A Communicator Reprise: December 2011
Totally excellent fun!
Contesting is as close as you will get to conditions operating in an emergency. If you can effectively contest, you can pass emergency traffic. Therefore, this article is republished with an eye to the annual June Field Day. The contest training tips are valid and can be applied at the Surrey Amateur Radio Operational Training Centre (OTC). There are several Elmers within our group who would happily provide this training.
This event took an amazing amount of work to prepare for, but I believe we pulled it off very well and we're very happy with the results. The next one will be a lot easier. John VA7XB, did a lot of agricultural work so that the seed of the idea of members turning out for operator training would fall on receptive ground. How much fertilizer did he use? I'm not going to go there.
Fred VE7IO opened his station for our use and revamped it to make it possible for the use of 2 radios at the same time. This required getting rid of all the junk on his office desk. Installed radios for the second op position. Added an 80m dipole up 100 ft to enhance the station low-band long distance (DX) capability. Totally changed his antenna switching system so that any antenna could be accessed by either op position and generated an op schedule.
Jim VE7FO, prepped and delivered a training session on logging SSB contacts on N1MM which included materials such that the trainees could practice at home - no radio required - before attending the actual operating event. Designed the new VE7IO antenna switching system. Developed a Briefing Package and the plan for mentoring ops in the fine art of Search & Pounce and Running.
This doesn't sound like much but it took us many full-time days. VE7IO and VE7FO shared the mentoring duties during the event.
The purpose of the classroom style logging training was to enable trainees to get in some logging practice ahead of time so that they could more quickly develop the confidence to operate in Run Mode. The plan for the event itself was for the mentor to:-
- Take the trainee through the Briefing Package.
- Listen to actual contest QSOs taking place on the radio when going through the Running and S&P procedures.
- Start the trainee making a few S&P contacts.
- Just to get comfortable while the practice done at home kicks in.
- Mentor to make a couple first.
- Then get the trainee into Run mode.
- Mentor to make a couple first.
- The Mentor to provide reassurance and guidance as required.
A step-by-step guide to making contacts in Run Mode. Arranged in such a way as to make what the op needs to say at each step in the QSO very prominent while still providing basic info as to what's going on and how to log the QSO.
SEARCHING & POUNCING
Same idea as the Running info. I messed-up! Now what?
It's quite easy to make an error when entering the log info. If you catch it as you make it it's easy to fix. The further you are through the QSO the harder it gets. This section shows how to deal with each case. Things the op needs to do before actually operating.
Yes, that's plural. The ISO (I think) standard phonetic alphabet pretty much sucks when signals are weak and interference is strong. Three alternative lists are provided along with the standard. However, it is recommended to only use the alternatives when the standard alphabet doesn't work. (Don't want the EMCOMM folks to get into bad habits.)
A copy of the official rules.
- Band map
- Intro to packet cluster spots.
- What it shows the op.
- How to rapidly go to the frequency of a spotted station in order to work him.
- How to use the spot colours to determine which ones to work first.
- Phonetic Alphabets
This shouldn't have been in the package as the ops are required to ask the Station Manager for permission to change antennas and it is the Station Manager's responsibility to change the switches to suit if he agrees that it would be a good thing to do.
- Antenna Switching Diagram
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED
LOGGING PRACTICE AT HOME
I meant to ask each one at the start of the event whether or not they had been able to but I forgot. In any event, it looked to me as if most either didn't get the opportunity to do it or the practice methodology I proposed didn't work nearly as well as I thought it would. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who did get some practice time in how much time they put into it and whether or not it helped.
All my planning was based on the idea that I would mentor Friday evening and Saturday from 6 am until 5 pm, when I would go home, and Sunday from 9 am to the end and that VE7IO would mentor during the remaining time.
Well, I totally overlooked the fact that, because we had two op positions, we could have two ops starting at the same time. Sure enough, right at the beginning of the event (1700L Friday) we had two ops show up on schedule and I hadn't put any thought into how I should deal with this. I tried several approaches but only recall trying to have one log while the other operated.
So, a rather rough start and I apologize to the two who had to suffer through this. Still, as I recall, once they got going on their own op positions things got better for them. They did very well at working some pretty exotic DX. Between them they worked Israel, China, Gambia, Madeira Islands, the Azores, Cape Verde, Philippines, South Cook Islands, Korea, Japan, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Aruba, Curacao, European Russia, Asiatic Russia, Kazakhstan, Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Indonesia, Ascension Is, New Zealand, East Malaysia, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Ireland, France, Scotland, Italy, US Virgin Islands and Namibia. Not bad for 5 hours of op time.
After that I only had one op to deal with at a time and things went much more smoothly.
Two of our ops who were to occupy the time from 9 am to the end at 5 pm were unfortunately unable to make it and I ended up with no one to mentor from noon to the end.
I thought I'd use the time to create some .wav files of the CQ, Exchange and Thank You messages. N1MM can be set up to play these files at the appropriate times when you hit Enter. This greatly reduces the strain on the op's voice. Due to my unfamiliarity with the Micro-Ham interface between the computer and radio I was unable to get this to work so Fred and I spent the rest of the time discussing how things went and what we might change for the next time.
I was a little disappointed that very few ops actually got into Run mode. After all, that was the point of the training session. Still, I think everybody enjoyed the experience so I'm hoping they'll all be back for the next one (and most of them ready to get into Run mode after the first half hour or so). The high bands were in terrific shape. Best I've heard them in many years.
We tried to publish our score very frequently to the Getscores web site so that members could follow our progress. Unfortunately, the site crashed 2 minutes after the start of the contest and stayed that way. We didn't make my goal of 1,000 QSOs. I'm sure we would have if we'd been able to get most people into Run mode.
HOW DID WE DO?
We made 526 QSOs. This translates into 1259 QSO points.
- We contacted 138 countries (you can count a country once for every band you work it on - our unique country total was 73)
- We contacted 98 CQ Zones
- Total multipliers = 236
1259 QSO points X 236 Multipliers = 297,124
WHAT CHANGES WOULD I MAKE?
Very few. Some tweaking of the Briefing Package. More emphasis on getting ops into Run Mode. Don't schedule 2 newbies for the same time slot unless 2 mentors are available.
~ Jim Smith, VE7FO