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            This month's installment of this column is all about sweating 
        details-- the things that are actually involved in working a  VHF 
        contest. This article is intended primarily for newer contesters, 
        as the 'big guns' know what works for them. A few of these  ideas 
        are  my own opinions, and I invite any suggestions or  criticisms 
        from  other  contesters.  What I wish to effect  is  a  continual 
        improvement of the contest training  process.
            This article is not intended to be a 'from scratch' tutorial. 
        Some  knowledge about VHF contesting, such as how to make a  con-
        tact, is assumed.
            Nevertheless,  let's look a   Nevertheless,  let's look at a typical phone QSO and see  how 
        to make it effective as possible.
            The first thing you need to do is ascertain that your  trans-
        mitted  signal is intelligible. This is especially important  for 
        sideband  work. Call another station BEFORE the  contest  begins, 
        and do a radio check. Better yet, check with both a local station 
        and  one  a bit farther away. It is very important  to  not  have 
        clipping, splatter or distortion on your signal. It is easier for 
        a  distant station to dig a weak, intelligible signal out of  the 
        noise than a somewhat stronger, distorted signal.
            Now,  you  are  tuning around on the sideband  portion  of  2 
        meters. You run across a station calling CQ:
            This  is a nice average call. CQ is called three  times.  The 
        call is given once normally and once in phonetics. The postlog is 
        fairly short. This sort of call is about right for average condi-
            The most efficient response you can give is simply:
            An experienced operator need only hear your call once to know 
        you  are there. Don't give your exchange at tt give your exchange at this point.  Let  him 
        come back to you. Note the use of phonetics.
            Assuming reasonably good conditions, the reply might be:
            Depending  on  the operator or the conditions, he  might  add 
        'OVER'  or 'BREAK' to the end of that. Also note that the  number 
        part of the grid square is given in separate digits.
            Your response should be:
            Notice the efficiency of that exchange. Now words are wasted. 
        Even  the 'thanks and good luck' is important-- it is an  act  of 
        courtesy, and should be used whenever possible.
            Now, the completion of the exchange.
            The calling operator isn't messing around. You should endeav-
        or  to work a station on all the bands you have, and there is  no 
        better  time than now! The asking of this crucial question  often 
        decides  who wins VHF contests. If you have any other bands,  you 
        would  now tell him, and, hopefully proceed to work him on  those 
        bands!  (Or,  at  least  make skeds if things  are  busy  at  the 
        moment.)  But,  our  responding station does not,  so  he  simply 
        NO. W2APE
        NO. W2APE
            The calling station wastes no time.
            The  QRZ  is the same as CQ and is much less  cumbersome  for 
        short  calls  like at the end of a QSO. If conditions  are  good, 
        another  station could come back immediately with his  call,  and 
        the following QSO is shorter by the length of calling CQ (Usually 
        the longest part of a contest QSO).
            It  takes a surprising amount of work to develop  the  disci-
        pline to operate this way. Don't expect to fully master it in the 
        first twenty minutes of your first contest. You can work on  this 
        sort  of thing with a friend or a tape recorder before  the  con-
        test.  But, if you master this, you will ready to be at  the  re-
        ceiving end of a pileup. And in the VHF world, pileups can happen 
        to ANYBODY at almost ANYTIME.
            While  on  the subject of pileups, let's briefly  talk  about 
        pileup  courtesy.  Always give your full call  when  the  calling 
        station  calls QRZ, unless the calling station specifically  asks 
        for  suffixes only. Give your call once, or at the  most,  twice. 
        (Twice usually works best only with real short calls like NS9E)
            Complete  your  exchange quickly. Others exchange quickly. Others  are  waiting.  But, 
        DON'T  FORGET  to  ask the calling station if he  has  any  other 
        bands.  And,  if another station does this before you,  and  they 
        QSY,  it is OK to follow the other station. But, give  the  first 
        station  the first crack at the QSO if you both get there at  the 
        same time. This will help you deal with the frustration of  wait-
        ing for a chance to work a bit of choice DX only to have  another 
        station drag him off frequency and run the bands through 47 GHz!
        (Herein lies a big advantage in going multiop-- one operator  can 
        stay  on the pileup and another operator will run the station  on 
        the other bands.)
            These  are  the two different methods of  contest  operation. 
        Search  and pounce is the process of tuning around the  band  and 
        working  stations that are calling CQ. Running is the process  of 
        parking  on  a  frequency and calling CQ. The  two  methods  have 
        different uses for different classes of stations.
            Search and pounce is the best tactic for the small to  medium 
        station in any single-operator class. The small station can  make 
        best  use  of his limited antennas to tune in  a  station  before 
        attempting  to  work him. It is an excellent tactic  for  crowded 
        bands  for  any class station. It is the easiest method  for  new 
        contesters  trying  to  learn the best way to  operate.  You  can 
        listen  to  other, more experienced stations and  get  'tips'  on 
        improving your own operating.
            Running  is  useful for all classes of stations, but  is  the 
        best  for serious single-ops and almost mandatory for big  multi-
        ops.  It  works well on all band conditions, but  works  best  on 
        quieter  bands like 222 MHz. Running teaches good operating in  a 
        hurry, because you must quickly and accurately copy the  respond-
        ing stations as fast as they come. And, when conditions are good, 
        running  is the most FUN way there is to operate. Because of  the 
        unique properties of our VHF bands, you can expect to occasional-
        ly be at the receiving end of a pileup!
            Bird  dogging is attempting to steal someone  else's  calling 
        frequency. This is not looked upon favorably. Many large stations 
        that  tend to sit on a frequency will occasionally allow  another 
        station to work a DX station when they are through, if asked.  If 
        they  allow you to do this, ask the DX station to move  off  fre-
        quency so the calling station may resume calling. If you  attempt 
        to bird-dog some station, they are liable to keep callinliable to keep calling whether 
        you are there or not.
            This is an area of operation too often ignored by the  novice 
        or  intermediate  contester. This is very unfortunate,  for  many 
        points  are lost by ignoring CW. You don't have to be a CW  speed 
        demon  to  work VHF. 10-13 WPM solid is all you  really  need  or 
        should  use. The only time you should consider a higher speed  is 
        if  the  band is WIDE open, as sometimes happens on six  and  two 
        meters. Even then, 20 WPM is plenty fast!
            When is CW most effective?
            First, CW should be your primary mode if you are working  222 
        MHz,  or 902 and above. It should be used at least twice an  hour 
        on  all other bands, and considerably more than that on 432  MHz. 
        Alternate  several  long calls followed by a short call  now  and 
        then.  Your  long call should be more than 30 seconds,  but  less 
        than  a  minute in length. Your short calls should  be  under  30 
        seconds.  A memory keyer is almost mandatory for work on 222  MHz 
        or above, where you should be making extensive use of CW.
            Second,  always be ready to switch to CW, even right  in  the 
        middle of a QSO. For this sort of operation, it is to your  great 
        advantage  to have a rig that doesn't change frequency  when  you 
        swiwhen  you 
        switch  from sideband to CW. (The TS-530, used as  a  transverter 
        IF,  is  such a rig.) If you aren't so lucky to have a  rig  like 
        that,  know  how far and in what direction you have  to  tune  to 
        correct the frequency shift. You will often find switching to  CW 
        will  enable you to work a station that otherwise can't hear  you 
        or  vice  versa. Knowing when to switch to CW can  increase  your 
        score 25% or more!
            Third, CW is the only mode that will work well on many of the 
        microwave bands! It is also most effective for exotic modes, such 
        as aurora.
            An  important  CW operating trick is proper use of  your  RIT 
        control. If you hear a weak station respond to you, use your  RIT 
        control to tune him in, not your main tuning. That way, the other 
        station  won't be chasing you when he comes back to you.  I  have 
        lost  a number of important QSO's by failing to use the RIT  con-
        trol properly! This works on phone, too.
            Take my word for it; CW is WORTH THE EFFORT!
            Proper use of your rotor is crucial to maximizing your score.
            The  first thing to consider in choosing which  direction  to 
        point the beam is where are the contacts? You should have a  good 
        idea in which direction the major VHF population centers HF population centers are from 
        your  QTH.  A knowledge of where band openings begin and  end  is 
        also very useful. For instance, sporadic E 6 and 2 meter openings 
        often  open to the South first, and gradually work to the  South-
        west and the West.
            The  other  important thing to do when using a  rotor  is  to 
        periodically  move it slightly. This is especially important  for 
        big  stations that are constantly calling CQ. One station I  know 
        of  makes a habit of making his beam heading roughly  follow  the 
        minute hand on a clock. Other stations move their beam every 5 or 
        6 calls. How much you move it should be a function of the  direc-
        tivity  of  your  antenna. The more directive,  the  smaller  the 
        increments you should use and the more frequently you should move 
            Having  more than one steerable antenna per band is  a  major 
        advantage,  and  should  not be overlooked if  your  station  can 
        accomodate it.
            I once saw a videotape showing 30 lions fighting for a  share 
        of  a  single wildebeest. All you could see is about  3  tons  of 
        lions  crawling on top of each other, all trying to get  a  bite. 
        This  is  kind of what FM contest operation is  like!
            FM  operating is quite different from weak signal  operating. eak signal  operating. 
        The  operation takes place on specific,  channelized  frequencies 
        rather  than  spreading out over a slice of spectrum.  There  are 
        many  more  operators who just have FM than  there  are  sideband 
        operators.  These  operators  also tend to  have  less  operating 
        experience than most sideband operators. This all tends to  cause  
        massive confusion!
            Don't  be  dismayed if you are trying to work a  station  and 
        another  station crashes right over the top of your  QSO.  Often, 
        propagation is such the other station couldn't hear your QSO  and 
        didn't  know he was interfering. Be patient. Keep trying. I  have 
        almost never failed to work any station that I could hear on FM.
            There are some ways to minimize this problem, and these apply 
        especially to two meters, where the problem is most severe.
            First  of all, SPREAD OUT. There are SEVEN different  simplex 
        frequencies  for two meters. Don't concentrate on 146.49, 55  and 
        58.  Many of the RVHFG members make it a point to monitor  147.51 
        most of the time. If we would start using even one of the  147.XX 
        frequencies,  it would greatly ease the overcrowding on  2  meter 
        FM.  Make  it  a discipline to monitor  a  frequency  other  than 
        146.49, 55 and 58. (147.51 is suggested)
            Second, a           Second, avoid peak operating times (Unless you are FM only!). 
        If you have sideband, start the contest on sideband, and avoid FM 
        for  about  the first hour or so. The activity hours are  also  a 
        good time to operate FM, but avoid the first ten minutes or so of 
        each  activity hour. (This is a good time to get grids  on  side-
        band,  anyway!) One other peak FM time is just after  the  Monroe 
        County FM net on Sunday night.
            Third, try to work other RVHFG members on sideband,  wherever 
            Fourth, if a new station appears on a crowded frequency, move 
        him to another frequency!
            For  stations  with considerable sideband capability,  it  is 
        very  important to NOT IGNORE FM! The January VHF contest is  not 
        as  big  of a VHF contest in most parts of the country as  it  is 
        here. Every FM QSO you make is multiplied times all those  multi-
        pliers  you  got on sideband. Think of it this way.  FM  is  your 
        'tonnage' mode where you will make many, many QSO's but relative-
        ly  few multipliers. Sideband and CW is where you get the  multi-
        pliers,  but you work fewer stations there. It takes both FM  and 
        sideband to make a really big score!
            SECRET:  Don't overlook 6 meter FM this year. There has  been 
        an explosion of activity there in this last y there in this last year!
            The most important thing to keep in mind when rovering is  TO 
        SIGN 'ROVER'!!!!! It's also important to note the /R in your  log 
        when you work a rover!
            As  I  pointed out in last month's column, rovers  should  be 
        two-operator  operations  for best efficiency. It also  could  be 
        very helpful in case of a breakdown in the middle of nowhere.  If 
        you are operating alone, avoid the temptation of trying to get up 
        that  'big hill' unless you are absolutely sure you can get  back 
        down!! Also, there is nothing in the rules that prohibits  having 
        extra,  nonoperating people along, such as a driver.  This  could 
        help maximize an operator team's efforts.
            There  is  an extremely important quirk in the rules  that  I 
        must  take a moment to explain. Say you plan to operate fixed  on 
        Saturday,  and  rover on Sunday, and turn in separate  logs.  You 
        must  be  careful not to work the same stations you  worked  when 
        fixed, when you are rover IN YOUR HOME GRID SQUARE. There are two 
        reasons  for this. First, you can only work each unique  callsign 
        ONCE in a grid square. Any suffixes, such as /R, do not create  a 
        new  unique  callsign. Secondly, a single  operator  station  can 
        operate  from anywhere in their gridanywhere in their grid square without signing  'ro-
        ver'.  This should be something to consider if you are  operating 
        QRP or FM H/T only.
            One-person rovers can improve their effort by taking along  a 
        portable cassette recorder and taping their QSO's while they  are 
        in  motion. Just make sure you announce the time and the band  on 
        the tape so you can create an accurate log.
            Although  there  is  much question about the  validity  of  a 
        'grid circling' operation like the Northampton ARC rovers did last 
        year,  there  is  nothing wrong with  working  other  rovers  for 
        points, and even swapping grids as long as you run your operation 
        in  such a way as to contact as many other stations as  possible. 
        This  is especially important in January. But, at the same  time, 
        don't throw away easy points!
        10 GHz WBFM AND LASER
            If you want to do well on these bands, do your homework ahead 
        of  time  and plan a mini 'DXpedition' to the QTHes of those  who 
        have such stations.

             Packet  QSO's are completely legal as long as  you  properly 
        connect  and disconnect from each station. If you want to  get  a 
        few  QSO's while you sleep, set up your TNC to beacon  frequently 
        on  a busy simplex packet channel, such as 145.01. Havnel, such as 145.01. Have  stations 
        connect  to  your mailbox and leave their call  and  grid  square 
        there.  Make  sure  to have your grid  square  available,  either 
        during  the connect message or in a prominently labeled  message. 
        Acknowledgment of your exchange is that your message was success-
        fully  stored.  And you acknowledge that you received  the  other 
        station's call and grid by the simple act of leaving the message. 
        (Of course, live packet QSO's are acceptable, as well.) Also,  it 
        is  important  to remember that NO PACKET CONTACTS  MAY  BE  MADE 
            There has been some discussion of using Amateur fast-scan  TV 
        for  QSO's. This is fine, too. Just avoid using the 435 MHz  sim-
        plex  ATV channel for these or the weak signal ops will all  rise 
        as one man and pin your coax!
            Make  sure  to  pay special attention to  activity  hours  as 
        indicated  by  the 'clock' in your contest  pack.  You  shouldn't 
        limit  your  operation of a specific band to  those  hours,  just 
        simply  spend   more time on these bands  during  their  activity 
        hours.  The  evening  activity hours are  usually  somewhat  more 
        productive than the morning activity hours, but don't ignorehours, but don't ignore  the 
        morning activity hours.
            I know that many of you cannot operate the full length of the 
        contest.  Some of you can only work a few hours of it.  What  are 
        the best times to get on if you cannot work the full contest?
            The first few hours are always a good time. So are the activ-
        ity hours of any bands you have. Late Sunday afternoon and Sunday 
        evening  in  general are all good times. Just  after  the  Monroe 
        County FM net is a good time for FM QSO's. The last half hour  or 
        so  is  also a good time to be on. Expect a '30 lion'  pileup  if 
        this is the first time you have been on in the contest!!
            The worst times-- Late at night, late Sunday morning and early
        Sunday  afternoon, early Saturday evening. If you don't  have much 
        of a chance to  operate, try to avoid these times.

            Sunday  morning during the contest is a good time for  random 
        meteor  scatter  QSO's  on six and two. Refer  to  Mark  Hoffman, 
        KA2RDO's excellent talk in September for details on how to  oper-
        ate  meteor  scatter. This is an excellent way for a good  op  to 
        pick up a few more grids!
            This is an area that is often overlooked by the inexperienced 
        operator. It can make or break your effort, especially if you are 
        a multioperator station.
            The best way to log is with a computer. The W2HPF software is 
        available  free  to all club members (Contact me if  you  need  a 
        copy). This will keep track of your total score, your grid and  Q 
        counts for each band, and inform you of needed bands and grids as 
        you  work  various  stations. Proper use of  a  computer  logging 
        system  can  increase your score by 25% or  more  by  eliminating 
        needless paperwork.
            One  thing to check carefully well before the contest  is  if 
        your  computer  interferes with your station. If it  does,  steps 
        should  be  taken to 'RF harden' your computer. If  this  is  not 
        successful,  it is better to manually log than to have  a  'deaf' 
            If  you  log on paper, it is critically  important  to  WRITE 
        LEGIBLY!  I  have  come up with specific ways  of  printing  some 
        letters that makes it very easy to tell between an O, a 0 or a D.
        Another common one is telling the difference between a u and a v. 
        This  is  even  more  important if you  are  part  of  a  multiop 
        team--someone else needs to read your log!
            Use a dupe sheet on a band if you anticipate more than 20  or 
        so  contacts  on a band. I know it is a pain  I know it is a pain to keep  up  a  dupe 
        sheet  during a busy contest, especially on a busy band,  but  it 
        could  considerably improve your QSO rate at the end of the  con-
            If  you didn't use a computer this year, think about  it  for 
        next year.
            HEADPHONES-  you  should  try to use headphones  as  much  as 
        possible. They are like a 6 dB boost to your sensitivity!
            POSTURE-  Make sure the chair you sit in to operate  is  com-
        fortable. Operating with a backache is no fun at all whatsoever.
        Extra  time  spent laying out your station  to  be  ergonomically 
        efficient is time well spent.
            FOOD- This is an often-overlooked area that can improve  your 
        alertness. First of all, avoid caffeine unless you habitually use 
        it.  In that case, don't alter your caffeine  consumption.  Avoid 
        alcohol! It dulls your alertness. For snacks, avoid those high in 
        sugar.  I find snacks like pretzels and popcorn best during  con-
        tests.  For  food, a normal, balanced diet is best.  Eat  several 
        small  meals rather than one large one. Use diet soft  drinks  to 
        keep your throat wet.
            Some contesters advocate bizzare diets such as orange  juice, 
        ketchup and candy bars. My advice is avoid this silliness.
            REST PERI.
            REST PERIODS- Take a few minutes to stretch every few  hours. 
        And,  if part of a multiop team, try to relax during your  breaks 
        if this is possible. A few hours sleep at night can really regen-
        erate  you. At least for now, there is little activity at  night. 
        If  you want, sleep in your radio room with the radios  on.  Your 
        adrenalin  level  will prevent you from missing  that  occasional 
        rare one!
            COMPUTER TIPS- If you don't run your contest software in such 
        a way as to print out each QSO, make it a habit to save your  log 
        to  floppy  every couple hours in case of  the  dreaded  computer 
        crash. It is also a good idea to leave your computer on  through-
        out the contest period. For some odd reason, more computers  fail 
        during boot-up than at any other time!
            CALL  PLACARDS-  If  you are guest operating  at  some  other 
        station  using  another  call or grid, write the  call  and  grid 
        clearly on the back of a QSL card, etc. and display it prominent-
        ly  where you can easily see it. Then, as contest fatigue  starts 
        to set in, you can easily remember the correct exchange.
            SKED FORMS- If you are doing a multioperator effort,  prepare 
        a little sked form to fill out for microwave skeds, etc. You  may 
        include  on it places for the station's call, 6 digtation's call, 6 digit grid,  sked 
        time, beam heading, 'we call them' or 'they call us', a place  to 
        indicate  calling on even or odd minutes, etc. Fill it  out  when 
        you  move a station and give it to the other operator. This  will 
        help eliminate communication foul-ups.
            CHRONOMETERS-  Everyone  should have access  to  the  correct 
        time, to the nearest second, especially in stations with capabil-
        ity  on  the microwave bands. This will facilitate  making  skeds 
        with other stations.
            BEAM  HEADING  TABLE- This handy operating aid should  be  in 
        every  VHFer's  shack. Simply calculate the beam heading  to  the 
        center of all the surrounding grid squares for as far out as  you 
        wish. Put these on a table and post near the rotor controls. That 
        way,  when  you hear a weak one from such and such  a  grid,  you 
        immediately know exactly where to point your antenna.
            YL  OPERATORS- If you are running a multiop effort,  consider 
        putting on a YL operator. For some reason, a YL's voice is like a 
        6 dB power increase!!
            I  could  go on and on and on with ideas  on  improving  your 
        contest operation, but space does not permit. If you use some  of 
        these ideas, there is no reason your score shouldn't improve.  If 
        I missed anything important, please brg important, please bring it to my attention  for 
        future inclusion in this series of articles.
            73's  for  now and good luck in the contest!  REMEMBER--  THE 
             Have FUN!      See you on the air!!!!

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