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Foundations of Amateur Radio #163:

Created by Onno VK6FLAB on 2018-07-21
The Contesting Coin Toss for the rest of us

If you've been part of the amateur community for a while and have heard me talk on matters of contesting, you'll know that I'm an avid contester and that for me it's better than sliced bread. Of course, I'm me and you're not.

If contesting isn't of any particular interest to you, the hobby of amateur radio is big enough for at least 999 other attractions. I talk about them regularly.

If you're on the fence, or if you're unsure, or if you are not enamoured with this whole contesting thing, then today I'd like to ask you to consider another aspect of this activity. Don't worry, I'm not going to tell you to participate in a contest.

As I said, there are many other activities within the hobby. For example, testing propagation is a recurring theme, as is testing your gear, your radio, your skill and doing all manner of other amateur things. For many of those activities having another person to test with is often a way to get a result and if you find yourself on a lonely Saturday looking for a friend to help, I have a suggestion to make. It relates to contesting, specifically those on air.

It turns out that there are radio amateurs on air almost all the time. Imagine that. Better still, when there's a contest on, there are even more radio amateurs around, all clamouring about, trying to make contacts, trolling up and down the bands, making an effort to hear new stations, calling CQ, generating signals from all over the place.

Here's the thing. There is no rule that says that you have to be participating in the contest, or even log contacts for the contest, but there is no harm in you using the airwaves for your own enjoyment.

Turns out that if you get on air during a contest, you can use that for example to do testing of all manner of things. If you've run out of things to test, you can use it to learn things, like how to use the RIT or ""Receiver Incremental Tuning"", something Yaesu calls the Clarifier, or the IF offset, or the noise-blanker, or the noise-filter, or the A/B VFO, or what ever it is that floats your boat.

There are people all around you, getting on- air, making noise and you can join in with the fun. You can learn about the directivity of your station, observe how propagation changes, how the different bands react depending on the time of day, the solar cycle, or magnetic flux. If you have the opportunity, you can monitor the grey-line and observe its effects on what you can hear.

You can look at a DX Cluster and see what you can hear, compared to what stations other amateurs are reporting. You can measure signal strengths, the impact of the AGC, test you battery life, your mobility, the layout of your shack and if you feel the urge, you can even log a rare station and add it to your log.

No rule anywhere says that you have to participate in a contest, but why let a good opportunity go to waste?

If you're an avid contester, you might think that I'm advocating that we fill the air with time wasters, people who shouldn't be there, people who are not worth your attention. I'm here to tell you that just because you're in a contest, doesn't mean that the rest of the world is and just because you want to make an exchange, not everyone else does.

If I find myself having a conversation mid- contest with someone with a story to tell, I can participate in the discussion, or I can change the dial and call CQ contest somewhere else.

The bands are a shared resource, for those who contest and for those who don't. The interesting thing in all this to me is that there seems to be a perception that you can only fall on one side of the coin. You're either a contester, or you're not and never the twain shall meet. That just makes no sense to me. There's an opportunity to sit on either side of the divide and harness both at the same time.

I'm Onno VK6FLAB

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