Monday, October 15, 2007

You'll never know unless you try

Two weekends ago, I participated in the California QSO Party contest. As I've mentioned in the past (here and here), I like to play around in these contests because they are usually a bit lower-key than the really big contests, and sometimes, you actually might win something. Even if you don't win anything, it's something to do, and helps keeps the bands active. As hams, it's up to us to keep the activity going, because if we don't, there are plenty of commercial entities who would love to grab parts of the spectrum that is allocated to Amateur Radio. The CQP is one of (if not the) best run QSO parties, with all kinds of information available online and tons of activity.

As I mentioned in my entry entitled "It takes patience", trying to bounce your electrons off the ionosphere can be particularly difficult during this point in the solar cycle. Regardless of what the propagation numbers say, it's a fact that you will not make any contacts on a given band regardless of the predictions if you don't try. So, sometimes you have to try something that you think might not work, because there's a chance that it will.

One of the things that I've read about contesting is that you need to plan your strategy carefully to maximize your score. For contests, like the CQP, where you can work the same station on both different bands and different modes for credit, it makes sense to at least try to get an edge somewhere by checking out all (or almost all) the bands. Normally for the CQP, my "meat and potatoes" band had been 20m during the day. Unfortunately, the band conditions were just awful and I was having a lot of trouble being heard, even on CW. (And yes, I did actually did about 2/3 of my contacts on CW, which helped my score since CW contacts were worth 3 points versus phone contacts being worth 2). I decided that since wasn't making very many contacts anyway, I might as well try other bands.

At the peak of the solar cycle (or at least not down here in the trough), I would have had my fill of stations on 10m, but there was just nothing there. Next up was 15m and somewhat surprisingly, there were stations out there to work. They weren't strong, but there wasn't nearly as much competition, and the band was quieter. As a result, I made almost 20% of my total contacts on 15m, at a time when the W6ELprop predicted that there was essentially a zero chance of the band being open between my location and California. The important point is that if I hadn't tuned to 15m and listened, I never wouldn't have known.

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