Equipped with a
license and call sign, you need just a few basic tools to participate in radio contests, starting with a proper radio shack. For a traditional station, you should find a quiet place in your house, garage, or yard to set up your gear. Some hams have had success repurposing a garden (shed) or other small structure.
Beyond the obvious transmitter/receiver radio and antenna, you'll need a small direct current power supply for non-battery-operated radios and an SWR meter to tune your antenna. For contests that use Morse code, you'll need an iambic paddle and, if you're new to this form of communication,
a guide to Morse code.
Rules vary in a
ham radio contest. Generally, you can work within only certain radio frequency bands. Each contest will also require that your send and receive certain information, such as your location or name. Some are based on the mode of communication, such as continuous wave or digital; others are based on geography, as in state-specific QSO (contact) parties; still others are based on power level or frequency.
Though technical rules vary, one constant is the requirement for civility. Be sure to show respect to your fellow radio operators when you're on the air.
Radio amateurs employ several techniques to make the most of their time in a radio contest and optimize their contact load. Three well-known ones are search and pounce, running, and solar propagation.
search and pounce, you do just what the name suggests: search for available operators on the set contest band and pounce to contact them. This technique works well for small signal profiles. For larger profiles, you might employ running, whereby you call "CQ contest" or "CQ test" on a clear frequency and log whoever responds.
More technical radio amateurs might use knowledge of
solar propagation to increase productivity along "open" bands. Propagation describes the behavior or traveling radio waves. Different environmental and geographic factors can influence propagation. Watching the solar numbers clues you into which bands will yield the best connection. A number of solar values have particular relevance for radio amateurs, such as the solar flux index, the sunspot number (SN), the A and K indices, and sig noise level.
Several organizations maintain up-to-date reports on the solar numbers, including the
Space Weather Prediction Center. In additional, independent radio operators like WM7D maintain similar records. Don't worry if you don't understand all of these calculations at first; the Internet has several resources to help you interpret solar numbers for amateur radio.
For casual radio use, some hams maintain a log of contacts and others don't. If you're competing in a radio contest, keeping a log is usually required for participation. A radio log records the contacts you've made in a certain span of time. Your call sign, the call sign of the operator you contacted, the date, and the frequency band are some of the details you might note in a logbook.
You have a couple of options when you have to keep a logbook: You can either
write it on paper in the traditional way, either in a plain composition book or a designed-for-radio notebook, or you can go digital with one of the many ham radio logbook programs now available.
To officially enter and potentially win a ham radio contest, often, you must submit your radio log to the administrating organization. In these instances, a digital log may be better than a written log, as it reduces the risk of error and increases speed and convenience.
Amateur radio involves
a lot of lingo. Below are some of the most common phrases and terms you should be familiar with:
Conversational Radio Terms
Radio Contesting Terms
American Radio Relay League provides a comprehensive glossary of technical and some conversational ham radio lingo on their website. You might also find it useful to memorize conversational radio lingo, called international Q-code.
Amateur radio is a hobby that has
attracted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people worldwide. Through radio, you can connect with contacts around the globe without ever needing to leave your yard. Reach out to your local radio club or contest group or attend a field day to try your hand at radio contesting.