Episode 24: CQ WPX RTTY and ARRL DX CW

Episode 24: CQ WPX RTTY and ARRL DX CW

The old song continues – conditions ain’t what they used to be – but the end is in sight. With two of the biggest contests of the year coming up in February, will the HF bands hold up well enough to enjoy? We’ll take a look in Episode 24 of Zone Zero.


Hi everyone, and welcome to the middle of winter here in the British Columbia interior. It’s minus 26 outside with the windchill – cold enough to slow the grease in the tower rotator. But we won’t let that slow us down with two very big contests on the immediate horizon.

Here in the first week of February, we’re angling toward the upcoming CQ WPX RTTY contest on February 9 and 10, and the following weekend February 16 and 17 the whole world lights up for the ARRL International DX CW contest.

These are two very different contests. The WPX RTTY is an “everyone works everyone” event with lots of rate on every available band. It’s a bit of a rate-fest, with a nice short exchange – a signal report and serial number.

It’s vital to remember that the QSO points double on 40M and 80M in the RTTY contest. I can’t stress strongly enough how great it would be if more stations went to the lower bands in the evenings to take advantage of the double-point contacts after the sun goes down. Sadly, 80M is often a wasteland after an hour or two of darkness.

An interesting little statistic from last year – 95 percent of the contacts made in the 2018 running of WPX RTTY were made on 20M, 40M and 80M. I’m willing to bet that a very small fraction of those were on 80M – it’s a real lost opportunity for the full-time stations aiming for all 30 hours on the air.

Our good friend Ed Muns, W0YK, is the contest chair for this one. In his report following the 2018 running, he noted that a total of 3,060 stations entered as single-operator last year. Almost 1,800 of those were low-power – running 100 watts or less – and another 1,137 were high-power. Ed sure knows this contest inside and out, and in fact won the high-power all-band category last year operating from P49X in Aruba. He won, but noted it was his third-lowest score over the past 12 years.

For teletype fans, WPX RTTY is the best contest of the year – with the possible exception of CQ Worldwide RTTY and the ARRL RTTY Roundup — with plenty to work even now in the lowest sunspot years.

Contrast that with the ARRL DX CW contest, which only allows contacts between stations in the US mainland and Canada and the rest of the world. That puts more emphasis on DX-capable stations, especially in the low-sunspot years when bands won’t support as much intercontinental activity.

At the time of this airing, there are a total of ZERO sunspots, and solar flux is parked at 71. That’s not as low as it can go, of course. We have seen flux fall to 68 or 69 in the bottom of the solar cycle, so we’re in for a little bit of a treat with a few extra points of flux. A tiny bit more flux is better than none.

But recent contest activity is a good predictor of what’s about to occur. For both of the upcoming contest weekends in February, I’m anticipating limited activity across North America on 15M with almost all the daytime production to be found on 20M.

Last year in the WPX RTTY I managed just one contact on 15M all weekend long and had my second-lowest final score ever. This year, I’m expecting to land 100 or more contacts on 15, as I have been working stations from across North and South America on 15M in recent weeks.

That means you should not neglect 15M in the WPX RTTY, and point at the Caribbean from the US and Canada in the ARRL DX CW contest. Competitive stations will be there to find those openings. The multipliers will be well worth staking out 15.

From here in Western North America, even 20M will pose real challenges in the ARRL DX CW contest, as Europe hasn’t been open for more than a few minutes in the mornings this winter. But there have been some windows of light, and if one of those windows opens things could get very interesting. DXCC countries are multipliers so even a brief opening to Europe can really change the game. Same goes for Europeans searching for US states and Canadian provinces for their multipliers.

Last year’s ARRL DX CW produced my third-lowest ever final score, but I was surprised to work eight stations up on 10M a year ago. I’ll probably poke around on 10M for a little while – hoping to find a few South American multipliers as I did last year.

For me, the Big Ticket in the ARRL DX CW is Japan – if Japanese operators get on in any numbers, that can help keep the keyer busy and rack up lots of QSO points on 20M and 40M. Sadly, Japan is just one DXCC country, so it doesn’t do much to bulk up the multiplier count. Advantage: East Coast.


All right, that’s a quick hit of Zone Zero for February. Don’t let the poor band conditions dissuade you from getting on the air in these two contests. You’ll have a blast no matter what the conditions are like – say hi to old friends and make some new ones.

Check the rules before the contests start and be ready for the opening bell. If it’s as cold where you are as it is here, maybe turn on that amplifier for the extra warmth. Now, let’s go get ‘em. I’ll see you out there.

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