Monday, December 12, 2011

Post-post Thanksgiving Leftover Leftovers

As I mentioned in my last posting, I've still got a few items leftover from Thanksgiving. Unlike the leftover turkey and trimmings, these didn't have to be tossed out after a couple of weeks, so they are still relatively fresh.

Going back to the CQ WorldWide DX Contest, I did have a few more comments to make. First I really learned to make use of the attenuator on my radio. When conditions are good, stations that are slightly off frequency can make it hard to hear the stations that you're trying to work. By using the attenuator, it brings down the level of those signals so that I can more clearly hear the station that I'm trying to work. The station I'm trying to work is weaker too, but usually they drop less than the off-frequency station and it makes it possible to better copy what they are sending. This isn't something that I alone have just magically discovered, it's just been a while since conditions were good enough that off-frequency stations were so strong that I needed to get them dropped down.

And now, time to jump on my soapbox to talk about two things. The first of these I haven't seen mentioned much recently in blogs or the contesting lists, but I noticed a number of times where a stations was calling CQ at a relatively slow speed (for a contest), perhaps 18 to 20 words per minute. I was always taught that you should always answer a station no faster than the station is calling, with the idea that you should only call CQ at a speed at which you are comfortable receiving. Why then do stations respond to those "slow" (which is a relative term here) CQs at 30, 35, or even 40 words per minute? I heard this a number of times, and while in some cases the slower station seemed to have no trouble copying the other station, in most other cases the slower station had to repeatedly ask for "fills" (meaning they couldn't copy the exchange being sent.) If the other stations were too impatient to wait, they should find another station to work. When I work a CW contest, I have the ability to easily adjust my sending speed (I send using the computer, and it's very easy to adjust my speed up and down in real time) and I have a hard time believing that some of these speed demons can't do the same.

The second soapbox item is one that has been talked about a lot recently, which is regarding stations that do not ID frequently. For those readers who aren't familiar with this, here's the background: The FCC (and their equivalent in other countries) require stations to identify at certain intervals. In the US, you're required to ID every 10 minutes and under certain other circumstances. Some operators, especially the "big gun" stations who have big signals and many stations calling them, try to shave off a small amount of time on each contact by not IDing after every contact. While a second or so might not seem like much, these are stations that might work 200+ stations in an hour, so assuming there are enough stations to keep them busy (which for those stations may actually be the case), there can, in theory, be enough time saved by not regularly IDing to be able to make more contacts in that time period. As an example, let's say you can work one station in 20 seconds, or three per minute, which gives you a rate of 180 per hour. If you can shave two seconds off each contact, you can now work 3.33 per minute which translates into 200 per hour. That can add up over the course of a contest, under the right circumstances.

Of course, you need to ID occasionally to fulfill the legal requirements as well as letting the stations listening know who you are. (Yes, some stations can and do just assume that the spot on the packet cluster is correct. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I want to hear a callsign myself before I work a station.) While I personally will ID after every contact on those rare occasions when I'm "running" stations, I think it's OK to do it every 3rd or 4th contact, which means that the listening station have to wait no more than a minute or so to figure out the ID of the station. The problem is that some of these big gun stations have a seemingly endless stream of callers (many of whom are calling because of the aforementioned packet cluster spot) and they don't ID for many minutes at a time. I've read their arguments which I won't rehash here (if you're interested, you can check out the archives of the CQ-Contest mailing list) but to me, they are just being selfish. From their perspective, they have plenty of folks trying to work them, and it's just too bad for those of us who are waiting before calling. Often, I'll just give up after listening for a short period of time, but I risk missing a valuable multipler if it turns out that the running station was something that I needed.

I don't know what the right solution to this problem is, since the big guns aren't going to change their operating processes just because I think that it would be nice to do so. Some contests require the station ID as part of the contest exchange (though sometimes they omit it there as well; I wonder if they will get disqualified if the contest sponsors discovers that?) which solves the issue, but since even minor changes to the contest rules seems to be upsetting to much of the contest community, I can't see an ID requirement being added to any of the existing contests.