For a brand-new contest, activity seemed to be good, but given that this contest utilized two of the most popular digital modes in HF today, that is to be expected. If band conditions had cooperated, there would have been an opportunity for a lot more DX than most stations saw.
FT8 “one shot’s” the weak DX during QSB better than FT4. This should seem a little bit obvious since the transmission is longer with a better chance to error correct and the signal is focused into a smaller bandwidth. (For example: I tried to answer 9A1A’s FT4 signal on 80m multiple times only to have him CQ in my face repeatedly. When 9A1A moved up to FT8, it was a single attempt and into the logbook. ) We had better success adding EU grids on both 40 and 80 with FT8. FT4 has relies on being fast – really fast – to catch a brief opening. If you miss a transmission for a country or a grid you need, you can keep trying that station until you punch through. (Ask any VHF/UHF hunter who’s done a 30-minute “sked” for a week or more trying to get a rare grid.) The problem is, most operators were not patient enough to wait for the “next try.” Every 15 seconds a new window of callsigns populated and folks the next blue or red one, abandoning Q’s in progress. Attention spans were effectively nil.
With the bands dead, FT4 became a QRM contest on 20 and 40. Hams still resisted spreading out up from 080 to 090. I started the day around 14.083 +2000 in a nice clear spot and had very few takers. If you wanted to get a decent rate, you had to go down to 14.080 and slog through the crowd. Unfortunately, it appears most people were not even looking at their waterfall or were only looking at it for the timeslot (odd/even) they were not transmitting on. Repeatedly, I had an experience where I’d find a clear window, watch it for about 2 minutes, jump in and start calling CQ. I’d start a decent run and get 3, or 6, or a dozen contacts in only to have folks just start CQ’ing over me. Stations with big signals. We weren’t running 3 potatoes powering a 1-watt QRP rig but running 1KW. Guys who were neg single digits could hear me if they wanted to – they just were not looking. In a RTTY contest (if you want to be effective) you don’t run a 3k passband filter and just click through a waterfall. You tighten up, flip on your twin-peak filters, use your ears to listen along with your eyes on the scope, and spin the big knob on the front of the radio. That was lost.
The suggested format of the exchanges needs some tweaking. The contest exchange most people ran went something like the following:
1: Station1: CQ STATION1 GRID1
2: Station2: STATION1 STATION2 R GRID2
3: Station1: STATION2 STATION1 R GRID1
4: Station2: RR73
5: Station1: 73
Here’s the problem: Due to signals fading or QRM (see Observation 2 above), there were numerous times where I’d receive a grid but miss the RR73. As a result, I’d keep sending number 3 above. I do not know if they received my acknowledgement and my grid or not. In a lot of cases, guys (or gals) clicked away and moved on after the RR73. Jay (KB8O) had the same issue at his station. Given the penalty for a NIL contact (2 x the point value of the contact) we were conservative on what we put in and I guarantee that a lot of stations have us in their log book but they are not in ours since we didn’t feel a valid QSO had been completed. Given that a number of these stations came back and worked us again during the contest only reaffirmed that our conservative approach was wise as something had occurred to not complete the QSO. I suspect there’s going to be several busted/NIL contacts in people’s logs. (Maybe not EU stations though – in my experience European digital operators are looking for every shortcut in an exchange they can get and will shove it in the log. Which is why they throw their call out on 80m one time forcing you to ask AGN AGN repeatedly… but that’s really a different topic for a different day.)
Overall though, we had a good time, and it was a fun contest. It was nice to see several stations who were not “the usual suspects” in the RTTY contests on the bands. Who knows, maybe this will increase the interest in RTTY contesting and in using HF – as they say, a rising tide lifts all boats. With a couple of tweaks and a little more operator awareness, this could become a fun annual event.
73 and hope to see you in the logbook,
AB8M and KB8O operated under the club call NW8S from KB8O’s QTH for the inaugural WW-Digi DX contest. Station 1: Icom 7610, Bandpasser II filters on low power side (Array Solutions), Acom 2100 Amplifier, Low Band Systems band pass filters on the high power side (available from DX Engineering), HF-Auto tuner. Station 2: Icom 7610, Bandpasser II filters on the low power side, OM 2000+ amplifier, Low Band Systems band pass filters on the high power side. AT-5k tuner. The team operated for 15 hours of the 24 hours contest making 528 QSOs for a claimed score of 73,216. A full breakdown of the score is available on 3830scores.com.