Amateur radio: I’m a 2nd Placer!

The 7th Call Area QSO Party (“7QP”) took place on Saturday, May 6th.  The 7th call area contains Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.  Most of these states have sparse populations, so a combined event was begun in 2006 and has become one of the more popular annual QSO parties.  Although the FCC long ago dropped the requirement that your call had to match your call area, most operators do have a call that matches, so the name still fits (in my log it was about 80%).  Also, the Delaware, New England, and Indiana QSO Parties were on the air the same weekend, so there were a lot of cross-contact between the various contests.

With a weak station, my plan was to try to call CQ on the less crowded 15- and 10-meter bands, and do “search and pounce” (“S&P”) on the other bands, if propagation permitted.   Propagation did not permit; out of 40610 phone QSOs logged by participants, only 57 were on 15 or 10 meters!  Thus, even though I was in one of the “target” states, I did S&P during the entire contest with my 5-foot diameter transmitting loop at 15 feet and 80 watts. Also, as usual I worked only SSB.

For 7-land operators, the score multipliers are the states, provinces, and up to 10 other countries.  For those outside the 7th area, the multipliers were 259 counties within the call area, which makes operators in low-population counties the belles of the ball.  In addition to making some contacts from the other contests, there were several people calling into the contest from other states, so I ended up working 14 states beyond the 8 7-land states, pretty good for S&P.  I did not work any other countries, including Canada.

The contest runs from 13UT through 7UT (6am to midnight MST). I had to miss 16-21UT for a work event, but otherwise didn’t miss much time.  I got a few 40-meter QSOs at the beginning, but it was already after sunrise, so quickly went to 20 meters, and stayed there until sunset when I went back to 40.  The nice surprise was a lot of loud stations on 80 meters after 0430UT.  My loop probably only radiates about 5 watts there, but without much in the way of lightning noise out west, a lot of people were able to pick out my signal.

My submitted log had 84 QSOs, and in the final count I was credited with 82, and a 2% blown-call ratio isn’t too bad.  So, 82 QSOs times 2 points per QSO times 22 multipliers gives 3608 points.  The full scores are available at the 7QP website.

I generally enter the Assisted category, unless it’s a contest where they don’t have an Assisted category and put anyone who uses spotting networks into a multi-operator category.  In the latter case, I generally go without spotting.  I think a lot of people don’t understand all of the reasons why someone might want to use spotting networks.  It’s not just to be able to play “point and drool” with their computer so they don’t have to get their hands dirty actually turning a dial.

Due to space limitations, I use small transmitting loops (i.e., “magnetic loops”) on HF.  These have the advantage of broad frequency coverage, i.e., my large loop can work anything from 80 meters to 17 meters, but the disadvantage that it has to be re-tuned even within most bands, let alone between bands.  It can take more than a minute to switch from one adjacent band to another.  Plus, if I want to work 15 or 10 meters, I have to take down the 5-foot loop and replace it with a 3-foot loop, which takes about 15 minutes and non-trivial physical effort.  That loop still works okay on 20 meters, but is almost useless on 40 even though it will tune there.  Also, because I don’t have a big modern art sculpture up at 50 or more feet and I’m running low power, it’s hard for me to get a run going on a frequency.  Thus, I can’t just sit on one frequency for hours on end and make QSOs at will.  Spotting networks can let me know what bands have activity, especially on the higher frequencies where activity is more sporadic.  Being able to know that there is a particular station on a particular frequency isn’t always useful, especially since I can’t easily bust through a pileup of calling stations.  In any case, I physically turn the dial for all tuning.

Anyway…one interesting side-effect of the Assisted category is that the biggest scores at a certain power level are usually in the Unassisted category, and there are often more entries in that category.  (Also note that there are a lot of purists who think that spotting networks are above and beyond what should be appropriate for a test of one’s operating skill, and I do have a lot of sympathy for that point of view, even though practical considerations usually win the day for me.)

Although I would have finished 18th out of 52 if I had been in the 7th Area Single-Op Low Phone category, I finished 2nd out of 9 in the 7th Area Single-Op Assisted Low Phone category and won a certificate! Granted, it’s 2017 and the certificate is a PDF file, but I’m still excited to win my first contest award. A little bit of a cheap 2nd place for me due to the category, but there were other categories with many fewer entries, so what the heck. One really nice thing about the 7QP is that not only is it enjoyable on the air, but the contest organizers really do yeoman’s work in getting the results and awards out just two weeks after the log submission deadline!

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