VHF Contesting School: Introduction

    I write these tutorials to increase VHF/UHF Contesting activity.   I believe that many hams may be interested, if someone takes time to show them what we enjoy, and how they can get started.    These articles are definitely aimed at beginners.    I have had success introducing casual VHF’ers to contesting.   I hope hams in other parts of the country will give it a try.    Always, always — spread the word. 
     The main link to all ARRL contests is http://www.arrl.org/contests    VHF/UHF contests are in June, July (CQ WW VHF), August, September and January. 

    This isn’t fast-food hamming.   It’s also not rocket science.   I love V/UHF Contesting so much I want you to have all the info you need.   If you take an hour or two to read the articles, you should be comfortable with getting on the air and calling “CQ Contest.”    If you can’t stand reading, then at least listen to the relevant frequencies during the contest.   You’ll absorb what’s going on that way.      

    If anyone wants to share this info in their area, please do so.   I’d be very glad if hams in all 50 states were promoting V/UHF Contesting to other hams.    Just send me an email and let me know you want the material.    I’m sure there are others like me out there, and to those hams, I tip my cap.   It’d be a pleasure emailing or meeting on the air someday. 
     I realize these articles are subjective.   Some may not agree with me.   That’s fine.   Plenty of ways to enjoy contesting.   Main thing is to get on and make the effort.   Dead contests are boring; so we always need more activity.  

     To start, here’s a 20 minute clip of N0IRS  — JD from EM29 — contesting in June 2008.    He’s operating during a busy contest with a good band opening.    Contacts are being made 500+ miles away on various bands.   Enjoy the video, but don’t expect simliar results at first.     Go to  http://www.kcvhfgridbandits.com/kc_vhf_grid_bandits_008.htm and once there, choose the item on the far lower left corner.   Or choose any of JD’s videos.   These are a fabulous way to bring V/UHF alive.  

     A VHF contest differs from one on HF.   The activity levels are usually lower.     You have room on the dial to operate.   At least you do in the Midwest.   The pace is more relaxed.   If you’ve heard HF contesting and thought, “No way this is for me!” I ask you to listen to 144.200 (give or take) SSB on a contest weekend.     There are really only 4-7 major VHF/UHF contests per year, so it doesn’t run your life.     I should also add that a fair amount of new VHF/UHF contesters come from the HF ranks.   Seems that contesters just love to contest.  🙂   If you’re coming over from the HF side, welcome and enjoy.   My experience in ham radio is strictly V/UHF.  
     If you get your feet wet now, you’ll feel more confident when you get involved with the summer contests.   It’s an amazing thing when 6 meters opens up with sporadic E skip during a contest weekend.   You can work 20, 30, 40 states in less than 24 hours, easily.   It’s a real thrill when you have tropo enhancement on 2 meters, or the higher bands, and stations with modest equipment are working each other from Minneapolis, to Burlington, IA, to Terre Haute, IN.   I’ve done it — during the wee hours in the July 2006 CQ WW VHF Contest.   Those contacts were actually made on 146.550 FM.   I worked even farther than that on SSB.   That was an amazing contest.   6 and 2 meters were open big-time.   On 6 meters alone, I had 600 contacts from over 150 grid squares in about 20 hours of operating.  

     When considering VHF/UHF Contesting, don’t worry about the supposed big-gun stations.   Let’s consider who you can work on simplex, on any band you have.   Let’s say it’s a 10-50 mile range.   You must be able to think of a few dozen stations.   If you’re near a major metro area, it’s probably hundreds of stations.   And that’s just on FM.    Here in and near SE WI, we do promote FM contesting, and some of those hams have had fun, and gone on to better stations with all-mode rigs and horizontal yagis or loops for SSB work.    We saw a lot of this in 2009, and we’re going to build on it for 2010 and beyond.
     Us veterans hope you will improve your station so we can hear you farther away.   Just about every contester has some DX’er in them.   If you’re content to ragchew on the repeater, you probably have already stopped reading.   Which is fine.   All kinds of ways to enjoy ham radio.   
     When you add SSB gear, and a simple omni-directional loop (horizontally polarized for SSB work), you’re now capable of working 50-150 miles away, depending on your QTH and antenna height, power level and band conditions.    Step up to a horizontal yagi at the 30-40′ level (try to get at least a 7-10′ long boom yagi, or more) and improve your gain to where you will start working 100-200 mile contacts.    We get check-ins every week to our SSB nets from 100, 200, 300 miles away, with normal conditions, and decent equipment.  

     If your QTH is antenna-restricted, then you have a great opportunity.   Go roving!   Be a rover.   Take your gear in the mobile, add antennas and head out where you want to go.    Activate different grid squares and you’ll be a real hit with the other contesters.    I’ll have a separate article devoted solely to roving.    Rovers make a VHF/UHF contest so enjoyable.  

      Resolve to get on the air in the next VHF contest.   Know your grid square.   Get ready to call CQ Contest, so others know you are out there.   Have some headphones.     Turn your squelch down.   Many of your contacts will be S0 or S1 signals that are perfectly workable with a little effort.   A lot of the joy in contesting is finding out that weak signal is in a distant grid square that you had no idea you’d be able to work.   You may learn (like I have) that the weaker the signal, the more likely it’s a tasty catch!  
      A good VHF/UHF contest is when the bands are at their best.   The bands come alive with hams from all over.   To me, it’s absolutely the most fun time to be operating.

One Response to “VHF Contesting School: Introduction”

  1. Garnet Ryder Says:

    Enjoyed your blog article about VHF contesting. I’m a 6M band fan. Here’s a cool tip you might consider adding. Internal speakers on most radios not very good, lots of noise. Add an external speaker that’s also been modified with a low pass filter to cut the noise. Makes listening all weekend on a contest a little easier on the ears. Here’s the article I found to tweak my external speaker. http://www.hamuniverse.com/speakernoisecircuit.html