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Re: [VHFcontesting] The impact of the digital modes on the January VHF C

To: "jamesduffey@comcast.net" <jamesduffey@comcast.net>, "vhfcontesting@contesting.com" <vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
Subject: Re: [VHFcontesting] The impact of the digital modes on the January VHF Contest and some suggestions on dealing with those impacts
From: Rhinosix via VHFcontesting <vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
Reply-to: Rhinosix <rhinosix@aol.com>
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 2021 18:46:25 +0000 (UTC)
List-post: <mailto:vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
For those who have complaints about contests on FT8 switch to FT4, the contest 
mode, as JT intended it to be.
 Jerry W2JCN FN21  

-----Original Message-----
From: James Duffey <jamesduffey@comcast.net>
To: VHF Contesting Reflector <vhfcontesting@contesting.com>
Sent: Sat, Jan 30, 2021 9:16 pm
Subject: [VHFcontesting] The impact of the digital modes on the January VHF 
Contest and some suggestions on dealing with those impacts

The deadline for submitting logs in the 2021 running of the ARRL January VHF 
Contest has passed with 1179 logs received. There may be a few more as paper 
logs are received and entered electronically. To put that number in 
perspective; that is the most entries in the January contest since 1998, and 
marks four years of progressively increasing entries. So the contest is 
healthy. Let me repeat that, judged by entries, the contest is healthy.

What is behind the increase in activity? Well, pretty much all ham radio 
contests have seen a increase in activity in these times of Covid-19. So that 
accounts for part of it. The use of the WSJT-X digital modes, including, but 
not limited to FT8, are probably the basis of much of the activity. And yet, 
after years of being concerned about declining or stagnant VHF contest activity 
people are apparently unhappy about the increase in entries. One sees a lot of 
“What about …?”. Most of this discontent is laid at the foot of the use of FT8 
by casual contesters. I think it important at this juncture to complain, if one 
is going to complain, and make a distinction between the use of FT8 and the FT8 
mode itself. I see a lot of posts blaming FT8 for all the woes in VHF 
contesting, when it is actually the operators who misuse FT8 who are to blame. 

For the rest of this note, let me refer to digital modes in general, or I guess 
to be more specific WSJT-X modes. That currently is pretty much the only source 
of digital modes that are used. That may change, so I think the we should not 
be specific by using FT8 as the example.

What are the problems, perceived and otherwise, that the use of the digital 
modes brings about?  

1. Decline in activity on the analog modes SSB and CW. 

2. Decline in activity in the bands above 144 MHz. 

3. Crowding of too much activity in the narrow band allocated to FT8. 

There are some benefits of using the digital modes:

1. The increase in activity is obvious. 

2. The increase in the number of grids that can be worked by even a modest 
station is increased. So, mults go up. Not everyone takes advantage of this. 

3. Meteor scatter activity has increased, particularly in the dead periods that 
seem to be more prevalent in January. 

4. WSJT-X generates a Cabrillo log without any additional work from the 
operator. As generating and submitting a Cabrillo log can be daunting to the 
newcomer, particularly the interaction with the passive-aggressive robot, this 
is a big advantage, and I think one reason why the guys who operate WSJT-X have 
a high rate of log submittals.

So, what we would like to do is address the concerns specific to the use of 
WSJT-X and keep the advantages. We would also like to keep the strictly analog 
operators interested in and actively operating in the contest.

I will separate this into two different categories, those things that we as 
operators can do to help, and those things that the contest sponsors need to do.

Things that we can do:

1. Set aside specific times to go to the analog calling frequencies to make 
analog QSOs. Say, go to SSB every hour on the hour and CW every hour on the 
half hour. Stay for five minutes or until everyone has been worked out. This 
will get some of us off the digital frequencies and on to analog operations, so 
when others go to look there will be analog operation there. 

2. Get on FT4 and encourage other digital users to do the same. The quicker 
exchanges on FT4 means more QSOs in the same time without much deterioration in 
signal-to-noise ratio.

3. Educate the digital mode users to the advantage of using the analog modes 
and FT4. One way to do this is to volunteer to give a talk at your local club, 
say at the end of April or the beginning of May on vhf operating in general and 
working sporadic E as that is the beginning of the Es season. In the talk, 
discuss beneficial digital mode operation. 

4. Use the optional TX messages in the FT modes to ask for a QSY to the higher 
bands. Program QSY 144.174 or the appropriate UHF frequency in the optional 
messages. This will work.  

5. Don’t badmouth FT8 or the FT8 users. They are on, you can work them, and you 
will get points or mults from them.

Suggested rule changes:

1. Allow two QSOs, one analog (CW, SSB, FM, AM) and one digital per band, as 
long as they are on separate and appropriate frequencies. That is, one cannot 
work a station on SSB on 50.125 and then immediately switch to FT4 on the same 
frequency. One would have to QSY to 50.318 to work the FT4 QSO. Perhaps,to 
boost analog activity, the analog modes could count two points to the digital’s 
one. the analog modes could count two points to the digital’s one. This is much 
the same way the 10M contest and Field Day is run, so there is precedent that 
this approach works.

2. Create an analog category, a digital category, and a mixed mode category. 
One could chose one of the three to enter. 

3. On the higher bands provide equivalent points for digital and analog modes. 
This would encourage the digital ops to QSY for higher point QSOs, and also 
encourage the use of the digital modes on the higher frequencies. 

Some have advocated separate contests for the digital and analog modes, but I 
think that would reduce overall activity. And, by having separate analog and 
digital categories, that would sort of fill the function of separate contests 
by having a contest within a contest. 

It doesn’t do much good to talk about this on the reflector without also 
putting in some action. Write your ARRL Division Director and tell him how you 
think the VHF contests should be changed. Send a copy to your SCM, Contest 
Advisory Committee member, and a member of the Program Services Committee. Step 
up VHF/UHF contesting PR efforts. 

These are my opinions. Others may have equally good opinions and they should be 
heard. I hate to see the complaints about the digital modes after each contest 
with no commensurate action to address them. The digital modes are a boon to 
VHF/UHF contesting and we should figure out how best to leverage them to our 
advantage. - Duffey KK6MC

James Duffey
Cedar Crest NM

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