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10 Years of ARRL Contests

from WM5R
Website: on May 12, 2005
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A lot has changed in the last ten years of radio contesting. 1995 was near the bottom of the solar cycle, and 2004 was just past the solar cycle peak. On HF, contesting activity in Europe has grown significantly, and three World Radiosport Team Championships have focused attention on the top compoetitors in the sport. On VHF, activity has diminished, resulting in some deep introspection in the VHF contest community. Some contest have seen fairly steady activity throughout the years.

This article includes two charts that show the number of competitive (non-checklog) logs submitted in the ARRl-sponsored HF and VHF competitions each year from 1995-2004.

HF Contests

On HF, four contests seem to have enjoyed steady growth in competitive activity during the last decade. The ARRL International DX Contest, CW, the ARRL International DX Contest, Phone, the IARU HF World Championship, and the ARRL RTTY Roundup have all experienced steady growth. The ARRL 10 Meter Contest, whose log submission curve clearly follows the shape of the solar cycle, nevertheless has almost exactly twice as many log submission in 2004 as it had in 1995, almost a complete solar cycle in the past. One thing that all of these contests have in common is significant DX participation.

The three ARRL HF contests that are exclusively or primarily domestic in nature (dominated by W/VE activity) have shown essentially flat or maybe slightly declining activity. Of the three, the ARRL 160 Meter Contest has shown a better trend (perhaps because there is some DX activity in that contest) than the CW or Phone ARRL November Sweepstakes competitions.

VHF/UHF Contests

On VHF, the trend is almost universally bad. The worst case is the ARRL January VHF Sweepstakes, where log submissions in the mid-1990s exceeded 1200 logs, but have bottomed out in the most recent five years around 800 logs, a decrease in activity of one third. The ARRL September VHF QSO Party and the ARRL June VHF QSO Pary have also shown similar, but not quite as dramatic decreases in activity over the past ten years. Fortunately, the ARRL June VHF QSO Party has actually shown a small bump up in activity in the past two years.

In the more specialty VHF/UHF contests, the ARRL International EME Competition and the ARRL August UHF Contest have both been in a consistent gradual decline of activity over the past ten years. The ARRL 10 GHz and Up Cumulative Contest, on the other hand, is the one bright spot in VHF/UHF contesting, where the activity level has increased by nearly 80% over the past ten years.

The Next 10 Years

What will the next ten years of radio contesting look like? Will W/VE domestic contests continue to show flat growth? Will DX-based contesting continue to show growth through the next solar minimum? Is the boom in RTTY contesting here to stay? What will happen with VHF/UHF contesting in North America? All of these are questions that contesters who want to promote the sport must seek to answer.

Member Comments: Add A Comment
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by w0snj on May 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Could this be due to the expense of VHF stations?
It is obviously harder to create a decent VHF station than it is an HF station.
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by w8car on May 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
An interesting set of graphs. I would disagree about the cost of getting on VHF/UHF. My Icom 706 has decent performance on 6, 2 and 432. All my antennas for these bands are flea market finds and perform well so I have maybe a total of 800 bucks for 3 bands (plus a mobile/portable rig) I think a good area to investigate is the EU growth in contesting. I would posit that they are increasing in number and activity while fewer US and VE stations make more contacts with less US activity (the relatively flat lines for SS and other domestic contests point to this). I thought when I bought my 706 that I was riding a wave of activity rise in VHF activity but I was wrong. I guess that many 706/100 rigs sit in cars for mobile or on shelves collecting dust because many of us are not as interested or active as we once were.

The East and West coasts seem to have great VHF activity but here in 8 land you seem to need an opening or contest to generate activity.

10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by wm5r on May 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I, too, have wondered about the reason that HF DX-oriented contests have seen an increase in logs. Delving into the data a little bit more, I am satisfied that it is NOT the case the W/VE participation in these contests is flat, and the increase is solely due to increased DX logs.

Consider the IARU HF World Championship, a contest that is very popular outside W/VE. The following are the number of log submissions from W/VE stations only in the contest over the last ten years:

IARU HF World Championship 1995 323
IARU HF World Championship 1996 496
IARU HF World Championship 1997 351
IARU HF World Championship 1998 389
IARU HF World Championship 1999 435
IARU HF World Championship 2000 460
IARU HF World Championship 2001 467
IARU HF World Championship 2002 540
IARU HF World Championship 2003 438
IARU HF World Championship 2004 531

This isn't quite as large an increase as the increase in log submissions overall, but it's definitely an upward trend. The same thing can be said for the ARRL International DX Contests, too:

ARRL International DX Contest, CW 1995 888
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 1996 770
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 1997 890
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 1998 910
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 1999 1026
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 2000 1006
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 2001 1090
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 2002 1144
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 2003 1126
ARRL International DX Contest, CW 2004 1298

ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 1995 956
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 1996 884
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 1997 875
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 1998 1024
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 1999 1094
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 2000 1125
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 2001 1213
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 2002 1324
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 2003 1345
ARRL International DX Contest, Phone 2004 1337

Both contests show a marked increase in W/VE log submissions over the last decade. So, DX contests are becoming more popoular with everyone - DX and W/VE stations alike.
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by W2CDO on May 19, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Very interesting graphs.

A couple of comments: first, CW SS is particularly demanding of operator skills; a number of contesters have said that is a factor for them. The categories are not as rich for SS as for DX contests (multi-one, multi-two, multi-multi, etc.) and SS is the only major multiband contest that limits contacts with other stations to one per, instead of one per band, which practially lowers the QSO pool and thereby minimizes the potential QSO rates. Furthermore, top gun stations have huge investments in antenna farms optimized for DX; these antenna arrays aren't as effective for domestic work and so SS - or any W/VE contest - requires a different set of antenna arrays. Having made the investment in tall towers and three-stacks to work DX and win the DX contests in some ways almost discourages competing in SS. In my contest club (PVRC) the turnout for DX contests is huge compared to the turnout for SS.

Regarding the low rates for VHF contesting, it seems that most hams want to work DX on HF and can throw up a G5RV or a dipole or stick a vertical in the ground and get on HF easily to do so. Oh, the fact that these contests are pretty much daylight is both good and bad. Weekend daytimes are often family times. HF contesters can spend daylight with the family and operate contests at night on 160, 80 and 40, especially the DX contests, and be in the hunt.

VHF/UHF require a whole additional set of amps, antennas, with rotors, etc. especially to contest. One simply cannot get into V/UHF contesting with an HT and a rubber ducky, as one can get into DX contesting on HF with 100 watts and a dipole. V/UHF contesting requires a whole new set of antennas, some amps and in return the contester gets a much smaller QSO count. On the plus side, these are the contests that Technicians can really sink their teeth into (albeit with a little CW in the mix) and the wild card of various propagation openings can make it thrilling. When they happen. Without them, V/UHF contests can be very disappointing. VUCC is underrated as an operating achievement, by the way. But newbies can be scared off by propagation effects, not knowing how to use them. So, to maybe address the "disadvantages" of V/UHF contesting, the community could target Technicians, maybe adding a Tech category for the contests and/or other incentives, and could play up the thrill of the various kinds of openings by teaching them how to recognize and use them. Maybe adding QRP or small station categories for those with minimal power and antenna installations would help. Just random thoughts that might address some of the barriers to expanded V/UHF contesting activity.

73, Peter W2CDO
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by WB0WAO on June 13, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I used to be VERY active in VHF 'tests running 6m, 2m, 1.25m, 70cm and 23 cm from EN84 in the mid 80's to early 90's. Now, all I have left is my IC-375A on 1.25 m with a much less than optimal antenna. I have been thinking about reconsituting my station for 6m, 2m and 1.25m for now and possibly 70cm later on.

One thing that needs to be done, IMHO, is for the ARRL to totally revamp the rules for VHF/UHF contests. First, there needs to be some "distance factor" built into the scoring protocols. For example, if I work EN83 on 2m from my grid (EN84), it counts the same as if I work FN52! Think CQWW and its 0, 1, 2 or 3 points per Q depending on the location of the station worked. Second, they should eliminate the January VHF Sweepstakes and replace it with the January VHF QSO party using the same rules (hopefully much modified) as the June / September 'tests. Third, the "Single Op Portable" needs to get rid of that silly 10w maximum power limitation. This makes as much sense as requiring a station that goes to a rare entity for CQWW to only run QRP levels! There are a LOT of other areas that need tweaking in the rules that would increase participation. One thing that has always bothered me was the UHF contest awards - certificates for high scores in DIVISIONS?!?!? C'mon, certificates are cheap - in all the other VHF 'tests, the certs are given to high scores in Sections.


Dennis - WB0WAO EN84ij
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by w0uo on June 22, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
I look at the log submissions for the ARRL 160M contest with some interest. Log submissions seems to run with two currents: First, the likelihood of good DX propagation, known to be best as the sunspot cycle climbs up from the bottom and last, the increased number of stations with reasonable performance on 160. In the past 10 years, primarily in contests, I have worked about 3800 individual stations on the band. I wouldn't have thought that many were active.

73 de Jim
Deep in the heart of
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by vk2cz on July 4, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
From the DX side of things, it is evident (at least here in metro Sydney) that VHF/UHF SSB/Digi activity is now the domain of cliques and strong individuals, not leaving much room for people who just drop by from time to me.. my stack of 2M19's is quietly corroding on my roof - unused..

On the HF side of things, I still find there are contests that exclude DX submissions / participation - all continents have them unfortunately, and VK is no different, but I'm the first to challenge that with the organisers. Share the fun I say..

The other thing I've noticed is that many of the 'old school' are no longer on air, and many new hams have not been privy to the stoic "Not in the Contest" doctrine. The new guy's with licences (even the basic licences) have worked out that contests are fun - all by themselves.
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by N2WN on October 6, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
You may wish to look at NAQP as well. These seem to be tremendously popular. I find it interesting that CW DX has had an increase versus a flatline on SSB. Who said CW was dying?
Is data available for the various CQ WW contests?
Competitive contesting is somewhat expensive, initially from a financial perspective, but also from a time standpoint (away from work and family). Possibly the EU folks are younger than the US/VE counterparts as well...
The DX tests will be more challenging for the next few years, but should prove interesting.
CU in the fray...
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by NH6WZ on October 9, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
HI just wanted to add that I never was strong in CW so I never entered. As for SSB try to stay active, but with rarely free time can't get enough entries in log to make a submitting. I base my contesting entry on how much stations can be heard before 'test. if not to active I don't go on. Nowdays I don't hear to much ragchewing or DXing in general so I turn it off. I hope it improves soon. like the other post mentioned VHF is on a decline. ask anyone who visited here they'll confirm !!
RE: 10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by n7ji on November 8, 2005 Mail this to a friend!
Interesting, having scraped together a small station the morning of CW SS this year...

In under 7 hours of operating, I netted 137 QSOs in 53 sections running 5 watts to a screwdriver vertical on the back porch...probably doesn't hurt that I live on a hilltop. Considering that I had practically no presence on 80 meters, I missed Oregon :)

Anyway, what is particularly interesting is this I only worked ONE station with a check of later than 99. Lots and lots of checks between 50 and 70, so I'm afraid we're not backfilling with new CW contesters as the CW contesting population ages.

My daughter is now 3-1/2 and wanted to play with the code paddles. She'd come back to them over and over, and every time she'd finish sending dits and dahs (in TEST mode, off air, of course, with RF gain turned way down so she could hear the sidetone), she'd say "COOL!" before running off to play with something else.

I'm 36 and my check is 84. I don't really know how to get people into this aspect of radio - it is one of the most challenging sectors of ham radio, skill-wise, and maybe people just aren't up for mental challenges like that anymore.

I just don't know.

72, 73,

Scott N7JI
Eugene, Oregon
10 Years of ARRL Contests Reply
by ke5c on May 30, 2006 Mail this to a friend!
Are you measuring increased contest participation or simply increased log submissions? The evolution and globablization of computerized contesting and electronic communicating have made contesting logging and log submission a lot easier than before. Other factors such as the fall of the iron curtain must have some positive effect on log submissions, particularly DX logs.

Measuring participation per se would be more problematic. You would need to analyze logs for distinct callsigns worked per contest, create a database of folks participating in contests, then analyze those numbers, etc. In the meantime, to equate increased log submission with increased participation seems tenuous.

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