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ARRL Field Day 2013

July 2, 2013

Each year in June the American Radio Relay League sponsors Amateur Radio Field Day, a combination readiness exercise and contest. Thousands of amateur radio operators and clubs across the United States use this 24 hour period that runs from Saturday to Sunday (1800 universal coordinated time, so local time varies) to test their readiness to set up and provide communications for emergency situations. Others — such as myself this year — operate connected to commercial power as opposed to portable power, so for purposes of the exercise serve as communications test locations outside the “emergency.” We cannot contact other non-portable locations for points in the contest.

This was my first time participating in the Field Day exercise in some thirty years. I participated once in my college days at Mississippi State University as part of the W5YD MSU club station. I just barely remember the day, which for me was night as I assisted on the night shift. I held a novice amateur radio license at the time and, if memory serves, made some morse code (CW) contacts. My only true recollection of the event is sitting under a wall-less tent in the middle of the night in the middle of MSU’s “drill field,” so called for the WW II use of the rectangular area surrounded by the original buildings of the college. Fast forward through some twenty-five years or so of inactivity in amateur radio to more recent times, and I still skipped the last couple of years of Field Day participation due to work interference.

So, preliminaries out of the way, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on my first participation in field day in some thirty years. My participation was casual, without working hard to maximize my score. I had no preconceived plan or strategy, no target for contest points, and would usually spend a couple of hours at the radio then break for some time futzing around in my shop or having lunch or whatever. I ended up with 103 contacts of which six were with other stations operating from commercial power (so didn’t count), leaving me with ninety-seven contest contacts. There are several “multipliers” that can be used for contacts that include power output to antenna, mode used (voice, cw, digital, etc.) and with the multipliers I had a score of 236 to which a bonus of fifty points should be added for submitting my score via the online interface.

With a total of 286 points and with knowing that the contest winners last year scored 25,984, you get an idea of where I’ll place in the overall final rankings (smile). Of course, last years winners, W3AO, had twenty-seven radios in operation and eighty participants in their group. I made contact with them this year, and as part of the exchange includes the number of radios, I know this year they had twenty-nine radios in operation, so they upped the anti a bit. W3AO is the National Press Radio Club, and some photos from 2012’s installation is on amateur radio operator N3ALN’s web site. I have to admit my favorite exchange of the weekend came from W3AO. As mentioned, part of the exchange includes the station’s contest “class” which includes the number of stations that can be in simultaneous operation. Most are under ten, so the classes you normally hear are 4A, 3A, 1D, 3B, etc., with the digit being the number — double digit numbers are rare. I listened to one exchange where W3AO could not get across the fact that their’s was a double digit number. The other station kept responding with either he still needed the class or was hearing “9a” and not “29A.” The W3AO operator, in an attempt to get the class across, said “imagine the number thirty . . . now take one away . . . now you have twenty-nine.” I laughed out load.

One downer was the attitude of some folks on the air during that time. The field day exercise/contest is well known among amateur radio operators, but isn’t a requirement and doesn’t preclude normal use of the frequencies for amateur radio. There are licensed operators who do not participate in the exercise and who still want to utilize the bands during that time. In tuning around the dial, in all cases I ran across those participating in field day made every effort to avoid conflict with those who chose not to participate, but such conflict can happen with beam antennas pointed in different directions, one station not hearing the other, etc. Such can be readily remedied through the cooperation of all, but in some cases cooperation was absent.

As someone who hopes to continue participation in amateur radio in general, and who has always felt it is made up of reasoned, friendly folk, I was disappointed — heck, I was dismayed — at the attitude of many who did not participate. They have every right to be on the air and not participate, but many were arrogant, condescending, and disruptive to those who accidentally wandered into the area they were utilizing. In fact, on many occasions I heard deliberate attempts of interference to contest operators who had established a spot on the band for contest operations — a real disservice to the community of amateur radio operators. At one point I listened to an expletive laden five minute diatribe by one non-participant that was an incredible embarrassment to the amateur radio community, and I hoped it wasn’t being heard by anyone interested in amateur radio or, worse yet, someone who has the power to negatively impact our service through regulation. This gentleman’sperson’s foul-mouthed, angry monolog is ample evidence not everyone deserves access to the frequencies set aside for amateur radio use, and serves as ammunition for those who feel no frequencies should be set aside for amateur radio use. Hopefully such behavior is an exception, but I have to admit I hear such language more and more as the norm. In general, I wish the non-participants would understand the field day weekend as one station operator put it to a non-participant who kept trying to tie up the frequency he was using for contacts: “Field day is Christmas for amateur radio operators, the day we look forward to all year.” I would like to think that simple understanding would help alleviate some hard feelings.

On the brighter side, as mentioned, most folks were civil and patient. I heard many a contest operator work to complete an exchange with stations who were operating at lower power or had propagation creating less than desirable conditions for the information exchange. From a high-score perspective, they would probably have been better served to move on to maximize contacts; instead, they took the time to make the exchange. I myself have a less than desirable antenna configuration at present, and appreciate such patience when I was struggling to make the contest exchange. I also appreciate those who made the extra effort with me as I struggled through a few CW contacts, as my skills are much deteriorated from my novice days. The other operators held in there, patiently repeated as necessary, and we completed the exchange.

Another thing I learned toward the end of the contest is that I don’t have the equipment nor skills for handling a “pile-up.” A pile-up is when a desirable station is calling anyone, and receives so many responses they pile up on top of each other, a lot of folks talking at the same time in reply. Toward the end of the contest I realized I was approaching 100 valid contacts (called QSOs in the Q-language abbreviations) and decided to try for it. With less than 100 valid contacts, and not allowing duplicate contacts on the same frequency band and mode combination, there would be a number of stations that were looking for additional contacts that had not had o contact with me. For the entire contest I had scanned the band looking for others calling for contact (“CQ FD” — “CQ” meaning calling anyone, “FD” for field day; i.e., calling anyone for a field day contact). I got the bright idea that instead of looking for new contacts, I’d just call “CQ FD” and in the few minutes remaining get my final eight or so contacts needed for 100. I called a couple of times, someone responded, I had a contact.

I called again, about five stations respond, I couldn’t make out anything, called out again, maybe six or seven came back, tried to sort out one of them, gave a partial, he came back, I couldn’t pull him out, tried to adjust to his signal, still couldn’t understand, had a couple others come back to me, so I decided to give it up as a bad idea. I realized working a pile-up required the ability to adjust filters rapidly (which I’m not skilled at yet), listening for one voice in many (which it appeared I wasn’t handling well), and having a discriminating antenna that helps resolve the one from the many. For the contacts I had made to that point, I had adjusted filters for optimizing the station sought while he/she was communicating with other stations, making it easy to have the information exchange. I think I’ll need to wait awhile for handling a pile up, even the small one I had.

Overall, I did enjoy 2013 field day and expect I’ll participate next year. I think before then I’ll pick up a generator and plan the erection of a couple of temporary antennas; that way I can operate as a portable station even if in my backyard. Keep it casual, invite some folks over, throw some wings on the grill or a brisket on the smoker, should be fun.

From → Amateur Radio

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