October 25th, 2009


Phone Contest

This weekend was my first phone contesting experience (not counting field day 2008 where I made a handful of SSB contacts at the GOTA station). This weekend was CQWW SSB - an international amateur radio contest. The goal was for everyone around the world to contact as many different amateur stations as possible in 48 hours. Stations received multiplier points for contacting new countries or zones.

I was the first operator up and it sure was a strange experience. I never operate SSB, so tuning amongst hundreds of voice signals and copying contacts with them was a new challenge for me. Once I got a feel for tuning around and finding signals that I could distinguish from the surrounding chatter, it became easier. Still, my favorite part of the contest was pouncing around 15 meters to pick up multipliers in no particular hurry. 15m was fairly quiet late on Sunday afternoon, so it was much easier to hear the stations that were on (mainly South America and the Caribbean). Suriname was on, but every time I checked the frequency, he had a big pile-up. (In other words, every time he signaled that he was ready for someone to contact him, a ton of people would all call back at the same time.) We had some trouble breaking through the pile-ups with our low-hanging wire antennas, so I focused my effort on reaching the other folks.

A couple funny things happened over the weekend. At one point in time, I was just tuning into a signal when I heard him call: "station ending in LJ, call again!" Our station ended in LJ, but I hadn't called him...? For a moment, I sat wondering if I had accidentally sent my call. By the time I realized that I hadn't, but that I might-as-well try to steal the QSO from whoever the other LJ was, the running station had moved on to the next person. Another time, I ran upon a big pile-up for some interesting location and decided to throw in my call to see if it would get picked up. Before I had a chance, the CQing station announced: "Everyone except North American stations!" Ah, I guess he was sick of working Americans and Canadians, heh.

Towards the end of the contest, I was trying to reach a station somewhere in South America who just wasn't picking up my call. One time, he came back asking for a certain station to repeat their call, but I didn't catch who he wanted to hear from. When he called again the second time, he asked, "The YL [young lady] station again?" Ah, that's me! I called him back and got the QSO :)

One difficulty that my team faced this weekend was having our callsign prefix mistaken for a W2. We were a W3, not a W2. Some of the contacts went like this:

Foreign station: [end of previous contact] QRZ?
Me: Whiskey-Three-Lima-Japan
Foreign Station: Whiskey-Two-Lima-Japan, 59 [zone]
Me: Whiskey-Three, Whiskey-One...Two...Three, Whiskey-Three-Lima-Japan, and it's 59 5
Foreign Station: QSL, thanks. QRZ?

Well, I was rather apprehensive during most of the contest, but towards the end I warmed up to SSB. It was harder than I expected. Voice signals are bigger and more complex than CW, so even though CW is a code, voice was also hard for me to copy. CW is hard for me to copy because I am still not used to retaining strings of letters in my head, but SSB was challenging in that I am not used to isolating voices from amidst a loud crowd.

The contesters keep telling me that I would be a lot better if I were more aggressive, and so they encourage me to jump right in on the CQers. My reluctance doesn't come from fear, though, it comes from the difficulty that I have in copying contest exchanges. I haven't developed an ear for it yet. I should have been listening in on more contests for practice, but I just haven't made the time for that this year amidst all the other things that I've been doing. Until my brain grows accustomed to processing contest exchanges, I'll most likely continue to be hesitant calling just anyone. While I don't want to be seen as a stereotypical timid YL, I also don't want to call a guy who I can't hear well and then leave him hanging when he needs me to clarify my info or confirm some part of the exchange. When I was running on 40m on Field Day, I fumbled around a lot with my poor copying, but when the occasion came where I could easily copy a clear 30 wpm station, it was a wonderful, satisfying feeling. I just wish it was always that easy, because I sure have been frustrated with where I am now.

Anyway, I did make some contacts this weekend, so that was good! My first QSO was with a German and my last was with an Ecuadorian. In between there were contacts with stations in Japan, Croatia, St. Martin, Montserrat, Brazil, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Columbia, Bulgaria, etc. Thanks to all who worked us!