[CQ-Contest] Station Upgrades

Rick Bullon kc5ajx at hotmail.com
Mon Jun 12 23:03:05 EDT 2000

Hello all.
I didn't,t get in on the start of this thread, But I can't agree on the 
statements in the post below.
First the real and easiest answer IS antenna improvements if you can't hear 
em you can't work em. All the filters and linears won't help if the antenna 
isn't the best you can do taking the fact that some has antenna restrictions 
either neighborhood or space, budget restrictions and XYL restrictions hehe.
Put up the best antenna your can then work on the in shack improvements. 
IMHO an amplifier is the last thing to add to the shack and not all can run 
an amp because of either tvi with the family or the neighbor or finances.
Now as I said I didn't get the original post so I don't know all the facts 
but remember that most if not all of the new blood that will be coming into 
contesting are going to be slow code types and as such the SSB contests will 
see more new blood than the CW tests, therefore the filters added are not 
always going to be CW filters.
As for a 3 sec band change unless you are running 2 rigs most likely you 
will either me looking for a calling frequency or s&p ing thus it makes no 
difference if it takes 3 or 5 sec to change bands. If you have you antennas 
in good shape then 3 secs would be reasonable unless you had an amp to 
retune. There are plenty of ops that run low power that do real good in the 
contests you don't need 1300+ watts to be a contester!!!
In the low power category in the contests upgrade the antennas first then 
upgrade the station second. If you want to enter the high power category 
then you should have first built excellent low power station  then add the 
I have had good results on the high band (10m) with a pop gun station low 
power and a vertical. I plan to put up a inverted Vee for the low bands 
until I can get the funds to finish the tower project.
You can have fun in the contests with minimal equipment. I was top tech+ in 
the 98 10 meter contest(NTX) and I came in 4 in my section (NTX). WE can't 
all be in the top ten box but you can get there by going one step at a time. 
First shoot for winning your section, then your state, then your call area, 
then the US,and then The World.
I'm sure the top contesters didn't start in the top ten they had work at it 
one step at a time
Contesting is suppose to be fun if you win great if you don't and you had 
fun great also
I'm sure that I got off the subject of the thread here and if I did I'm 
sorry but I just wanted to get my 2 cents in here and I think I put in a 
nickel hehe
>While the easiest answer is to make antenna improvements, the real answer
>requires a bit of risk assessment.  Upgrading your antennas will only
>improve your overall score if your indoor equipment can reliably be 
>to last through the contest season.  Your transceiver must be equipped with
>a minimum of a CW filter and no tuning required when changing bands.  A
>1300+ W output class amplifier with 10 meters and 160 meters capability is
>important.  Autotune amplifiers or a second amplifier are recommended to
>reduce time lost for band changes and increase your mobility.  The goal is
>an honest no-tweak bandchange in under 3 seconds including antenna switch,
>transceiver, controls, and logging software.  Until these goals are met,
>score improvement through antennas may cost more than score improvement
>through equipment.
>Although most have found that a major score improvement can come from
>improved 80 and 40 meter antennas, those who are primarily interested in 
>Sweepstakes or other domestic contests and who do their contesting from the
>Eastern seaboard may discover that increasing their antenna height or 
>a 40 meter beam may be disappointed with the overall score improvement.
>Also, due to the difficulty of working crossband on 40 meters, a 40 meter
>yagi may not improve a phone DX score as much as hoped for...
>Assess the survivability of your existing equipment before concluding that
>antenna improvements are your best approach, but also assess the true
>potential for antenna improvement carefully.  In many locations there will
>be antenna height restrictions, limitations on antenna turning radius, and
>other factors that will cap the antenna growth potential.  If turning 
>is a problem, try a cubical quad.  Also, remember that a 70 foot crank-up,
>fully installed, with antennas, rotators, and feedlines, is a very big
>investment by comparison to a used transceiver and amplifier.

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>From Leigh S. Jones" <kr6x at adsl-63-194-227-234.dsl.lsan03.pacbell.net  Tue Jun 13 09:04:41 2000
From: Leigh S. Jones" <kr6x at adsl-63-194-227-234.dsl.lsan03.pacbell.net (Leigh S. Jones)
Date: Tue, 13 Jun 2000 01:04:41 -0700
Subject: [CQ-Contest] Re: Station upgrades
Message-ID: <04a001bfd50e$07ddd460$ede3c23f at kr6x.org>

A spirited discourse!  Antenna improvements vs. equipment improvements!  =
99% of the respondents calling for antenna improvements, and only one =
calling for a balanced approach.  This is need that the contest =
reflector was created to fulfill!  An excellent subject, indeed.

I'd like to emphatically re-state my position: antenna improvements are =
the obvious, easy answer to the question of how to improve your station =
for contesting.  In the light of more serious judgement, however, there =
are other decisions that are possible given a reasonable assessment of =
the existing radio station.  Few of the respondents to the question have =
thought to consider the issues of local antenna height regulations, =
practical limitations of the property on which the proposed new antenna =
is to be erected, etc.  For the sake of simplicity, I omitted a serious =
discussion of the local topography of the radio station and its effect =
on the mix of solutions that might be useful.  If the existing station =
is on a mountain top, putting the tribander up another 20 feet might not =
have the expected effect.  I also left out some of my favorite station =
capability issues, like full break-in capability, a good noise blanker, =
and the ability to=20

When beaten in a contest, it's easy to imagine oneself to be unable to =
compete with those at the top due to the immense price of W5WMU-style =
antenna farms.  Someone who is looking forward to improving his radio =
station by adding an 80/40M dipole to his existing ground plane antenna =
will always be correct when answering that his best options for station =
improvements are to be found in antenna improvements.  But, if you like =
to operate the Sweepstakes contest, and you live a couple hours drive to =
the north of New York City, a 3 element trap tribander at 35 feet is a =
nearly optimal antenna for a large number of your 10-15-20 meter =
contacts.  Eliminating the losses in the traps of a tribander will not =
help you hear Virginia stations very much better.  More height could =

In the formative years of my contesting career, I read of the exploits =
of K1ZND, who topped the ARRL DX Contest low power listings with a 2 =
element trap tribander at 25 feet in height.  He has now moved on to =
become ARRL President.  Contesting Hall of Fame member N6AA regularly =
appears in the top few scores of the CW Sprint contests running a trap =
tribander and dipoles.  K9LBQ/7 topped the SS Phone contest some years =
ago running a 2 element quad and dipoles.  W6CUF won the CW Sweepstakes =
with a TH6.  Numerous other contesters who regularly appear at or near =
the top of their section listings in domestic contests are running trap =

No, I'm not suggesting that a tribander in EMa can compete with a W5WMU =
antenna farm, or a WP3R antenna farm in the Carribbean.  But =
competitively speaking it's closer than might be imagined to a big =
antenna farm in EMa during a domestic contest.  Doubling the antenna =
height from 35 foot mast to a 70 foot crank-up, and going from a trap =
tribander to stacked monobanders, will, of course, make a tremendous =
improvement in your overall station performance.

Of those who say that this is the best use of personal resources (cash), =
I would ask "Have you priced a new 70 foot crank-up, a set of stacked =
monobanders, a 20 foot chrome-molly mast, complete with separate =
feedlines (high efficiency), high torque rotator, motorized raise/lower, =
concrete base, etc., lately?"  Have youtaken out a building permit =
lately?  When the truck arrives in your driveway with the 1500 lb. tower =
while you are at work, will your wife be happy to unload it?  If the =
answers are "no", then you'd better include the price of a professional =
installer.  To many, the cost of an antenna improvement like that is =
staggering.  Honestly, it's right up there with three new FT1000DX's.  =
That and 1500W could make you loud in Europe, but you still couldn't =
compete nose to nose with K1AR or W4AN.

How many of those who suggest investing 100% in antenna's and 0% in =
equipment have ever entered a contest with a station capable of winning =
the contest only to be taken out of the competition by the failure of a =
23 cent transistor?  In the mid 1970's, a year after winning the ARRL =
Phone DX contest, I returned to W6HX for an attempt at repeating.  I =
started the contest with three fully functioning transceivers.  The =
entire station was the same equipment I'd used the year before, and =
there were some antenna improvements also.  There was no reason to guess =
that all three transceivers' front ends would fail due to damage from =
rain static on Saturday night of the contest.  I struggled through to =
the end of the contest with a capacitor soldered where the front end =
transistor belonged on a single transceiver, capable of hearing only the =
loudest of the signals on 15 and 10 meters.  To make matters worse, an =
envious local contester spent most of the day Sunday following me from =
band to band causing intentional interference.  But the real damage had =
been done already when I lost some prime operating time while repairing =
the transceiver.

K3ZO is well known for his unusual operating style of using only the SSB =
filters in his transceivers.  But there are few who would seriously =
recommend to an aspiring new contester that the best choice was to =
forget the CW filter in his transceiver, but spend the money instead on =
lower loss coaxial cable for his tribander, thus gaining 0.1-0.2 db of =
transmitted signal strength and 0.0 db of received signal to noise =
ratio.  Yet, lower loss coaxial cable is a commonly recommended antenna =
improvement among contesters.  Common sense must prevail.  If the TS430 =
performs adequately, one might consider sticking with it through a =
contest season.  You can't work them if you can't hear them, but the =
first time that Murphy strikes, and the contest ends at the 18th hour, =
it's time to consider buying a TS430, or opting for a newer transceiver, =
and forget about spending your $500.00 for that 160M beverage (12 =
supports, 400 feet of RG58U, relay cables, matching coils, terminating =
resistors, preamplifiers) until next year.

Now, I've been a member of multioperator stations.  But I've also =
learned the skills required for a good single operator effort.  I have =
to say that at many stations I've seen every dollar spent on improving =
operating efficiency would be more valuable than $10 spent on antennas.  =
Every contester should learn that time conservation needs to be his =
primary concern.  The bigger the antenna, the bigger the temptation to =
believe that the best operating practice is to stick around to call one =
more time in a gigantic pileup.  King-of-the-band syndrome may be OK for =
a multi-multi operation, but every single-op contester needs to learn to =
escape the pileup that he didn't bust on the first or second call, and =
to quickly move on to make more contests.  He needs to hop and skip and =
jump from band to band.  An aggressive operating style needs to be =
learned through practice, but if every band change is accompanied by 60 =
lost seconds, then the thoughtful operator would hesitate to make that =
band change.  Operating at a station where band changes are slow, the =
young contester never begins to practice making frequent band changes.  =
He won't form a habit of checking for the new band openings in time, he =
won't follow the MUF as closely, and the DX will be gone before he =
listens for it, even years later.

And so I believe that many of the required elements of a good operator's =
style (but not all) need to be learned with a somewhat weaker signal but =
with a station designed for optimum use of time, including instant band =
changes.  I'm suggesting that the seconds gained through the efficient =
bandchanges will result in more score improvement than might be =
calculated simply by the number of seconds multiplied by the number of =
bandchanges multiplied by the QSO rate.   And, the more time that the =
operator spends at the threshold of the decision making process over =
whether to call CQ or pick up and go tuning, the better practiced his =
decision making will be while operating.  This is one way of saying that =
the skill of hunting and pouncing at the optimum time and at high =
efficiency is a valuable one that is rarely learned by an operator whose =
primary concern is holding his frequency.  I've spent hundreds of rag =
chewing hours discussing this personal philosophy with aspiring =
contesters.  Past CW SS winners who have displayed this type of mastery =
and with whom I've been close friends at some time in the past include =
W0UA and N6TR.

During the early 1960's decade one of the operators considered to be =
exemplary in terms of efficient style was W9WNV.  Although he fell into =
disrepute later due to discrepancies relating to a tiny number of his =
many DXpeditions, Don Miller provided an example of a dominating =
contester who achieved his top positions in the CW Sweepstakes through =
his operating style...  He used multiband dipoles on the roof of his =
apartment.  In those days, he and W9IOP made it appear as if the Midwest =
was a great place to operate the Sweepstakes.  Today, every successful =
midwestern contester seems to put up big yagis, which, of course, can't =
be pointed two ways at once.  For the Sweepstakes from the Midwest, it =
seems, big antennas are a double-edged sword.

This has been a long winded response, but I hope that my message will =
not be lost on everyone.  The big signal advantage that comes from big =
antennas is only a small part of what it takes to be a good contester.  =
Some of the investment has to be made in the shack (although what is =
needed in the shack is quite inexpensive by comparison to the antenna =
prices).  And, antennas can be too big for some contests from some =
locations -- or else stations like KC1XX and W3LPL might have been =
listed in the top 10 of the Sweepstakes every year of the last decade or =
two... check it out!

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