I don’t like SSB. It is such a barbaric mode. That’s why I have done mostly SB entries in SSB contests like WW and WPX. But since SOAB has more value for WRTC 2014 selection, I did SOAB in 2010. I hated it. Then I did it again last year. I loved it. I had great runs, big QSO numbers and a record score. So for 365 days I was living a lie: that SSB contesting can be fun. I knew that propagation was good this year but not exceptionally like last year. Last year things fell into place and I made 3600 QSO of which 900 on 10m and 900 on 15m. I lowered my target to 3000 QSO silently hoping for more. Then along came the contest…
I put on the headset and there it was: the wall of multilayer QRM on 40m. It sounds like a thousand needles piercing your eardrums. No way to find a space to run here. Even making S&P contacts was a struggle. Strong contrast with CW where forty systematically is my best band! So off to 80m. Similar situation. Oh boy. The mood was set for the coming 48 hours. Sole relief was 160m where there was enough space for a quiet run. If only there would have been stations there to answer my desperate CQing.
This year was also the return to active contesting of my good friend Ken OT1A a/k/a ON4CCP. His first SOAB in many years. I was glad to have competition with similar means. We have the same tower, a modest tribander, a rotary dipole for 40 and low band wires. Both stations are about 30km away so almost WRTC-like equality. We agreed to post scores to the real-time score board. Too bad GetScores.org stopped working early in the contest so we moved the reporting to cqcontest.ru. After the first two hours OT1A took the lead. He somehow managed to run 40m and work quite some three point stations contrary to my mostly one point EU contacts on 160 and 80. I was confident I would catch up later on. I was wrong.
As the contest moved on OT1A rocketed his way up while I was stuck on a treadmill. Frustration is the word! With similar means and almost always on the same band, he made +100 hours of three pointers while I could NOT get my run going. Hours of 40-50 QSO was all I could put up against that. Pathetic! I went to listen a few times and I heard everything that called him. But why did they not call me? I managed to break the pile ups with ease so I was getting out. I had a tough time finding a suitable running frequency but when I did, the rate did not really explode. Not even after a packet spot. A few slow hours where OT1A was running three point Americans as a madman gave him a big lead I was never able to catch up. Even with him not having an antenna on 160. Go figure. I had plenty of slow time to think things over. Maybe even over-analyze things!
- Is a 3 element SteppIR so much better than my OB11-3? It has about the same boom length and I also have 3L on 15 and 3L on 20, and even 5L on 10m. I don’t think the antenna is an issue.
- Location? Hard to say but I don’t think this is an issue either.
- Operating style? Ken operates much more ‘DX style’ giving people an hello and signing with a 73. I like to keep things fast and swift. Call – report – next? Could this factor play a role?
- At a certain point my guess was that those 120 000 QSO over the last six years have made my callsign a little dull where OT1A smells fresh like a new car and does not show up in many DX’ers log. In a debriefing over the phone this morning, Ken literally threw this at me: “Maybe your OQ5M callsign is worn out?”. So he actually kept this option open too.
- And unfortunately he spoke the words I forbade myself to consider (but have done a few times in the past): maybe the fact that I have been neglecting that horrendous pile of incoming QSL cards makes some people ignore my call. I have thought of this in the past, that QSLing is partially a matter of PR. But I have so little time and that QSL thing really leads nowhere. Nevertheless this consideration should be an incentive to finally get the cards out before the end of the year. With a sticker: “work me next time”.
- One could always say that OT1A is a better operator. But you won’t be hearing that from me!
[EDIT] Deleted a paragraph on people from Eastern EU jumping on top of me without checking, some of them more than once. I am so PO’d by this I was not being my usual friendly self and used some harsh language combined with some callsigns (come to think of it: one also on the notorious DQ / yellow card / retrieved log list). This won’t change a thing because these ‘hot shots’ will do it again. And again.
Another constant apart from geography (OTOH I heard an open argument between W3LPL and K1LZ about the same issue) is their obnoxious modulation. I feel sorry for the new WW director who will have his hands full reviewing the SDR recordings to identify all those ugly signals. I’m preparing for next year: all I want for Christmas is that ex-USSR device called the ‘elbow room spectrum generator’. It makes you the smelly bum on the bus: everyone keeps clear because no one wants to sit next to him. I say ex-USSR because it seems those devices are almost exclusively used there. With some export to Italy too I have noticed. You can buy everything on eBay nowadays.
A real ham spirit thumbs-up-tip-my-hat goes out to DQ4W who came close but kindly moved when I asked them to. I appreciate that guys!
There were many highlights too. Like working dozens of friends. Or K5ZD spontaneously telling me I am as loud as OT1A. I was glad he used the word ‘also’ in his remark. Or calling K1DG who reminded me of our 160m lucky QSY shot last year. Or NK7U who calls me on forty and spots me with “Mr. F” as a comment – obviously an inside joke of KL9A signature (hi there Mr. C). Being called by N1MM and logging the contact on his supreme software.
I am really looking forward to the CW part. It is a different story there. Not only is CW more relaxing and more fun, you can pack a mini-contest in the spectrum one ugly Russian station takes on SSB. More spectrum because of the mode, but also less runners. It seems that WW SSB is so big it suffers. Everyone wants to run. You don’t have that in CW. I know a few CW ops who skim the bands à la S&P but never run. I suspect that happens all over the world. Less runners and less Belgians active so I can upgrade my mult status. When I asked K1DG to move to 160 he said “I just worked OT5A so I’m fine”. He won’t be working OT5A in CW! We did move and he was one of my only two Americans on Top Band together with K3LR. But K1DG was way louder. Overall 160 was stinking but maybe the band peaked at that moment? It was one of those moments a auto-tune amp would have been welcome, together with the 4O3A move from 15 to 10.
Enough written – I could have replied to a hundred cards already! Now I’m gonna get my shovel a bury that microphone. Until next year, that is… CU in CW.