Sunday, November 18, 2007

Almost too busy for radio

I don't consider myself a particularly prolific blogger, but I do try to make time to get at least one entry in per week. (I don't count little things like an update for my Twitter ID, etc.) Lately, things have been really busy at work, so much so that I haven't been able to get on the air much (after working at the office, I've come home fairly late, eaten dinner, and wound up working from home for a few hours). In turn, that means that I haven't had much to blog about, since the bulk of what I blog about is at least inspired in some way by what I do when I'm on the air. No radio = no blogging. That's no good.

This weekend is the ARRL November SSB Sweepstakes contest, one of the major contests in North America. It's not one of my favorite contests, because I prefer to work DX either as just regular contacts or during contests, but since I had some time this weekend I thought that I'd give it a shot.

I learned a couple of things by playing in the contest, and re-learned one very important thing. I'll save that for last.

Being a small station, I know I'm not truly competitive and I don't really expect to win even a sectional award in such a major contest. That doesn't mean that I don't want to do as well as I can, but it also means that I'm willing to try some things that I might not ordinarily do to learn. If you will, I'm investing now for payoff later.

During these big contests, on which ever band is open the most, you'll hear wall-to-wall strong stations, who are busy working station after station (or "running stations", as it's called). These stations are usually multi-operator, high-power (often up to the legal limit of 1500W) with large antennas, and they can just run station after station for the duration of the contest. Since they've got an almost endless pool to work, they are typically going to pick off the strongest stations since they are the easiest to work. That makes it very hard for a guy like me.

I decided to play around on different bands at different times of the day to see what might work for me. It turns out that 15 meters was open on Sunday afternoon, although signals would go from "loud and clear" to virtually non-existent for the same station sometimes in less than a minute. (This is what hams call QSB.) What I did was to stick it out on 15m for a while and try to catch stations on the "upswing". If I did the contact quickly, it usually worked surprisingly well. The really good news is that a lot of other stations were off on other bands (mostly 20 meters) which was a lot more stable. The guys on 15m were calling CQ without anybody answering, so as long as I could hear them reasonably well (i.e., I was at the QSB peak, not trough), I could get through easily. That made things a whole lot of fun. I'll definitely keep that in my bag of tricks for the future.

Another thing I learned was to get on 75 meters late at night. Sharon & I had gone out for dinner and got home late on Saturday night. We watched a little TV, and I came down to turn off the radio and computer, and decided to make a couple of contacts. It was about 12:30AM (EST) at this point, and I figured I'd just spend a few minutes then turn in. The big surprise for me was that I probably worked more stations faster starting at that point on 75 meters than I'd done all day (and probably faster that all day today as well. There were a lot of stations, but most of them weren't working anybody, just CQing, so usually it was one quick call from me and they were in the log. I wound up will well over 100 stations on 75m just from Saturday alone, and finally at about 2:30AM I decided to head up for bed. Another lesson learned: Go out, have a nice dinner, then, after midnight, have fun on 75m.

As I mentioned, I re-learned something too: Radio can be relaxing. I hadn't made a specific plan for this contest, but I figured that over the course of the 2 days (actually the contest runs for 30 hours, you can operate 24 maximum) I would operation maybe 4 hours. I wound up operating about 12 hours, mostly because I was having fun doing it. I know that I'm not going to win anything, and I really don't care about that. It was nice to forget about work and whatever other stresses I deal with and just "play radio".

No comments:

Post a Comment