Introduction and Background
After our club's contest coordinator responsibilities fell to me, I wasn't sure what that entailed, so I wrote my friends at ARRL and asked if they ever published an article on the topic. They said they hadn't, but saw the need for one. They encouraged me to do some digging on my own and write something up. The result is on page 61 of the August 2016 QST! You can click here to read the article as published in QST (posted here with permission), or continue on this page for a full, unedited version with clickable reference links.
The intent of this article is twofold:
- Help operators understand how to organize for club radiosport in their local clubs.
- Show how club contesting can really build activity, enthusiasm and fun!
Since QST published this article, I've had several requests from clubs for permission to include it in their news letters / e-mails. You are welcome to, but you will also need ARRLs permission (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org), which I understand they have been happy to grant. Please be sure to forward me a copy!
Kickstart Your Group with Club Contesting!
When we first introduced the idea of team radiosport to our local club, the Northeast Maryland Amateur Radio Contest Society, some were skeptical, some enthused, and others confused — but teaming up has thoroughly reinvigorated our group. Members are building new antennas again, enhancing thier stations and circling contest dates on their calendars months in advance. Together we’re having tons of fun and building a sense of camaraderie. Best of all, we’re sharing the excitement of working toward a common goal. It’s done wonders for our club. Here’s how you can do the same for your group.
Club Contesting – The Basics
Whether you just want to make a few contacts or you have serious competition in mind, there’s nothing like a contest to get you on the air! Radiosport offers a great opportunity to speedily connect with lots of fellow hams, enhance your operating skills, learn about propagation, demonstrate the ability of Amateur Radio, accumulate lots of DX entities, states or sections in a hurry and discover the strengths and weaknesses of your station!
That's more than enough incentive to enjoy the many fun radiosport events we can look forward to annually, but club contesting adds another great element – the team! When you contest with your club from your home station, every point that your station earns is added to the club’s cumulative score, so everyone is pulling together to reach a common goal. The total score comprises points from all the individual home stations (and maybe a club station too, if yours has one) in your club.
Because the club score is a total, not an average, there’s no worry that anyone might somehow hold the club back by joining in. Even if a station only makes one contact, those points still help the club! Everyone is rooting, helping and encouraging each other to achieve their individual goals and the result is the club’s total score.
Reinvigorating Our Group
If your group is like ours, when you first start club contesting, you'll likely have a few people who already enjoy radiosport, a few who are willing to give it a try and some who are intimidated by it. Some people worry how the comparatively few QSOs they think they'll make will be received, compared to others who make 1,000 contacts per contest.
The key to our success has been to create a no-pressure environment where every QSO is valued. The ham who's never contested before and makes a handful of contacts is appreciated every bit as much as the regular contester who makes more than 1,000.
We praise all successes and enthusiastically mean it. If a ham made 30 contacts last time, his goal is to exceed 30 this time and he does, many of us chime in with congratulations! After all, virtually all of us started that way ourselves. New folks continue to be swept in by the fun and positive vibe!
Here's the thing. Even for those of us with lots of contests under our belt, as much as we enjoy earning a good score, it's equally fun to share in the joy that our attic dipole team member experiences in making 100 DX contacts in CQ World Wide DX for the first time! The thrill of seeing new team members and first time contesters, who thought they were just going to dabble for a bit in November Sweepstakes, wind up with their very first clean sweep is fantastic! It's exciting, joyful and the heartfelt congratulations from both new folks and seasoned operators are genuine and sincere.
That fun and thrill is infectious for all of us. On our club e-mail group, post contest enthusiastic recounts ensue, which in turn gives others the incentive to give contesting a try. With each successive contest, operators who started by tentatively putting a toe in the water are diving in, and new operators are often joining in for the first time.
Our cumulative scores are progressively improving too. Our members are realizing better antennas mean even more fun, leading to lots of individual station enhancements. Since they are having fun, they are spending more time on the air making more contacts. Their skills are improving and their higher QSO rates always add to the total as well!
Sharing the Contest in Real Time
Sharing our contest adventures after the event is great fun, but teaming up in real time together as the contest unfolds has taken the excitement to a whole new level! Seeing how we are doing in total as a team and how our partners are doing instantly has a magic effect on the fun, nurturing and competitive juices!
We accomplish this in two ways. First, we set up the automatic status upload feature available in all the N3FJP Software contest programs (from the program’s menu options click Settings > Web Upload). With the upload feature enabled (Image 1), we can see everyone's current score and QSO count, which updates automatically every three minutes. If you know Bill has a station comparable to yours and you see him pulling ahead, or catching up, that competitive switch can't help but kick in for most of us and it definitely keeps the juices flowing!
Image 1 - Example of a portion of the data included in the web contest upload, accessible to all team members as a web page that constantly updates automatically throughout the contest.
To make it even easier to monitor how our team is doing, I created a club score processor program that summarizes our current club totals from our individual uploads and updates them on the web every 60 seconds. That way we can see minute by minute how everyone is doing, all on one page! You can download the club score processor program freely from my web site.
Image 2 - Example of contest leaderboard display for 2015 November Sweepstakes that updates throughout the contest every 60 seconds.
Secondly, we've found using an Internet text chat room to be of tremendous value, motivational and great fun! Folks share how they are doing, ask questions, root each other on and provide any needed help. It's great for new folks who might need a bit of nurturing or encouragement and fun for all of us!
The chat room works particularly well because, instead of stopping your run rate to answer a question on 2 meters, you can just bring up the chat window in your Internet browser when convenient and contribute between contacts. Even club members who may not be operating a particular contest themselves will still sign in, root the rest of us on and help look for needed multipliers.
As a free chat room resource, we have set up a permanent virtual clubhouse on Discord (https://discordapp.com/). This is easy to do, will let you stay logged in indefinitely, and will accommodate any number of members.
Of course, like DX Spotting, folks will post exciting stations or multipliers that others in our group may be looking for in the chat room, so if your group uses the chat room, make sure everyone enters in the Assisted category when applicable.
Finding Contests for Your Club
There are many annual club contest eligible events, sponsored by a variety of organizations. As a starter, here are the major ARRL and CQ contests that are eligible for club competition, but be sure to check out other information sources like the National Contest Journal for even more events.
(January) ARRL January VHF Contest
(January) ARRL RTTY Roundup
(January) CQ World-Wide 160-Meter Contest CW
(February) ARRL International DX Contest CW
(February) CQ World-Wide WPX RTTY Contest
(February) CQ World-Wide 160-Meter Contest SSB
(March) ARRL International DX Contest SSB
(March) CQ World-Wide WPX Contest SSB
(May) CQ World-Wide WPX Contest CW
(June) ARRL June VHF Contest
(July) CQ World-Wide VHF Contest
(August) ARRL August UHF Contest
(September) ARRL September VHF Contest
(September) CQ WW DX RTTY Contest
(October) CQ WW DX Contest SSB
(November) ARRL November Sweepstakes CW
(November) ARRL November Sweepstakes SSB
(November) CQ WW DX Contest CW
(December) ARRL 160-Meter Contest
(December) ARRL 10-Meter Contest
Keep in mind that many of the contests that have both SSB and CW events, such as ARRL International DX, ARRL November Sweepstakes, CQ World Wide DX, etc., combine your club contest scores for both contests into one grand total in the club results listing. In addition, your log count is also added together, so if N3FJP operates both Sweepstakes SSB and Sweepstakes CW for example, that counts as two logs submitted. The total number of logs submitted affects your club classification for ARRL contests.
Setting Up Your Club & Submitting Your Club Score
For contests sponsored by CQ, submitting as a club couldn't be easier. Each member should simply submit their contest results as usual, but also include the club name that you decide on in the Cabrillo file (most contest logging programs provide a Club Name field on the Cabrillo creation form). As long as your club submits at least four Cabrillo logs with the same contest name specified in the Cabrillo log file, your club results will be totaled and listed. There isn't any prior registration requirement or anything else you have to do. The rules for each CQ contest have more details in the Club Competition section.
For ARRL contests, you'll need to affiliate your club with ARRL if you haven't already. In addition to making your group ARRL club contest eligible, becoming an ARRL Affiliated Club has lots of other great benefits detailed here (http://www.arrl.org/affiliated-club-benefits). You can apply for affiliation here (http://www.arrl.org/application-for-affiliation).
Once you are affiliated with ARRL, simply add your club name to your Cabrillo submission file. Since ARRL also requires members to be in good standing, when you enter as a club for ARRL contests, your group's contest coordinator must submit a participants roster within 30 days after the contest to email@example.com.
UPDATE - ARRL now requires final rosters to be uploaded before the start of the contest in a specified format. All the details are here.
ARRL organizes contest club categories by size, so you can more easily see your results compared to similarly sized clubs (see the sidebar below, “The Club Gavel Competition”). ARRL club categories include:
Unlimited – 51 or more entries, all within a 175 mile radius or one ARRL section.
Medium – 50 entries or less, all within a 175 mile radius or one ARRL section and not qualifying as a local club.
Local – 10 or fewer entries all within a 35 mile radius.
More details and other criteria are explained in Section 4, at www.arrl.org/ files/file/Clubs/Club%20Gavel%20Competition-V3.pdf.
For CQ contests, the club categories are (from http://www.cqww.com/rules.htm):
A. USA Clubs: Participation is limited to club members residing and operating within a 250 mile radius circle from the center of club area (except for expeditions organized specifically for the contest conducted by members who reside within the club circle).
B. DX Clubs: Participation is limited to club members residing and operating within EITHER the DXCC country where the club is located OR within a 400 km radius circle from the center of club area (except for expeditions organized specifically for the contest conducted by members who reside within the club area).
Seeing the Results
While the accomplishments and goals of our individual members, lofty or modest, always come first, seeing how our club placed overall is great fun too! Both ARRL and CQ provide club results in their respective summary articles. For ARRL contests, go to the Contest Results Articles (http://www.arrl.org/contest-results-articles), click on the year, find the contest and click on Full Results. For CQ contests, go to the respective results contest link (example CQ WW - http://www.cqww.com/results.htm) and click Write Up.
ARRL also has a results database with lots of details. Just go to the Results Database page (http://www.arrl.org/results-database), select a contest, at the bottom of the page that appears, select your club from the drop down and then click Select and Sort Entries. Here is an example returned for the SSB portion of our 2014 November Sweepstakes submittal in Image 3:
Image 3 – Example results from 2014 November Sweepstakes SSB for the Northeast Maryland Amateur Radio Contest Society.
CQ doesn't yet have a score database on line, but they do provide an Excel spreadsheet for many contests with similar detail. From their results page (http://www.cqww.com/results.htm), click the Club Score Summary (xls file) link. After you download the spreadsheet, click on the + on the row by your club name to see everyone's individual details (make sure you enable editing in the spreadsheet first).
Want to breathe some new life into your local group, build a team, enhance camaraderie, and have a lot of fun? Setting your local group up for club contesting could be the answer. It certainly was for our Northeast Maryland Amateur Radio Contest Society!
Sidebar - The Club Gavel Competition
The ARRL Club Competition is a great incentive for members of all kinds of ARRL Affiliated clubs — not just contest clubs — to get on the air for ARRL contests. Competitive activity is excellent exercise for improving operating abilities, giving the radio equipment a good test, and building radio “know-how” in general.
In the nine different contests that allow Club Competition, there are three different levels of the Club Competition designed to accommodate all sizes of clubs: Unlimited (with 51 or more entries), Medium (from 11 to 50 entries), and Local clubs (10 entries or fewer). The winner of each category in each contest is awarded a highly coveted gavel. The full Club Competition rules are available at www.arrl.org/files/file/Clubs/Club Gavel Competition-V3.pdf, or in the “Rules for All ARRL Contests” at www.arrl.org/contest-rules.
Clubs across North America compete in many different ways. The largest clubs with many members try to rack up millions of points in order to win nationwide. Smaller clubs join the fun by challenging a rival to see whose members do the best.
By encouraging every member to submit a score, the clubs also encourage new hams and hams with new privileges to get on the air in a new way. They are often surprised at how many contacts they can make — and with so many states, provinces, and countries! What better way to chase Worked All States than in the November Sweepstakes? DXCC and the ARRL DX contests are natural partners, as are the three VHF contests and the VUCC award. Many clubs recognize the efforts of their members, particularly those new to contesting, with achievement awards — a great way to mentor and encourage on-the-air activity.
Every ARRL Affiliated Club is encouraged to compete by getting their members on the air and submitting every single score. Any eligible member should feel welcome operating and being a part of the club total.
We hope to see your club in the Club Competition tables, moving up every year as more and more members join the fun. Bang the gavel — it’s contest time!
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