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Gary Sutcliffe, W9XT SMC Fest 2013 Copyright © 2013 Gary C. Sutcliffe

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1 Gary Sutcliffe, W9XT SMC Fest 2013 Copyright © 2013 Gary C. Sutcliffe
Radio Contesting Moving To The Next Level: Ideas for Improving Your Score Gary Sutcliffe, W9XT SMC Fest 2013 Copyright © 2013 Gary C. Sutcliffe Copyright (c) Gary C. Sutcliffe This presentation was originally presented in It was updated in 2010 and 2012, This presentation may be used or adapted for non-commercial use.

2 How Do I Do better in Contests?
Topics to be covered today Contest selection Antenna improvements Shack improvements Planning and goal setting Operating tips Topics covered in this presentation W9XT

3 Pick Contests You Like The Most
Domestic or DX Domestic: Sweepstakes, Field Day, State QSO Parties DX: ARRL, CQ World Wide, Worked All Europe Both: ARRL 160 & 10M, IARU, WPX Phone, CW or RTTY Many contests have separate mode events Short, Medium or Long Short: Sprints, NA QSO Party, some state QSO Parties Medium: Sweepstakes, IARU, FD Long: DX contests, WPX Something for just about every radio interest, and have not even mentioned VHF, QRP and other popular contests. W9XT

4 Match Your Antennas & Contest
Pick contests that match your antennas Or optimize your antennas for your favorite contest(s) Consider becoming a single band expert Easier & less expensive to put up an excellent antenna system on one band than competitive antennas on many Deep knowledge of the band will be a competitive advantage Play where you have an advantage W9XT

5 What Bands Play Best for You?
Depends on: Antennas available Local terrain Who you want to contact Both antenna gain and take off angle are important Take off angle may be more important than gain Take off angle is probably the least understood or appreciated characteristic of antennas W9XT

6 80M Example – Dipole @ 60’ EZNEC Plot W9XT
Max Gain at about 60 degrees EZNEC plot of a dipole at 60’ Max gain about 60 degrees, not very good for signals at low angles. Down about 15 dB at 5 degrees Down about 5° W9XT

7 80M Example - Vertical EZNEC Plot Max gain ~25° Down ~5dB @ 5° W9XT
EZNEC plot of an 80M vertical Max gain about 25 degrees. Not very good for high angles. Down about 5 dB at 5 degrees Down 5° W9XT

8 Propagation Modes To Europe
SUMMARY 5 MODES FREQ = MHZ UT = (VOACAP) Most REL Mode: F F E F E F2 TIME DEL ANGLE VIR. HITE ABSORB FS. LOSS SNR PROB VOACAP Prediction for Oct 30, from SE WI Mode: 3.F2 – 3 F2 hops – most reliable mode Note low take off angles (in red) – most reliable mode has take off angle of just over 5 degrees What antenna would be best for this path? Dipole or vertical? Calculated for Oct. 30, 2009 W9XT

9 Propagation Modes to Ohio
SUMMARY 8 MODES FREQ = MHZ UT = (VOACAP) Most REL Mode E E F E E F F E F2 TIME DEL ANGLE VIR. HITE ABSORB FS. LOSS SNR PROB VOACAP prediction for Oct 30, 2009 from SE Wisconsin Note the high take off angles (in red) Which antenna is best for this path? Dipoles and verticals don’t have significant gain differences, but put power in different take off angles Calculated for Oct. 30, 2009 W9XT

10 10M Yagi Example EZNEC Plot W9XT
Another example where angle might be more important than gain. Note deep null at 20 degrees. A great antenna won’t help much if the signal is coming in at the wrong angle. Stack beams – they have different lobes – fill in the gaps W9XT

11 Best Antenna Its not just about gain
Matching take off angle to signal can have huge effect Angle of arriving signal from a given transmitter will vary Time of day Season Sunspot number You rotate your beam towards the other station – think of take off angle of aiming in the third dimension An opening to some region might use different modes over the course of a day Sometimes two or more modes can happen at the same time A high gain antenna with a null at the incoming angle may perform less well than a low gain antennas matched for that angle. W9XT

12 Optimize Antennas to the Contest
Design antennas to perform to target population areas Have multiple antennas per band Cover different conditions Cover different directions Cover different distances Maximize flexibility In general Low take off angle antennas best for DX contests High take off angle antennas best for domestic contests Population centers are where you make most contacts DX contests: Europe & Japan (US/VE for DX stations) Domestic contests: East and west coasts, mid-west and SE US. Multiple antennas gives you flexibility to cover different conditions and directions Domestic: East and west coasts W9XT

13 W9XT Antennas Low Band RX: 350’ Bevs to Europe & JA, K9AY Array
160M: Dipole at 60’, putting up Inverted L (fall 2013) 80M: Dipole at 45’ + Vertical (shunt fed tower) 40M: Dipole at 40’ + 2 El Yagi at 60’ : + 65’ + 35’ (fixed on Europe) Tribanders can be fed 1, 2 or all 3 in any combination W9XT philosophy: Have multiple antennas on each band if possible. This gives you a better chance of covering the take off angles & different directions W9XT: Two towers, 50’ & 60’ – Better than average, but not a big gun Other than 160M, at least 2 antennas per band with different characteristics Power splitting on Yagis helps cover multiple directions example: CQ to Europe and Africa at same time W9XT

14 W9XT Field Day Setup – 40 CW Dipole at 30’ with reflector at 7’
High take off angle for stations within ~600 miles Sloper Dipole Slopes toward SE during day, move to SW at night Lower take off angle and a bit of gain Uses phasing network CQ on both antennas Select best antenna when weak ones call Lose 3 dB with 2 ants, but more than make up on TO angle Typically make about M CW QSOs each year. Switch between antenna to help pull out weak signals One antenna might have more gain toward caller One antenna might null QRM Used this set up for many years W9XT

15 W9XT Field Day Setup – 40 CW 2012 & 2013
Dipole at 30’ High take off angle for stations within ~600 miles NVIS 7’ Very high take off angle for stations within 250 miles Inverted L Low take off angle for west coast Elevated, tuned radials for easy set up Phasing: Dipole and either NVIS or Inverted L In recent years I have wanted to do better to west coast and switched to a vertical. The NVIS dipole is good for close in stations outside of ground wave. W9XT

16 FD at Ozaukee Radio Club – W9LO
Military mast used for all supports Left: Dipole support in back Vertical shorter pole Right: NVIS 40M CW Station W9XT

17 Coax Phasing Network Simple to build
Coax Switch 3 Coax Tees 2 X ¼ wavelength 70 ohm 1 X ¼ wavelength 50 ohm Transmitter always sees 50 ohms with 1 or both antennas Single band only Normally used to stack mono-band Yagis. L1, L2 must be same length Can be used with different antenna types, L1, L2 any length More details at W9XT

18 Phasing Network W9XT

19 Inexpensive Antenna Improvements: The more the better!
Low Band RX: K9AY, Beverage, Beverage on ground Vertical or Inverted L: low take off angle on low bands Low Dipole or NVIS: High angle take off Sloper Dipole: Gain in desired direction, angle Power splitters Beam multiple directions Instant direction switching Pull out weak stations with best antenna See 30M Vertical on for construction – easy to modify for 40M. Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. W9XT

20 Optimize Shack for Efficiency
Place most used equipment in easiest reach Keyboard, radio, mouse, CW paddles in best positions Rotor, Antenna switch next best positions Amplifier, PC can be further away Always wear headphones Hear weaker signals Cut background noise – noise will increase fatigue Use microphone headset with foot switch for phone Mic does not take table space Mic always in proper place Does not tie up a hand Minimize movement to equipment that is adjusted or operated the most Keep monitor so you can see it and radio with minimum head movement W9XT

21 Additional Efficiency Tips
Put SWR bridge/watt meter in direct view Immediately see problem or wrong antenna selected Amp mistuned, off line, wrong band Computer Monitor & Keyboard at proper height Automate Keep log program and radio in sync Automatic selection of antennas W9XT

22 Optimize Shack for Comfort
Good lighting Good ventilation Comfortable chair (switch between 2) Table at correct height You are going to spend a lot of time there – be comfortable W9XT

23 Cheap Secret Weapon for Comfort
Simple foot rest Takes pressure off legs Keeps feet off cold floor Keeps foot switch in place A simple foot rest is well worth the small cost to build one W9XT

24 Planning For the Next Contest
Keep notes on every contest, review before the next What went well What went poorly Propagation conditions Best & worst times Station changes since last contest Special or unusual openings & contacts Things to do differently next time Write up thoughts right after contest and review before the next one W9XT

25 Make a What-If Spread Sheet
Use to set goals See effects of Getting a few hours sleep at slow times Chasing low band mults at sunrise Putting emphasis on certain bands Different operating strategies 2007 ARRL DX CW Goals Band QSOs DX Total Score 817,860 A spread sheet lets you see how different strategies will affect the score Use previous results plus current conditions to estimate QSOs and multipliers W9XT

26 Other Planning Aids Make a Band Plan QSO & multiplier totals by hour
Listing of bands to be on each hour of the contest Good general guide, but adapt to opportunities QSO & multiplier totals by hour Goal for hour + cumulative totals Base on previous efforts Good motivator and indicator of falling behind W9XT

27 3 Most Important Things While Operating
Rate Always keep the rate up. A couple of extra QSOs/hr adds up to almost 100 in a 48 hour DX contest Always watch the rate meter! W9XT

28 Keeping the rate: CQ a lot
CQ whenever possible An average CQ rate is usually better than a good S&P rate More than half of stations in contest never CQ CQing seems slower than S&P – watch rate meter Smaller stations Try CQs higher in band CQ 2nd day in DX contests, Sunday afternoon in Sweepstakes Don’t waste time in frequency fights Most contesters don’t CQ enough There are times in any contest where anyone can CQ effectively CQing seems slow – less mental involvement than S&Ping The rate meter on the logging program is one of the most important things to watch W9XT

29 Watch the rate meter! When rate is below what it should be:
Stop CQing and start S&P (Search and Pounce) Stop S&Ping and start CQ Change bands Take a break if contest has mandatory off times The rate meter is one of the most important things to watch on your logging program When the rate drops, do something different W9XT

30 Know the Value of Multipliers
Many logging programs give value of a mult Relative to number of QSOs Relative to number of minutes (based on current rate) Don’t waste time in big pile ups for rare mults Consider coming back later Don’t leave a good CQ run to chase packet spots You have to decide if you are a DXer or a contester. Most of the time 3-4 regular contacts are worth as much as a new multiplier. If you can make more than 3-4 QSOs in the time it will take to crack the pile up, you are hurting your score. W9XT

31 You won’t make the PGA Tour after your first 18 holes, and you won’t be a world class contester by just doing FD Every sport requires practice Learn to copy and log quickly without errors Learn propagation Get a feel for when things are going well or not Know when to switch bands, when to CQ, etc. Learn to copy through QRM & QRN Learn how to crack pile ups Learn how to manage a high rate CQ run A lot of decisions are made based on feel. You will only get that with operating experience. Too many starting contesters are not willing to put in the effort to make the top W9XT: I have been contesting over 40 years, and learn something new just about every contest. W9XT

32 Summary Select contests that match your interests and station
Antenna take off angle may be more important than gain Multiple antennas (even inexpensive) = great flexibility Optimize station for efficiency and comfort Plan an operating strategy Keep the rate up, CQ whenever you can Be smart about chasing multipliers All the contesting tips in the world won’t help without practice W9XT

33 This program will be put on
Resources NCJ - Contest Magazine published by ARRL – Contesting web site CQ-Contest - mailing list dedicated to contesting Society of Midwest Contesters – regional contest club – Contesting accessories This program will be put on W9XT

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