Radio Amateurs have a wealth of activities to choose from.
What brought you the ham radio in the first place might be your
activity of choice but chances are as you spend more time in the
hobby you will find new and exciting ways to enhance your skill
and increase your enjoyment. Whether it is simply rag chewing
(just talking), DXing, operating QRP, or contesting there is
something for you.
is making long distance contacts. If you are a 2 meter operator
DX to you might be as near as a few hundred miles (or less)
while and HF operator when chasing DX is looking for countries
outside of his or her own. Generally though DXing is considered
an HF activity.
To DX you will need an outdoor antenna and a rig capable of
putting out 100 watts. Although it is possible to use less power
(the author has worked over 100 countries with only 5 watts) 100
is more effective. A directional antenna is useful but even a
vertical or dipole and be effective. The author has worked over
200 countries using a vertical antenna and 100 watts on SSB.
To work DX successfully is help to listen for stations
calling CQ. Pay attention to the style of operation used by the
DX station and operate accordingly. If he is simply making one
contact after another then don't try to engage him in a
conversation when it is your turn. That will just cause
frustration for everyone else. Using a DX cluster can also help
you identify DX stations that you need. A DX cluster is an Internet site
or packet station that reports current DX activity on the bands. DXpeditions are also
good sources for new countries but be prepared to spend time
getting through the pileups of other stations also attempting to call the
As you make DX contacts you will likely want to collect QSL
cards. If you haven't already done so see the section on QSLing.
As you collect QSLs from 100 or more countries you should
consider the ARRL DXCC award. Check out the American
Radio Relay League (ARRL) web site for more information.
DXing you can't just go out there looking for an emergency to
operate from. Most amateur radio emergency operating comes in
the form of preparation to be ready in the event that an
emergency occurs. Amateurs have assisted in emergencies ranging
from floods to hurricanes, fires to chemical spills and clearly
none of these can be handled adequately without training and
You can participate in training sessions by joining
your local Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) connected with
the local Amateur Radio Club or Radio Amateur Civil Emergency
Services (RACES). These organizations provide training for local
emergencies, setup call up trees of amateurs who can be brought
into action quickly when an emergency occurs. Usually amateur
support is coordinated with local emergency organizations
including the police, fire department, Red Cross and others.
ARES and RACES also participate in a number of events that
assist in training amateurs for emergency readiness. One of
these is a simulated emergency test where all aspects of
emergency communication are tested. Another is the local net
where amateurs train to be effective net operators. Annually the
Field Day contest is popular event that has amateurs operating
with emergency power and contacting other amateurs across North
American and worldwide.
On many weekends you will find hams engaged in the
"sport" of amateur radio. Contesting is one of the
activities that has more participants than any other sport in
the world. On the last weekend of October you will find
thousands of amateur operators making contacts on SSB worldwide
to see how many other stations they can reach. The top stations
will make thousands of contacts in just 48 hours but even a
modest station can quite easily make several hundred contacts.
How about getting your DXCC in just one weekend? It is possible.
come in many forms but you will find that most require
operating in one mode, either CW, SSB or Rtty. A few, such
as QSO Parties, permit both CW and SSB. Some of the most
popular contests are:
- ARRL International DX (SSB and CW
- ARRL Sweepstakes
- CQ Worldwide (SSB and CW versions)
- CQ Worldwide WPX (SSB and CW versions)
- CQ Worldwide Rtty
QSO Parties are also popular in North America. These are
somewhat less demanding than DX contests and can be great fun to
operate especially for those who are new at contesting. Many
states and provinces have their own QSO Parties. Some of the
most popular QSO Parties are:
- North America QSO Party
- California QSO Party
- Pennsylvania QSO Party
- Ontario QSO Party
Contesting is not as difficult as it might seem although
winning your category can be very challenging. To begin you need
to be familiar with the contest rules and each one is different.
Checkout some of the contest calendar web sites for the rules of
a contest that interests you. Pay special attention to the
exchange that you will be using in the contest. Then when the
contest begins listen to how the other stations operate. When
you are ready call a station that is calling CQ contest and when
he comes back with your call record his exchange and then give
your exchange. It's as simple as that.
QRP actually refers to a power level rather than a
specific form of operating. When you operate QRP you are
using 5 watts or less of radiated power. So with the
handheld at 3 watts you are operating QRP. Usually though
QRP is an HF activity.
To operate QRP you have several choices. Use a regular
transceiver that you can turn the power down to 5 watts or less.
Most transceivers have this capability. Or if you want to be a
true QRPer you might buy or build a QRP rig. These rigs are
usually only CW or only SSB although there are exceptions. Some
are single band as well. QRP rigs can operate at the 1 watt
level and even below that at the milliwatt level.
When setting up a QRP station don't forget about the antenna.
The better the antenna the better your rig will get out.
Although you don't need an antenna capable of running power the
more gain in the antenna the more contacts you will make and the
better you will be able to hear the other stations especially if
they are QRP as well.
There are special activities for QRPers such as QRP-only
contests. Some of the major contests also have QRP categories.
If you tune across 20 meters on a weekend you are likely to
hear special event stations. Although not restricted to 20
meters (then can be on other HF bands and also 2m and 70cm) this
is a popular band for a special event. What are these stations?
Well they can vary from a lighthouse to a submarine, a school to
an anniversary of a town. Some special events commemorate a
historical event such as the Boston Tea Party or the opening of
the PEI bridge.
Special events are often announced in QST magazine so you
will know when to look for them and how to get a QSL card or
certificate. Because these are local event operating on a
shoestring budget or none at all it is essential to send not
only postage but a self addressed envelope. The QST announcement
will tell you what envelope size to use. When in doubt allow for
an 8 1/2 X 11 certificate.
© 2001 - 2007 Don Cassel VE3XD