Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maryland-DC QSO Party

This is a kind of "leftover" item from a couple of weeks ago, but this was a pretty quiet week from a radio perspective. A little over a week ago (August 11 & 12) was the Maryland-DC QSO Party (or MDC QSO Party). Like most other contests, the object is to contact as many other stations as you can within the parameters of the contest. In this case, what's special is that if your station is physically located in either the state of Maryland or in Washington, DC, you can contact any other station for points. If you're outside of the MDC area, you can only contact stations within MDC for credit. Most states have their own "QSO Party" contests, and some of them, like the California QSO Party and the Florida QSO Party are very popular, with hundreds or thousands of in-state participants. Others aren't so popular, and only attract a relatively small number of in-state participants. (Unfortunately, it seems that in my home state, the New Jersey QSO Party seems to fall in the latter category; it's usually the same weekend as a big national contest, the North American QSO Party, and I think that the NAQP draws away some of the participants.) Sometimes, these state QSO parties have special rules that make them more fun. The MDC QP is one of those.

The special thing for the MDC QP is that you get different points for working different types of stations, and for using morse code instead of voice. For this contest, you get 10 points for working a "club station" (which is a station operated by members of a radio club), 5 points for working a "mobile station", which is (generally speaking) a station that's operated from a vehicle, though frequently one that's not in motion while participating, 4 points for a station that's using low power (5 watts or less, what hams call "QRP"), 3 points for a station using morse code, and one point for all other stations. (You can only choose one category to claim credit, so for instance, if there was a mobile, low-power club station using morse code you don't get to add all the points up.) It's a little complicated, but the good news is that you don't have to worry about figuring out the score until the contest is over. Like other contests, there's something called a "multiplier", which is used in the score computation. For MDC, the multipliers are the counties in Maryland plus Washington DC plus Baltimore City. (If you're outside of the MDC area, you also have multipliers for each state, Canadian provinces, and foreign countries. Because of this pretty major difference in scoring, the ranking of stations for MDC and non-MDC stations are kept separate.)

With all of that said, one of the nicer things about the sort of "medium-sized" QSO parties is that there's enough competition to make it interesting (you want to have other stations to make contacts with, after all!), but not so much that small stations, like mine, can't be heard. (That's one of the problems with the really big contests; although the "big guns" need to work everyone you can, including me, you spend a lot more time trying to attract attention to yourself.) With these smaller contests, it's just plain fun for me, which, as I've said, is sort of what the hobby is all about. I am definitely not a serious contester, and while it's fun to have a good score, I haven't yet gotten to the point of never getting up from the chair during the contest (there are those who literally don't get up; I'll leave it to the reader to figure out what that means over the course of 12, 24, or 48 hours). So, when conditions are good and there are lots of stations to contact, I'll make contacts. When conditions are poor, I'll find something else to do. This year's MDC QSO Party was a perfect example of this.

Because of the way radio propagation works, radio signals travel different distances depending on what frequency (or band) is being used. Certain bands work best at particular times of the day, which unfortunately sometimes means that the best bands to use to contact a station at a particular distance just isn't available. From my house in NJ, the two sets of frequencies that work best to contact stations in the MDC area are known as the 40m band (roughly 7Mhz) and 80m band (roughly 3.5Mhz). Unfortunately 80m isn't really very good during the daylight hours, and 40m just plain didn't want to cooperate during the contest, especially on Saturday.

I wasn't really home Saturday night very much, so I only wound up making 22 contacts during the entire contest, with about 2/3s on 40m (mostly Sunday afternoon) and the rest on 80m (a bit on Saturday night, and a bit on Sunday night). My total score was around 2200 points, which is nothing to write home about, but I had fun doing it. I got to chat with a bunch of folks (when the operators on both ends know that they aren't going to be making thousands of contacts, there's time to chat), ran into one or two people that I'd spoken with before, and even made some contacts with a couple of interesting club stations, including the club stations for the Voice Of America, K3VOA.

To me, this is what ham radio is about.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post. I attended my first QSO party when the Alabama QSO party was going on a few months ago. At the time I didn't have my license but (but was studying for it) and have since joined the ranks of Technician class licensees.

    It did start at the QSO party for me, then led to field day, it was a lot of fun.

    73, KI4WLR