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Amateur Radio Info & Exams - Operations 2 - Contesting, QSLing, VHF+ Digital, & EME


There are a wide range of events which involve contacting stations, according to certain criteria, to gain points. For VHF and UHF contests Maidenhead locators, also called Gridsquares, are often the basis of scoring. In some cases distance is a factor. A signal report and a sequence is often sent.

Some station are "rovers", who move from gridsquare to gridsquare.

A typical VHF Field Day exchange might be:

There may be more repetition, and more use of phonetics, depending on conditions. Additional components might be asking about having other bands, or a suggestion such as to "QSY" to "160", meaning to move to XX.160 MHz.

Contest loggign software, such as VKCL, would indicate that this is a distance of 186.90 km.

Some contests are more light-hearted, with other information exchanged. Others are "Sprints", contests lasting one to a few hours, with one based on postcodes. Some contests have multiple classes, from all-bands, all-modes, with multiple operators, down to one band, one mode (SSB or CW) with one operator. Occasionally doing something like having a club station make one or few CW contacts changes class, and might mean winning in the conbined class, rather than placing in the more popular SSB only one.

Being a narrow band, not available in all nations, contesting is often not permitted on 30 metres (10 MHz).

Logging is often done using a computer program, such as VKCL, which keep count of contacts, worked stations (indicating whether a station can be worked again), and scoring. The examiners want you to know that "Cabrillo" is a format exported from these programs, and used to submit entries to the contest organisers.

Not all special operations are contests, for example, International Marconi Day, which involves contacting stations with a historic link to Marconi.

In the US and Canada, one famous event is "Field Day". This involves establishing a station in a park or similar site, with stations on various bands, and operating various modes. This is a contest, practice for setting up stations for emergency support, and an event which publicises Amateur Radio.

For several major contests one strategy for cashed-up entrants is to travel to an in-demand DX entity in Latin America; or from VK, in the Pacific or Indian Oceans.


Automatic Packet Reporting System, APRS, is a system which uses Unnumbered Information (UI) packets to send small amounts of information, such as weather and position. The designer realised that it is better to wait for updated information, rather than requesting a resend of aging data. Position is typically derived from GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems, such as GPS, Glonass, Galileo, QRZZ, etc. APRS is useful in public service and emergency events for sending the position of operators shadowing the event doctor, on a sweep boat or "autobus" (pick-up van for stragglers). Trackers can also be clipped to a searcher's backpack, etc.

It is speculated that the UK may even build its own GNSS system, as relegating themselves from the EU means relegation from full access to Galileo, such as military and survey grade signals.

EME & JT65

Digital signals, specifically JT65, allow modest stations to make contacts using signals bounced off the moon. JT65 is designed to be able to resolve signals at very low levels, and to handle variability on signals reflected from the irregular surface of the moon, including variations in signal phase.

Meteor Scatter & FSK411

MS, meteor scatter, uses FSK411.

Note that before these modes CW was used for "Moon-bounce" or EME, and fast CW or SSB were used for Meteor Scatter (MS). The very largest EME stations could use SSB.


Contacts are confirmed by stations exchanging "QSL" cards. Stations operating in remote locations, and DXpeditions, often appoint a "QSL manager" to handle cards. In many countries around the world, the national association operates a QSL card bureau for members. If you are a member in the US, and you make contacts with various "DX" stations, you can send your cards for non-US stations to the US QSL bureau. They are then grouped with cards from other amateurs for France, Australia, Cuba, etc, and these bundles are sent to these associations. Cards getting to Australia are distributed to states and territories. NSW (VK2) cards are sent to Westlakes club, then from there to members. Non-members can pick up their cards at the Wyong (CCARC) Field Day.

DXpeditions and many other stations require a "Green Stamp", meaning one or more US dollar notes. International Reply Coupons have been used in the passt, although some postal administrations hae stopped selling or accepting them. A larger self-adressed envelope with a stamp may also be sent with your card, if the station is in the same country.

HF Refresher

A factor in selecting bands is the simple rule: The higher the sun, the higher the frequency. For example, for daytime DX 20 metres or even 15 metres (14 or 21 MHz) might be used, while 40 metres crosses a dark Pacific, connecting a station in the evening in VK2 (NSW) with early-bird operators in Oregon (W7).

Relevant Questions

These are the actual questions from the Extra licence exam pool, as published by the NCVEC.

What indicator is required to be used by U.S.-licensed operators when operating a station via remote control where the transmitter is located in the U.S.?
A. / followed by the USPS two letter abbreviation for the state in which the remote station is located
B. /R# where # is the district of the remote station
C. The ARRL section of the remote station
D. No additional indicator is required

No indicator is needed, answer D.

The district numbers are now somewhat meaningless, given a vanity call can have any number, and there is no longer a need to change calls when moving house between districts.

Which of the following best describes the term self-spotting in connection with HF contest operating?
A. The often-prohibited practice of posting one’s own call sign and frequency on a spotting network
B. The acceptable practice of manually posting the call signs of stations on a spotting network
C. A manual technique for rapidly zero beating or tuning to a station’s frequency before calling that station
D. An automatic method for rapidly zero beating or tuning to a station’s frequency before calling that station

Self-spotting is listing your own station on DX-clusters, and similar websites, and it is generally "verbotten" in contests, answer A.

From which of the following bands is amateur radio contesting generally excluded?
A. 30 m
B. 6 m
C. 2 m
D. 33 cm

It is the itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie 30 metre band, answer A.

Which of the following frequencies are sometimes used for amateur radio mesh networks?
A. HF frequencies where digital communications are permitted
B. Frequencies shared with various unlicensed wireless data services
C. Cable TV channels 41 through 43
D. The 60 meter band channel centered on 5373 kHz

Hacked WiFi equipment is used on frequencies shared between (legal) unlicensed users and amateur radio, being 2.4 GHz, and now 5.8 GHz, answer B.

What is the function of a DX QSL Manager?
A. To allocate frequencies for DXpeditions
B. To handle the receiving and sending of confirmation cards for a DX station
C. To run a net to allow many stations to contact a rare DX station
D. To relay calls to and from a DX station

In some cases a DX station, meaning a station in a country many Amateurs which to contact may be humanitarian worker, operating in their spare time, and often they do not have time to manage a large pile of QSL cards. Also, these countries may not have a reliable postal services. Thus these operators appoint a QSL Manager to handle these, answer B.

During a VHF/UHF contest, in which band segment would you expect to find the highest level of SSB or CW activity?
A. At the top of each band, usually in a segment reserved for contests
B. In the middle of each band, usually on the national calling frequency
C. In the weak signal segment of the band, with most of the activity near the calling frequency
D. In the middle of the band, usually 25 kHz above the national calling frequency

This is typically in the weak-signal part of the band, near the calling frequencies, answer C.

What is the Cabrillo format?
A. A standard for submission of electronic contest logs
B. A method of exchanging information during a contest QSO
C. The most common set of contest rules
D. The rules of order for meetings between contest sponsors

This is an electronic logging programme output format, answer A.

Which of the following contacts may be confirmed through the U.S. QSL bureau system?
A. Special event contacts between stations in the U.S.
B. Contacts between a U.S. station and a non-U.S. station
C. Repeater contacts between U.S. club members
D. Contacts using tactical call signs

Between US and non-US stations, answer B.

What type of equipment is commonly used to implement a ham radio mesh network?
A. A 2 meter VHF transceiver with a 1200 baud modem
B. An optical cable connection between the USB ports of 2 separate computers
C. A standard wireless router running custom software
D. A 440 MHz transceiver with a 9600 baud modem

A hacked WiFi router, answer C.

Why might a DX station state that they are listening on another frequency?
A. Because the DX station may be transmitting on a frequency that is prohibited to some responding stations
B. To separate the calling stations from the DX station
C. To improve operating efficiency by reducing interference
D. All of these choices are correct

All these reasons, answer D.

How should you generally identify your station when attempting to contact a DX station during a contest or in a pileup?
A. Send your full call sign once or twice
B. Send only the last two letters of your call sign until you make contact
C. Send your full call sign and grid square
D. Send the call sign of the DX station three times, the words "this is", then your call sign three times

Just your own full callsign, answer A.

In the unlikely event grid-squares are needed, they are sent later. The only exception is if you had moved to a new grid square, and wanted to indicate you could be worked again, but saying "new square" is probably more sensible.

What technique do individual nodes use to form a mesh network?
A. Forward error correction and Viterbi codes
B. Acting as store-and-forward digipeaters
C. Discovery and link establishment protocols
D. Custom code plugs for the local trunking systems

Pretty much like connecting a device to a library WiFi system, discovery and link establishment protocols, answer C.

Which of the following digital modes is especially designed for use for meteor scatter signals?
B. FSK441
C. Hellschreiber

FSK411, answer B.

WSPR is mostly used at HF, and the other two require a steady signal strength to work properly.

Which of the following is a good technique for making meteor scatter contacts?
A. 15 second timed transmission sequences with stations alternating based on location
B. Use of high speed CW or digital modes
C. Short transmission with rapidly repeated call signs and signal reports
D. All of these choices are correct

The trick with MS is a signal type which will take advantage of the short duration of the ionised trail behind a meteor, and all of these techniques do this, answer D.

Which of the following digital modes is especially useful for EME communications?
A. FSK441
C. Olivia
D. JT65

This is JT65, answer D.

This handles very weak signals, which have bounced off the uneven surface of the moon.

What technology is used to track, in real time, balloons carrying amateur radio transmitters?
A. Ultrasonics
B. Bandwidth compressed LORAN
D. Doppler shift of beacon signals

This uses a lightweight GNSS (GPS, etc) receiver, a processer IC, and a small VHF transmitter to send its location, including altitude, using the APRS protocol, answer C.

What is one advantage of the JT65 mode?
A. Uses only a 65 Hz bandwidth
B. The ability to decode signals which have a very low signal-to-noise ratio
C. Easily copied by ear if necessary
D. Permits fast-scan TV transmissions over narrow bandwidth

The receiving station can decode signals which have a very low signal-to-noise ratio, such as signals returning from the moon, answer B.

Which of the following describes a method of establishing EME contacts?
A. Time synchronous transmissions alternately from each station
B. Storing and forwarding digital messages
C. Judging optimum transmission times by monitoring beacons reflected from the Moon
D. High speed CW identification to avoid fading

Stations take turns in transmitting, using PCs set to an accurate time source, answer A.

What digital protocol is used by APRS?
B. 802.11
C. AX.25

AX.25, the packet protocol, answer C.

What type of packet frame is used to transmit APRS beacon data?
A. Unnumbered Information
B. Disconnect
C. Acknowledgement
D. Connect

UI, or Unnumbered Information, answer A.

This is because stations using this mode do not "connect", or request re-sends.

What type of modulation is used for JT65 contacts?
A. Multi-tone AFSK
D. IEEE 802.11

This is multi-tone audio frequency shift keying, answer A.

PSK is NOT used, as being reflected off the moon affects the phase content of signals.

E2D10 (C)
How can an APRS station be used to help support a public service communications activity?
A. An APRS station with an emergency medical technician can automatically transmit medical data to the nearest hospital
B. APRS stations with General Personnel Scanners can automatically relay the participant numbers and time as they pass the check points
C. An APRS station with a GNSS (GPS, etc) unit can automatically transmit information to show a mobile station's position during the event
D. All of these choices are correct

It can show this location of stations, such as sweep boats, answer C.

Which of the following data are used by the APRS network to communicate your location?
A. Polar coordinates
B. Time and frequency
C. Radio direction finding spectrum analysis
D. Latitude and longitude

Latitude and longitude, typically derived from a GNSS receiver, answer D.

On to: Operations 3 - HF Digital

You can find links to lots more on the Learning Material page.

Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, July 2022.

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