My first ARRL VHF Contest

I have participated in several ham radio contests over the past couple of years. I have a modest station, so I don’t achieve high scores. My goal is to learn and improve my operating skills with each contest. Wikipedia explains amateur radio contesting as:

Contesting (also known as radiosport) is a competitive activity pursued by amateur radio operators. In a contest, an amateur radio station, which may be operated by an individual or a team, seeks to contact as many other amateur radio stations as possible in a given period of time and exchange information.

There are lots of contests throughout the year sponsored by various organizations. This weekend, I participated in the Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) June VHF Contest. The goal for this contest is to complete successful contacts with as many stations in as many different 2 degrees x 1 degree Maidenhead grid squares as possible using authorized frequencies above 50 MHz. The contest ran from 4:00 PM Eastern on Saturday through 10:59 PM Eastern on Sunday (or 1800 UTC Saturday, June 13th through 0259 UTC Monday, June 15th). I only participated for a few hours on Sunday.

For this contest, participants are allowed to make contacts via SSB (phone), CW (Morse Code), or various digital modes. I chose to use the FT8 digital mode on the 6 meter ham band (discussed in my previous post – “I’m hooked on 6 meters!”). The 6 meter band is known by hams as “the magic band”. Although it is located in the lower portion of the VHF band, it sometimes has propagation characteristics similar to the HF bands. That means long-distance communications are sometimes possible on the band. During the late Spring and early Summer months, there are frequent band openings from Sporadic E propagation. Under normal conditions, the band is limited to local, line-of-sight communications. When there is a Sporadic E opening, communication becomes possible over much longer distances – hundreds and occasionally thousands of miles. It can be hit or miss, and the openings can last from seconds to more than a day. That’s the magic of the band, and the challenge is to be at the radio when the band opens.

This weekend, hams in many parts of the U.S. were in luck. There were several Sporadic E openings on Saturday and Sunday, so high scores were possible! I only participated casually on Sunday. During the early morning, there was no Sporadic E, so I was only able to contact stations within an approximately 150-mile radius from grid EM83 (where I’m located). Later in the morning, we had Sporadic E openings from the Southeast to New England and southeastern Canada, and eventually to the Midwest and Texas. The band openings lasted into the evening, with several lulls. The map below shows all of the stations that received and decoded my FT8 signals. I did not complete contacts with all of them, but at some point during the day lots of stations east of the Rockies were receiving me.

PSKReporter map of FT8 signals received from N1ADM on June 14th, 2020
This map from shows the 6 meter band opening during the early evening on June 14th.

I finished the day with 106 contacts, and a score of 6,360. The score is calculated by multiplying the number of contacts (106) by the number of multipliers (60). Multipliers are determined by the number of unique gird squares worked. This will not be a competitive score, but this was my first time in this particular contest. I’ll try to improve next year if the magic happens again. I would also like to try my hand at CW for this contest. In a few months, ARRL will publish the contest results, and I can see how my scores compares to others.

Screenshot from my ARRL June VHF Contest log. I use N3FJP logging software.