Sunday, October 16, 2011

Low Profile DX Contesting

Low Profile DX Contesting

There are may of us out there who for whatever reason don't have a really competitive station. In my case, I live in a row house in Philadelphia with a back yard 20 feet wide and about 50 feet deep. To my east is a row of 30 foot high brick houses. A tower is out of the question. So is running high power. I have had to make do with 100 watts and simple antennas.

My antennas consist of a R6000 vertical on the roof of the house for 20, 15, & 10, a shortened dipole on 40 up about 20 feet, and a centerfed 80 meter inverted L fed with ladder line up about 30 feet in a neighbor's tree. As you can see, my antenna farm is quite limited.

Challenges This does present some challenges. I keep these in mind when I start planning for a DX contest. Some of these challenges are:

I'm 20Db below a Kilowatt & a TH-6
I'm 10Db below 100 Watts & a TH-6
With the vertical, most RF doesn't go in a useful direction
Verticals pick up more noise than horizontal antennas

Propagation One of the things I do to prepare for a DX contest is to keep a close watch on solar activity. Knowing what propagation to expect helps me plan what bands to be on and when. I do look at last year's results and learn what I can about rates on different bands. But I give more weight to current band conditions when planning my operating strategy. My results while running low power with marginal antennas are controlled more by propagation than anything else. This also plays a major role in the band on which I choose to start the contest.

Operating Strategy Getting off to a good start is always important. I like start the contest on 20 if it is open. Most people in this part of the world would probably start on 40 since it is usually open to Europe. I cannot get any kind of good rate competing against KWs and beams on 40 at the start of the contest. So, if 20 is open, I start there for the first hour and then go down to 40 after things have settled in for the evening. I usually pick up some nice Asiatic Russians on 20 from zones 18 and 19.

I don't spend much time on 80, no more than 30 minutes at a time. I usually try and work all the strong stations as quickly as possible and then move to another band. I check 80 about once every hour or so on Friday and Saturday nights. Packet is a good tool checking 80. 160 is out of the question for me.

My most productive bands are 10 followed closely by 15. The R6000 vertical has separate half wave elements for these to bands and plays pretty well. The morning openings to Europe on these two bands can get the rate display as high as 100 QSOs per hour for short periods. The overall rate is around 40 per hour.

Packet I always enter the single op assisted category (except on RTTY where I don't use packet). I use packet as a tool to spot new multipliers and stations, as well as an indication of propagation. Using packet requires discipline. I like to look at the station that sends the spot. If I see an isolated spot for a JA on 20, I'd probably ignore it. If I see lots of JA spots form several locals, I would probably check it out.

Its important to not only watch for spots, but also to watch who is sending them. It's not important for me to know that 20 is open to JA in W6 land when 10 is open to Europe for me.
Other things to remember when running low power and simple antennas and using packet:
Never call a juicy multiplier right after it is spotted. Wait at least 5 minutes for the feeding frenzy to die down.
When Searching and Pouncing, send out spots for all stations worked. This helps everyone. If I cannot work a spot on the 3rd call, put it in memory and come back in a few minutes. Never leave a productive run frequency to work a spot. Remember, you are operating a contest and not DXing.

Searching and Pouncing VS Running I spend about 60 percent of my time doing S&P. This can be very productive time as far as the club score is concerned especially if you spot everything you work. I keep track of my rate when doing S&P. When the rate drops below 40 per hour, this is a signal for me that its time to try and run for a while. My S&P strategy is to start at the top of the band and work my way to the bottom. After the first pass, I go back to the top and work my way down again. While doing this I don't really look at packet spots. After the second pass through the band, I work all the packet spots possible. After this is done I find as clear a frequency as I can and start calling CQ. I stay at this until the rate again drops below 40. I then work some more packet spots, and then change bands and again start my S&P procedure.

A lot of low profile contesters might be intimidated by calling CQ. There is an old saying that it is better to give than to receive. If this is true then it is also true that in order for people to give, there have to be people willing to receive. Don't be afraid to call CQ. I have had a lot of multipliers come back to my CQs and this is always a lot of fun.

Conclusion Not every ham is blessed to live in a location with multiple towers and stacks of monobanders. Many of us live in areas where using a low profile installation is the best way to get on the air. It is the best way for me.

I know going in to every DX contest that I cannot win. I cannot make the top 10, or even the top 100. I know that the only way I can win is when the club wins. So, I do everything I can legally do to make points for the club.

Steve, W3BGN, preaches that in order to maximize your score you have to be in the chair operating. This is certainly true for the big guns and us pop guns as well. Remember, a big station that operates only a few hours will be beaten by a smaller station who operates the contest every time. With a little forethought and determination, us smaller stations can add many millions of points to the club score and have lots of fun in the process.

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