2012 ARRL DX Contest (CW)

Lightning storms with thunder that shook the house kept me off the air for much of late Friday & early Saturday. QRN lasted for too long after the storms passed, affecting 40/80 more than the higher bands and took a bit of the wind out of my sails as far as enthusiasm and dedication to the contest was concerned.

I operated single op, all bands, QRO with K3/AL80BQ and dipole.

A few observations:

  • Worked two New Ones overall, one of which was 4U1ITU…not sure what the other one was yet. 9K2/SP4R was a new band-country.
  • QSOs with fellow blogger ON5ZO/OQ5M on 15 and 40 meters. I recorded Franki here on 40m after realizing who he was with the second contest callsign Belgian amateurs have. Note the deep QSB.
  • I am not AE5TU! For some reason, a number of ops in each contest want to break up my “X” suffix into a “TU”. I’ve experimented with keyer weighting but it makes no difference – some insist on the latter callsign. It only happens during contests – perhaps these ops aren’t listening carefully enough in their rush to move on to the next QSO. Maybe I should move to Belgium and claim both…
  • I’ve implemented a new operating technique put forth by QST DX editor Bernie W3UR. That is to not send my part of the exchange until the other op has copied my callsign correctly. Previously, I would go ahead and send the exchange along with a repeat of my callsign. This usually resulted in the DX confirming that he has me correctly ID’ed – but not always. Now there is no exchange unless my callsign is first copied correctly. Excellent procedure Bernie – hopefully it will be implemented across the board. As it was, I think I p!55ed off some ops by refusing to send the exchange until they sent my callsign correctly.
  • QRN on 80m Saturday morning was terrible but I tweaked and fiddled with the K3 and made a new-to-me 3-part discovery: stations became much more readable when I enabled APF, opened selectivity to 500-800 Hz and backed off the RF gain. I know old timers are fans of reducing the RF gain on low bands, claiming that it improves dynamic range. I’ve tried and never really noticed any improved ability to receive the intended station but under the conditions mentioned, the use of all three of these effects greatly improved copiability. JA’s and UA0’s are in the log on 80m when they wouldn’t have been otherwise under those band conditions.
  • Sunday morning, I had a bit of a scare. I woke up at 4:30 AM due to the house being very cold. I got up to check the thermostat and see if a window had been left open. Stepping into the hallway, I immediately noticed that the front door to the house was wide open. It was still completely dark ouside of course. My heart skipped a beat when I realized there might be an intruder in the house. I grabbed my metal-polymer security blanket and made sure there were no uninvited souls about. A subsequent inspection of the door showed that the latch spring didn’t extend and that the door wasn’t latched into the strike plate. The wind from the previous night’s storm had simply blown the door open Whew! And no, I don’t dress in camo, stockpile food, cash and ammo, nor do I fantasize about Sarah Palin (but Michele Bachmann – hey, I’m only human).

Meager results:

 Total QSOs – 405

Mult – 213

Score – 258,795

Thanks for the contacts, all – see you in May for WPX.

  11 comments for “2012 ARRL DX Contest (CW)

  1. February 20, 2012 at 6:22 pm


    I’m not the most skilled in call sign copy, but I can tell you as one who gets piled-up on that you shouldn’t be too hard on those ops who mis-ID your TU, especially in contest situations. Take into consideration that in a non-contest QSO you usually have plenty of time and more opportunities to hear the call and without QRM. QRN and QSB are problems, too. I can’t tell you how many times I just need one letter to complete the call and every time it’s sent there’s a lightning crash or deep fade, hi!

    Also, some of these ops have been working the ‘test for hours and are fatigued. If you are managing a pile-up you sometimes just don’t feel you have the luxury to get a fill on the call when you know a lot of folks are waiting on you and you try your best. Our call signs are like our names, the sweetest sound in our native language, but that doesn’t mean that others take them as seriously.

    • February 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm

      Absolutely right, Casey and thanks for the reminder.

      I made mental notes throughout the contest to post something on how amazing some of these DX ops are. There were many circumstances where I had to make numerous adjustments to my VFO, selectivity or whatever…just to be able to copy the DX’s callsign. Then I’d call him once and he’d have me correctly copied. I don’t know how they do it and they far outnumber the ops who mis-copied my call.

      For the very reasons you mentioned, I know that “running” a string of callers is infinitely more difficult than S&P operating.

  2. Justin (AJ4MJ)
    February 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Hey John,

    FB on the contest. I heard you a few times.

    As someone whose callsign is copied wrong more than it is right, I was impressed at how many of these contesters got it the first time. These guys have great ears – much better than mine!

    On the rare occasions where they did get it wrong, I just kept re-sending it until they got it right and then sent the exchange as my confirmation. Anything else seems inefficient and/or error-prone. We design computer networking protocols the same way.

    72 de AJ4MJ

    • February 20, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      Morse-handshaking – exactly! Justin with our prefixes, we’ll have more of an opportunity than at any other time to be on the receiving end of numerous calls during CQ-WPX in May. It’ll probably be an eye-opener if I can get out of my S&P mode and actually put myself out there and call CQ.

  3. February 21, 2012 at 12:24 am

    My 2c worth….

    Hi John, good post once again. I wrote about this very topic in my blog a while back.

    I agree with the sentiments of all the previous posters.

    I too have huge respect for the skills of most of the “running” stations. I found once again during this ARRL CW contest that in most cases I got an immediate reply after dropping my call only once. Being asked to repeat my call was only required on the odd occasion. How do they do it?

    The skill required is not only CW proficiency i.e. in being able to copy the call, but in most cases filtering out the “desired” call from a multitude of callers whilst contending with QRM and QRN and then still dealing with the distraction of having to type in the call. The delay from me dropping my call to them replying seems like a few milliseconds.

    I certainly have a long way to go…….

    73, Pierre ZS6A

    • February 21, 2012 at 7:38 am

      Good morning Pierre,

      What makes it all the more impressive is that the CW bands really aren’t that active unless there are major DXpeditions, etc – so how do they stay acclimated to contest conditions? I think a lot of these guys must practice with MorseRunner or RufzXP on a regular basis.

      • February 21, 2012 at 10:46 am

        It all comes down to practice-practice-practice on the air and a lot of experience. That builds confidence.
        Once you reached a certain level, you can do a few months without training and just pick up where you left. It’s just that I can’t do months without any real CW contesting HI.
        After that, morse training is only good if you want to go beyond 40WPM and maintain QRQ skills. I never tried that since I’m not into QRQ and 40WPM is more than enough for CW contesting. I usually run at 32 WPM and 34 WPM when there is a modest pile up on me.

  4. February 21, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Great John, nice observations. It does kind of reflect your thoughts when contesting. I didn’t work you with my moderate stations. I think overall I only worked the big contesters with big signals. 73, Bas

    • February 21, 2012 at 7:39 am

      Same here, Bas – with my dipole I think I’m working the big guns and that many stations are invisible to me that I would otherwise hear if I had a Yagi. I operated 90% S&P in this contest, unlike CQWW where I did “run” for a while in the final hours.

  5. February 21, 2012 at 10:59 am

    John, thanks for the QSO’s and the recording.
    Your signal was pretty good here at all times you called in. ‘Pretty good’ means I could pick you up right away and I have no ‘note to self’ about you being weak.
    I’m by no means a big gun: short boom 11 element tribander (3/3/5) at 21m high, rotary dipole for 40m at 23m high, wire GP with a handful elevated radials for 80/160, running legal limit power.
    It’s enough for some good times but it doesn’t collect DX plaques!

    About the 40m QSB: wow, strange effect there. The low bands were horrible with 40m the least affected.

    • February 21, 2012 at 11:08 am

      80m was even stranger: W1, W2 and W3 stations 2500km to my north-east had a polar-flutter sounding effect. I’ve never heard that before on local sigs. Unfortunately it didn’t amount to improved conditions for the DX I was after.

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