VHF Contests – KE4WMF/R

Since 2022, I’ve taken an interest in VHF/UHF contesting. My interest isn’t with sitting at a desk and contacting stations all over the world. Instead, it was natural for me to try contesting as a “Rover.” Rovers are not just mobile stations. In fact, some rovers use portable setups that are not mobile at all. Rovers, whether mobile or portable, move from one Maidenhead grid square to another during the course of a contest.  Moving from grid to grid allows stations to work Rovers as a new station each time they change grids. A team of Rovers can accumulate quite a load of contest points by moving between the squares and working each other after each grid boundary crossing. This is called “grid circling.” For now, I’m the only Rover within a 100 miles or more. So, advanced techniques will have to wait until I’m discovered and connected with other rovers.

Roving integrates my love for driving with my ham radio pursuits. I focused my station build to work within the “Limited Rover” category. I do not have 222 MHz capability just yet. So, my build is still incomplete. I’ve built what is described as a “run-n-gun” setup, meaning that I can operate while in motion. Others use a “point-n-shoot” setup which requires set up and tear down at each operating location. My approach is a hybrid of those methods: I drive my run-n-gun setup to a location and then operate while stationary. While the taller tower of a point-n-shoot may have greater reach, I save a lot of time by not needing to set up or tear down at each stop. See details about my rover station on this page.

Most run-n-gun operators might say that I’m missing a lot of operating time by not working while in motion. I agree! However, I do not log while driving due to safe driving practices. I’m experimenting with recording my QSOs on a digital voice recorder so that I can log them later. I’ve captured some my QSOs that way, but I need to work on microphone placement. I do let WSTJ-X run while I drive. I set it to call “CQ TEST” and then glance at the laptop from time to time. If I see the dialog window open to indicate that a QSO took place, then I press ENTER to automatically log it and then ALT+N to start the process over, all with very little attention from the road. It feels like cheating, but it’s part of the game; so, I run with it.

How do I perform during contests? Do I get results? My first contest effort was in July 2022. I was working with horizontal loops and a modest travel plan while I searched for flaws in my station or operating techniques. I had a few setbacks, but still managed to make 37 QSOs from 4 grid squares. This photo shows the 272-mile route that I chose to work near the borders of grid squares FM07, FM08, FM17, and FM18. I had a plan to cover two grids to my south, FM15, FM16, FM25, and FM26; however, I had some technical difficulties on my first day and decided to stay home on Day 2.

My next contest included 37 QSOs from 5 of the 6 grids I visited. To be clear, I view 37 QSOs over the course of 24-33 hours to be a dismal outcome. I recognize that my operating habits, driving routine, and low effort level are largely to blame. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder if better antennas would help me to hear more signals and then reach additional stations. I worked a massive overhaul of my station in November-December 2023, shared in detail in three posts, starting here. I wasn’t finished in time to test it during the January 2023 ARRL VHF contest. But I certainly was ready for June, which is considered to be the most favorable of the VHF contest due to fantastic band openings.

My plan for June was ambitious: 10 grids! One of my goals was to work from the beach in Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (K-0561). Not only would it make for a good photo and give me a clean shot to Long Island and the northeast, I also planned to conduct a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation. I will share the details of my June ARRL VHF contest experience in my next post. I prefer to keep my posts shorter than 1000 words. Plus, I may share my write-up with a magazine or other entity; they prefer shorter stories, too!

Ready to Rove!


About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard ordnance and electronics communities for over 35 years. I became involved with ham radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology made my jobs and hobbies quite interesting. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography/videography, electronics, ham radio, and web management.
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