Episode 1: SPDX RTTY and BARTG 75 RTTY

Episode 1: SPDX RTTY and BARTG 75 RTTY

In the first full episode of Zone Zero, Bud looks at the SP DX RTTY and BARTG 75 RTTY contests.

Both events include a continent multiplier, which adds a fun extra dimension as you scour the bands trying to find all six continents – Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, North and South America.

If you’re new to the podcast, let me point you to our introductory episode – which I’ve called Episode Zero – as it is a bit of an introduction with info about me and why I started Zone Zero. It’s a good primer for anyone wondering what this is all about.

I want to say a few words out of the gate about location. I am on the West Coast – in the gorgeous southern interior of British Columbia.

To give you an idea of the geographic location, we’re about 60 miles north of the Washington State border. Spokane, Washington, is about 260 miles driving distance to the southeast of us. And Vancouver, BC, is about 240 miles to the west.

Our location on the west side of North America means something to fellow hams from California all the way up to Alaska, as we combat the aurora borealis and its impact on the frequency bands we know and love.

The further east you go, the less you have to rely on the polar path to reach Europe, and the aurora has less impact. From my corner of the world, at least, I have to point directly through the heart of the auroral zone if I want to hear — or be heard in — Europe.

Auroral oval — a donut over the pole

So, imagine the aurora as a great big donut or bagel shape, suspended over the north pole. That donut gets bigger or smaller, depending on geomagnetic conditions – when the sun is storming — spewing a coronal mass ejection or high-speed solar wind at Earth — the aurora gets stronger and bigger, essentially absorbing radio signals so they simply do not pass through.

In this part of the world, if we want to reach Europe, our signals have to go through the near side of the donut, over the polar ice cap, then through the other side of the donut into Europe.

With strong auroral conditions, very little signal gets through – if any.

Now, sometimes, the donut pushes so far south that parts of Northern Europe are actually inside the oval. When that happens, we might see a curious phenomenon known as the Scandinavian Express.

If I point due north even when the aurora numbers are elevated, I can quite often work Scandinavian stations in Sweden and Norway, when I can’t hear anything else at all from Europe. That can add a few multipliers to the log when nobody else is hearing me over the pole – it’s worth a listen even on days of poor propagation.

It’s tough from the west coast, going through both sides of the auroral oval – it is a significant factor in contesting in northern latitudes, and in particular from the west coast of North America because there’s no other option for working Europe. Keep in mind that pointing long-path to Europe means going through the aurora Australis, which is usually just as strong over the south pole.

Over the past weekend, in the YU DX contest – where Yugoslavian stations were the focus from around the world – and in the Manchester Miniera CQMM DX contest sponsored by Brazilian hams – conditions were quite bleak, but we did make some contacts over the pole on 20M or 14 Mhz, and I even made two contacts in Europe on 40M, which from this part of the world can be a challenge during low-sunspot years.

So conditions were bad but not as bad as I expected.

Let’s take a look ahead at the upcoming weekend contests. There’s not a whole lot of contest activity, but there are two events I’d like to highlight.

My usual routine is to check the Orca DX and Contest Club website – that’s the club for British Columbia and Pacific Northwest – at orcadxcc.org. I’m the webmaster, and try to keep a short list of upcoming contests in the Contest Corner, and there’s also a very handy propagation dashboard I developed, which can give us an at-a-glance reading of band conditions.

In future episodes, we’ll explore the Orca propagation dashboard in some detail. For now, I see that the geomagnetic field K-index has been up and down on April 19, currently at 3. If that K index is elevated over several hours or days, the A-index will rise, and I like to keep an eye on the A-index as it can help predict how good or bad radio conditions will be.

For example, right now the A index is a whopping 17, the geomagnetic field conditions are active, and the aurora level is 7.2 and rising. Simply put, the bands are pretty much shut down right now.

But maybe things will improve by the weekend. And maybe not. That’s sort of the challenge for radio contesters — predicting what radio signal propagation will be like, because that can dictate how you will operate a particular contest. It will certainly help you decide whether to optimize your score by trying to find DX contacts or go for higher rates of lower-point but more plentiful domestic stations.

For this weekend – April 22 and 23 – we’re looking forward to the SP DX RTTY and BARTG 75 RTTY contests. Both of these are “everyone works everyone” worldwide contests using radio teletype.

Now, it’s no fun listening to someone reading details about time, date and rules for a contest, so I will encourage you to get the details online – check the show notes for this episode one at zone.va7st.ca for links to the orcadxcc.org website and the best contest calendar I know of, the WA7BNM Contest Calendar (which you can also find with a Google search for WA7BNM).

Up first this weekend is the SP DX RTTY contest, sponsored by the Polish Radiovideography Club. It starts at 1200 UTC on Saturday, April 22, and runs 24 hours.

I really enjoy radio teletype contests. The important thing in this contest is to work as many Sugar Papa or SP stations in Poland as possible.

One of the tips and tricks is to be on the air when Europe is open. These days, from North America’s east coast you may catch a morning opening on 15M, but on the west coast that’s unlikely.

20M will be the big band for Europe no matter where you are.

For me, I expect a very narrow window for working Europe on Saturday morning – possibly for only an hour and only on 20M or 14 Mhz.

The multipliers in this contest are each DXCC country and each Polish province – and they count on each band. So if you work Iceland and Hawaii on 20M, you can work them again on 40M as new multipliers on that band, too.

What I think is a fun feature of the SP DX RTTY contest is that you take all of your contacts and multiply them by the number of countries and Polish provinces you’ve worked, and then multiply that by the number of continents you worked.

One of the challenges, with conditions the way they will be, is to find Africa.

From the North American east coast and Europe, that won’t be too difficult. From the west, it can be much more difficult. But pointing antennas just south of the auroral oval, if conditions are reasonably okay, can produce contacts with North Africa and the mid-Atlantic islands, such as EA8 – the Canary Islands, which are counted as Africa.

Those will be like gold this weekend. All the other continents should be relatively easy to find. The ZL stations in New Zealand and VKs in Australia have been relatively active in recent months, and KH6s in Hawaii should be a slam-dunk from all of North America, so the Oceania continent will be pretty straightforward.

That’s a quick look at the SP DX RTTY contest.

The other contest is the BARTG 75 baud RTTY contest. And it’s a short one!

It’s a four-hour contest, starting at 1700 UTC on Sunday. Its uniqu e feature is operating with 75-baud RTTY. Now, most RTTY contests are 45 baud. But at 75-baud, you can call CQ in a second and a half, so the cycles of CQing and listening are quite rapid and you can reach high rates, particularly for a RTTY contest.

The multipliers are all the DXCC countries as well as the call areas of the US, Canada, Japan and Australia.

And you also get to multiply your score by the number of continents you work. I like that feature. Continent multipliers can boost your score quickly – but the challenge is you have to find all six continents to really be competitive. The big gun stations will find them almost certainly.

If conditions are bleak, though, even Europe could be tough to land for some of us – and I would encourage you to get those continents in the bag as quickly as possible. Remember, you only have four hours to find them all.

Looking at previous years, I usually have found six continents – Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, but not always. This weekend, if the Canary Islands or our friends in Morocco like CN8KD are active, I might get Africa, but that’s not a sure thing. There have been other, longer contests that took me 12 hours or more to get them all – often Africa is toughest, but even South America can be challenging if there aren’t many operators on the air.

In this one, I think six is doable.

Okay, I think that’s wrap for the first show. You can read more about the show and find episodes at ZONE.VA7ST.CA, our home site.

Subscribe and tell your contesting friends about the program.

You can email me at bud@va7st.ca with thoughts about the podcast.

73 from British Columbia, everyone. Thanks for listening. I’ll see you out there.


Show resources

  • WA7BNM Contest Calendar
    As always, for rules and links to just about every contest in the world, check the WA7BNM Contest Calendar. It’s about the best contest listing out there.
  • Orca DX and Contest Club website
    For other links of use to contesters, check out the Orca DX and Contest Club website — it has a short list of upcoming contests, many mentioned in the Zone Zero podcast, plus a handy propagation dashboard for at-a-glance band conditions.

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