From 1945, a documentary aimed at returning service men and women, describing the advances in “electronic television”. Thanks to N8FMQ for the link!
Radiosport, the term coined for the dogged pursuit of the many certificates and awards available to those who love injecting watts into a wire. Many still call it contesting. My XYL would call it an addiction in our house. Any way you slice it, it can be great fun!
Right now we’re in the midst of the League’s National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) contest, a year long celebration of some of America’s most famous places. I’ve talked to fellow hams in every corner of the country, from Yellowstone to the White House, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and everywhere in between. At last check, the leaderboard shows the top contesters approaching the 300 mark. That’s doubly impressive when you think about the fact that the QSOs require amateurs to take their gear to every location, many far from the conveniences on our end of the conversation.
For those dedicated to Radiosport, we have notifications turned on for the ARRL’s NPOTA Facebook page and have tuned our DX cluster filters to grab a spot, the instant it comes up. I get texts from my buddies when a rare one pops above the noise level. And it’s not uncommon for some of us to run home from work to log a set of call letters we need to move one step closer to our goal.
On the downside of one of the most disappointing sunspot cycles in a lifetime, it can also be an exercise in frustration. NPOTA activators run “barefoot”, with no linear amplification. Their antenna systems are usually a compromise to facilitate transportation and set-up. And when the ionosphere doesn’t cooperate, you can scream your lungs out and few can hear you.
How can you pull a signal out of the mud and compete effectively in kilowatt pileups? Here are some tips for building your Radiosport skillset.
Listen – Every operator approaches contesting in his or her own way. Don’t simply dive into a pile up. Listen for a few minutes to learn how people are getting heard. Good operators navigate pile-ups like air traffic controllers, taking incoming QSOs via call areas or making note of two or three stations at a time and asking for specific call letters after concluding a contact. Even with a number of 1,000 watters out there, an op will keep their ears open for lighter signals and give them a shot. The more you can decipher the style, the more likely you are to make a connecti0n.
Have a propagation plan – K9Jy suggests using one of the many propagation programs available to know when you’re most likely to get a good circuit between your location and the target area. Certain bands work better at certain times of day. And activity on the sun can throw conventional wisdom into the garbage can. Understanding band conditions can give you a sense for when to call and when to turn off the rig and do something else.
Spend time with a winner – The best contesters have systems they use for everything from spotting to logging. And most will gladly share their secrets. They plan ahead. They recruit partners to help with the logs. And they do post-action analyses to see what worked and what didn’t, constantly refining their system and improving their chances for victory.
Know your rig – Today’s radios have a complex feature set that lets you customize just about everything. Experiment with filters, watch your AGC settings and make sure the signal you’re putting out is as clear and as high quality as possible. And don’t forget your antenna system. That’s the single most crucial link in the chain. A good one can turn a few watts into a powerful signal. A bad one diminishes even the most powerful transmitter and hides weak signals in the mud.
Try CW – Morse Code contesting can be one of the most rewarding ways to earn awards. It’s a language that is best learned through immersion and with regular practice. And it’s a mode that can work well when voice signals lie below the noise floor. Since it requires extra effort, there may be fewer competitors in the space. And many contests give extra credit for those who can speak with their fist.
These thoughts scratch the surface of the rewarding experience that we hams call Radiosport. The most important tip is to dive in and join the fun. Find your own rhythm and experiment. Like any skill, you’ll definitely improve with time.
See you in the arena!
73! DE W9WSW
The best way to build your network is before you need it. That’s why we practice emergency communications skills at events like Field Day and participate in Radiosport. That was the motivator for the famed Rocky Mountain Hams to build a state of the art broadband microwave network to facilitate high speed multimedia modes. Smart people who are thinking of a career change, get to know people who can help them before they come above the radar.
And so it is in the public relations realm. We live in a world where relationships rule. It’s crucial to get to know the key media contacts in your area before you need them. Here’s how to do it.
Do your homework – Find out who the key voices are at your local newspaper, radio and TV stations. Follow social media personalities who have significant traction in your market. And get to know who they are as people. What’s their backstory? What do you know about their family, education and home town? What made them decide to enter the business? What’s their beat? What kind of stories interest them most?
Be authentically interested in them – We’re drawn to people who are genuinely interested in us, individuals who can help us achieve our objectives. To build productive relationships with others, you must show authentic interest in them and help them achieve their goals.
Add value to their lives – Often times this may not even involve amateur radio. One of my favorite questions is, “What’s keeping you up at night?” With my vast network of ham friends, there’s almost always somebody who can help solve a problem, smooth out a bump or make an introduction. Think about these things as you plan your first encounter.
Making contact – Here’s my drill: When a new reporter comes to town, I send them a welcome email. “Just wanted to send you a personal note of welcome to East Lansing! I love watching 6 News and from what I can tell, you’re going to be a great asset to the team and a welcome addition to the community. Once you get your feet under you, I’d love to buy you a sandwich and learn more about your adventures.” Sign it with you name and title, followed by, “Avid 6 News Fan!”
This will almost always elicit a brief, grateful response that may include a phone number. Call it and set up that lunch.
You can modify the language if you’re the new person in the role, something like, “I’m Scott Westerman, the new public information guy at the MSU Amateur Radio Club. I’m sure our paths have crossed at some point, but I wanted to send you a quick fan letter to thank you for the excellent job 6 News does covering our community. I’m fascinated by what you do and hope we can grab a sandwich at some point so I can learn more about your backstory and how MSUARC can best add value to what you do.”
What to do when you are face to face – When the inevitable face to face meeting takes place, start out by focusing totally on them. “Tell me your life story,” is one of my favorite opening lines. People are fascinating and everybody has a unique tale to tell. Practice active listening skills and drill down for opportunities to add value to their personal lives. Always try to add value before asking for anything.
And when you do, frame it as asking for advice. How do you decide what stories get on the air? What are some of the most important issues you’re covering in the community right now? And finally…
What’s the best process for pitching a story about amateur radio?
That’s “the money question”, as they say in the biz. Each media organization has a process for how they like to gather information. Learn it and follow the rules. You’re more likely to get coverage when you do.
In the social media realm, you can talk about the personality’s content strategy. Based on your homework, you’ll already know more than a little bit about what they do. Social media fundamentals like providing link shorteners and great images will make it easier for someone to retweet your stuff. Ask them what kind of things they like to amplify and why. You’ll be in a stronger position to gain traction when you need it.
Be grateful – Follow the tried and true Japanese tradition of bringing a gift, something that’s likely to stay on their desk at the office. And end the meeting with a selfie which you can post with their social media handle saying something like, “Great lunch today talking #HamRadio w @6NewsJane. Love how they keep our community covered!” That’s almost guaranteed to get an instant retweet. Continue the relationship by retweeting their stuff as you see fit.
And always send a handwritten thank you note with a business card and one of your QSL cards enclosed. Personal notes are rare commodities today and will get attention.
Keep working on the relationship – Building productive media partnerships takes time. But it pays huge dividends. Beyond creating a welcoming environment for your stories, you will likely earn some good friends along the way. By entering the conversation with a goal of serving them, you are also reinforcing the foundation of why hams do what we do. We’re here to serve the community.
Build your media networks carefully, slowly and proactively. Like a well designed, carefully linked repeater system, they will serve you well when you need them most.
Have questions? How can I add value? Write to W9WSW(at)ARRL.net.
The American Radio Relay League‘s Ward Silver’s terrific webinar on leveraging contesting as training for public service communications.
Great to see the Star Trek crew use VHF to beat the bad guys in “Beyond”. 6 meters turned out to be the Magic Band, “when all else failed”.
Memories of the 2015 football season. MSUARC offered commemorative QSL cards for contacts made during our virtual tailgate parties prior to each home game, complete with a suitable-for-framing poster to display them. Thanks to Gregg WB8LZG for organizing the event and to Francie at the Michigan State University College of Engineering for her artistry.
Bruce, K2BET and Ed, W8EO at AA07 near St. Ignace, Michigan. Learn more about The ARRL’s National Parks on the Air here.
For years, the Electro Voice RE20 was the studio standard we radio announcers loved. It seemed to enhance the bottom end of our voices, giving us a three-pack-a-day throat without the cigarettes. Today the SURE SM7B and the Heil PR40 often supplant RE20s in the control room. But NPR uses Neumann U87 mics, considered the best, and most expensive in the business. And they do one additional thing, enabling a bass-roll off setting to make the sound as flat as possible. This create’s NPR’s “signature sound”. Now days, we listen either in our cars or through the small speakers on our smart devices and flatter vocals are easier to understand in those environments. The U87 is a classic in the recording studio, but it’s price point ($3,000 a piece, the equivalent of about 6 RE20s) is a deterrent for budget conscious broadcasters. I use Rode NT1s for my analog work and a Blue Yeti in USB audio applications, still emphasizing those low frequencies that NPR rolls off. But how I wish I had just one U87 so I might try my hand at saying, “This is NPR, National Public Radio.”