2024 ARRL Digital and June VHF Contest Retrospective - Monday, June 10, 2024 at 04:03 UTC

So far this June has been a busy month for me with regards to amateur radio and as of writing this, the ARRL Field Day hasn’t even happened yet. Before Field Day gets started on the 22nd, I decided it would be nice to reflect on my contesting experience thus far. Lately my experience with ham radio has been characterized by challenges, but nevertheless I’ve been having a lot of fun with my operation. Starting with the ARRL hack on May 16th, the Logbook of the World has been offline, setting the stage for a challenging contest experience. Although LoTW is not used for contest log uploads, it does kind of put a damper on my operation in general.

In the preceding month, solar storms assaulted our planet creating beautiful aurora borealis phenomena visible at lower latitudes but unfortunately this disturbed radio propagation in the process. As a result, contacts have been spotty and inconsistent for me on the the 10m band. Generally contacts have been smaller in quantity however some unique propagation patterns have opened up areas which haven’t been accessible for me in the past. As a Technician, I’m limited to the 10m band for Digital Modes and this band is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in solar weather. Nonetheless I gave it a shot during the 2024 ARRL Digital Contest.

My setup for HF consists of a homemade speaker wire dipole antenna with a Xiegu X6100. I have my dipole hung in a bay window in a V formation. It’s not ideal, but I live in an apartment on a hill so I’m able exploit San Francisco’s natural geography to make it work despite my setup’s flaws. I have an external power supply so in theory I could transmit 10w but in practice RF interference in my apartment becomes an issue If I bring it above 5w, so that’s where I keep it. Indoor QRP is the name of the game. I operated pretty casually on FT-8 exclusively for a couple hours each of the two days during the weekend. I spent almost no time on the contest-suggested sub-band of 28.090-28.100 and had much more luck on the regular 28.074 calling frequency. I had few band openings as it was, so I had to go where it was most crowded. I ended up with a half dozen contacts operating for about three hours. Not bad all things considered, but in the weeks preceding the solar storms, I would have FT8 contacts pouring in. Those days are few and far between but with any luck the ionosphere will settle and I can go back to enjoying the peak of solar cycle 25. Overall a fun experience for casual contesting. This was my first Digital Contest and I had a pretty great time making it work.

As the 2m band is much less beholden to the whims of solar weather, the June VHF contest should, in theory, be much less challenging. In practice, my approach creates its own challenges. My setup for VHF overall is better than my setup for HF. I have a 13ft telescopic fiberglass pole upon which I attach an Ed Fong roll-up J-Pole antenna. Attached to this I use a 5w HT, generally my Yaesu FT70DR. It works really well. For VHF operation, I like to take advantage of the opportunity for exercise by hiking up to one of the many hills in San Francisco. My favorite such hill is in Corona Heights Park. Although not an official SOTA summit, its accessibility to public transit makes it one of my top preferred operating locations. Unfortunately, since this past rainy winter season, the summit of the hill has been inaccessible due to erosion concerns. Several large boulders have been carved by wind and rain out of the rock and they really do look to be on the verge of tumbling. So, out of caution, park geologists have prohibited the public from entering and have cordoned off the area. Fortunately, however, there is an opportunity to reach near the summit just about halfway. While not the best location, it is generally higher than the surrounding area. This is where I operated for the June VHF contest. I made about a half dozen contacts on a mix of the 2m and 70cm bands.

While my results may have been modest, the joy I derive from amateur radio exists independent of any quantitative metrics. For me, the goal is participation and learning, rather than winning. I’ve succeeded in those goals, and I’m looking forward to the ARRL Field Day later this month.

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