SO2R RTTY Contesting
SO2R RTTY Contesting with WriteLog
Written by Don Hill, AA5AU February 10, 2004. Updated on March 17, 2005 & October 25, 2014.
This article focuses on RTTY contesting as Single Operator using 2 Radios (SO2R) with references to using WriteLog for Windows. Even if you don’t use WriteLog, and you are interested in setting up for SO2R or improving your existing SO2R station, hopefully you’ll find useful information here. Having entered in over 200 RTTY contests and making more than 150,000 RTTY contest QSO’s using SO2R (as of October 2014), I have a lot of knowledge to share. I have spent hundreds of hours testing and operating SO2R RTTY in my quest to compete against better operators with better equipment, better antennas and better locations. In some cases I have succeeded in winning world titles in major contests using modest equipment and small antennas at my home QTH near New Orleans, Louisiana. But most of all, the fun of SO2R RTTY contesting is so great, it must be tried. I hope the knowledge and experiences I relate in this article will help others advance their SO2R RTTY operation.
AA5AU SO2R RTTY History
I first started RTTY contesting in 1983 using a Heathkit H-89 computer which I had built. I used a homebrew TU and a RTTY program under the CP/M operating system. I hand logged the contacts on paper. Later, after my father, George, WB9FAD, upgraded to a DOS machine, he gave me his H-89. At first I used the 2nd computer to log on. I would make a contact on the RTTY computer and then type it manually into a text file on the other computer and save the file to a 5″ floppy after each contact. I learned touch typing in high school, but using a second computer for logging helped my typing skills tremendously. It enabled me get the feel for operating two keyboards at the same time.
I started toying with the idea of 2-radio RTTY contesting in late 1980s using a Yaesu FT-101 and a Drake TR-4C. I eventually purchased a Yaesu FT-757GX/II transceiver and retired the FT-101. Then later, after using an Icom IC-751A while on a DXpedition to the Caicos Islands as VP5/AA5AU in 1989, I fell in love with that radio and purchased one of my own. This was the first radio I owned that was capable of direct FSK and had narrow filters. Later, I purchased another IC-751A. Once I had two radios that were well suited for RTTY, I started getting more serious about two-radio RTTY contesting.
The biggest overall contribution to RTTY contesting came from Ray, WF1B, who introduced his DOS-based RTTY by WF1B program at Dayton in 1992. I purchased a copy and suddenly 2-radio RTTY contesting came much easier. By using 2 separate DOS PCs running RTTY by WF1B with 2 separate radios and merging the log files afterwards, SO2R became much simpler.
That year in the 1992 CQWW RTTY Contest, Frank N0FMR, Ron KP2N, Eddie G0AZT and myself, operated Multi-Single from Aruba as P40RY using RTTY by WF1B. We had two complete RTTY stations set up. The main run station was an Icom IC-751A owned by Eddie driving an Alpha 76 amplifier that belonged to Carl, P40V. The second radio was my Icom IC-751A driving my very old Heathkit SB-200 amplifier.
Pre-contest testing using just the exciters yielded a great amount of intra-station interference between the two radios. This was very discouraging. We rummaged through some filters that Carl had on site but couldn’t find anything we could use.
When the contest started, we turned up both stations, turned up both amplifiers and proceeded to call CQ on the main radio. Much to our surprise, the interference between the 2 radios radio was greatly reduced on most band combinations. We weren’t really sure why this happened. We learned later that the noise we were hearing on one radio was caused by phase noise generated in the exciter of the other radio. This noise is greater at full output on the IC-751A. When we lowered the exciter output power to drive the amplifiers, this phase noise was greatly reduced and therefore, the interference became minimal. Despite not using band filters, this was a good learning experience to show that band filters are an important part of a two radio operation. We had good antenna separation and we were lucky not to burn up the front ends of the Icoms. As a recommendation, never try SO2R without band filters or stubs. You can damage the front end of your receiver without using this protection.
By utilizing the 2nd radio at P40RY were we able to work multipliers on a 2nd band resulting in 2222 QSO’s and a World Record that held up for six years. This Multi-Single experience using 2 radios and RTTY by WF1B was the platform that would vault my SO2R RTTY operation at home. Three months later in the 1993 ARRL RTTY Roundup, I used a 2-radio setup with contesting software for the first time in a major RTTY contest and my score jumped a dramatic 41% over the previous year. Even though my score increased each year up to 1999, the amount of increase never matched that first year using 2 radios. Running SO2R will increase your score -by a lot.
In the mid to late 1990s I kept refining my SO2R RTTY operation. Each year I kept adding something to make the station better. I went from two vertical antennas to a yagi and a vertical. Eventually I purchased my own home and put up two towers and a 2nd yagi. I upgraded to newer computers. I went from RTTY by WF1B to WriteLog for Windows in 1997 when I was invited by Ron, K5DJ, to operate with him as a Multi-Multi from the W5KFT Ranch in central Texas for the BARTG Spring RTTY Contest. I will never forget sitting down to WriteLog for the very first time. After minimal instruction from Ron, I was able to be comfortable with the software 15 minutes into the contest. Our two-man Multi-Multi set a new world record. Three years later, we broke the record again with a score that has held up to this day (2014). Short story and pictures of that effort here.
Back at my own station I added Dunestar band pass filters – first single band filters then a switchable all-band unit for one radio. In 2000, I added a homebrew set of 10/20 and 15/40 meter stubs (see below).
For the 2001 CQWW RTTY Contest I purchased another Dunestar 600 filter so I could use either radio on any band without having to manually switch filters. With this set up I no longer needed the stubs. (For more information on stubs, check out http://www.k1ttt.net/technote/k2trstub.html and http://n6ws.com/files/stubs.pdf.)
I upgraded to newer radios (a pair of Kenwood TS-870s), better power supplies, a 2-radio headphone switch and the list goes on. I believe one key to success in SO2R RTTY contesting is to keep upgrading your station whenever possible. It took several years of adding better equipment before I was able to compete consistently on a world-wide scale. Unless you have a lot of money to spend at one time, and I certainly didn’t, it may take years to build a competitive SO2R RTTY contest station at home.
Why SO2R in RTTY?
The reason I migrated to using 2 radios in RTTY contests was so I could compete against better and more experienced operators using better equipment and bigger antennas. I found that, for me, it wasn’t just enough to enter a RTTY contest. I wanted to compete and try to win. Without the money or resources to build a contest station, I found that by using a 2nd radio, I could compete against bigger and better stations. Running 2 radios was a great way to equalize a location disadvantage as well. However, as more and more people are using SO2R for RTTY contesting, using two radios doesn’t guarantee you will win, but it gives you a better chance.
There are three main reasons I can think of for running SO2R in RTTY contesting. The first one I touched on previously – to increase your score tremendously and to give yourself a chance at winning. Whether you win the world, best score in your class, in your continent, in your country, in your state or in your club, running SO2R increases your chances.
The second reason is to make RTTY contesting more interesting. The fact that there is a lot of “dead” time in RTTY contesting has some operators simply bored with this slow mode of contesting. Since 45 baud (60 wpm) Baudot is used almost exclusively for RTTY contesting on the HF bands, it takes about 8-10 seconds to send a short CQ and another 4-8 seconds or longer to send a report. In this time, the operator is doing absolutely nothing else if using only one radio. The only thing the operator does is push a key on the computer keyboard, then sit and wait. By using WriteLog’s Auto-CQ function, the operator could be sitting there doing absolutely nothing. This can be boring at times. At other times there will be a lot of action, people coming back to your CQ or searching & pouncing on a band full of other stations calling CQ. In some of the more popular contests, there will be plenty to do with one radio, but it’s still slow compared to CW or SSB.
By incorporating a second radio, RTTY contesting can be much more interesting. It can keep you busy all the while with increased results. Even if you aren’t out to win anything, adding a 2nd radio can make the whole experience a lot more fun and increase your operating skill tremendously – which is the third main reason for SO2R – increasing your overall operating skills.
There are numerous hardware strategies involving SO2R on RTTY and these differ somewhat from CW and SSB SO2R hardware requirements. I’ve operated SO2R on CW and I can tell you firsthand, other than having 2 radios, the setup and strategies are different. For example, in CW one radio is normally the “run” radio and the other radio is the “S&P” radio. However, on RTTY either radio should be capable of running or S&P depending on how you set up your station. Because the brain doesn’t have to decode two signals coming from two radios, more options become available when using RTTY because decoders do most of the work. There may be some good CW operators that can “run” on two radios simultaneously. But on RTTY, running on both radios doesn’t take an advanced operator or advanced hardware. Also, no special “SO2R box” is required for SO2R RTTY operating.
When I first started SO2R, I didn’t have much strategy. I just did whatever I could do with what I had. And now that becomes an important consideration in your strategy. What is your station capable of? For newcomers to SO2R, that is a difficult question due to lack of experience. But you should have an idea for what might be possible with the radios, antennas, computer(s), filters/stubs and other hardware you have to work with.
For SO2R operation you must have at least two radios, two antennas and some sort of filtering hardware. Actually, you don’t have to have two antennas but most of us already do. Now that triplexers have become available, you can run two radios on one tribander through a triplexer, but that only covers the high bands. Separate antennas for 40 and 80 meters are necessary. You don’t have to have two computers. You can operate two radios with a single Windows-based computer with both WriteLog and N1MM Logger. Personally, I use two computers. I think it’s less demanding. However, some excellent SO2R operators use only one PC. Mike, K4GMH, is one of them. He’s holds many RTTY contest world records and uses only one computer. On the other hand, Ed, W0YK, operating as P49X, has run up a string of world records in major contests using two and sometimes three computers networked together.
One PC versus Two
One of the first decisions you must make is whether to use one computer or two. I use two separate computers, with each computer controlling a single radio. I have two main reasons for running two computers. One is because I always like to run each station completely separate in case there is a failure of any kind. This way, if you lose a component of one of the two stations, you aren’t dead in the water. You still have one complete working station until you can fix the problem with the other station.
The second reason is because I have become comfortable operating this way from my early days of using WF1B on separate PCs. And this is important. In setting up for SO2R, you must operate within your comfort zone. You must be comfortable in your station layout because working two radios is more demanding. When first starting out, everything associated with SO2R may be uncomfortable, but as you gradually grow into it, you will be able to determine what is more comfortable and was is more difficult. When thinking about using one PC or two, try to visualize operating two radios on one PC and then try to visualize operating two radios on two PCs. If one appeals to you right away, move in that direction. Sometimes you are forced to use only one computer because you only have one computer capable of running SO2R.
The major advantages of using a single computer are that you only have to look at one monitor instead of two and you only have to control one keyboard and one mouse. Although I’ve used one PC for SO2R, I find that more keystrokes are required for SO2R on one PC. With WriteLog, when using only one PC, you must continuously change the keyboard focus to the Entry Window of the radio you want to transmit from. So you are continuously hitting the up and down arrow keys to change the focus to each radio. SO2R on one PC requires a great deal of additional keystrokes, mouse movements and possibly more concentration. Over the course of a contest, these additional keystrokes plus the additional mental activity used to coordinate these keystrokes or mouse movements add up. Having said that, it can also be also be said that perhaps operating this way is more natural than using two computers.
How does this compare to using two computers? The major disadvantage of using 2 PCs, is having to watch two separate monitors and operating two keyboards and two mice. As difficult as this might be to visualize, I have found that it’s not as difficult as it seems. There are two important key elements to using two PCs. One is to dedicate your left hand to your left PC/radio and your right hand to the right PC/radio. The 2nd key element is to concentrate on one PC/radio at a time. To become comfortable using 2 PCs, you should learn how to use the mouse with the opposite hand from what you are used to. Although WriteLog can be operated exclusively with keystrokes, I have found that combining the keyboard with the mouse is the most efficient way to operate. I am right-handed and I normally operate a mouse with my right hand. However, I have no problem operating a mouse left-handed even with it set up as a right-handed mouse.
It shouldn’t be difficult to operate WriteLog with just one hand since most keystrokes are single keystrokes such as hitting a function key to send CQ or a report or Enter to log a contact. Believe it or not, I have found that using one hand for each PC/radio is an extremely efficient and relaxing way to operate SO2R RTTY.
Whether you decide to use one PC or two, it will take practice to become comfortable with one way or the other. Before deciding which way you want to go, there are important considerations which need to be taken into account.
There is one advantage to RTTY SO2R operation on single PC over CW operation using a single PC and that is you do NOT need a special “SO2R” box to run two radios on one computer. WriteLog does it all and even supplies a software radio lockout which prevents you from transmitting on both radios at the same time (this lockout also works when using 2 PCs networked).
Even though you don’t need to use all of WriteLog’s bells and whistles for SO2R RTTY on a single PC, there are some features which are so important they need to be considered like radio control & using your radio to transmit FSK. You must take a look at a few things before deciding on using just one PC. Is the PC you want to use powerful enough to handle the rigors of SO2R using WriteLog? Is your monitor large enough to hold all the windows? (You can always add a second monitor to your single PC.) Are there enough COM ports or extra slots to add additional COM ports so you can use radio control and FSK? These are all important considerations. Perhaps you will not need COM ports if you are using USB interfaces or USB-to-serial adapters.
Use your single-radio experience to start planning your SO2R setup. What are you doing now? If are using FSK and radio control now, you are going to want to keep those because they are so valuable. If you give up one or the other of these features, you are going backwards. Try not to go backwards from where you are now when setting up for SO2R.
The PC you use should be fast enough where you can move freely within the software without having to wait on the PC. This means you should have enough CPU speed, memory and hard drive space so that the PC does not bog down while performing multiple tasks. Because of my limited experience using a single PC for SO2R, I can’t say exactly what these minimum requirements are. But most likely, any computer manufactured in the last couple years should work. Older PCs running Windows XP will work if the CPU is fast enough and there is enough memory. I would think that 4 GB of memory would be desired if trying to run SO2R RTTY on one PC. If you are an experienced WriteLog user, you should know how your PC performs on RTTY with WriteLog now. Use this as a basic idea of how you think it will work running two radios. If you computer’s a dog with one radio, it will probably be considerably worse trying to operate SO2R.
Unless you use an all-in-one USB interface such as the popular microHAM line of interfaces, COM ports will become an important consideration when using radio control and/or FSK. You have to decide how you want to run RTTY on the 2nd radio. Do you want to use existing TNCs that you own? Or do you want to use sound card decoders such as MMTTY or 2Tone in the FSK mode? Remember that you will need one COM port for each radio control connection and each FSK connection if you are using something like a simple transistor interface. So if you plan on running radio control and FSK on two radios with one PC, that will require four COM ports. Four COM ports is not difficult to achieve in a desktop computer. If you plan on purchasing a new desktop, make sure there is an extra PCI Express slot to add multiple-COM port boards. In 2014, I purchased a new Dell desktop computer with Windows 8.1. I then added a Syba 4-port serial card and have four COM ports for less than $40. Even though I don’t run SO2R on this one PC, I have the capability of doing so. Besides FSK and radio control, you may want to incorporate rotor control and that is another COM port for each rotor. Think ahead about COM ports and if you will need them.
It may be a good idea to write down on a piece of paper what you want to do and what it will take to do it. Then see if your PC has the resources to do what you want. Station layout is quite easy with a single-PC setup. Basically the monitor is in the middle with a radio to the left and one to the right. Although you could put both radios on one side, it may not be as efficient. Either way, it’s better to do what’s most comfortable. The picture below is of a basic SO2R RTTY station from “back in the day”.
Because of the number of windows required for a single-PC setup, it’s recommended that at least a 19″ monitor is used. If you use a smaller monitor, you must either increase the monitor”s resolution or make the font smaller. This is not always a good thing. Smaller fonts are harder to read and can lead to fatigue if you have to strain your eyes to read the screen. One way to get around this is to run two monitors on one PC. Many operators do this, but it does require additional hardware in the PC in the form of two video cards or a single video card with two outputs. Today’s larger monitors, such as 22-24″ wide screen monitors are usually quite sufficient in space for all the windows required for SO2R on a single PC.
Planning a two-PC SO2R RTTY set up requires different thinking. If you are experienced in running RTTY with WriteLog, you already know what it takes to run a single PC with a single radio. With a two-PC setup, you are doing exactly what you do with a single PC and single radio except you just do it twice. Obtaining a 2nd PC is normally not a problem. If you are like me, you have several lying around from years of upgrading to newer and faster PCs. If not, older PCs are easy to find because there are literally millions of them.
If you have two computers, it is best to network them together. With home networks as popular as they are today, this is usually not a problem. Many PCs are wireless these days, making it easier to add to the network. However it isn’t absolutely necessary to network the two computers as you will see.
I did not use networking when I used RTTY by WF1B. I understand it was possible to do but networking was somewhat complicated back then. Even when I started with WriteLog, I did not use networking at first. I dedicated one radio to certain bands and the other radio to the other bands. For me, radio “A” was for 15 & 40 meters and radio “B” was for 10, 20 & 80 meters. If you set up this way, you don’t have to network your computers. You can run the PCs separately with separate logs and no networking and merge the logs after the contest (The Merge function of WriteLog was re-added as a feature in the release of version 10.45M in early 2004 and as of 2014 is still there). However, networking the two computers gives you such an abundance of advantages that seem so great that it’s worth the extra effort and cost to create the network if you don’t already have one. You defeat the purpose of running two computers if you don’t network. The RTTY lockouts will not work if you do not network. And if you have a failure on one computer and the entire log is not on each computer, then you have lost the contacts on the bands logged by the failed computer. Computer failures in the middle of a contest are rare, but it’s always better to have the entire log on both computers. Even when I do single-band efforts, I still network WriteLog to a second PC in order to have the full log on two computers. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If you aren’t using USB interfaces, it’s also easier to realize COM port connections when dealing with 2 separate PCs. You only need half the number of COM ports than you would if you were using a single PC. If you want to run radio control and FSK you need only 2 COM ports. Add rotor control and you only need 3 COM ports. Adding a single 4-port serial card to a desktop computer or adding a 4-port USB-to-serial adapter to a laptop is much easier that adding twice as many.
As mentioned before, using two PCs will require working two keyboards, two mice and watching two monitors. But because of the slow nature of RTTY as compared to CW or SSB, your concentration only needs to be on one monitor at a time – either left or right. The left hand works the Left keyboard, mouse & radio. The right hand works the Right keyboard, mouse & radio. By placing the mouse near the radio and keyboard, only a slight movement of the hand is required to move between the three. It does take practice, but I’m convinced that once achieved, operating SO2R RTTY in this manner is the most comfortable way to operate. You need comfort. Without comfort, you get tired. When you get tired, you do not perform as well and your efficiency drops off resulting in having less fun and a lower score.
Notice in the above pictures, both left and right hands are near the mouse, radio & keyboard.
Consideration on station layout is more in-depth when using 2 PCs. My setup prior to March 2004 had the two radios in the middle side-by-side, with a monitor to the outside of each radio as shown in the photo below (the third monitor in the middle was borrowed and only used in one contest).
Although the layout above was comfortable and I was able to win several contests with it, it really wasn’t very efficient for SO2R as I found out during the NA RTTY Spring in March 2004. Two hours into the Sprint I had a radio failure (due to my own stupidity) and when I saw how difficult it would be to swap the failed radio with a spare, I quit the contest.
After a few minutes of thought, I realized I needed to completely remodel the entire station. So that very night I completely tore down the station and started rebuilding. About a month later, I was basically finished. And this is how it turned out.
I combined three desks and placed them all together and away from the walls about 18″. I then built a shelf over the three desks. On the main desk, I placed the radios under the shelf. This way if a radio failed, I could more easily disconnect it, slide it out and replace it. I purchased a Dell 20″ LCD flat panel monitor to go with a 17″ monitor I already had and along with two Ergotron monitor arms, installed both monitors so they could be adjusted to any position. After several contests, I found this new set up to be extremely comfortable and efficient. Later I purchased a used 19″ Dell LCD monitor for the right-hand radio.
Unfortunately this set up only lasted about two and a half years. When the QTH was damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the shack was spared but I had to dismantle and remove everything in order to have new flooring installed. Even though I didn’t come back with the shelving, I did keep the station arranged so that if I had to replace a radio, I could do so easily. This actually happened in October 2014 when I lost a radio during the JARTS WW RTTY Contest.
Make a decision on one PC or two and go with it until you are convinced it won’t work. If it doesn’t work, go the other way. Do what’s comfortable for you. You can always change it. And if you are inclined to redesign your shack for more efficiency, I would recommend it.
Radios used for RTTY used to be a big consideration in the past. However, just about any radio manufactured since 2000 is probably going to be fine on RTTY. Most radios now have built-in filters and there isn’t much to add except perhaps roofing filters. Some radios come standard with roofing filters and some don’t. Neither one of the radios I use have roofing filters so it’s not a must-have option. The only real thing you need to make sure is that the radio will run full output power on RTTY without overheating and all newer radios are certainly capable of that.
If you have an older radio that you’d like to use as a second radio on RTTY and you are unsure it it will work well, you can check on my personal AA5AU website where I list reviews on certain older radios with user comments on their capability on RTTY mode. That page can be found here.
Just about every casual or serious RTTY contester is going to already have two antennas, usually a beam for the high bands and some kind of wire or vertical antenna for the low bands. This is enough to get you started with SO2R RTTY contesting. If you can’t afford a beam antenna, wire and verticals work fine for starting out, but as you advance into SO2R RTTY contesting, a rotating directional antenna is well worth its cost. For serious SO2R, at least two directional antennas for the high bands are suggested. Many times, an inexpensive triband yagi can be fixed on an already existing tower to accommodate having both radios on the higher bands at the same time with directional and higher gain antennas.
Another option, when you don’t have room or can’t afford a second directional antenna for the high bands is to use a triplexer. When I owned a KT34 tribander, I used the K6KV triplexer by Dunestar and it worked very well. The K6KV triplexer by Dunestar is for low power only (less than 200 watts), but for less than $200 it’s an affordable option. 4O3A triplexers are for use with high power but they are quite costly.
The more HF antennas you have, the better. The use of bandpass filters or stubs will be discussed later, but antenna separation is a good idea for SO2R operation even when using filters, stubs or both. But for all practical purposes, any two antennas that radiate RF will work to start out with, but eventually you will see the advantages of having a more diversified choice of antennas.
During the daylight hours you are most likely to have your radios on either 10 & 15 meters or 15 & 20 meters at the same time and you will need a high band antenna for each radio or use a triplexer on one antenna. Operating on 10 and 20 meters at the same time is more difficult because the 1st harmonic of 20 meters lands in the 10 meter band and interference is likely if your antennas are close together even when using band filters or stubs. Besides, 15 meters is usually a solid band to be on at all times during the daylight hours. I always try to keep one radio on 15 meters during the day and switch back and forth between 10 and 20 meters on the other radio.
At night you want to be on 40 and 80 meters at the same time. You also want to be able to run the combination of 20 and 40 meters, but again, this can be difficult, especially when operating in the lower part of 40 meters around 7040 kHz. The 1st harmonic of 7040 kHz is 14080 kHz, which is in the 20 meter RTTY band. It’s important to be on 20 & 40 at the same time, so one rule to use is to CQ on 20 when S&P in the lower part of 40. And you can CQ in the upper part of 40 when S&P on 20 because the interference should be reduced. If you need to CQ in the lower part of 40, most of the time you will have to move the other radio to 80 meters. And I’ve found that during the high part of the sunspot cycle, you can CQ on the low end of 40 meters and be on 15 meters at the same time. This is an unusual combination but sometimes it works.
I rarely use the combinations of 20 & 80 meters or 15 & 40 meters at the same time. This is because at night, 40 meters is normally going to be your most productive band so one radio needs to stay on 40 meters nearly all the time at night. When 15 meters goes away with the sun, it’s time to switch that radio to 40 meters. You can then switch between 20 and 80 meters on the other radio. So it makes sense to dedicate one radio to 15/40 and the other to 10/20/80 meters. If you do this, you can make a set of 23′ stubs and not use filters. You just have to disconnect the stub from the 10/20/80 radio when operating on 80 meters or make a 46′ stub for the radio on 80 meters. I did this for years. It worked great.
Antenna switching is one of the most important part of the SO2R station. Antenna switching can be as easy or as complex as you want to make it. I recommend you make it as simple as possible. For a basic SO2R station with minimum antennas, it’s possible to just dedicate certain antennas to each radio without the capability of switching.
If you are serious about SO2R, then you should invest in a good antenna switch. One of the most popular two radio switches made today is the SixPak by Array Solutions. This versatile switch is all you need for SO2R contesting. It allows you to switch any antenna to either radio. I purchased my SixPak in 2004 and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made for my SO2R station.
You can build your own switch or use a combination of manual antenna switches (see photo below), but the most important factor to consider with your antenna switching network is to make sure that at no time can you switch the outputs of your radios together. That would be disaster. Purchase a SixPak and you never have to worry about antenna switching again.
Listening to both Radios
How you listen to both radios at the same time is critical. I highly recommend using a single set of headphones with audio from the Left radio going to the left ear and audio from the Right radio going to the right ear. I use the Dunestar model 842 two-radio headphone switch. At less than $70, it’s a great investment for SO2R operation. It allows you to split the left and right radio audio into each ear and also allows you to switch either radio’s audio to both ears. I use a comfortable set of Heil headphones connected to the Dunestar 842. Comfort is extremely important when it comes to headphones. Make sure you use a set that can be worn for several hours at a time without discomfort.
A cheaper alternative when first starting, and I did this for many years, was to use two sets of cheap ultra light-weight headphones, one set from each radio, and cock them so that the left headphone from the Left radio was over the left ear and doing the same for the Right radio. It might look a little funny, but it is effective and cheap and because they were ultra light-weight they were comfortable.
You can easily modify a headset to offer split audio to both ears or build your own switch. It’s not difficult. What is important is the ability to adjust the level of the audio going to the headphones and not affect the audio level going to the RTTY decoder. If you use a fixed audio output from an accessory jack from the back of your radio to feed your decoder and use the headphones jack on the radio to feed your headphones, you should be able to accomplish this. I do it differently. I take audio from the headphones jacks of each of my two radios and route them to an external JPS NIR-12 dual DSP audio filter for each radio. I then take the fixed audio output from the NIR-12s and route them to my decoders. I take the headphones output of the NIR-12s, which is variable by an adjustment on the NIR-12 and feed my Dunestar headphone switch. This way I can adjust the audio input to the NIR-12 with the audio adjustment on the radio and adjust the audio going to the headphones with the headphone adjustment on the NIR-12. The NIR-12 is a great audio filter. Unfortunately they are no longer made and hard to find.
If you are comfortable using audio from an external speaker, you can try that. I tried it once, using a speaker on each radio and it drove me crazy in about 2 minutes so I went back to headphones. Using speakers may also disturb others in the household.
On each radio, splitting the audio from the radio to your decoder (or if you use “dual receive” on a single radio, i.e. two decoders) and your headphones can be done simply by a direct parallel connection. I’ve never had a problem doing this as long as there is an isolation audio transformer on the input of the sound card to eliminate any hum or noise that might be present. You could build a device using separate audio transformers for each feed of the receive audio, but this should not be necessary. If you run into problems with hum, the Radio Shack ground loop isolator model 270-054 can be used.
Sound Cards & TNCs
Computer sound cards have taken over as being the most popular RTTY decoder in the 21st century. The reasons are because sound card decoders have proven to be as good and in most cases better decoders and they are already included in almost all computers. With WriteLog, you have three choices for using a sound card for RTTY – MMTTY, 2Tone and WriteLog’s sound card decoder called WinRTTY. MMTTY and 2Tone are the better and most-used of the three.
MMTTY is free of charge and the most logical choice as a sound card decoder since it is well supported, well documented and is probably the most popular RTTY program in use today. 2Tone is an excellent sound card decoder and now has FSK capability. WinRTTY is a nice program that allows SO2R on a single sound card by utilizing both the left and right channels as separate decoders. But WinRTTY falls short in performance compared to MMTTY and 2Tone.
TNCs (tone node controllers) are not as popular as they once were. Units such as the KAM, PK-232MBX and HAL modems such as the DXP-38, PCI-3000 and P38 are finding their way to hamfest tables and eBay auctions. In side-by-side comparisons, none of these units can match the performance of MMTTY or RITTY although some of the higher end HAL gear is very good. TNCs can serve an important role in the RTTY contest station. Many contesters use a DXP-38 in a “receive only” window along with either MMTTY or 2Tone or both. Using multiple decoders is now commonplace in RTTY contesting with the norm being two or three decoders running on each radio. Both WriteLog and N1MM Logger employ multiple receive windows.
The Windows operating systems, starting with Windows XP, allow mulitple programs to access the same sound card at the same time. This makes multiple decoders work on the same sound card. In the case of SO2R on a single PC, the options to use one sound card with left channel to one radio and right channel to the other radio. However, for simplicity sakes, sometimes adding a second sound card is a better option. External USB sound cards are quite expensive these days and work well as RTTY decoders. As sound card decoders get better and better, the TNC has pretty much gone to the wayside.
Bandpass Filters & Stubs
Bandpass filters and stubs are a vital part of the SO2R station. If your antennas are separated by enough distance, you might get away with not using filters or stubs. But in most cases, you absolutely need to have some sort of filtering. It’s very important that the two radios do not interfere with each other. Using low power, you may get by without using filters or stubs but the risk of damage to the receivers in your radios is too great to take the risk of not using them. I have burned fuse-lamps in both my Icom and Kenwood radios by not using filters while operating low power. For me it was a hard lesson to learn. Don’t take the chance. Use either filters, stubs or both.
There are four major main brands of bandpass filters. They are Dunestar, I.C.E. (Industrial Communications Engineers), W3NQN filters, and 4O3A. I use Dunestar filters and have had excellent results with them. Some band filters are available in individual band or all-band units. You can build your own if you like. I used individual band filters for many years. The disadvantage to using individual band filters is that you to manually change them out by unscrewing them from the coax when you switch bands or by using a couple of manual switches and some coax you can build a switching network to switch your filters without much cost, making individual filters cost-effective. I currently use a Dunestar Model 600 all-band filter on each radio. And I manually switch the filter when changing bands using a Dunestar 800BPF manual band switch.
A less expensive way of filtering is by the use of stubs. Bandpass filters built for low power (100-200 watts) are designed to go at the output of the radio whereas stubs (and high power filters) can be placed at the output of an external amplifier. Stubs are normally made of RG-8, RG-213, or RG-214 coax, cut to a certain length to filter out RF on certain bands. I’ve read that you can also make stubs out of 70 ohm coax. I am no expert on stubs, however the stubs I made worked great for me in my setup at the time. If you have an MFJ or RigExpert analyzer, you can use them to tune your stubs.
There are all sorts of stub combinations that can be used. But unless you use something simple like the two stubs I used, a switching network will be needed to accommodate the different combinations needed for all the different band combinations. You can purchase pre-made stubs from Top Ten Devices. They are inexpensive compared to filters but I haven’t priced them lately. Or you can find excellent information about stubs on K1TTT’s web page at http://www.k1ttt.net/technote/techref.html#filters. Never take the chance of damaging your transceiver. Always use filters, stubs or both.
High Power vs. Low Power
I enjoy running low power (100 watts) in RTTY contests. Most RTTY contests have a low power class. There are still one or two contests that do not offer a low power class. In contests that do not offer power classes, you really need to run high power in order to compete. In the early days of RTTY contesting there were no power classes and using two radios low power was sometimes enough to do well. But today, you really need more than 100 watts when competing against high power stations. I have run high power in the past but it’s difficult with my antennas being so close. I don’t like running SO2R RTTY high power. It scares me. It only takes one mistake to blow something up!
Running high power presents its own set of challenges. First you need two amplifiers, which is a big investment. You could run one radio high power and the other radio low power. This works, but to maximize a high power SO2R effort, you need two amps. These amps don’t need to be full power output type. For years I ran 500 watts on one amp and about 250-300 watts output on a smaller amp for the 2nd radio. Eventually I acquired two amps that both ran 500 watts on RTTY and I was set for those contests that don’t have power classes. Interference between stations is greatly increased when running high power. This is especially true when trying to operate on 20 and 40 meters at the same time.
So if you decide to run SO2R RTTY high power, be sure you have plenty of filters and stubs. Antenna separate is almost a necessity when running high power.
There are lots of different operating strategies. I’ll try to touch base on what works best for me. What I do might not be best for others. We know there are two ways of operating. You either CQ on a frequency or Search & Pounce (S&P) to look for stations. In most cases I try to CQ on one band and S&P on another band when I’m operating low power. This combination of CQ and S&P will allow you to make QSOs on your run radio and to find multipliers on the other radio. However, I don’t use the S&P radio just to look for multipliers, I use it to work ANY other station I have not already worked on that band. I try not to pass on anyone. If I come across a station that is being called by several people and it’s not a multiplier, I will go onto to the next station. I also use the other radio to keep an eye on my competitors, but more on this later. I will also run (call CQ) alternately on separate bands – sometimes often, sometimes occasionally, but rarely will I ever S&P on both radios at the same time and I never operate two radios on the same band.
I don’t follow any kind of procedure that tells me what bands to CQ on and what bands to S&P on at any given time. These things are relative to what is happening at the time, how band conditions are and the kind of contest being operated. For rate contests with no band multipliers (such as the ARRL RTTY Roundup & CQ WPX RTTY), it may be generally acceptable to run on two bands most of the time. However, my overall general operating strategy calls for CQ’ing on one band and S&P on a separate band. However, when running high power, it’s more advantageous to run on two bands most of the time.
Another occasion where I run on two bands are in those iron man 48 hour contests like CQWW or JARTS when it’s a slow period and I’m tired but still need to continue on. In slow periods when you are tired but need to continue on, CQing alternately on 2 bands when activity is low to moderate is a good way to rest. Rest is another important strategy that I will comment on later.
For Low Power stations, it is important that you find a clear frequency in which to call CQ. This can be very difficult when the band is jammed packed full of RTTY signals. As a rule, I try not to CQ in the middle of the band. Using 20 meters as an example, I try not to CQ between 14081 and 14089. Experience tells me that these are optimum frequencies to use, but the chance of finding a clear frequency here is slim to none. Even if you think you’ve found a clear frequency in the middle of the band, chances are someone else is also on that frequency but you just cant hear them because of skip or propagation. Running Low Power, you don’t have the power to keep a frequency in that part of the band. It’s better to go higher or lower and try to find a clear frequency.
One trick I found that works well is to CQ after you have done an S&P run on the band. By using the bandmap, I map all stations I hear during one pass of the band. From there I either make a 2nd pass looking in-between those stations I’ve already mapped for new signals or look on the bandmap for a clear frequency to CQ. If your radio has a panadapter or band scope, it can be used to find open spaces in the band.
Once you find a clear spot to CQ, it’s better to send short CQ messages. The message should be something like this: “CQ TEST AA5AU AA5AU CQ ” (note the space at the very end of the message). Putting a CQ at the end of your CQ buffer is important. When stations come across your signal and see your callsign, they don’t know if you are CQ’ng or calling someone else when they miss the first part of your transmission. When they see the CQ at the end of your message, they know for sure you are CQing and don’t have to wait to figure out what’s going on. It saves time for everyone and is a good practice to follow. Something else to consider in your CQ message is to make sure it is recognized by RTTY skimmers who may be decoding your signal. Putting CQ at the beginning and end of your CQ message will help the skimmers recognize that you are indeed calling CQ.
RTTY Messages & Timing
Your pre-programmed RTTY messages (or buffers as they are sometimes called) should be as short as possible when running SO2R. This is important. When you first start out you will notice that it’s sometimes difficult to work two stations at the same time because the timing is not always right for calling one station, then sending a report or calling another station on the second radio. Because you cannot have both transmitters keyed at the same time, you must time your transmissions accordingly. This can be difficult to get used to but with experience and by using shorter RTTY messages, the timing can be more easily coordinated.
A good way to shorten your RTTY messages is to NOT include your callsign in your report message, especially if you are running a frequency. The station that answered your CQ should already know who they are calling and should already have your callsign captured with their software. In certain high-rate contests, I rarely include my call in my regular exchange buffer. However, I do always have a buffer programmed that does include my call in the report message in case it’s needed.
Another way to shorten a message is to not use an ending character or characters such as “K” or “BK”. You can leave these off the end of your messages but you should ALWAYS include at least a space at the end. This separates the end of the message from any noise characters that might occur on the receiving station’s screen. Also, do not use “DE” in your message unless you are from Delaware. “W1ZT DE AA5AU” is no longer acceptable. Use “W1ZT AA5AU”.
Also, when answering another station’s CQ, send only your callsign one, two or three times at first. Do not send their callsign. The CQ’ing station already knows their callsign so you don’t have to send it. When they let off the transmitter and you come back to them, they know you are coming back to them and not someone else. Include only information that is needed in your messages. And try not to repeat information that is not critical. For instance, in your report message if RST is part of the report, send the RST only once. However, critical information such as a serial number or state location, if used, should be included at least 2 times in the report message. If your report is not received on the other end the first time you send it, send only the information that was not received. If someone asks for a repeat of your serial number, have a message that sends only your serial number 4-5 times. Do not send your entire report over again unless the other station implies they did not receive any part of it. Experiment with your messages and find out what works best for you.
Timing your messages is very important. When operating SO2R RTTY with WriteLog, you will always use the radio lockouts and you should always use the option “RTTY Single Tx Lockout – Last one wins”. When operating SO2R RTTY on a single PC, this is the only option available because the “First one wins” option is grayed out. However, when using two separate PCs networked, the “First one wins” option is available because WriteLog does not know if the station is set up as SO2R or Multi. In a Multi-station setup, it may be desirable to have “First one wins” activated, but for SO2R “Last one wins” is what you want. The reason for this is because you always want to be able to start transmitting on one radio and immediately stop transmitting on the other at any given moment. This happens in many cases, but the most often time this happens is when you are CQ on one radio and S&P on the other. On the S&P radio you come across a station you want to call, with the lockout you can call that station at will and cut off the CQ on the other radio even if you are using two PCs networked. If networked, when you key up on one radio, WriteLog sends a signal via the network and shuts off the other radio immediately.
The problems with timing come when you are transmitting a report to a station on one radio and someone answers your CQ on the other radio. Sometimes the timing is just right and by the time the station answering your CQ is finished calling you, you have finished sending your report to the station on the other radio. In this case, you can send your report to the station that answered your CQ without having to cut off any transmission. However, this doesn’t always happen just right. If the station answering your CQ sends a short call and your report is still going out on the other radio, you must wait until the report is finished before sending a report to the station that answered your CQ. However, if the station that answers your CQ is a new multiplier and the station you are sending your report to is not, and if there appears there may be more than a couple of seconds before you can go back to the multiplier, you should elect to cut your report off to the S&P station and answer the multiplier right away. If not, the multiplier station may move on.
These are tough decisions that need to be made at a moment’s notice. Another difficult situation is when you are CQ on both stations and you get answers on both. In most cases, since your CQ messages are staggered (one goes out, then the other), this shouldn’t be a problem. But sometimes someone will send your call twice and their call three times when answering your CQ on one radio and the station answering your CQ on the other radio sends his call only twice and suddenly you find that you are ready to send your report to both stations at the same time. In this case, you just have to make a choice. Someone is going to have to wait. Again, if one station is a multiplier, you answer that station first. Or you would go back to the station that sent his call only twice because more than likely that operator is experienced and the contact can be made quicker.
One of the biggest complaints against SO2R operators is the delay between the time someone answers your CQ and the time you go back with your report if you are sending a report on the other radio. The objective is to not make anyone wait for their report, but it’s not always going to happen. Timing is one of the most difficult things to adjust to when first operating SO2R on RTTY. With short buffers you can work nearly seamlessly with two radios but there will always come a time when someone is going to have to wait.
Sometimes it’s OK to make a station wait a second or two if you want to let your CQ message finish on the other radio. This is especially true if you have a good run going on that radio and you want to let the CQ message end because remember, you have placed a “CQ” at the end of your CQ message and you want someone to see that “CQ” print at the end of your message. If you cut the CQ message off too quickly, someone tuning across your CQ will not see the “CQ” you have placed at the end of your message. I will sometimes let the CQ message finish before coming back to a station on the other radio if the delay is going to be very minimal. It’s a gut call but one you can easily make to help keep your run going. Only practice during live RTTY contests will help you get the timing down. So keep your messages short and concentrate on your timing so that delays are as short as possible.
Serial Numbers when SO2R
There’s been a lot of discussion throughout the years concerning how serial numbers are issued when running more than one radio in either an SO2R or multi-operator configuration. If you really think about it, it would be impossible to issue the very next serial number to the very next contact because the situation does not allow that to happen. This is especially true when you are trying to work two stations at the same time and you have callsigns in the CALL field of two separate Entry Windows. Without going into a lot of discussion, I am only going to strongly suggest that you don’t worry at all about what serial number is being given out. I have never heard of anyone being penalized for sending the same serial number to two different stations or skipping serial numbers in the sequence. Simply don’t worry about it.
Moving Multipliers to Other Bands
In contests with band multipliers, one way to help your score tremendously is to move multipliers to other bands. Having two radios makes moving multipliers much easier than with a single radio. This is especially true if you need the multiplier on the band the other radio is presently operating on. I believe there are some things that can be done to make moving multipliers easier to do. First and foremost, you should run WriteLog’s Check Call window. This is the best way to tell if the station you are presently working is needed as a new multiplier on another band. Another way to simplify the move is to have a pre-programmed message buffer asking the other station to QSY. There are special buffer tags that can be used to send the frequency of the second radio. These tags should be used.
First off, I personally I think the only time you should try to move a station is when that station answers your CQ. I never ask a station that is running on a frequency to move. If you answer another station’s CQ and ask him to QSY, and he is not SO2R, you are asking him to vacate his run frequency to work you on another band and that’s not right. If someone answers your CQ and you need that station as a new multiplier on another band, go ahead and send him a report and receive his. Then instead of sending your “TU QRZ” confirmation message, send what I call the “QSY” message. Have a message programmed like this:
“%RPSE QSY %ZB1 %E ” where %ZB1 is a special tag that reads the frequency of the other radio and automatically puts it in the message. Conversely, on the “B” radio, the message would be “%RPSE QSY %ZA1 %E”. For more information on the %Z tag, refer to the WriteLog help file.
Another special tag that can be used is %I. When WriteLog encounters %I in a buffer message, a small “Insert” dialog box will pop up as the message is going out. Whatever you type in the “Insert” dialog box will be sent in place of %I. When you are finished typing in the dialog box, hitting the Enter key will close the box and insert the text. The buffer would be something like “%RPSE QSY %I? %E”The dialog box looks like this.
You could type in a frequency like “21085”. In our example, the message would be sent as “PSE QSY TO 21085?” After the message is sent, the transmitter is turned automatically with %E.
Many stations will QSY for you. Some won’t. If someone doesn’t want to QSY, that’s OK, send your “TU QRZ” confirmation message and keep on going. There are some rules you should follow when trying to move stations to another band. Only move a station if you think it will work. Certainly don’t try to move a station to a band where the path is not going to be open to his location. If you are S&P on the other radio, quickly try to find a clear frequency. Something I’ve seen CW operators do is to move stations way up the band away from the normal sub-band. That should work in RTTY too. If you are trying to move someone to 20 meters, try moving them way up to 14120 kHz or higher. Although this may become more difficult as more and more stations are operating way up in the band now.
I normally will not try to move stations early in a contest. The reason for this is because I like to try to get into a rhythm as soon as possible. For me, moving stations breaks my rhythm. Besides, if it’s early in the contest, in the time it takes to move that one station, you could work 2 or 3 other multipliers on your run frequency. I like to wait until the 2nd half of a contest before trying to move stations. The biggest problem for me is keeping an eye on the Check Call window to see when a station is needed on other bands. Keeping tabs on the Check Call window comes with discipline and practice. Toward the end of a contest, when multipliers are harder to find, try to move every multiplier you can.
Using the “NEXT” Message
The “NEXT” message is used when you are CQ and two or more stations come back to you and you capture at least two of the calls. When I say capture, I mean two or more callsigns highlight. You work one station, log the QSO and put the other station’s call into the Entry window (by clicking on the call in the Rttyrite window if it’s still there, using the Call Queue ALT-C or manually typing it in). But instead of sending your normal “TU QRZ?” confirmation message, send the “NEXT” message.
%RTU %P1 NOW %C 599 LA LA %C %E
What this does is confirm the QSO with the station just logged (%P1) and send a report to the other station that answered. So if I call CQ and both JY9QJ and W1ZT come back to me, I would work JY9QJ first (because he probably would be a new multiplier), then work W1ZT in succession and the “NEXT” buffer would send this.
TU JY9QJ NOW W1ZT 599 LA LA W1ZT
Hopefully, and most times, W1ZT will still be there. If he’s paying attention he will send his report. If he doesn’t come right back, send your regular report message. If he doesn’t come back after that, he’s probably gone. Go ahead and send your CQ message and continue on. In most cases you will work the other station, but you might lose a few. Working stations in succession saves time and you can work more stations in the amount of time it would take to send your “TU QRZ?” confirmation message and wait for others to call. This is something that should be practiced all the time when possible.
Another way to use “Next” is to use the Push/Pop Call Queue function of WriteLog. For more information on the Push/Pop Call Queue refer to the WriteLog help file.
Using the PacketCluster
In contests that allow single operators to use spotting assistance such as the PacketCluster, you should take advantage of it. However, be careful that you don’t get caught up chasing multipliers too early in the contest because it can break your rhythm and waste time. In the CQ WPX RTTY Contest, I rarely chase multipliers from the Packetcluster until the second half of the contest. There are so many multipliers available on Saturday, that chasing multipliers on the PacketCluster is a waste of time. In the time it takes to chase down a multiplier, you could work several others just by calling CQ. Late in a contest when the rate slows down, it’s OK to chase everything that is spotted regardless of whether or not it’s a new multiplier.
Because some stations using AFSK and some use FSK, packet spots could be off by as much as 2 kHz or so if the spotting station is not using the same transmission technique as you (AFSK vs. FSK). When looking for spotted stations, make sure you look at least 3 kHz above and below the spotted frequency. If you use radio control, be sure to run a Packet Spots window and a Bandmap for each radio. This way you can watch as multipliers are spotted. Always use the PacketCluster when it’s legal to do so and try not to waste too much time chasing multipliers early in the contest.
Other Helpful Hints
When first starting out operating as SO2R, there are some suggestions which will help you improve your rate. There may be times when you CQ and all of sudden to get several stations calling you. You get a good rate going and have to concentrate more on one radio. At this time, you can forget about the second radio. The reason you are using a second radio in the first place is to increase the number of contacts in the log. But if you get a good rate going on one radio, go ahead and disregard the second radio and concentrate on running the pileup.
With experience, you will be able to handle a big pileup on one radio while S&P on the other or even run pileups on both radios at the same time. But if you are having a hard time dealing with two radios at any time, just concentrate on one. That will make it all more enjoyable. When things slow down, you can then go back to the other radio.
There are some time-saving strategies you can incorporate also. One is how you handle dupes. When a station calls you that you have already logged, it’s much easier to go ahead and work him as if he was a new station. By sending a B4 message or discouraging the dupe station from working you a second time, you are only losing time. Work all dupes. You won’t be penalized for it and it saves valuable time. It could be possible that you aren’t in his log and will lose the contact now that contest managers are using log checking software. Work all dupes!
The Psychology of Winning SO2R RTTY Contesting
Having won several major RTTY contests, I can relate to what it takes to win. In order to win at RTTY contesting, you must be able to put yourself in a position to win. There are a lot of factors involved in winning a RTTY contest. The four main factors are experience, station hardware, station location and luck. I believe the first two – experience & station hardware are the most important. However, station location becomes a key to the equation in many cases depending on what kind of contest it is you are trying to win. Luck plays an important role as well.
Experience, Station Set-up, Location & Luck
In the 2002 CQWW RTTY DX Contest, all four factors came into play allowing me to win the World title as Single Op High Power. For me, up to this time, this has been one of the my great accomplishments in RTTY contesting. I had the experience in having operated in each of the previous nine CQWW RTTY DX Contests (except 1998 when Hurricane Georges forced me to go QRT a couple of hours into the contest). Plus I had actually won this same contest as Single Op Low Power World in 1999. I had good station hardware running a pair of Kenwood TS-870 transceivers driving a pair of Ameritron AL-80B amplifiers. I had three antennas which worked well – a Cushcraft A3S with the 40 meter add-on kit at 60 feet, another A3S at 45 feet and an 80 meter inverted vee. It wasn’t the greatest hardware you can buy, but it was good stuff. I had a good station location near the Gulf of Mexico with a fertile, conductive Louisiana ground. And luck played into the equation in several ways. For one, propagation from Louisiana to Europe was actually better on 10, 15 & 20 meters than it was from the East Coast of the USA that weekend. This is a rare occurrence but it does happen. I was also lucky when most of the other stations that normally do better than me entered in other categories. W2UP and P43P entered Low Power that year. KI1G operated as Multi-Single. And because I was lucky with the propagation, I was able to outscore the rest of the world. None of this would have happened had I not put myself in position to win. Sure, anyone else could have won that year but they didn’t. I won because I was in position to win.
To put yourself in a position to win, you must concentrate on experience and station set-up. Many times you have no control over station location. However, this is not always the case. By going on a DXpedition to a DX location or by receiving permission to operate from a big contest station, you can manipulate the station location factor. This can be important in contests like CQWW RTTY which award more points for contacts outside one’s own continent. The station location is important but it is not necessarily the key component to winning. In contests like JARTS, west coast USA stations can maximize their location by working more JA stations than others. In CQWW RTTY it would seem that South American stations have the advantage since a vast majority of RTTY operators are either in North America or Europe and each contact from SA would be 3 points. The world record in five of the seven categories in CQWW RTTY are held by stations in South America as of 2002.
Winning is a relative term in RTTY contesting. Because there is usually more than one category, depending on the contest, you can strategize on which category you would like to win. Then you should set goals.
Setting goals for a contest is not easy but it should be done for each event. If you have operated the contest before, then it becomes easier because you have results from previous years to go by. You can set a goal of how many contacts you would like to make or how many multipliers or a final score. Your goals must be a stretch but they also should be obtainable. They also must be set high enough that you have to work hard for them. You have to be realistic in the goals you set and take into account such things as propagation and participation. Many times you will not know exactly how propagation will be, but you will know what part of the sunspot cycle you are in. You might not set as high of goals in the low part of the cycle as you would in high parts of a cycle, but not always. In the lower part of the cycle you may set a goal to make additional low band contacts to make up for missing high band contacts from the year before when conditions were better.
Many times I set a goal to break a record. I might shoot for the North American or even World record or something as simple as a personal best score for that contest.
Write down your goals and as the contest progresses, keep checking to see if your goals are obtainable. If not, adjust them lower, but only if you have to. If it looks like you are going to over-achieve your goals, set them higher. Give yourself something to shoot for. And realize that it’s OK not to always achieve your goal. The main idea is to do the best you can and to have fun. Having goals for a contest gives you something to work toward.
Pre-Contest Mental Preparation
Besides setting goals, prepare yourself mentally before the contest. Visualize in your head how the contest will play out. Because SO2R operation is more mentally challenging than single radio contesting, concentrate on what you will need to do to maximize the use of your two radios. Have a plan of attack. Know which bands you are going to start on and which radio will do what. Determine if you will start out CQ on both radios or not. I sometimes will start CQ on both radios at the beginning of a contest to determine which of the two bands I’m operating is more productive. If one radio is not getting a lot of action, I’ll then either S&P on that band or maybe even switch bands. If both bands have at least moderate action, I’ll stay CQ on both radios until the rate slows.
Also know what you will do in certain situations such as equipment failure. Have a disaster plan. Know what spare equipment you have available and lay it out nearby before the contest. Know what you are capable of replacing during the contest period. But don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on possible equipment failure because those are negative thoughts. Yet be prepared.
Try to think positive thoughts before the contest. Visualize achieving your goals and having a great effort. Have everything ready to go well before the contest starts. Sit in your comfortable chair in front of your station before the contest starts, close your eyes and think about having fun in the contest.
Be cognizant of the weather. Check the weather forecast for the contest period. And if bad weather is forecast, try to guess when it might hit so you can take a rest period during that time. If possible, check the weather periodically throughout the contest so you can consider a plan of action for rough weather.
So before the contest, make sure your hardware and software are ready and tested, visualize how the contest is going to play out, make a disaster plan in case of equipment failure but concentrate on positive thoughts of having fun and meeting your goals. Either get pumped up before a contest or relax in the way only you know how to. Check on the weather. Take a moment just before the contest to look over your hardware and convince yourself that you are ready to have the best contest possible.
For some contests, it’s easy to plan your rest periods. In the ARRL RTTY Roundup, you should take all your rest at once at night when the bands are slow since this is a rate contest with no band multipliers. Other contests are a little harder to plan for. It’s best to write out a template of a plan before the contest where you “might” take your rest periods. However, rest periods may be dictated by band conditions. I remember waking up Saturday morning in the 2000 WPX RTTY contest to find 10 and 15 meters completely shut down due to a major flare that reached the earth coupled with a geomagnetic storm. I immediately shut down the radios and went back to bed.
It is OK to allow propagation to dictate your rest periods for those contests that have rest periods. In conditions that are fair to good, keep going and try to hold off on rest if you are doing well. We all know that the bands can crash at any time. You would be kicking yourself if you rested during good conditions only to wake up the next day and find the bands in poor shape. Try not to let that happen.
Rest is an important strategy. Different operators require different amounts of rest. In iron man contests like JARTS and CQWW RTTY where there are no required rest periods, you can have an advantage if you can go longer without rest. I don’t know of anyone who can go 48 hours without rest and be effective for an entire contest. So even in those contests where rest periods aren’t required, it’s advisable to rest anyway. In JARTS and CQWW, I try to take 3-4 hours rest each night during the slow times. One year in CQWW I did it with 2 hours each night and only took 4 hours off the entire contest. I was exhausted at the end of the contest, but I won the World Low Power that year. The next year, I took more rest and lost. I didn’t lose because I took too much time off, but it could be a factor.
It’s debatable if running SO2R in RTTY causes an operator to become more fatigued than just running one radio. For me, running SO2R is more enjoyable and therefore, I don’t get as tired because my mind is staying alert and time is going by quickly. If you are stuck with one radio, you may have to work harder to make contacts and therefore, you could possibly get tired easier. But then again, it all depends on the person.
Take rest when you need it. You will be the only one to know if you need it or not. It’s not wise to stay up all night working slow rates and expect to do great during peak times later after the sun comes up. In contests like CQ WPX where more points are given for QSO’s on 40 and 80 meters, you may need to sacrifice some peak operating time on Sunday for operating Saturday night on the low bands. The only RTTY contests that do not slow down on Sunday are the ARRL RTTY Roundup and CQWW. You can expect slower rates in all the other RTTY contests on the 2nd day, so plan more rest on that day.
The most important thing you can do about rest periods is to have a plan for it before the contest starts. Even though WriteLog can keep track of your rest periods, keep a pad of paper available with your operating times and rest times so you can keep closer tabs on them. Always have a plan and keep close track of it.
Although I have operated SO3R on a couple of occasions and plan to go back to using a 3rd radio in RTTY contesting, I must say that it is very difficult to work three radios at the same time. There are specific problems to working three radios. Hardware logistics is not a major problem since you can run 2 radios with one PC. The best setup I can think of, and the one I have incorporated, is to run SO2R on one PC with a 3rd radio on a separate PC. There is the additional cost of band filters unless stubs are used. And antenna switching would be interesting to figure out as well.
The problems I can identify working three radios at the same time are – listening to the 3rd radio, antenna switching and getting into a rhythm. Listening to the 3rd radio may not be a major problem. If you run low tones on the 3rd radio and couple the audio into either the left or right headphone, you can differentiate between the audio of the two radios in the same ear. Getting into a rhythm using 3 radios is the biggest obstacle to overcome. In my limited experience to operating 3 radios, I found that because I could not get into a rhythm, working the 3rd radio slowed down the whole operation. I found that I could actually operate 2 radios more efficiently and make more contacts than when I used 3 radios. I’m hoping to change that, but it will take practice.
If the 3rd radio was used sparingly, like for quickly checking other bands or to be used as an on-line spare, then a 3rd radio could be a more useful item. One idea would be to have the 3rd radio dedicated to one band, like 10 or 80 meters. In lower parts of the sunspot cycle, there won�t be much action on 10 meters yet you will want to check that band often for any signals. You can bet that just about any QSO�s you make on 10 meters in the sunspot low will be multipliers and can make a difference between winning and losing. If you have an antenna that you can dedicate to this 3rd radio, that cuts antenna switching out of the equation. My suggestion if you plan on trying an SO3R setup is to keep it as simple as possible.
In closing, operating SO2R in RTTY contesting is the most fun way to take full advantage of the rules in your attempt to win. The rules in all RTTY contests state that you can only have one transmit signal at any given time. You must abide by this rule. Since WriteLog has built-in RTTY lockouts, make sure you use this feature. It’s possible to do it without such a constraint, but if you’re keyed up on both radios at the same time – you’ve violated the rules.
With all the debate that has consumed us in the past about SO2R operation; you must realize that it is legal. Operating two radios has a distinct advantage over running just one radio. I do not deny this. Several single radio operators have complained that this is unfair. I do not believe this to be true. It is as fair for SO2R operators to compete against single radio operators as it is fair that some operators can operate from big contest stations with bigger antennas, bigger amplifiers and better locations. Until contest sponsors change the rules, SO2R operation is completely legal and should be taken advantage of in order to win. Some contest rules are changing, like BARTG and FMRE (XE RTTY). The FMRE was the first to separate single radio and two radio operating classes starting with the 2004 FMRE International RTTY contest (XE RTTY). Make sure you read the rules of every contest you operate because they do occasionally change.
I started SO2R because I was disadvantaged compared to other stations. I did not have beam antennas or amplifiers that allowed me to compete with the other big stations. But through time and experience, I have been able to assemble a station and use my experience to compete with just about anyone – high or low power. I hope, by reading this article, you can do the same one day.
But you must remember that the number one reason for contesting is to have fun. If you aren’t having fun, give it up. This is a hobby and sport to have fun in. Don’t be afraid to participate. If it weren’t for the thousands of operators that jump into a contest just to give out contacts, we would all be in trouble. Be considerate in all that you do in RTTY contesting. Help others and promote good will. Being a considerate operator will further your chances of winning because others will want to contact you. Operate as many contests as you can to increase your experience and to have others recognize your call (or part of your call when mixed with noise) more often.
Digital operators are the last frontier in HF contesting. Let’s show the world that we are still the best operators. Take pride in RTTY Contesting. PSK31 and MFSK16 cannot offer better success in digital contesting. RTTY is still the King of digital contesting. And it’s time and place is NOW.
Go for it!
73, Don AA5AU