While about 800 contesters and DXers were gathered in Visalia, another amateur radio conference was under way on the opposite side of the United States.
It was the VHF "Super Conference," a first-time event that was held near Washington, D.C.
The Super Conference resulted from a merger of the Eastern VHF Conference, sponsored by the Northeast Weak Signal Group (NEWS), the Mid-Atlantic VHF
Conference, sponsored by the Mt. Airy VHF Radio Club (the Packrats) and the Southeast VHF Conference, sponsored by the Southeast VHF Society. Much of
the work of hosting the conference was done by members of the Grid Pirates Contest Group (K8GP). Terry Price (W8ZN) and his wife Margie (K4MEP) seemed
to be everywhere, pulling things together and solving problems. The event was held at the Dulles Airport Holiday Inn.
At the final count, 233 were registered for the Super Conference and a number of others dropped by.
I attended the Super Conference and did a talk about setting world DX records on 2.3 and 3.4 GHz last year. I also had a paper in the published Conference
Proceedings book. Jim Forsyth asked me to write something about the event for the SCCC website.
The conference had many highlights, One was a talk by Dr. Joe Taylor, K1JT, about the newest features of his WSJT weak-signal digital software.
Those attending the final banquet were asked to vote for the best talk at the conference. Joe won "by a very wide margin," according to emcee and
co-host Phil Theis, K3TUF, president of the Mt. Airy Packrats. There were also many other excellent technical talks.
Dave Sumner, K1ZZ, the recently retired CEO of ARRL, was the keynote speaker, giving his first speech as a FORMER League official. Dave talked about
the threats to amateur radio spectrum allocations, some of which are frighteningly real--especially in the microwave and millimeter wave region.
The topic that dominated conversations in the hallways and hospitality suites was the August UHF Contest and ARRL's proposed new UHF and Up Contest.
ARRL recently announced that it was cancelling the August contest now to clear the way for a new contest in early May, starting next year.
When ARRL made the surprise announcement of the cancellation last month, many VHF enthusiasts from coast to coast objected. Many said it was their
favorite contest. A coast-to-coast group came together to take over sponsorship of the August UHF Contest.
The 39th annual August UHF Contest will be held as originally scheduled on Aug. 6-7, 2016, with the Mt. Airy Packrats, the Northern Lights Radio Society
(Minnesota) and the Pacific Northwest VHF Society acting as co-sponsors, joined by many other co-sponsors (including me). The contest has its own website,
What most troubled many supporters of the UHF contest was the secrecy of ARRL's decision to drop the contest. The decision was apparently made at the
January board meeting, but it was not mentioned in the board minutes. The author of the QST article about the 2015 UHF Contest was kept in the dark, as
were the VHF editor of QST and several other contest article authors. The 2015 results article in QST urged readers to take part in the 2016 event.
That was published long after the cancellation decision was made.
To his credit, Kermit Carlson, W9XA, chairman of the board-level sub-committee that cancelled the UHF Contest and drafted proposed rules for a new one,
made a public announcement of the proposed rules just before the Super Conference--and then appeared in person to talk about them. When members of his
audience objected to the secrecy or some of the proposed rules for the new contest, he repeatedly said, "I am the public face" of this process. He never
passed the buck even when it became obvious that many in the audience were not pleased.
One of the major features of ARRL's proposed new May UHF Contest is distance scoring, with a very heavy emphasis on the microwave bands. A contact on 222
or 432 MHz is to count for one point per mile, while Qs on 902 and 1296 will count for four points per mile and Qs on 2.3, 3.4, 5.7 and 10 GHz will count
for TWENTY points per mile. EME contacts will not count at all.
The heavy emphasis on the microwave bands reverses a long-standing ARRL practice of de-emphasizing the higher bands by creating categories that exclude
them. Many stations that have microwave capability have abandoned those bands to get into "limited" categories. That led to a drastic decline in activity
on the bands that are most threatened by non-amateur interests. ARRL now proposes to reverse course and create strong incentives for use of the microwave
The distance-scoring concept itself has also been questioned by some because of its geographic biases. Enhanced long-haul tropo is common in the midwest
and especially the east but almost unheard of in the west except on over-water paths such as California to Hawaii.
I was the sixth call area representative on an ARRL committee that considered distance scoring more than 30 years ago and rejected it in favor of using
grid squares as multipliers (previously, ARRL sections had been the multipliers in VHF contests), Distance scoring was also tried in the VHF sprints but
abandoned after several years because participation declined sharply after the first year. Now W9XA's committee seems to hope distance-scoring will
"revitalize" VHF-UHF contests. The committee surely recognizes there are very unequal scoring opportunities in various regions. Their answer is to have
NO national awards at all, apparently not even top-10 listings in QST. Instead, the proposal is to give awards only in 18 newly created geographic entities,
not nationally. There could be as many as 72 regional winners (in single op, multiop, rover and team categories), but no overall winners. It isn't clear
how the top scorers could be prevented from going through the results region by region and compiling their own lists of national "winners." That
happened before when national top scores were not listed in QST.
All of this led to some spirited discussions at the Super Conference and afterward on the various VHF reflectors..
In my initial draft of this article, I ended it at this point. But there's some history that should be pointed out to SCCC members.
For the first 50 years of VHF contests, they were dominated by stations in the northeast. As a Californian, I managed to win the single op category in
ten VHF/UHF contests in the 1970s--before the advent of grid squares. But that was unusual. Nobody else on the west coast was winning VHF contests then,
and no western club had won a club gavel until SCCC started winning just a few years ago. SCCC's run began when we started recruiting talented operators
and outfitting them with microwave-equipped rover stations. By working each other quickly in multiple grid squares (a strategy that critics called
"pack roving"), SCCC has been able to win club gavels in 13 UHF or VHF contests by now. When that started happening, critics began demanding distance
scoring as a "solution" to the "problem" we created. Even though our group was working considerable distances on the microwave bands, and despite the
unpopularity of distance scoring in the sprints, there are still influential people who see distance scoring as a panacea.
There are at least two ironies in this. For one thing, our group has largely retired from competitive roving. The critics of "pack roving" are beating a
dead horse. Moreover, experience has shown that "pack roving" is a successful strategy in distance-scored contests as well. W9XA's committee has given
tacit recognition to that fact by including a "team" category in the proposed UHF rules. That category will encourage groups of rovers to get together
with one or more fixed stations and cooperate to maximize their scores. The new "team" roving concept sounds a lot like "pack roving" under another name.
It will be interesting to see how this all plays out when the rules are finalized and the new May UHF contest has been held a few times.
Wayne Overbeck, N6NB less