How to Get Started:
Beyond FM: Contesting
By Jim Aguirre, W7DHC
One of the best times to check out the bands above 50 MHz is during a contest. That doesn't mean, however, that you have to be a polished contester or even particularly interested in contesting. Simply put, during contest periods there will be more concentrated activity on these bands than at any other time.
Don't worry if you're not a contester; the only thing you'll need to know'along with your call sign'is the Maidenhead grid square you are in. Most club members are in CN87; a few'those living East of Issaquah'are in CN97. If you're not sure of your grid square, ask any of the VHF operators in the club and they'll help you find out.
The contest exchange is usually just your call sign and the grid you're in; e.g. 'N7CFO copy CN 97 from W7DHC.' You will need to copy the same sequence of information to make it a valid contact. That's it, but be aware that unless things are really slow at the time, most contesters aren't likely to pause and 'chew the rag' very much, so contacts will be short.
The first big event of the VHF/UHF and microwave contesting season has just passed'the ARRL June VHF QSO Party. No problem, however, as there is still a lot of action to come in the next 3-4 months.
There are basically three types of VHF/UHF and microwave contests; standard, sprint and cumulative. Most contests are of the standard variety and are conducted over the course of a weekend. They generally begin at 11:00 am local time (1800Z) on Saturday and run through 8:00 pm local time on Sunday (0300Z Monday).
Sprint contests are much shorter in duration'usually 4-6 hours or so'and are often scheduled on weekday evenings; e.g. 7:00-11:00 pm local time. Most sprints are single-band events.
Cumulative contests are usually reserved for the high microwave bands or specialized modes like EME ('moonbounce'). Here, the contest period may stretch over a period of weeks. The reason for this type of contest is to maximize the possibility of good propagation on these specialized bands and modes.
Here's a list of known VHF/UHF and microwave contests scheduled in the next four months. There may be other local contests as well.
CQ VHF Contest
July 14-15, 1800Z Saturday to 2100Z Sunday.
Bands: 50 MHz and 144 MHz only.
July 21-22, 2300Z Saturday to 0400Z Sunday.
Band: 50 MHz only.
ARRL UHF Contest
August 4-5, 1800Z Saturday to 1800Z Sunday.
Bands: 222 MHz and higher.
ARRL 10 GHz and Up Cumulative Contest
August 18-19 and September 15-16.
Bands: 10 GHz and higher.
Total of 24 hours operation (includes listening) on each weekend.
ARRL September VHF QSO Party
September 8-9, 1800Z Saturday to 0300Z Monday.
Bands: All bands 50 MHz and higher.
Monday, September 17, 1900-2300 local time. Band: 144 MHz only.
Tuesday, September 25, 1900-2300 local time. Band: 222 MHz only.
Wednesday, October 3, 1900-2300 local time. Band: 432 MHz only.
Saturday, October 13, 0600-1300 local time. Band: 902 MHz & above
Saturday, October 20, 1200Z to 1900Z. Band: 50 MHz only.
This should be enough activity to give you a good taste of all the bands from 50 MHz on up. I hope to hear you on during one of more of these contests.