Updated 2017-02-02

FM Contesting

The ARRL offers a new "FM Only" category in the January VHF Contest (off-site) starting in 2013. The goal is to get more hams involved, try something new and have fun. This category is intended to include FM mobile and handie-talkie operators.

Suggested FM Frequencies in PNW

Band National Calling Alternate
6 m 52.525 FM  
2 m 146.520 FM *1 146.580 FM
1.25 m 223.500 FM  
70 cm 446.000 FM  
33 cm 927.500 FM *2 903.2 FM
23 cm 1294.50 FM *2  

*1 As of 2015, the ARRL allows 146.52 for contest contacts but CQ WW does not.
*2 Provided for completeness. ARRL's "FM-Only" category covers 6m-446 MHz.

Note these are suggestions, not requirements. This is intended to provide common "watering holes" to improve the chance of contacts. You are encouraged to find established FM simplex users and groups in all regions.

FM Operating Tips

If you get a run of contacts on the National Calling Frequency, you should promptly move up or down. The FM capture effect means you’ll only hear the strongest signal and may not know if a weaker signal is trying to call too, unless you move off the NCF.

The National Calling frequencies are chosen here with the goal of attracting people with conventional FM gear; although there may be technical advantages in choosing other frequencies that are closer to SSB to accommodate high-gain antennas, the goal is to expand participation to a large group of new hams.

The Pacific NW generally uses 20 kHz spacing on 2-meters. Scan the FM portion for FM simplex activity, and you'll catch most stations by listening and calling on: 146.40, .42, ..., 146.58.

Update your contest logging software. "FM Only" is a new category as of January 2013 and most contest logging applications will have updates to accomodate it.

Nothing in the rules forbids promoting the contest on repeaters before and during the event.

Remember to pick up the mic and call out from time to time.

Listen first; sometimes there is a contact in progress but you can't hear the more distant station.

You can expect the most activity in the first few hours of the contest on Saturday (11am Pacific). Also Sunday morning after breakfast is another busy time.

This is a relatively relaxed contest and inviting to newcomers. Pile-ups are uncommon because VHF propagation is usually more limited than HF.

Q: I plan to get on for the contest and am unsure whether folks are still on 903.100 SSB (like the "old days") or have they moved to 902.100? - Jim W7DHC
A: For CW/SSB it is still 903.1 MHz, at least from Portland to Vancouver, BC. If your IF rig can do FM, you might find someone with an Alinco HT on 903.2 MHz also. - Darryl WW7D

Q: FM bands are not busy. Is there a best time to call?
A: The really active multi-band operators usually check FM frequencies from top of each hour for five minutes, or when other activities are slow.

Q: I want to give out my cell number to help generate local FM contacts. Is this legal? - Paul KE1LI
A: I spoke with Bart Janke ARRL Contest Director about this very thing in 2016. He said it was OK, with some caution. I wanted to send emails to about a thousand hams within my FM range, since FM can be a desert. As long as you send the emails BEFORE the contest starts it's OK, in fact he advocated it since it increases interest and activity. You can pass your cell number to set up scheds. I picked up about 30 of my 150 contacts last Sept that way. 7 or 8 folks entered and submitted logs from those emails, it was worth the effort. You can coordinate scheds via text or cell during the contest. This includes bearing, range, freq and time to initiate the qso. What you can't do is use the info passed this way to complete the contact or assist in "dialing in" the signal. You have to be scrupulously honest about clearly getting the grid and call over the radio. If you dig around on the arrl contest pages there is more info. Do not confuse vhf uhf spotting rules with hf which are much more restrictive. - John KM4KMU

Q: I picked up an SG Lab 902 transverter a while back for contesting. It looks like I'll have to pick which end of the band to work. 903.1 SSB Calling or 927.5 FM Calling. Can't do both without opening the thing up and swapping jumpers. My question for contesting... Which would be most beneficial? Where are most of the contacts made? I usually make a couple contacts on 927.5 during contests but I suspect there's more activity on 903.1 ssb. - Dave W4DVE
A: The 927.5 MHz calling frequency is typically covered by converted commercial gear that use nbFM. So, unless your IF rig can do nbFM, you will experience some difficulties using FM there. I recommend you use the transverter for the weak signal part of the band. Your QRZ page says you have a TK-981, so I recommend you use that for 927.5 MHz nbFM and the transverter for 903.1 MHz SSB/CW and 903.2 MHz FM. - Darryl WW7D

Q: I have a nifty new Kenwood HT. What frequencies should I scan? - Jim
A: On 2-meters, run a continuous scan 146.480 - 146.580 FM, because some local groups use odd frequencies like 146.490. Or, you can program memories for 20 kHz slots: 146.480, .500, .520, .540, .560, and .580. Unfortunately the WWARA is dumping digital repeaters into some of the traditionally-simplex portion in the Pacific NW. On other bands, there isn't much local activity and you might as well try the National Calling FM frequencies. - Barry K7BWH

Q: What is typical range for an FM HT?
A: Generally speaking, a standard HT can work on just about anything that is line-of-sight. Otherwise, you can expect about 1 mile per watt. Improving the antenna will improve the range. - Barry K7BWH

Q: Can I give advance notice?
A: We recommend publishing to as many local clubs as possible your frequencies and operating times and location. it will increase your number of contacts. - Randy N0LD

Q: Vertical or yagi?
A: Verticals and whips work great in dense metro centers around strong signals in random directions. Yagi's work best for greater distances when you know approximately where to point. - Barry K7BWH

Q: Run the bands on FM?
A: Yes, always try to take every contact through all the bands you have. Remember to listen for a few seconds before you leave a band - it's frustrating for others to hear your strong contact and they run away up the bands as fast as possible. You'll make more contacts if you take literally 2 seconds to ask for "any others?" before running away - Pete K0BAK

Q: What frequencies are in common use in Western Washington on 900 and 1296? What frequencies are used for FM and NBFM?
A: 1296.2 MHz FM (horizontal polarization) is a regional simplex frequency that allows people with transverters for the weak signal part of the band to work people with FM only transceivers.
• Likewise 903.2 MHz FM (horizontal polarization) is a regional simplex frequency that allows people with 902/3 transverters to work people with FM-only transceivers that can do that part of the band (e.g. the Alinco DJ-G27).
• Essentially both of these FM simplex frequencies have been adopted by the PNWVHFs for its region.
• Finally, if you have a 900 MHz commercial rig, it may not be able to do simplex on 903.2 MHz FM. In that case, program it for 927.5 MHz nbFM and vertical polarization for the antenna would be best. - Darryl WW7D

Q: How to set up antennas quickly?
A: Directive Systems Portable Quick Release Boom-to-Mast Plate (off-site) are in the $45 range. - Barry K7BWH

New Category: 3-Band All-Mode (6m, 2m 432 MHz only)

For those with common multi-mode rigs such as the Icom IC-706 or Yaesu FT-817/857/897, the ARRL has created a 3-band entry category (6m, 2m & 432 MHz only) category. This is new in January 2013. SSB and CW are permitted in addition to FM and other transmission modes.
See: ARRL VHF Contest Details (off-site)