking to others on the phone and not yourself during the next contest.
If the station you call goes back to someone else, listen to his exchange. If you get through to him the next time, you will already know what exchange information to expect. In case of QRM or QSB, you won't have to spend time asking for a repeat. This is specially valuable in contests with a number exchange, such as WPX. Enter the number on your screen that was sent to the other station, but increase it by one on the assumption that you will be the next QSO. If you have to call several times to get through, keep increasing the number by one.
How many of you operate contests which your eyes closed? If you're like 99.999 % of most contesters, you use your eyes as well as your ears when operating. The need for adequate lighting is a key element of the perfect contest environment. Poor lighting means premature fatigue and lower contest scores. Crank up, the watts in your schack (and not the kind put out by your amplifier!). It's another investment that will improve your contest experience and score!
John Dorr K1AR
Mailing Address: 2 Mitchell Pond Road, Windham, NH 03087
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