Having a very modest station (compared to just about anything), I know that I'm not going to be particularly competitive, which is fine, as I don't consider myself a particularly competitive person. I generally set some pretty modest goals for myself, which usually consist of some minor improvement over the prior year's contest. This year was an exception, for two very-related reasons:
First, last year conditions were absolutely spectacular from a propagation perspective. (Although a bit more than I want to go into here, 6 meters, which for me at least is the meat-and-potatoes band for the VHF contests, is known as the "magic" band, at least in part because unlike the lower HF bands, it's almost impossible to predict any kind of propagation in advance, but when the band does "open", it seems to be "magic" that determines where your signals will go.) I set a personal best during that contest, working 69 grids over a weekend which seemed, at least for about a month, to be the best I'd ever do. (It turns out that the conditions for the CQ Worldwide VHF contest were even better, and I worked 95 grids over roughly the same period of time.) In fact, I actually won the 6m single-operator low-power category for my ARRL Section, which was probably more of a surprise to me than anyone.
Second, conditions this year were pretty awful at the beginning of the contest (and in fact, never really improved very much.) As a result, I decided that it would be nice to beat my score from 2 years ago, which is the last time during this contest that conditions were "normal". From my perspective, I think I did reasonably well this year, spending about 10 hours operating, and scoring around 5,000 points and working 28 grids on 6 meters.
Although for a pretty significant part of the contest I mostly just sat in front of the radio while the voice keyer (a device that will transmit a recorded message at set periods, saving the operator's voice) in the N1MM contest logger called CQ, occasionally a bunch of stations would turn up, and I'd get to "run" them. "Running" stations is when you basically say on the radio "Hey, I'm here, anybody want to make a contact" and stations answer you. If you get more than one or two answering at once, it can be a challenge, but a lot of fun, to "run" them.
As an aside, the "exchange" for this contest consists simply of your callsign and a specially defined indication of your location using something called the Maidenhead Locator system. In this case, my locator is FN21, so a typical exchange would sound something like this:
- Me: CQ Contest, CQ Contest, from K2DBK FN21 (repeat a few hundred times, then):
- Other station: N2SE
- Me: N2SE, thanks for calling, my grid is FN21, over.
- N2SE: I copy FN21, my grid is also FN21, over.
- Me: Thank you for FN21, good luck in the contest. QRZ from K2DBK FN21 (QRZ technically means "who is calling me", but it's often used as a shorthand for "Next!")
Me: CQ Contest, CQ Contest from Kilo Two Delta Bravo Kilo, Fox November Twenty One (etc.)
Occasionally, other "fun" things happen: A brief "opening" to the mid-west or to Florida, or I'll run into a friend who I haven't spoken to on the air and we'll stop for a chat. (Because this contest was relatively "slow", I did that a bunch of times. When conditions are good, nobody wants to yak away, because you'd be missing possible contact, but when it's slow, people will stop and "rag chew" for a while.).
This time, some extra fun was that while I was CQing, I got called by 4U1UN, which is the radio station that is located at the headquarters of the United Nations, in New York City. I've worked 4U1UN many times before (because they are physically located so close to me), but this was the first time that I've ever worked them during a contest, and one of only about two times when they've called me. (Special thanks to Bernie, W3UR, who is a very well-known DXer, and who was operating 4U1UN at the time, for calling me.) Because they count as a separate "entity" they are somewhat rare for DXCC purposes, but for this contest, because they are located in NYC (and specifically in locator FN30), they actually weren't anything "special", just another contact. However, that doesn't stop it from being fun anyway.
And fun is what it's all about.