VHF Contesting
Get on the Air in the Pacific Northwest
By Scott Honaker, N7SS

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Slide 2: Nothing replaces actual operating for learning how to get a signal through under difficult conditions or how do get something on the air when it breaks under stressful conditions. There is always an element of competition that drives people to build a better antenna or get an extra band on the air. That equipment would not otherwise be available. Photo: These three guys from California built rover stations that cover 6m to 10GHz. A good rover score would be anything over 30,000. A great rover score is anything over 100,000. For the last several contests they have managed OVER a million points EACH.

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Virtually no one can win sitting in their home station with a KW. You can certainly participate but location drives VHF contests. Altitude near population centers, gain antennas and bands will get high scores in VHF contesting. Getting people on the air drives everyone's score up. There are a number of very helpful people that can offer advice. There are breakfasts, and an Email reflector for the PNWVHFS. Locally, people compete more with the big guns on the east coast than each other. There are moments of furious activity when a rover enters an area or 6m opens but then things settle back down and it's very quiet. Although most of the activity centers on the SSB calling channels, there is plenty of space so there's no elbowing your way it like HF. Antennas for VHF/UHF can be very high gain and portable, unlike HF gear. Good antennas are easily built for low cost. Everyone ham can do this! There is no exclusive 'extra class' space, etc. Photo: The ARRL September VHF Contest from Maxwell Butte September 14-15, 2001, W7ZOI and KA7EXM. Maxwell Butte is a small peak in the south west corner of Oregon's Mt. Jefferson Wilderness area. The elevation of Maxwell Butte is 6229 ft with no peaks of comparable or higher elevation in the immediate area. Three Fingered Jack is considerably higher, but is 3 miles to the NE. This places Maxwell Butte in Grid Square CN94. Here we have Wes cooking a dinner of freeze dried pasta primavera.

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Slide 4: Single operator stations are generally home stations. Low power is still generally in the hundreds of watts (based on band). These can certainly be made portable. Gabor VE7DXG often operates multi-operator on Vancouver Island. Limited Multioperator has no more than 4 bands. Rovers must activate at least two grids and will often hit more than 10. Rovers are very popular because you can work them in each new grid on every band they have for big points. Rovering is also a challenge and can be very fun (driving around with a million antennas on the car). Single operator QRP portable is often neglected locally. QRP in VHF means 10 watts or less. High gain antennas can easily make up for less power. 10 watts on 1296 MHz into a 45 element loop yagi on a 12' boom with 18dBd gives an ERP is 630 watts! Even on 1296 this will get somewhere. Photo: June 1999 Contest from 3400' on Mt Anderson south of Bellingham in CN88. This would be me (N7WLO) on the radio.

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Slide 5: If you're in CN88 and contact 4 different grids on 6m, 5 on 2m and 1 on 70cm, you'll have 11 grid points. One point for activating CN88 and 10 more for contacting the other grids. It's easy to see how adding bands can seriously add grid points just by contacting the same people on the new bands.

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Slide 6: This grid map is courtesy Icom America and is downloadable from their web site at www.icomamerica.com (off-site).

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Slide 7: VHF contest rules are a bit different than Field Day. There are no extra points for using different modes. A QSO is a QSO regardless of mode. If you work someone SSB, there are no additional points for CW. Some guys carry paddles to get through where SSB won't (particularly on the upper bands). The scoring is graduated and changes a little bit for the January contest. Generally, 1 pt for 6m or 2m QSOs, 2 pts for 222 or 432, etc. This encourages people to get some capability in the upper bands to snag the higher points.

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Slide 8: There is some advantage to having a separate rig for each band but it can be expensive and confusing. It does let you monitor all the call channels simultaneously. Finding the right mike can be a problem. The rovers tend to use 223.5 FM as a liaison frequency making this an important rig. It's also important to monitor 50.125 for any 6m openings. That's the best way to rack up grid points!

Lynn N7CFO has three rigs. He has an Icom IC-706 MKIIG for 6m/2m/70cm, an Alinco DR-235T for 223.5 FM and an Icom IC-706 hooked to a switch to drive transverters for 222, 902, 1296, 2304, etc. He consistently gets the high score in the northwest with this in his rover rig. FM is fairly common on 2m, 223.5, 446 and 1294.1 because commercial rigs exist for these bands but generally only FM. Transverters are generally used for 222, 902, 1296, 2304 and up because they can transmit SSB and because commercial gear is hard or impossible to get for these bands. SSB is a MUCH better weak signal mode than FM.

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Slide 9: Jim has one of the cleanest installations in his Ford F-350. He and his wife rove as a team and he operates while she logs. He has a custom mount for his Yaesu FT-847 and two Icom IC-706s. The two Kenwood SP-50 speakers provide excellent audio even at freeway speeds in a diesel truck. He uses the Yaesu on 6m and one Icom to cover 2m and 70cm. The other is the IF rig for the transverters and amplifiers in the back seat (right). The switch on the seat selects the band by changing the IF, audio and PTT lines to the appropriate transverter/amplifier pair. All items are carefully labeled and color coded to avoid catastrophic errors late at night.

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Slide 10: Rovers generally use loops (KB6KQ seem to be the most popular) for the lower frequencies and big wheels have become popular for 432, 902, 1296 (they have a bit more gain but still a manageable size). Both are omnidirectional and horizontally polarized. Rovers may use beams if they plan to sit a while and on the higher frequencies where size is less and issue and gain is important. Fixed stations generally all use beams.

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Slide 11: Photos: Eric KB7DQH and the famous Enterprise. The Enterprise is a rusty VW van with more radio equipment than most hams own in their lifetimes and no door locks. It has a crank up tower on the back and can be setup in les than 45 minutes.
Rodger KK7LK at about 3400' on Mt Anderson south of Bellingham. Rodger's yagis are visible above the trees.

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Slide 12: Marty N7MX has plenty of antennas on his rig. Several loops and a few small yagis are visible. The Prowler never went anywhere with those loops but it was easy to mount for the picture. They belong on my car in the background. There's a 6m at the top, a pair of stacked 2m loops with a pair of 70cm loops inside that.

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Slide 13: Upper left: Inside the Enterprise. A bit of a jumble but nearly a radio for every band. A mike rack holds most of them neatly overhead. Upper right: Mike K7MDL has this box with his K2 and transverters he can drop into a vehicle. Just add power and antennas. Lower left: Kenny KK7GU, now KU7M had this built for the front seat of his truck. The Icom IC-910 provides 2m, 432 and 1296, the Alinco runs 223.5, the Yaesu FT-100 provides 432 and the IF for the 2304 transverter, the Midland thing is a commercial 900 MHz FM rig. Lower right: I removed the passenger seat from my car and built this platform that allows comfortable operating from the back seat. The Yaesu FT-736R supports 2m, 222, 432 and 1296 all-mode. The Icom IC-756 is a great 6m rig with a spectrum scope. The Yaesu FT-817 acts as IF for the 1296 transverter and the Midland 900MHz rig is visible on top. The Yaesu FT-100 facing the driver is hooked to a 2m/70cm yagi for long distance contacts (rotated by the driver turning the car).

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Slide 14: Lynn N7CFO has created an extensive database of good operating locations organized by grid square and details on grid corners. The Radio Mobile software allows mapping of terrain data to identify the path quality between any two points or a coverage map. Using these tools and the Delorme maps, it is possible to scout operating locations without going anywhere.

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Slide 15: Radio Mobile is outstanding FREE software for VHF/UHF propagation. It can help evaluate operating locations and repeater sites. The topo data is downloaded from various NASA sites and comes from shuttle radar mapping missions.

Some locations in the northern Puget Sound. The outline of Whidbey Island is visible in the middle. This shows the line-of-sight path quality of the paths on this “network”. Read lines mean no-go and green are full quieting. Pilchuck is obviously a good location. Slide 16

Slide 16: Nothing beats altitude on VHF. It's hard for antennas and power to make up for not being able to see them. You can't get points if there's no one to work. Be sure you have some access to populated areas when operating from a fixed location. This is less critical for rovers. People sitting in uncommon grid squares are very popular. The rovers will tend to look for them each time because another station in CN87 (Seattle) doesn't do as much for the point tally as a new grid and QSO. Rovers need to be able to get it quick, setup, make the contacts and get on to the next location. Access is an important issue. Many of the best hilltops are already loaded with antennas for cell phones, public service, land mobile and pagers. These radios have high power levels and can seriously desense a radio. Most people stay away from these locations but they can be used if intermod filters are installed. Most of this can be eliminated by filtering just the 2m and 70cm bands. Photos: Mike K7MDL at a mountaintop location and Scott N7WLO crossing Snoqualmie Pass during the January contest.

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Slide 17: These rules are not fixed. Tropospheric effects are possible into microwave frequencies. Meteor scatter was specifically not mentioned because it's not a good contesting mode because it's so unpredictable and most contacts are scheduled/arranged. Transequatorial propagation was also not mentioned because it doesn't happen this far north although it is useful on 6m and 2m.

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Slide 18: These modes are likely to become more popular as people get this hardware working. PSK software is so simple, it's easier than making a CW contact. JT44 is a little more difficult to use because you can't just call CQ. The computer clocks must be accurate to within 1 second, the radios can't drift more than a few Hz, etc. It's often possible to work a 6m and 2m path and not 70cm or higher. This can be because antennas aren't as good, power levels are less or simply additional path losses. There is always down time (usually in the evening/night) to use another mode, CW, PSK or JT44 to make the contact. Whatever works!

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Slide 19: There are no frequencies set for PSK above 33cm.

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Slide 21: There is no better/easier way to add to the VHF station score than adding soundcard modes. They can generally run right on the logging machine. All that's needed is some cabling. The result is a minimum of a 5-fold increase in points for those stations that also have it. Because CW and PSK are good weak-signal modes, there is a possibility that contacts can be made on bands or with stations never before possible. Even JT44 might be interesting late at night, when VHF activity is normally low. You can use HF for coordination. My goal for Field Day 2003 is to break 100 points on the VHF station. It has never happened before.

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Slide 22: If you don't talk, no one will answer. 6m has the largest potential for extra points. If the band opens, you could easily add a dozen new grids. I sleep with the squelch up slightly and the radio tuned to 50.125 so any activity will wake me up. Rovers add significantly to point scores because you can work them each time they change grids. Be sure to work them on every band you have in common for maximum points. The start of the contest is often chaos so it's hard to be thorough. As the contest continues, the same people seem to be on the radio. Check with them to be sure you've worked every band you have in common. It's often possible to work a 6m and 2m path and not 70cm or higher. Use the down time to use another mode, CW, PSK or JT44 to make the contact. The higher bands are worth more and any mode counts for the QSO. More bands mean a few more QSOs and especially more grid points. FM HTs are often used at 1.2GHz – anything to get on the air with a new band. Scan the FM simplex frequencies for people that aren't in the contest. They often don't know what grid they're in but you can tell them and count the QSO. The Pacific Northwest VHF Society has a great website with many excellent operating tips. Slide 23

Slide 23: This is where all the action takes place. Field Day rules require staying clear of the 2m National Simplex Calling channel, 146.520. Note that the bottom end of the ranges are the call channels and will have the most activity.

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Slide 24: 2m K7CW Station on Table Mountain

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Slide 25: A great opportunity to test your equipment and get some ideas from helpful people.

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