First Post to the VHFContesting Reflector:


I have been seriously contesting in the VHF/UHF world since June 2004.  Hence, there are surely guys with a LOT more VHF+ contesting experience than I.  However, I have been a VHFer since the late 60's when I became really hooked on Meteor Scatter(MS).  My Elmer there was none other than Dick, K0MQS, the holder of 2M WAS #1.  Dick explained the very strict definition of what constituted a VHF contact and that all serious VHF operators were careful to abide by this convention.  The definition of what constitutes a VHF contact was given to us by Ed Tilton and has been in use for 50+ years.  Every VHF operator that I have ever known, knows this "convention" and abides by it.  I shall call it "Tilton's Rule".

For those that may not know, the definition of a valid VHF contact requires that BOTH stations receive BOTH calls, some piece of information(usually a signal report or grid), and confirmation that the information was received(i.e. a ROGER).  Once a contact attempt begins, communication via ANY other means is prohibited.  Doing so, invalidates the contact and you must start again from the beginning.

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time and effort station building and operating in the hopes of working some good DX on the VHF/UHF bands.  Everyone that I know likes to work "that rare one" on long range tropo, MS, AU, or EME.  As long as the strict definition for a VHF contact was observed, the contact is counted for WAS, DXCC, VUCC, and whatever else is lying around.

Recently, I have come to understand that there are two different ideas of what contesting should be about.  I will call these two philosophies the HF Philosophy and the VHF Philosophy.  I am not sure that I like these two names, but I cannot think of anything better.  While the names indicate the heritage of the ideas, it is clear that there will be some people that don't fall in either camp.  However, I have observed that operators who were HF ops for many years and then came over to VHF, tend to believe in the HF Philosophy.  Ops that started out in the VHF world and VHF contesting, tend to believe in the VHF Philosophy.  I suspect that this is basically true through out the country.....but maybe not.

Operators who believe in the HF Philosophy believe that ALL of contesting is "Did you find that rare one in Africa??".  Their emphasis is on FINDING stations rather than WORKING stations.  Apparently, in the HF world, it is just assumed that if you find one, you will work him.  There are rules, upon rules, upon rules that govern HOW you are allowed to find a station to work.

Operators who believe in what I call the VHF Philosophy believe that "You can either work a station or you can't."  The emphasis here is on WORKING stations rather than FINDING them.  In other words, VHF contesting should be about MAKING the CONTACTS.  In the VHF world, you must have precise control of antenna pointing(both directions), frequency, mode, sequencing, and the time of the attempt to make a single contact.  It often happens in the VHF world, that even though you know exactly the call of a station and exactly where he/she is located, you cannot work that station on a given band.

When I first began VHF contesting, I kept running into what I will call the "Thou Shalt Not" rules in the ARRL contests.  I could not understand what those rules were about--why they were in there--what purpose did they serve?  All these rules seemed to do was to limit the number of contacts that you could make--to artifically lower your score.  To those of us that belive contesting should be about making the contacts, those rules make no sense.  I have found that most of those rules were "pushed up" into the VHF world from the HF world.  These rules have an HF heritage.  I have talked with several well-known old-time VHFers and they agree with me on this point.

In contrast to the ARRL's horde of "Thou Shalt Not" rules, the CQ WW VHF contest has practically no such rules.  You may call a station on the phone, send him an email, look at a propagation reflector, whatever--but you still have to actually WORK the guy.  Making contacts in a contest, what a novel approach!  There is a reason why the CQ WW VHF contest has become the "Fourth Major".  The lack of artificial restrictions is certainly an important part of this contest's "charm".

It may be that all this revolves around what the HF ops call "Assistance".  I really don't like this word, because it does not describe what is going on.  Unfortunately, the word has become a multi-valued word.  When some ops use the word assistance, they mean help in setting up a schedule during the contest period.  When others use the word, they mean that someone is using a telephone during the middle of a contact attempt saying, "OK, I am sending O's now, can you hear my O's??"  Others use assistance to mean setting up a schedule before the contest even starts.  There may be other uses too.

Apparently, in the HF world, "assistance" vs "no assistance" is a really big deal.  Even though I have been in the VHF world for 40+ years, I had never heard the term "assistance" until last year.  This is why the "assistance" vs "no assistance" thing just does not make any sense to me at all.

Every real VHF op knows that you cannot use "assistance" during a contact attempt to confirm parts of  the contact.  "Everyone knows" that this invalidates the contact attempt.  I have never met a real VHF op that engaged in this sort of thing.  This use of the word assistance is just a non-starter.

Another use of the "assistance" word is to regulate the making of schedules.  Currently, the ARRL rules prohibit making a schedule during the contest(using non-Amateur means).  Since the ARRL cannot regulate conduct before the contest begins, an operator is free to make as many schedules as he/she wishes before the contest starts.  I have learned that in the HF world, you are a "terrorist with a box cutter on the plane" if you make schedules before a contest.

However, it is extremely common practice in the VHF world to make schedules before a contest--especially on digital MS or EME.  I don't understand how there is any significant difference between setting up a schedule before the contest period begins or after.  You still have to actually WORK the guy.  If you can/do work the other station, the contact should count, just as it does in every other facet of the VHF world.  If you can't work the other station, you can make all the schedules that you want, but you will just be wasting your contest time.  Consider this scenario:  it is perfectly legal for Amateurs to set up a regional 40M or 75M net during the contest and use these nets to make/coordinate schedules(such as for digital MS).  But if one were to do this via Ping Jockey, then you are a child molester with bad breath and a bad haircut as far as the ARRL is concerned.  The distinction is meaningless and silly--you can either work the other guy or you cannot.  How or when you make a schedule is not relevant.....contacts are what count.  However, the strict definition of a VHF contact MUST be observed.

Practically everyone believes that the "Rules for VHF Contesting" are not working correctly.  Various well meaning and thoughtful people are making detailed proposals concerning how to fix this bit of minutia or that bit.  I believe that if we don't get the "First Principles" correct, there will never be any hope of "fixing" the ARRL's VHF contest rules.

Here is what I and many others in our area believe are the FIRST PRINCIPLES:

1.  The strict definition of what constitutes a VHF contact must be observed.  It is our duty as VHF operators and Elmers to teach this and via word and deed to respect it.

2.  VHF contesting should be about "making the contacts"....making as many contacts as possible, on as many different bands as possible, to as many different VHF stations as possible, for as long a distance as possible.

3.  Hence, ALL VHF should be "Assisted"(in the ARRL's use of the word).  Stations may make schedules at any time via any means--however, the strict definition of what makes a VHF contact must be carefully observed.  I realize that the hidebound HF ops at HQ are going to have heart fribrillations over this idea--because their experience and training are rooted in the HF world and the HF Philosophy.  However, what is right for the HF contests is not necessarily right for VHF contests.  A possible compromise is that ALL VHF contests provide "Assisted Classes" of operation.

Rational discussion and / or ideas are welcomed, preferably off the reflector.  I have tried hard to wordsmith this discussion so that it was not inflamatory or insulting to anyone.  If someone can show me how to better present these ideas, I welcome their helpful criticism.

Please don't send me flames telling me that:
1)The rules are the rules and we should just obey them.  Before Little Rock, black Americans were forced into substandard schools, required to use "Black Only" drinking fountains and restrooms, and other such indignities, because that was "The Law".  Of course it was all wrong and the laws were eventually overturned.
2)I am an ARRL hater and just want to see the ARRL destroyed.  I don't hate the ARRL at all.  I am a member of the ARRL and have been for several years.  Like 20% of the ham population, I get my copy of QST in the mailbox every month.

If you agree with me on this, please stand up and start working towards its acceptance.  If you do not, please try to explain WHY this is the wrong concept.  "This is the way the HFers do it and so it must be right" and "We have always done things this way, don't rock the boat" are not rational reasons or explanations.

Finally, HF ops tend to believe that HF contesting and VHF contesting are the same.  Of course, most have never operated VHF, but they remain very strong in their beliefs.  Most VHF ops tend to believe that HF and VHF contesting ARE significantly different and hence should / could have different concepts and rules.  Again, I will say that the correct rules for HF contesting and VHF contesting do not necessarily have to be the same.