For those who have complaints about contests on FT8 switch to FT4, the contest
mode, as JT intended it to be.
Jerry W2JCN FN21
From: James Duffey <email@example.com>
To: VHF Contesting Reflector <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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
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
Cedar Crest NM
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