Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Contesting Explained

The particular form of inanity that we enjoy called “contesting” or “radio-sport” is often difficult for fellow radio amateurs to understand, much less the family and friends who occupy our non-radio existence (if it exists). The hours of listening to high levels of QRM and QRN, yelling endlessly into a mic, or mindlessly hitting the F1 key, for 24, 30, or 48 hours while a beautiful fall weekend beckons outside with rapidly fleeting mild weather and sunlight. The hundreds of hours of work and thousands of dollars spent building towers and antennas, buying new radios and amplifiers, all to exchange a meaningless nugget of information with the same couple of thousand similarly addicted hams around the world. Why?

That is a much deeper philosophical question than we can address here, but the answer is really no different than for those who spend their time and money chasing a little white ball around in the woods trying to knock it into a small hole in the ground. Hmmm. Sort of makes our avocation seem almost normal, doesn’t it?

The trouble is that it is difficult to explain what we do in a contest, much less why.  The key to explaining foreign things to the unknowing is that you need to couch it in terms that are familiar to them. This requires using a frame of reference they can relate to. What is needed is a good metaphor. The Lost Island DX Society presents here a universally understood metaphor for at least some of the aspects of contesting – dating and sex.

The activity of Search and Pounce (S&P) is the cornerstone of any contester’s toolbox. Unless, and until, you reach Big Gun status, as a contester you probably spend a majority of your time in S&P mode. How can you explain this technique to mere mortals? The S&P hunt is not unlike the game played at every singles bar on every night of the week. The goal of every Harry Horndog at the local singles bar is to collect as many phone numbers from lovely ladies as possible, knowing full well that most of those numbers will be disconnected or belong to a pizza delivery place. It doesn’t matter. Harry is playing the odds. The more numbers he collects, the faster he’ll get a real one. Contest S&P is just like that, except you don’t have to buy the other station some fru-fru drink, make small talk and pretend you really like cats. You don’t care about the number you get from the other station – as long as you get A number from the other station. He with the most numbers wins! The measured pace of scanning the bands and working stations S&P is a lot like cruising the bar early before the crowd gets there. Pickings are relatively easy and you can cover a lot of space in a small amount of time.

But sooner or later, the hot blond in the miniskirt shows up. Once that happens, all the Harry Horndogs are stumbling all over themselves and each other to get HER number. This is a pileup.

The goal of every contester is to be the hot blond in the miniskirt. These are the Big Guns.  They command the crowd who want to get their number. When a pileup continues for an extended length of time, it’s called a RUN. The run is to contesting what sex is to, well, sex. There are definite similarities between a run and sex. You never know when you’ll get a run. When you get a run, you never how long it’s going to last. You never know how good a run will be until it’s over. When it’s over, you miss the run and want another one. You never know if or when you’ll get another run.

So there you have it, Contesting Explained. Well, maybe not all of it, but if your non-contesting friends can’t understand the above explanation of what contesting is, well, maybe you should look for some new friends.