Battle of the Hams

One of the best descriptions of amateur radio contesting appeared in Sports Illustrated back in 1958. It was written by Bill Leonard W2SKE (SK) and takes the reader through a 48 hour DX contest. A great way for non-hams to understand the craziness, passion, and magic of staying on the radio for a full weekend chasing contacts from around the world.

How much is using Assistance worth?

There is always a curiosity about how much of an advantage does one gain from operating Single Operator Assisted (with access to the DX Cluster spots) vs traditional Single Operator.

With the intense single op competition here in New England for CQ WW CW, we have some data points to help answer that question. K1DG and K5ZD have operated from the same stations over this period. K0DQ has been from two stations, but with similar results.  All three are hard core operators who make the most of their time on the air.  Given the scores are fairly similar over the years, we can assume the difference for the 3 single operator assisted entries by K5ZD is mostly due to DX spotting assistance.

year call Q Z C Hours SA HP ALL SO HP ALL
2008 K5ZD/1 3955 132 463 44.4 6,666,975
K1DG 3682 115 453 42 5,751,568
2009 K5ZD/1 3957 132 480 45.1 6,845,832
K1DG 3851 134 485 44.9 6,614,634
2010 K5ZD/1 4587 154 524 41.6 8,940,786
K1DG 4303 153 534 44.2 8,239,191
2011 K1DG 4795 163 582 45.3 10,189,365
K5ZD/1 4904 168 561 44.4 10,160,802
K0DQ/1 4910 159 541 42.5 9,703,400
2012 K5ZD/1 4647 167 629 41 10,523,916
K0DQ/1 4610 165 576 44.6 9,607,806
K1DG 4333 160 562 44.8 8,630,788
2013 K0DQ/1 5540 152 498 45.3 10,297,950
K5ZD/1 4945 160 547 45.6 10,050,712
2014 K5ZD/1 4993 190 697 44.3 12,768,365
K0DQ/1 5115 159 543 45.9 10,183,914
K1DG 4901 164 558 44.1 10,065,402
2015 K5ZD/1 4742 179 654 44.9 11,275,488
K1DG 4563 157 523 44.9 8,778,120
K0DQ/1 4870 143 495 44.1 8,723,374

In a post on cq-contest (May 26, 2016) where he presented this data, Doug KR2Q wrote:

…using assistance or being unlimited gets you more mults and hence a bigger score (relatively speaking).

All of the top guys (such as these three) use SO2R.  If you are SO2R and using your 2nd radio to find new Q’s (hopefully, new mults), when you tune using the not-assisted method you are “blind.”  You don’t know what your might find (which is fun).

When you are SO2R and use assistance on your second radio, you are not tuning “blind.”

You know just where to go to grab new mults.  So it would seem obvious that using assistance when SO2R would a higher mult and assuming you don’t neglect running on radio 1, a higher score.

I started doing SOA in CQ WW to have more fun and work more interesting DX.  I was tired of working 40+ hours and then learning there were many expeditions and rare stations that made several thousand QSOs that I never heard all weekend.  Having the cluster spots helped me find these stations as well as lots of other weak ones.  It is pretty cool to nearly achieve 5BDXCC in a weekend.

One of the great things about radio contesting is that we each get to determine our own goals and levels of competition.  I have enjoyed doing contests solo, but it is also a lot of fun to have the additional challenge of managing the non-stop stream of DX spots that the DX Cluster and RBN provide.

Convergence and Change – An Editorial

This originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of CQ Magazine along side the 2015 CQ WW CW results. It represents my opinion and not that of CQ Magazine or the CQ WW DX Contest Committee.

Many years ago the best DX and contest operators were hunters. They studied the bands, knew when the rare DX was most likely to be on, and could even recognize the sound of that rare station needed for a multiplier. As technology improved, stations got better and more capable. Personal computers entered our shack to help with logging and sending CW. With better equipment and more stations on the air, the game started to change from hunting to running.

In the mid 1980’s, Dick Newell AK1A invented PacketCluster® software that allowed operators to enter the call and frequency of a DX station – a “DX spot” – and have it announced to everyone connected to the VHF packet network. Suddenly we could have hundreds of others telling us where the DX was hiding. After some controversy, the CQ WW added the Assisted category in 1989 to place those using this new tool into a separate category.

In early 2008 a new innovation appeared. Alex Shovkoplyas VE3NEA introduced his CW Skimmer software. CW Skimmer is a multi-channel CW decoder that copies all of the callsigns in the receiver passband and displays them on the screen. It had amazing CW copying ability – especially when Software Defined Radios provided the ability to capture a full 96 KHz of each amateur radio band. It suddenly became possible to simultaneously copy and announce every station calling CQ on CW across all 6 amateur radio bands along with their signal strength!

Soon after, PY1NB and N4ZR began building out the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN). The RBN collected data from CW Skimmers around the world, made it available to DX Cluster nodes, and stored it in an archive. This concept was quickly adopted by contesters because it provided immediate knowledge of activity around the world. You could call one CQ and see your signal reported from every Skimmer where there was propagation. The archive was a rich resource for propagation and antenna evaluation.

This convergence of personal computers, Internet access, DX clusters, and CW Skimmer have changed the nature of CW contesting. Even the smallest station can now call CQ and be noticed. The top multi-operator stations have developed the ability to interlock multiple stations on a band so they can chase these Skimmer spotted stations in between CQs on their run frequency. Many single ops talk about the fun of doing all of their operating just by working stations found when clicking on DX spots.

Like it or not, the CQ WW CW (and contesting in general) has certainly been impacted by this convergence. Having so much information has helped more people have more fun – generating even more activity and QSOs for everyone. It has also made it more difficult to police the line between the single operator working alone and those who are using the assistance of DX spotting. Anyone who has received a ham radio license in the last 25 years doesn’t know amateur radio DXing without the DX Cluster.

We have to remember that contesting is ultimately a game played using the ionosphere and our ability to hear far away signals with our own ears. Enjoy the tools, but never forget that our real purpose is to build and test our skills as radio operators. Given our history of technology innovation, when does it make sense to accept convergence and recombine the single operator categories – giving everyone access to spotting information?


Elecraft K3 Settings

I have two Elecraft K3 radios that I use for SO2R.  I am creating this page to record all of the various settings in the radios so I can find them if needed.

N1EU recommended settings for best pileup performance:

AGC SLP 000  (maximum slope, instead of horizontal)

AGC THR 014  (so AGC doesn’t kick in until signals are very strong)



AF Gain is adjusted so the loudest signals are tolerably loud (around 9PM) and RF Gain increased until weakest signals are readable (around 3PM).


Bob, N6TV, recommends the following K3 settings:

First set CONFIG:TECH MD ON to un-hide some AGC settings. Set TECH MD OFF when finished, to eliminate useless options from appearing in the SubRx display choices (PLL1, AFV, dBV, etc.)

AF GAIN LO — Cuts audio hiss. May not work with all headphones. OK on Heil.

AF LIM 20 — Only takes affect when AGC is OFF (rarely used)

AGC DCY Soft — Reduces AGC-induced IMD, recommended for pileups

AGC HLD 0.05 — Slow AGC hold time (50 ms). Reduces AGC-induced IMD, recommended for pileups. Works with AGC-S only.

AGC PLS NOR — Loud static pulses do not pump AGC.

AGC SLP 010 — A pretty “flat” AGC response curve. I may move this lower since pileups of loud guys can blend together, but I like this setting because it saves my ears.

AGC THR 010 — AGC kicks in at about S-8. Signals lower than THR behave as they would with AGC OFF ( +1 dB of RF = +1 dB of audio)

AGC -F 120 — Factory default fast AGC decay rate (recovery time). Higher = faster. Faster can be bad.

AGC -S 20 — Factory default slow AGC decay rate (recovery time). Higher = faster. Faster can be bad.

RF GAIN at 3 O’Clock or less on noisy bands

AF GAIN never higher than 3 O’Clock






FL1 to FL5 BW set to match labeled filter bandwidth exactly, not wider or narrower.

Use AGC-F for CW.

Use AGC-S for SSB.

CW Pitch 500 (or to taste)

IF shift centered (on CW)

500 Hz InRad 8-pole filter on CW

2.8 kHz 8-pole filter on SSB (1.8 8-pole when bands crowded, must move IF SHIFT lower for pleasing audio)

Use XFIL button to toggle between filters and reset the IF shift, rather than NOR (hold) button

PREamp ON for 15m and up, OFF for other bands


My current settings for other items:


AF LIM nor 030

EXT ALC Off t -4.0

LIN OUT nor 020

RS323 38400 b


TX DLY nor 008



TXG VCE 1.5 db




Rope for Wire Antennas

There was an interesting exchange of views on the topic of ropes for wire antennas on the Yankee Clipper Contest Club email reflector this month. I wanted to capture some of the discussion for later reference.

On Feb 5, 2016, at 1:02 PM, Lars KE1J asked:

My dipoles came down today due to the heavy wet snow. Clearly the rope I used was not strong enough. Any suggestions for a good rope that can hold some wire antennas?

de K1LI:

The MastrAnt rope that guyed the towers at WRTC2014 was spectacular.

I’d think you’d worry more about trees pulling each other down than you would about this rope breaking!

And, they were a corporate sponsor of WRTC2014, which puts them high on my list of “go to” vendors.

Widely available at US ham equipment distributors, like DXEngineering.

You can see their products at:

de K1WCC:

There is a store in New Bedford, R&W Rope Works, that sells all kinds of rope. They opened their warehouse a few years ago to sell surplus rope, I went there, they had large amounts of all kinds of marine rope. I bought some 3/16″ dia. braided dacron, about 500 ft. and it’s tough and strong, designed for sunlight and abrasion resistance. I think they have a store there now, or, order online. My dipoles are still up, (just worked St. Helena with one of them) despite being coated with ice and snow right now.

I’m more concerned about wire strength.

Also, Davis RF is now in the rope business.

Henry  K1WCC

de N2GZ:

I have been using Dacron rope sourced from I bought a lot of it (savings in bulk) and im going through it slower than i thought I would.

I employ a technique that lends itself to rapid rapiers:

Using a heavy (5/16 or greater) rope, I install a loop in each tree that will support the ends of my antenna. The loop is tossed over the support branch and is joned at a welded stainless ring of approximately  1 inch ID,

1/4 inch wire diameter. Mcmaster part 3769T74 or similar. a smaller ring would probably be fine. A swivel sheave could probably used here with added expense.

I then use  a smaller rope, usually 3/16 diameter to support the antenna.

Shorter and lighter antennas require less tension to deploy, so a smaller rope could be fine here for shorter dipoles.  This rope is passed through the welded stainless ring (or sheave).

The antenna is raised first by moving the steel ring to the top of the tree, and securing in place by tying off the loop of heavier rope at the base of the tree. Then the smaller antenna support cord is tensioned to position the antenna as desired.  When deployed this way, there seems to be far less abrasion on the rope that passes over the tree branches, and the the rope that is likely to break is the one supporting the antenna. Should it fail, simply lower the ring/sheave with the loop of heavy rope and replace pull up a new antenna. Far easier to do rapidly, no need to get the cannon/slingshot out and no amount of luck is needed to get the rope placed as you had it before.

Sometimes it is desirable to install a fuse (smaller diameter rope) between the antenna and antenna support rope. so that it breaks in a specifiedspot, allowing your rope to be reusable without intermittent knots.

Greg, N2GZ

de W1HIS:

Yes.  _Wire_ rope beats any organic (natural or synthetic) fiber rope; however, wire rope must be broken up by insulators, and insulators don’t pass through pulleyvery well.

The best organic fiber is polyester.  No other organic fiber resists sunlight well.  Only one other organic fiber, namely Kevlar, creeps less than polyester.  (By creeping, I mean extending under sustained load.)  However:

  • Kevlar does not resist sunlight well, so it requires a braided polyester jacket.
  • Kevlar absorbs up to 7% of its weight in water!  It is a lousy dielectric.
  • Kevlar does not resist abrasion as well as polyester.  Although a braided polyester jacket would protect Kevlar fibers from external, or “surface” abrasion, Kevlar’s resistance to “internal” abrasion or fatigue due to repeated flexing is poor!
  • Kevlar is quite brittle.  A shock breaks it easily.  A falling tree branch would be much more likely to snap a Kevlar rope, than a polyester rope.

Last but not least, black Dacron/polyester double-braid rope is relatively inexpensive.

IMO, nothing matches black-jacketed Dacron/polyester double-braid rope.  The braided jacket protects the unpigmented, _straight_ (not twisted), fibers that provide the tensile strength of the rope.  The lack of twist is important because a twisted rope untwisted and extends under a sustained load.

You should buy rope whose rated (breaking) strength is ten times the sustained load (tension) it must endure.  I control the tension in a rope by hanging a lead weight on the free ends of the rope, which is fastened at one end and passes through a block to the hanging weight at its opposite end.

You should reduce wear on ropes by using pulleys (a.k.a. “blocks”) with large diameter sheaves (wheels).  After years of replacing rope worn out by 2”, 3”, and 4″-diameter sheaves.  I now use only 5” and 6” diameter sheaves.

Thus, I have gotten years of service from ropes, despite hurricanes, nor’easters, ice storms, and tree branches falling on my antenna and its supporting ropes.

For several years I have bought black Dacron/polyester double-braid rope from <>.

-Chuck W1HIS


(1) Nylon does not resist sunlight well.

(2) Under tension, a Nylon rope grows longer, and longer, and longer.

de W1EQO:

Using an insulator between a nylon rope and the wire helps a lot.

The problem is we hams mostly use a class of wire antennas known as “standing wave” antennas (dipoles, verticals, yagis) vs another bunch called “traveling wave” antennas (loops, folded dipoles, resistor in the center folded dipoles, etc).

Standing wave antennas are characterized by an end (or ends), beyond which current does not flow. This is commonly called the “end effect.”

The end effect determines the feed point impedance of a standing wave antenna.

So, attaching a resistive chunk of nylon rope to the end of a dipole changes the feed impedance or VSWR. Also it is an absorbing extension to the wire, which I would expect, reduces the amount of radiated RF. Possibly even worse, the resistive value changes with weather and time.

Placing an insulator between the wire & rope mitigates this problem

Jim, W1EQO

de KI1H:

After the flurry of emails on the subject of rope last week and seeing my beams bowing to the weight of the heavy snow, I deciding to do a little research.

As was mentioned, Kevlar is resistant to stretch but not UV stabilized unless jacketed.

I did find a source for a material that stretches less than 1% at 30% load ( at 1/8″ that is 750 lbs load).

Look at the link below.

I called the manufacturer and it’s non-conductive.

OZ1AA Visit

I was very honored to have Thomas Andersen OZ1AA stop by today on his around the world bicycling adventure. The odometer on his bike was at 40999 Km.  That’s more than the distance around the world at the equator!

Thomas is currently riding from the bottom of South America with the goal of reaching Newfoundland.  Follow his blog with amazing photos and commentary at

Thomas OZ1AA visited on August 21, 2015

Thomas OZ1AA visited on August 21, 2015

Thomas OZ1AA on August 21, 2015

Thomas OZ1AA ready to get back on the road

Thomas OZ1AA on August 21, 2015

Thomas OZ1AA and his trusty Bianchi


40999 Kilometers since the start of his journey in Denmark more than 3 years ago!

Thomas OZ1AA on August 21, 2015

Thomas OZ1AA on his way


2014 Philip J. McGan Silver Antenna Award

From the minutes of the July 2015 meeting of the Board of Directors of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL):

29. On motion of Mr. Norris, seconded by Dr. Boehner, the following resolution was ADOPTED (with applause):


WHEREAS, Randy Thompson, K5ZD, has demonstrated outstanding volunteer public relations success on behalf of Amateur Radio for many years at the local, regional, and national levels as an active contester and Elmer; and


WHEREAS, he has fostered an environment that significantly increases public awareness of Amateur Radio, including through his association with the World Radiosport Team Championship (“WRTC”) event in 2014; and


WHEREAS, his active promotion of the WRTC2014 event, and Amateur Radio in general, encompasses several years of effort promoting the WRTC2014 event as “the Olympics of Ham Radio”; and


WHEREAS, his efforts in promoting WRTC2014 resulted in national-level coverage of Amateur Radio in the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio’s “Only A Game” program and many local and regional media outlets where WRTC2014 participants lived;


THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the ARRL Board of Directors, at the recommendation of the ARRL Public Relations Committee, awards the 2015 Philip J McGan Silver Antenna Award to Randy Thompson, K5ZD.

More about the award:

I was the leader of marketing and communications for the World Radiosport Team Championship 2014 (WRTC2014) that was held in Boston during July 2014. With the help of Michelle McGrath we were able to receive press attention for the event in numerous local newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, and the NPR show Only a Game. We also did a campaign to get press in the hometown newspapers of some of the USA and Canadian competitors.  Check out some of the results on the WRTC2014 site In the Media page.

I was very surprised to receive this honor.  Thanks to Doug K1DG for nominating me and to ARRL for the recognition of our efforts.  It is always hard to measure the results of such activities. It was our hope that WRTC2014 and the concept of radio as a sport would provide a potential point of interest for people outside the hobby to become interested in amateur radio.

CQ Contest Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony 2015

Since becoming the Director of the CQ WW DX Contest in 2012, I have had the privilege of introducing the inductees to the CQ Magazine Contest Hall of Fame each year during the Contest Dinner in Dayton.

Dave, KM3T, made a video recording of the ceremony this year featuring the induction of Ward Silver, N0AX, and Doug Grant, K1DG.  Both are great friends of mine and extremely worthy of being in the HoF.

View the video at:

Photos below are courtesy of Bob Wilson, N6TV.

CQ Contest Hall of Fame Honorees N0AX, K1DG

CQ Contest Hall of Fame Honorees N0AX, K1DG

CQ Contest Hall of Fame Honoree N0AX, K5ZD

CQ Contest Hall of Fame Honoree N0AX, K5ZD

K5ZD presents CQ Contest Hall of Fame award to K1DG

K5ZD presents CQ Contest Hall of Fame award to K1DG

CQWW 1500W Limit

Contesting is a game. Games have rules. The rules create barriers or constraints that equalize the competition or create strategic choices. If we ignore the rules we don’t like, the game is no longer meaningful.

Those stations that run more than 1500W are cheating. Much the same way users of performance enhancing drugs in bicycle racing, Olympic sports, baseball, etc. are cheating.

The temptation to cheat is strong. “It doesn’t hurt anyone.” “It makes up for my poor location.” “Everyone else is doing it.” These are all justifications to make the cheater feel better. They do not make it right.

The cheaters are hurting the contest. Their loud signals drive other contesters off the bands. Participants lose faith in the integrity of the game and decide not to play. New contesters see the cheaters make big scores and think that is the way to compete so the next generation learns to cheat.

Power cheating happens all over the world. Temptation and lack of control is a human condition. In ham radio contesting it seems to happen much more in some places than others. These areas are so invested in cheating that they ask for the rules to be changed to make it OK.

In the end, there are those that follow the rules. We respect their integrity, their effort, and their achievements. For the others, we see their scores, but we know they are dirty. Maybe they are not disqualified (because there is not the oversight of professional sports), but we do not have to respect them.

Fair play means following the rules. All of them.

Randy Thompson, K5ZD

(This was originally posted to cq-contest mailing list, September 12, 2013)

Randy Thompson, K5ZD, Named Director of CQ World Wide DX Contest

CQ Communications, Inc. / 25 Newbridge Rd. / Hicksville, NY 11801 / Phone: (516) 681-2922 / Fax: (516-681-2926) / e-mail:




For more information, contact:

Richard Moseson (W2VU)

Editor, CQ Amateur Radio

(516) 681-2922 /

Randy Thompson (K5ZD)



Randy Thompson, K5ZD, Named Director of CQ World Wide DX Contest

(Hicksville, NY) October 1, 2012 — CQ Contest Hall of Fame member and WPX Contest Director Randy Thompson, K5ZD, has been named Director of the CQ World Wide DX Contest, effective immediately. Randy succeeds Bob Cox, K3EST, who retired in September after 35 years at the helm of the world’s most popular amateur radio contest.

Thompson, 52, has been a ham since age 13. He is an accomplished contester, having multiple wins in the CQ World Wide DX Contest and the CQ WPX Contest, among others. He has also competed in four World Radiosport Team Championships. In addition, Randy is a past editor of the “National Contest Journal” (a post he has held three separate times) and a co-founder of the website. He is a longtime member of the Yankee Clipper Contest Club and an instructor at K3LR’s Contest University. He has been Director of the CQ WPX Contest since 2008, coincidentally the same year in which he was inducted into the CQ Contest Hall of Fame.

“The CQ WW is the biggest event on the contest calendar,” commented Thompson. “I am honored to be involved and follow in the giant footsteps of K3EST. With the great conditions we are seeing on the bands, this year should be the biggest CQ WW ever! The first order of business is to have the team ready for the new 5-day log deadline and faster results reporting.”

CQ Publisher Dick Ross, K2MGA, said Thompson’s appointment marks the start of a new chapter in the history of CQ World Wide DX Contest, adding “The CQ management team looks forward to working with Randy as CQWW Director. His four years as WPX Contest Director have already demonstrated his ability to successfully and creatively guide a major contest, and we are totally confident that he will take the CQWW to even greater heights.”

Thompson’s appointment to the directorship of the CQWW creates a vacancy for director of the CQ WPX Contests. Anyone interested in taking on the challenge of leading a major contest should contact Randy at <>.

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