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"I CAN'T DO A THING WITH MY STATION!" -or- WHY EVEN YOUR MODEST STATION IS CONTEST-WORTHY This is the second article in a series on basic VHF contest- ing, the goal of which is to make us all mindful of what it really takes to be competitive in contests: attention to the basics. With that out of the way, let's move on to this month's sub- ject, which is contest stations. Station preparation takes more time than anything else, so it will be addressed first in terms of contest strategy. The first question that most aspiring contesters ask is how much station do I really need to be competitive? The answer varies for everyone, but for most people, the answer is not all answer is not all that much. Really good stations don't happen all at once, they require years of work and a lot amount of money to put together. The point I am trying to make here is that you don't have to start out with stacked arrays on tall towers, fed with gas filled line from kilowatt amps. Set reasonable goals for yourself, and rate yourself with other stations that have similar equipment. A few years ago, a good friend of mine scored 29,000 points single-op in the January contest with 4 bands and no more than 25 watts on any band. His antennas and location were lousy, and the station contained older, and in some cases even tube-type equip- ment. As in all amateur radio contesting, how the equipment is utilized is more important than what it is. A Typical home station, (in Rochester, anyway) has two meters and 70 CM FM rigs. There is a good chance it has a six meter station of some type. Many local hams have sideband capability on one or more bands. Antennawise, there are vertical FM antennas in the attic, or even in the shack. If it has any outdoor antennas, chances are it has at least one VHF vertical, possibly a modest beam for 2 meters. Any combination of this equipment is suffi- cient to be reasonably competitive in Januaompetitive in January. Why is this so? The answer is the high level of local activ- ity. Especially on FM, there are so many stations out there to work, it will keep you busy just trying to work all of them. With just a small beam, it is possible to do some moderately serious DX, even on FM. I have heard W2SZ (FN32) on many an occasion on 2 meter FM and many people work them there. FN14, over the lake into Canada is very easy, even on 70 cm. So, don't write off FM as a strictly 'local' mode. Even if all you have is an H/T, get on. You WILL make plenty of contacts. You WILL have fun. Getting up higher will help. For even more fun, drive across town with your H/T and make even more contacts. (You aren't considered a rover unless you cross a grid square line.) Log with a tape recorder while mobile. If you have even one band on sideband, capitalize on it! You are almost guaranteed to work some DX stations (Outside the local four grids) even with a vertical whip. If your VHF gear is all in the car, consider going hilltop- ping or roving. The 'four corners' is not that far away, nor are several good hills. Cobb's Hill park is an excellent high spot. Woodcliff, on route 96 in Victor is another good hilltop spot. Remember, Remember, you can operate your fixed station AND rove, and turn in separate logs for each. (More about that next month.) If you have built a 10 GHz transceiver, or laser rig, get out and use them! I'd love to see a log with 10 or more QSO's on laser! If you are building or improving your station, here are some suggestions for easy improvements: 1. Headphones. Using headphones with your radio is like a 3-6 dB boost in sensitivity. This works with any radio. 2. Antennas. Your antennas are by and far, the most import- ant part of your station. Any improvement here will most certainly be a good return on your investment. Try to get your antennas higher (Even the attic is better than in your shack or basement!). And, if you can, a direct- ional antenna (such as a beam) will vastly improve your station performance. Don't forget to use good feedline, such as RG-213, or better yet, 9913, or you will lose everything your new antenna gained. Even a telescoping whip on an H/T, or a mag-mount mobile antenna on a cookie sheet will help these small radios dramatically. A mag- mount also makes hilltopping or roving easier. 3. More bands. For 3. More bands. For a typical small station, adding a band will do more to your score than anything else. It doesn't have to be sideband; FM will do.(But sideband is better!) You don't have to buy a rig. Ask a friend if you can borrow an unused rig. That way, you can experience a new band without the financial implications, and get a better idea of what you want when you can afford it. 4. Increase power. Adding a 80-100 watt 'brick' to a typical mobile or base VHF rig will do much to improve your station. It can provide that bit of an edge that could make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful contact. 5. Preamps. There are a number of inexpensive, RF-switched preamps available that can be mounted at your antenna. They aren't as easy to add as more power, but may do more to help your station. The subject of VHF station design could fill a book. I don't have room to cover every possibility for easy improvement. Ask your friends for ideas. Ask a 'big gun' contester for ideas. You can even ask me. In fact, if you ever have any questions about VHF contesting, don't hesitate to ask me and I will do my best to answer them. I want t answer them. I want to see you on the air! One last thought: The most important equipment in your sta- tion is YOU!