I…at almost the last minute…decided to give the new antenna a workout and operate in the RTTY North American QSO Party.
So how’d I do? I’ll tell ya about it.
So this weekend was the RTTY North American QSO Party. Now I’ve played with RTTY in the past (and other digital modes)…and I’ve done phone contesting; but I’ve never done a digital contest to any degree. Well, I did a Hell contest before I had some major issues and kinda got the hang of using macros in FLDigi…but I had never done it to a large degree…or operated in a contesting environment.
Now operating a digital contest isn’t really much different than operating the mode any other time. The main difference is there are actually people using the mode wanting to make QSOs and you’re not having guys send you 10 page long Macros telling you what color their BM was that morning. It’s just an exchange and a few other requirements. It can’t be that bad..can it?
Well, yes and no. For starters, I hadn’t run a RTTY contest. I knew the theory behind what I was supposed to do…but I had no experience in actually doing it.
I made the decision just hours before the contest started that I wanted to try and work it. As I looked at examples of people who were set-up for a RTTY contest…I looked outclass. Everyone was using rigs with CAT control…and a bunch of software that wasn’t FLDigi. I’m an FLDigi guy…so I started reading about it’s contest mode.
It took me a little while to figure out just what I was doing…espeically when setting the macros up. Putting FLDigi in contest mode wasn’t very difficult and after playing around…began to see just what it could do. I did thankfully find someone who was giving pointers on running NAQP RTTY. I started out thinking I was in way over my head…especially since they were talking about the “Exchange Out” field in relation to macros. What?
But one thing I did get from that page was several macro suggestions I stole (or borrowed) for both running a frequency and for search & pouncing. So I put these macros in…turned the radio off…and started pushing buttons on FLDigi to see how this might operate. Things started to become a bit clearer. I knew that FLDigi would import pieces of text by just clicking on them…I had used that before. Contesting with the macros was mostly this….running the macros…clicking the call…sending the exchange…clicking their exchange…saving the QSO and rolling to the next one. I realized after writing a test log that the Exchange field wasn’t anything I actually had to reference in a macro. Sure, you could; then you just have to update the exchange field in the contest tab without having to rewrite a macro. By this point…other than actually sitting down and doing it live…I felt like I knew what I was doing.
When the contest started I did my usual sitting back and watching QSOs…trying to get a feel for how most people were operating. Confident that my macros would be accepted and understood by contesters…I found an empty slot and pressed F1.
“CQ NAQP NQ4T NQ4T CQ K” flashed across FLDigi as I heard my rig kick in to overdrive pumping out 25 watts. No response. I pressed F1 again. No response. I knew my stuff was set up right as I decoded…but since there’s no skimmers allowed for single operator mode I figured it was probably a situation of people having to find you then wait for a CQ or two before having your call. It was the fourth CQ call that I quickly heard the deedling and saw the text flash on the screen. I clicked on the callsign in the decoded text, FLDigi instantly put it in the call field and I pressed F2.
“<CALL> <CALL> JAY JAY VA VA K”
Seconds later they sent thier exchange. Clicking their name and state abbreviation, FLDigi automatically put it in to the exchange field. I then press F3.
“QSL TU GL QRZ NAQP NQ4T K”
That was it. I had just completed a NAQP RTTY contact. My F3 macro was automatically set to log the contact…something I thought was seriously neat. I kind of sat in my chair just blown away at how “easy” it was. It was early in the day, I had things going on…but I logged around 20 contacts causally.
Later in the evening after dinner…I came back down and got a little more serious; logging around 175 contacts. I probably could have gotten more doing S&P, but I wanted to run a frequency. Not every CQ got a response…things seem to come in batches. But I did get a rhythm down and was easily running a frequency. It amazed me how I went from “how am I ever going to figure out this confusing configuration” to “how did I not do this years ago?” The proper setup made this almost a push-button contest…all I did was click and push buttons.
I hated macros because of the way PSK guys use them…much, in the same way, I didn’t like the always 59 reports during contests. But much like when I worked a contest and figured out giving everyone a 59 makes life easier…the macros have a use other than running a brag file. I didn’t have to type anything…I didn’t have to remember as much. Just call CQ, click the call, hit the exchange macro..click their exchange text…hit the third macro…repeat.
That being said..mastering a few macros didn’t make me a contesting expert. It did give me a chance to feel like a real RTTY contester. I could deal with things like guys calling me a bit off frequency without throwing my whole routine off. All I had to do was move over a bit and hit my “AGN AGN PLS” macro.
The point is…other than I’m horrible at writing stuff when I really have nothing to say about it…is I had fun doing this. Sure, it was a bit mind-numbing at times; but when the QSOs were rolling in one after another it was easy to just get in a groove and get these guys worked. It was a very positive experience that has me waiting for the next RTTY contest. I’ll still be a bit green…but I’m going to go in it with the good experience of this contest and hopefully do even better.
If I did the scoring right, I got 10,500 points in this contest. I only made 175 contacts, but I had a total of 60 multipliers! I worked 30 different states on 40m alone!
That’s probably not a huge number…but for my first RTTY contest…and something I did causally and unsure if I would manage to do it; I have to say that’s pretty good.
I hammered the hell out of my equipment. Towards the end I was just running 50W of RTTY. It was the first time I ever heard the fan in my power supply kick on….speaking of which, I didn’t even know it had a fan in it! Sure, I realized something was blocking some air vents and once I cleared them…it didn’t complain anymore. But I probably ran this stuff harder than it has been in 30 years…I know I stressed it more than I ever have. It didn’t complain…it didn’t blow up. It just…worked.
In fact I got on 30m FT8 after the contest and blasted 50W of FT8 to log Ghana.