Summary of how to improve contesting

Some suggestions and ideas as a result of my question about how to improve contest activity. Some were received privately.

> Articles describing the favorable experiences of new contesters might help. The place for these would be in QST or on eHam, not NCJ, and they should probably be run about twice per year. The articles should also highlight that you don’t have to be a serious entrant to have fun, since I’d bet that many folks have the impression that there’s little point in competing unless you go all out.

> Use of contest logs for award credit

> Teams comprised of some predefined number of hams (three? five?) would be allowed to pool their results on an hour-by-hour basis, with the best score for any clock hour being used toward the team score … kind of like a scramble in golf.

> The great majority of potential contesters are not new hams, they are new contesters. It might be more effective to let hams claim Rookie status who had not entered the contest within the last three years.

> More categories that allow people the chance to compete against others with same station (or avoid competing with others with bigger stations).

> Time limited categories that would allow those who don’t have the full weekend to still have a competitive experience. Suggested times were 3 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours, 12 hours, and 24 hours. Or follow German Markrothen RTTY Contest. In that one the entire contest runs 8 hours on, 8 off, 8 on, 8 off, and 8 on. So it is a 24 hour contest spread out over 40 hours with all the 24 hours of the solar day being part of the contest.

One group was in favor of a time-based category. Another group liked a “best x hours” of the full effort.

> Too much focus on winners. Make “performance results” that recognize different achievements within the contest. E.g., Who worked 5BWAC in the shortest time, Who worked most long Distance DX in the shortest time, etc. Categories would revolve around Continents, Zones, Countries, Prefixes, QSOs, All bands, Low bands, High bands, three bands, single bands QSO distance, Time.

> Define a separate category “Best of x hours.” I know a few contests already embrace this philosophy in one form or another. BARTG RTTY is one I believe. You can operate the entire event if you want or a 6-hour window and submit the abbreviated event as your entry for the contest.

> Allow the contesters to select their “best rate” from their entire > contest effort. There might be different “time categories”, i.e., 0-3 hours, 3-6 hours, etc. A contester can then compete against others who have limited time resources and gain recognition of their efforts.

> Give top 3 plaques on all mayor categories and ask for donations with log’s paypal suggested with a limit of $5 US.

> Have decent write ups… Move the detailed results entirely to the web > and have something limited for written media.

> European VHF-contesting uses the .edi-log-format which has lines for power, antenna height, height asl and antennas. So the results can easily contain those informations.

Randy Thompson, K5ZD

(This originally appeared on the cq-contest mailing list, June 20, 2009)

Everything not specifically prohibited is mandatory

In a post to cq-contest, Hans K0HB made the suggestion for a new universal contest rule:

"Rule XXII:  Everything not specifically prohibited is mandatory."

During my ethics presentation at CTU in Dayton, I specifically made the opposite point.

Contest sponsors have deliberately chosen to keep rules relatively simple. Perhaps to follow historical precedent or keep the text to something that will fit in a magazine. To fully cover every situation, our rules would look like Formula 1 car racing or top level sail boat racing and be hundreds of pages long.

We would then need judges, a commissioner, and an organization to manage the rules (not to mention more lawyers). We don’t have a big TV contract or big $$ sponsors, so contesting remains largely an honor sport.

This means participants have to consider two elements when making a decision about whether an action is permitted or not. 1) Is it in the rules? These are the “easy” ones. 2) Is there an accepted norm that deals with the issue? This is what keeps the cq-contest reflector humming.

The challenge for contesting is that the accepted norms vary from one culture to another, from one local group to another, and they change over time! Many times they are passed through word of mouth. Remember the game of telephone where you give a sentence to one person and then see the final result after it has been through many retellings?

At CTU, I suggested norms in contesting have 3 main objectives:

  • Just because its not specified in the written rules doesn’t mean you can do it!
  • Keep the contest on the radio and within the contest period
  • Don’t give or take unfair advantage

I am sure Hans was speaking tongue in cheek, but I really would prefer to continue enjoying a competition where people are following the rules and not always trying to find the outside of the envelope.

Randy Thompson, K5ZD

(This post was originally made to cq-contest reflector, June 6, 2009)

The contest is over

EZ4EBL and HK0T are two calls that have been discussed on the reflector in the past days.  People were more than happy to point out these calls were incorrect and what the correct call was.  I was very disappointed and concerned by that.

What is contesting?  It is a competition between operators.  This competition involves working stations on the air during the contest period.

Part of working stations is recording them accurately in the log.

When the contest is over the participants submit their log (the record of their activity) to the contest sponsor.  The sponsor checks the logs and publishes the results.  Some people are declared winners, but everyone is also able to compete with themselves and measure their own improvement.

Seems pretty simple.

If contesters sit around after the contest and compare their logs with others in order to make corrections to what they copied, is that within the spirit of the competition?  You are still competing to work stations, but accuracy is no longer being tested.  Same is true if you use other means after the contest to correct your log (looking at DX Summit records, listening to audio recordings, etc.).

In the “old days” ops would write their log using pencil and paper.  They would then have to manually go back through and dupe the log.  During this process they would correct errors they found or make the text easier to read.  This process took time and is a big part of the reason there is a 30 day period to submit logs.  It also lead to this perception that correcting logs after the contest was OK.

Today, we keep our log on computer.  At most we should scan through the log looking for typos and fixing anything we kept a note of during the contest.

These corrections should be done by you based on your own review and knowledge of the log.  Not as a group effort or using outside tools!

Its ok if you didn’t get every call or exchange correct.  Yes, your score may be reduced by the log checkers.  That’s part of the competition.

Request your log check report after the results are published and study it.

If you confuse certain letters on phone or CW you know what to work on during the next contest. Its called improving your skills and should be the most satisfying part of contesting.

Do all contesting and yourself a favor.  Follow the rules and work the contest as best you can.  Put your log in the proper format.  Send it in as quickly as possible after the contest.  The result will be an honest and fair competition that can be used to measure your skills against others and yourself.


Randy Thompson, K5ZD

(This item was originally posted to the cq-contest mailing list, December 4, 2008)

Going past 10

At the Contest University I gave a talk on Contesting Ethics. During the section on obeying power limits, I made a reference to turning the knob past 10 to 11 as a metaphor for breaking the rules. Several people in the audience identified the movie this was from (Spinal Tap).

K1DG found a video clip from the movie that explains it all. Be sure to
watch all the way to the end.

And just because the knob on your amplifier might let you go to 11 (or 12, or 13, or even more), please remember contesting is a game and it only works if everyone trusts each other to stay within the rules!

Randy Thompson, K5ZD

(This originally appeared on the cq-contest mail list, May 21, 2008)

Randy Thompson, K5ZD, Named WPX Contest Director

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 WPX Contests

(Hicksville, NY) May 8, 2008 — Contesting luminary Randy Thompson, K5ZD, has been named Director of the CQ World Wide WPX Contests, effective immediately. Randy succeeds Steve Merchant, K6AW, who has been WPX Contest Director since 2002 and who needed to step aside due to business obligations.

Randy has been a contester for more than three decades and has multiple wins to his credit in the single-op, all-band categories of both the CQ World Wide DX Contest and the CQ WPX Contest, in both CW and SSB modes. Randy is also 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. In the past year, Randy has been working with Steve Merchant behind the scenes on the WPX contests, so he is already familiar with the program from the administrative side.

Any questions regarding the 2008 WPX Contests (SSB weekend was held last March; CW weekend is coming up at the end of May) should be directed to Randy via e-mail to <>. We thank K6AW for his years of dedicated service to the WPX Contests and look forward to a seamless transition to K5ZD’s administration of the event.


Real Time Scoreboards

I have now had the opportunity to use real-time contest scoreboards in two contests and have some observations to share. For CQWW Phone 2006 and SS CW 2006, I was submitting my scores and watching the scores through the on-line scoreboard set up by Gerry, W1VE. [note: this link no longer works. See for a current score reporting site.]

The good

I am a competitive person.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to really compare scores unless you and your competition do a full out effort and even then, you only find out how you did after the contest is over.  If you are just playing around, it is hard to find a source of competitive motivation (other than just enjoying the fun – which reduces the “competition” aspect to busting pileups and holding a frequency).

In the CQWW Phone contest, I was not planning a full effort.  It was very inspiring for me to have the scoreboard up on the screen during the contest so I could measure how I was doing against other participants in real time.

I could see their score, then operate for a few hours and see if I was gaining or losing ground. In other occasions like this, I would bring up the previous year’s results and compete against those, which helped but was always subject to my own ‘adjustment’ of the year to year difference in conditions.

The scoreboard really made the contest much more fun for me.  By seeing my score compared to others, it actually motivated me to operate more than I had originally planned.  I would think this is good for the contest overall.

During the contest, I noticed my son kept coming into the shack to see how I was doing.  (He is 16 and recently got his Tech license.) He has never shown this kind of interest during a contest before. Turns out, he was coming in to see how I was doing on the scoreboard.  So live scoreboarding may provide a vehicle to demonstrate the ebb and flow and fun and competition of contesting to others.

In SS CW, Andy N2NT reported after the contest that he and his son were watching my progress on the scoreboard while guest op John N2NC was in the other room operating.  John wasn’t getting info from them, but it was making the whole experience more interesting for Andy.

The not so good

Information is everything.  One of the real challenges of single op has always been dealing with the isolation.  You work only with your own observations and experience. Your motivation is tested by fatigue.

Unfortunately, many operators now use the Internet for propagation info (and other things such as Instant Messenger) during the contest, so we have a widing definition for what single op really means (and a lot less isolation providing much more information).  If we are going to allow any Internet use, then a scoreboard becomes just another tool.

As opposed to a propagation or weather report, the scoreboard lets you know if you are winning or losing against others in the contest right now!  This may be motivational, or this may cause some to quit the contest (just like guys quit contests with serial numbers once they feel they can no longer “win”).

But there is a much bigger danger from real-time information. In the CQWW Phone contest, I knew conditions were predicted to be better on Saturday than on Sunday.  When I had good runs on 15m in the morning, I made an assumption that I had better work it for all I could.  I never even thought to check if 10m was open.  It was and this mistake easily cost me 20+ multipliers.  IF I had been watching the band breakdowns that are part of the scoreboard, I would have started to see the movement on 10m from others.

This small clue would have caused me to go check the band and catch the opening.

Should on-line scoreboards have a built in delay of 15 or 30 minutes (kind of like stocks on the Internet financial sites)?  Would that be enough?


On-line scoreboards are here.  They can serve a valuable service that makes the contest more fun for more people (participants and non-participants alike).

On-line scoreboards can also shift the order of finish in contests for single ops (or other categories) just by providing additional information about the conditions being experienced by other scoreboard participants.

Just as with runners in a Marathon, some are motivated by the chase and some are broken by the pass.

It is unreasonable to expect that any contest committee could legislate how technology is implemented by independent sites.  You can only define what participants are allowed to do.

The committee has to make a choice — is Internet use permitted for single ops in any form or not?  My preference would be for a total ban.

If Internet use is permitted, then the committee needs to specify the boundaries of what is acceptable use.  As part of this, I would suggest that scoreboards be allowed for single ops, but the committee specify that only total score, total QSOs, and total multipliers be permitted information that can be viewed during the contest.  I.e., no band breakdowns.  Don’t know how practical this is, but it is how I intend to use scoreboards going forward.

Whatever your decision, I will always view contesting as a sport that is best enjoyed solely by what can be done on and through the radio.

Randy Thompson, K5ZD

(This was originally posted to the cq-contest mailing list, November 18, 2006)

Live audio streaming in CQWW

When Dave, KM3T, was over getting familiar with the station prior to a single op effort in CQ WW Phone, we got to talking about his air traffic control audio streaming site and how cool it would be to do something similar for ham radio.  We couldn’t think of anyone else who had streamed a contest live on the Internet.

Dave sent me some software and within 30 mins or so, I had the headphone audio playing out through the servers he uses for

An announcement here on the contest reflector resulted in the following note that appeared in the ARRL Letter (thanks to N1RL):

* K5ZD to provide chance to eavesdrop firsthand on contest operation:

In what appears to be a contesting first, streaming audio <> from the Western Massachusetts contest station of Randy Thompson, K5ZD, will be available on the Internet during the CQ World Wide Phone Contest. Dave Pascoe, KM3T, a contest veteran, will be at the helm of K5ZD for a serious single-operator, all-band effort. “This will be a full blown SO2R [single-operator, two radio] effort, and the stream will be in stereo, so you hear exactly what he is hearing,” Thompson said. He advises listeners to look for audio streaming to start a few hours before the contest. E-mail comments to K5ZD <>.

Dave and I were interested to see what kind of interest there would be in such a thing.  The results exceeded our expectations.  I received a number of complimentary emails during the contest from people who were listening. One guy said he was using it to help mentor some beginning contesters, another said he was stuck at work and it let him enjoy the contest, and another said he was listening while eating breakfast.

In all there were about 40 emails with comments.  A number of emails after the contest asked if we made a file and if it was going to be available (see below).

On a personal note, the audio streaming gave me a wonderful opportunity to share ham radio contesting with my 15 year old son.

He has listened to me yelling into the microphone his whole life, but we have never had the chance to share what is going on inside the headphones.  Was fun to listen, tell him what country each callsign represented, and then do play-by-play as various things happened.

For example, at one point I could see Dave was going to get squeezed off a frequency.  Was fun to point out to Andrew the signals above and below, who they were, and how they were both moving in (and how the rate was impacted).

Looking at the web logs after the contest, it appears there were between 20 and 40 people listening most of the hours of the contest.

The high water mark was 59. There were nearly 2000 visitors to the site on Saturday of the contest!

Yes, we did archive the audio from the contest.  You can listen to the contest in 30 minute increments and view the log for each segment at There is also a link where you can download the entire contest as one file.  Dave has been listening to the contest through his Apple iPod!  You may want to find your QSO in the recording and see how you sounded here in New England.

One local contester has already used some of the audio files as part of the contest presentation to his local club.

If you hear an interesting segment, let me know the times (in GMT) and I will try to pull it out into a “Greatest Hits” list so that it will be easier to find examples of particular operating events.


We plan to do it again for CQ WW CW!  I will be operating single op all band with SO2R in a reasonably serious effort. Visit during the contest and click on the “Listen to Live Audio Now” link to share the experience.

Note: During the phone contest several people complained of slow start up or connection problems when using Microsoft Windows Media Player.

RealPlayer works great and starts very fast.

Look forward to your comments.  And see you in CQ WW CW.

Randy, K5ZD

Dave, KM3T


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