The joy of contesting

Contesting isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it is one of the most popular activities on the amateur radio bands. Contesting on the high-frequency bands is heavily dependent on the 11-year sunspot cycle. During years of low sunspot activity the background noise levels fall and low bands such as 160 and 80 meters take on added importance. During periods of higher sunspot activity noise levels rise but the higher bands 40, 20, 15 and 10 become magical in their ability to propagate 100 signals around the world.

Case in point was last week’s ARRL DX CW contest. This is the grand old lady of contests always draws a big crowds. Conditions were pretty good but what happens for the vast majority of simple stations (100 watts into a tri-bander at 48 feet or a dipole in a tree) is after you’ve worked all the strongest stations on the band there’s nobody else to work. And then the propagation gods smiled on us and 15 meters opened big time to Europe early Sunday morning and it was like the good old days. It was easy to work a seemingly endless number of European stations running 100 watts into a dipole. Even QRP stations (5 watts) thundered into the logbook. There was even a brief opening on 10 meters.

If you’ve never tried contesting (and there are contests on every weekend), you might want to consider it.

To help you along, the Potomac Valley Radio Club is hosting an online webinar called “Inside the CQ WPX Contest” on Sunday March 14 at 20:00 UTC (3pm EST). The event is free but requires registering by going to

You can also go to and click the “Upcoming Webinars” link. Previous webinars are archived under the “Recorded Webinars” link.

The CQ WPX SSB contest will be held March 27 to 28 and the CW portion on May 29 to 30 from 0000 GMT Saturday and ends 2359 Sunday.

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