Monday, November 26, 2007

Time to get up on a (small) soapbox

Most of my postings are about something that I've done, or something that I'm planning (or hoping) to do. I don't usually get up on a soapbox about a topic, but something occurred to me last week that I wanted to share.

As many of you are probably aware, last weekend was the CW flavor of the CQ WorldWide DX Contest. As with many of the big DX contests, a lot of folks travel to rare, semi-rare, and not-so-rare locations to operate. Many of the folks who'll be operating at these locations get there at least a few days early so that they can make sure that their stations are running properly, to check propagation, and maybe even to get in a few hours of relaxation before the contest starts.

One of my favorite things about all this is that a lot of these stations are on the air both prior to and after the contest. Sometimes they'll operate on the contest bands, but often they'll operate on the WARC bands (12, 17, and 30m) which provides an opportunity for a contact on those bands with what might otherwise be a difficult location. Even if only operating on the other bands, they are providing the opportunity for others to make contacts. Most of these operators are pretty good about QSLing, and a lot of them seem to come from the US, meaning that, at least for those of us who live here, it's relatively easy and inexpensive to get a QSL card back from one of those stations, if needed. And of course, these stations are all on the air during the contest as well, providing yet another opportunity (even if it's a rather frantic one) to make that contact.

So what's the problem? The problem is that after most contests, the various ham-related lists (or reflectors, if you prefer) all start to fill up with messages about how the bands were "too crowded with contesters" over the previous weekend. It tends to go downhill from there. To be fair, some of the writers have some valid points: There is no excuse for jumping in to CQ over an existing QSO; There's no excuse for not following all the ham radio rules (both laws and gentlemens' agreements); There's no excuse for a signal that's a mile wide and splattering up and down the band. But all of these things hold true regardless of whether there is a contest going on.

Although I'm still a newbie ham at about 7 1/2 years since I got my first license, I have been involved with all sorts of off-air discussions about ham radio since I first got involved. (In fact, unlike some who say that the Internet is causing the decline of ham radio, my personal view is quite the opposite; without access to the Internet I certainly wouldn't have gotten as involved as I did, if I got involved at all. But that's another topic.) I've noticed in my relatively short ham life that the cycle on these lists seems to be the same: Someone (or several people) will complain that (as previously noted), the bands were full of contesters. A few others chime in. A battle of words ensues (and not always a very civil battle), things escalate, and finally (hopefully) a moderator steps in to cool things down. Wait a week or two for the next contest and repeat.

What's bothering me is that I don't hear these same people complaining when the contesters show up a week before or a week after a contest to hand them that "new one" that they needed. Of course, there's no way to know if the complainers refuse to make a contact with one of the "offending" stations before or after the contest, but I'll bet they do.

The spectrum that we as hams have to use is pretty limited, and the best way that we can protect it is by keeping it active. One of the ways that happens is by having contests, and, unfortunately, sometimes those contests will collide with other users. While it would be nice if everyone could have their cake and eat it too (make sure that we don't loose spectrum and still keep things "open" so that folks can chat exactly wherever on the bands, and whenever they like), but like many other things in life, ham radio requires cooperation with others.

So to those who aren't happy that their regular "sked" had to move up or down the band a bit, or maybe didn't happen at all, my humble advice would be to make the best of it. If you're not a contester, maybe you can find another reason to work just a handful of stations in the contest for your own purposes. If you really don't want to get involved at all, spend some time cleaning out your shack (c'mon, you know it's a mess ... mine sure is) or making contacts on a non-contest band or mode. Most contests are 48 hours or shorter, and while weekend time is prime time for radio, that still leaves another 120 hours in the week.

Now, where'd I put that stepladder, this soapbox seems a lot higher than when I first climbed on.


  1. Anonymous8:52 PM


    I agree. It seems as though there are some who believe that because they meet every third Saturday of months ending in "y" on 14.2XX then everyone on the planet should stay clear of "their frequency". One EU ham in particular makes a big stink on the air before and after every SSB contest about how he'd either be on 17m or off the air because of the contest.

    Of course, being a contester, I look at it through another lens. Contesting is great fun and 90+% of the contesters play by the rules and respect on-going QSOs. If nothing else, contesting certainly shows governing authorities (FCC, etc.) that ham radio is alive and well.

    Great blog. I'll add it to my collection on the HamLinks Ham Radio Toolbar!

  2. Thanks for the comments Pat. Unfortunately, as expected, there were complaints again this week after the 160m contest, including some that were along the lines of "why did they have to use my frequency. I'm not much of a 160m operator but it doesn't seem like there's usually all that much to work; you'd think the regulars would be happy to have some extra company.

    David, K2DBK