[CQ-Contest] Comments on 1999 ARRL CW DX Contest (very long)

Fred Laun K3ZO aalaun at ibm.net
Mon Feb 22 21:46:19 EST 1999

In planning for this contest, I felt that some basic changes had to be made
in my routine.  The main motivator for such changes is the return to this
area of K0DQ, who has retired from the Navy, started showing up at PVRC
meetings, and is looking to get back into contesting in a big way.  When he
used to operate from W3GRF's he regularly took me to the cleaners when we
went head-to-head.  Now, after doing an exploratory effort from K1DQV's
station in the CQWW CW, he has been checking out the mountaintop QTH of
W4RX.  While other locals KE3Q and K3MM have been trouncing me regularly on
occasion when they get into the single-operator category, they are not
frequent entrants in this category so my basic complacency was not
challenged.  Now it has been.

I can't use antenna problems as an excuse any more either.  KC1XX and his
associate Andrew have analyzed all of my chronic problems and fixed them.
They did an ice-storm-damage repair visit just a couple of weeks before
this contest.  W3MC installed a EWE antenna for receiving on 160 for me a
few months ago and now I can hear OK on that band.  So nothing there is
nothing left to complain about in the antenna department.

The power company's RFI man K3RFI has been working on my line noise
problems.  He has reduced the noise by two or three S-units but that still
leaves me with an S9 noise level on 10 meters when beaming Asia. When
beaming Europe I can lower it to S7 or so by pointing the antenna at 75
degrees.  The noise is somewhat less of a bother on 15, and not much of a
factor on 20.  On 40 and 80 I am not bothered by line noise at all, and on
160 the EWE picks it up but it is not a serious impediment to my receiving
situation on that band.  The power company had hoped to work on the noise
the Thursday and Friday before the contest, but since the location of the
problem is off-road, they had to postpone the work for another weak after
Wednesday's rain because they are worried about their bucket truck getting
stuck in the mud.  It has happened to them before when they were working on
my noise problems!  So the new plan is to do the work this week instead.
Meanwhile, a part of my plan had to be to work around my noise problems
insofar as possible.  This meant basically no Asian runs, and running
Europe on the lowest band where high rates were possible at a given moment.  

I had also been able to see some combined-rate studies of several leading
single operator stations in the 1998 CQWW CW contest, and I realized that
in the late afternoon I was leaving 20 meters much too early to go
searching for mults on 15 and 10.  And W4AN had made some good points in
his analysis of the CQWW CW which created a little intellectual ferment in
my mind.

So with my new plan in mind 40 meters with the 3-el Telrex at 94 feet on
Europe was the only option to start the contest with.  I should say here
that I don't like the starting scene for a major contest.  People feel the
need to fire up half an hour before the start of the contest to hold a run
frequency.  I have never played this game, in part because I need to save
all the energy I can muster for the contest itself.  Besides, half of the
guys who did this will nevertheless be S&P'ing within 20 minutes of the
start of the contest because their rate meter had trouble getting off of
zero when they started off the contest by running.  When are the fans of
the "when-it's-over-it's-over" version of contesting going to add
"when-it-starts-it-starts" to their reportoire?  I will be in their corner
if and when they do so.

I arrived in the shack at 2330 GMT.  I turned on the Packetcluster to check
WWV numbers and then quickly turned it off and shoved the dumb terminal out
of the way for the duration.  Then I went to WWV and set the computer's
clock.  Then I configured TR-LOG, first checking to make sure that earlier
contest files had been properly dealt with before removing them from the
active directory.  Then I checked my trusty MFJ Grandmaster keyer to see
that it was programmed properly.  That left me with about 10 minutes to
look at and analyze 40 meters before the contest started.

I immediately noticed that those W1's and W2's and even a few W3's who had
already reserved their run frequencies were coming in about 90 db over 9,
and there was also some QRN on the band from distant thunderstorms.  So I
decided to begin the contest by S&P'ing since the quantity of loud signals
on the band would raise the noise floor to the point where about half of
the Europeans calling me if I ran would be difficult to drag through the
crud.  At the beginning of a contest S&P'ing is a viable alternative since
everybody is new.  Indeed, at the 15 minute mark I had 33 stations in the
log which is a respectable way to get off the mark.  At some point around
25 minutes after the start, I noticed that the W2's were now on backscatter
and so I found a place to run and ended up with 123 stations logged in the
first hour of the contest, which is a decent first-hour rate.  I daresay
had I started off trying to run stations my results would not have been
that good.

I had been somewhat dismayed by the WWV numbers over the two days prior to
the contest and it was thus with some surprise to me that during the first
two hours of the contest several UA9's called in with reasonable signals.
I thought to myself that at least the polar paths were open despite the
week's radio storm, so I began to think that this might turn out to be a
decent contest after all.  By 0303 I had put 296 stations in the log and
the rate had dropped off enough to where I thought my first look at 80 was
called for.  Since I don't do two radios, I had not looked at 80 until that
moment and I was not pleased with what I heard.  The QRN from distant
thunderstorms was very high, and not only that but a large component of
that noise was emanating from at or near the heading for Europe, making it
impossible for the F/B ratio on my 3-el KLM to cut down on the noise level.
 The EWE and my European half-sloper weren't any better at noise reduction.
 So I S&P'ed the 40-odd stations I could read -- which, happily, included
JY9QJ -- and after making a ten-minute sweep of 20 meters beaming south, I
was back on 40 at 0407, convinced that 40 would have to play even more than
its usual prominent role in my first-night efforts this year. 

At 0524 with 454 stations logged I decided to take another look at 80.
Things weren't any better than before.  I tried running and was getting
plenty of calls but it took too long to drag the calls through so after
logging four stations that way I went back to S&P, and after a quick QSY
160 where I worked the only two stations I could hear -- P40W and HC8N -- I
was back on 40 at 0611.  My heart goes out to the 80 and 160 meter
operators at the multis: after enduring the conditions that first evening
they all deserve the ham radio equivalent of the Purple Heart.

The rate on 40 wasn't that great either now since most Europeans were still
in bed, so at 0636 I was back on 80 for yet another try.  Things were
quieter to the west so I logged a couple of KH6's.  160 was good for five
more QSOs and G0IVZ made it through the noise so Jan must have quite an
antenna system on top band.

I was back on 40 at 0700 and now the European sunrise opening was in full
swing.  This is my favorite time on 40 meters.  Even an occasional QRP
signal will show an S-9 on the meter.  The Scandinavians were loud which is
a good sign and even a few JA's were calling in amidst the Europeans.  This
year I decided that rather than leave a hot 40 meter band for my programmed
three hours of sleep at 0800, I would run the European sunrise opening to
its end before turning in for my nap.  At 0827 with 640 QSOs in the log,
the last one being KH2/N2NL, I logged off until 1017 at which point I was
back sweeping 40 and 80 for mults before heading to 20 at 1104.  I had
determined by careful monitoring of the bands for three weeks before the
contest than even on good days 20 wasn't opening to Europe at this location
until 1100, so it wouldn't do me any good to show up there before then.

Hour one on 20 was good for 144 QSOs and then it was time to look at 15.
At 1217 I hit 15 and my first hour there was 162.  Pointing the 8-el Telrex
at 155 feet to a heading of 60 degrees brought the line noise down to a
tolerable level of S5 or so.  The line noise, by the way, peaks at a
bearing of 15 degrees.  At 1325 with 1009 QSOs logged I decide to go to 10.
 Things in the line noise department were not good.  My 4-el W6PU
dual-driven quad on a 33 foot boom at 78 feet has always been a killer on
that band on transmit, but it has a very broad front lobe and the line
noise is worst on 10 meters, peaking at 20 de over nine when I'm pointed
right at it.  Even at a bearing of 75 degrees the noise was still reading
S9 on the meter.  So I felt a bit like an alligator on that band as I could
hear a number of stations calling who it was useless to even try copying.
I apologize to them all.  Nevertheless I did manage to drag 120 stations
through the noise that first hour so I felt I was holding my own on 10.
But the minute the rate dropped off a bit I was back on 15 with my ears
feeling the better for it, at 1543 with 1259 stations in the log.  Fifteen
hung in there for quite a while and finally at 1814 I QSYed to 20 with 1540
stations in the log.  I stayed there until 2100 when with 1839 stations in
the log I left to go S&Ping for multipliers on 10 and 15.  

A pause here to describe my S&P modus operandi.  Even though I am S&Ping
with the express purpose of fattening up my multiplier total, I call every
new station I hear, multiplier or not.  If I call twice with no results, I
move on to the next station.  If the station I didn't get is a mult, I will
note the frequency and take another look after I make my first pass through
the band low-to-high.  If I find a station who doesn't ID after I've heard
him make 2 QSOs, I move on without calling him.  Occasionally I will vary
this pattern depending on conditions, but this is the basic pattern I
strive to follow.  The idea is to keep moving, keep moving always.  Whether
a mult is a KP4 or a JT1, they're each of equal worth in the contest, and
in a contest the serious contester is contesting, not DXing.  

Well I thought I might break the 2000-QSO mark in the first 24 hours, a
first-ever for me in the ARRL CW DX Contest from here in the USA, but I
didn't quite make it.  At 0001 I had logged 1984 QSOs.  At this point I
think it is worth making a few comments about the differences between the
ARRL and CQWW contests from the point of view of a North American operator.
 In the ARRL we are the only game in town so the runs are more productive
at the beginning on balance than during the CQWW.  Also, NA stations with
lesser setups will have an easier time running stations during the ARRL
than the CQWW.  But there aren't as many DX stations participating in the
ARRL as in the CQWW so the well runs dry quicker.  DX contest scores,
however, have been increasing year by year and I have come to the
conclusion that we have the Europeans to thank for that.  For whatever
reason, the growth of Amateur Radio in Europe has been greater than it has
been over here in the last few years.  I don't know why, but they're doing
something right over there.  For one thing, my understanding is that the
VHF bands are much more crowded with CW and SSB signals on an ordinary day
over there than they are over here, and as a result European no-code
operators receive a much broader introduction to what amounts to a
reasonable facsimile of HF operation than our shack-on-a-belters do over

Anyhow, since 80 had accounted for so few QSOs the first night I was
determined to give 80 a big push the second night.  When I hit the band at
0001 I was pleasantly surprised to hear no QRN at all.  The band was very
quiet.  Unfortunately with the MUF so high at this point in the sunspot
cycle, the signal absorption was high and so those Europeans that were on
the band were weaker than usual.  Plus the skip zone was shorter than it
has been in recent years so all the W1's on the band were LOUD.  So at
0030 I decided to take a nap and I was back on the bands at 0140, sweeping
20 for mults before going back to 80.  At 0230 I found 80 in better shape
signal-wise though still not ideal.  I could run stations but was having
trouble dragging some of the weaker callers through;  I think I was
suffering a bit of front-end overload but I needed every bit of front-end
gain I had to copy the weaker signals.  

At 0415 I decided to look at 160 and it's a good thing I did as events
later would show that I hit the best opening to Europe right on the head.
The usual 0600-0700 Western European sunrise opening on 160 didn't amount
to much.  May I take time to single out the operators at RK3AWL for special
mention here.  Whoever was operating 160 was doing a great job of pulling
calls through on a very propagationally-challenged path.  Your selection of
bands and times was right on the mark and you did a great job on all the

After jumping between 80 and 160 I finally hit 40 at 0618 for the European
sunrise opening and once again found conditions on that band outstanding.
I had the feeling that I was hearing better on 40 than I was on any other
band at any time.  I stayed on 40 until 0900 when I retired to bed with
2405 QSOs in the log.  Somebody anonymous soul even asked if it wasn't time
for me to go to bed, I guess realizing that I had discovered the importance
of the European sunrise opening and wasn't going to give up by default on
this opening any longer.   At 1101 I was back on the bands and after
picking up a few more mults on 80 and 40 I went directly to 15 at 1125.  My
band-by-band totals showed 20 in the lead at that point (except for 40) so
I thought I would get right to 15 while it was still easy to find a run
frequency.  I was not disappointed as 124 QSOs went into the log the first
hour, not a bad run for the second day.  However I went to 10 meters at
1244, determined to stay there as long as I could despite the noise since
my totals there were considerably below those on 20 and 15.  Today 10
meters was really wide open -- RK9AWC was as loud as anybody who called me
on 10 during the whole contest -- but the line noise was still a big
problem for me.  I left the band at 1611 having added 326 QSOs to the log
in three and a half hours but having missed many others who were down in
the noise.  Anyhow I ended up with 3337 QSOs, no better than 5th USA at
this reading with more scores still remaining to be known, but I feel I'm
on the right strategy road as the highest totals reported so far are 400K +
change ahead of me;  last year I was almost 900K down from the leader.

73, Fred

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