Galina Mihaylova & Anton Ivanov

How do you make a QSO on a phone contest?

Contest is the name of a competition between radio amateurs on radio links.

What is it? It is the sports, competitive side of radio amateurs.

Why participate in contests? Contests are competitions in which radio amateurs can evaluate and compare the qualities of their station and antennas, as well as their merits as operators. As the English say: the merits of the pudding are revealed in eating it.

How to become a good competitor? Many champions start out by participating in local contests. As in all sports, a champion can only be made with a lot of experience.

Are there many contests? Contests are held practically every weekend, gathering more than 200 in a year. About 20 of them have the status of important international competitions (the radio amateur equivalent of Formula 1).

Calendar of the contests: see the numerous websites.

In many of the contests, contestants must make as many connections as possible to as many countries (or states, zones, etc.); the latter are the so-called multipliers that are used along with the number of connections made to calculate your score. Large international contests last 24 or 48 hours, some small local contests last only three or four hours. Wide choice!

Contests are organized on most ranges – from KB to microwave.

There are ranges where no contests are held, ie. WARC bands: 10 MHz, 18 MHz and 24 MHz. This is because these ranges are very narrow. Competitors would fill these ranges so that there is no room left for non-competitors to enjoy.

A valid QSO in a contest is considered one in which the callsigns, signal report, and sometimes connection sequence number (or zone, locator, age, etc.) are exchanged.

Working in contests comes down to speed, efficiency and accuracy. Everyone is required to say exactly and only what is expressly necessary. This is not the time to show that you are well trained and expressions like “thank you”, “sending 73”, “look forward to hearing from you soon” etc. they just shouldn’t be said during a contest. They are just a waste of time.

If you are new to contests, it is recommended that you listen first, then visit a contestant during a contest. You can also take your first steps by participating with your radio club in the so-called field day

If you decide to try your first contest, start by listening to the first half hour (longer is better) to get a feel for how routine contestants do it. Establish the correct procedures for conducting rapid radio communications. Note that not everything you hear will be good examples. A few examples of common mistakes are discussed below.

An example of a fully effective contest CQ is: “LZ2ZZZ lima zulu two zulu zulu zulu contest”. Always cast your initial twice, once phonetically, unless you’re in a big paylap, in which case cast your initial once and forget about spelling for a while. Why is “contest” the last word in your contest CQ? Because by doing so, someone who happens to be on your frequency at the end of your CQ will know that there is a contestant calling a CQ on that frequency. Even the word CQ can be thrown out of use, it is ballast and contains no additional information. Let’s say you pass your initial at the end (instead of the word contest); in this case the station that happened to be on your frequency at that moment receives it (checks its log to see if it needs you or not, let’s say it does) but can’t tell if you’re currently connected or calling CQ . In this case, it will have to wait for the next call, which is a waste of time. Therefore, you should always use the word “contest” at the end of your CQ.

The caller will normally transmit their initial only once. Example: “lima zulu tu xrey xrey xrey”. If you don’t answer him for a second, he will repeat it (only once).

If you accept his initial, you should immediately answer as follows: “LZ2XXX 59001” or even faster “LZ2XXX 591” (however, check that the conditions of the contest allow you to skip these insignificant zeros). In most contests, you should exchange the RS report and link sequence number (in the above example 001 or simply 1). This is sufficient exchange, the rest is ballast.

If you (LZ2ZZZ) accept only part of the initial (eg ON4X..), submit “ON4X 59001”. Do not transmit “QRZ ON4X” or similar. You’ve identified the station you want to work with, so continue with its partial initial. Any other procedure will bring you a waste of time. If he is a good operator, ON4XXX will give you “ON4XXX xray xray xray 59012”. Never say “ON4XXX please accept 59001” nor “ON4XXX accept 59001” which is equally bad. The words “please accept” and “accept” are not judgmentsreceive additional information.

If he is an experienced competitor, ON4XXX will transmit “59012”. If it didn’t accept your report, it will say “report again” or “please again”.

This means never using “thanks for 59012”, nor “QSL 59012”, or “understood 59012”, things often said by more inexperienced contestants.

And it remains to complete the link as follows: “Thank you LZ2ZZZ contest” (thank you is shorter and faster than thank you). By saying this, you are doing three different things: announcing the end of the connection (thank you), identifying yourself to the stations that want to call you (LZ2ZZZ), and calling CQ (contest). As efficient as possible!

Do not end with “QSL QRZ”. Why? “QSL QRZ” says nothing about your identity (initial). Don’t you want everyone passing through your frequency at the end of your connection to know who you are and that you’re calling a CQ contest? So always end with “Thanks LZ2ZZZ contest” (or “QSL LZ2ZZZ contest”) or, if you’re in a hurry – “LZ2ZZZ contest” (this doesn’t sound so friendly though). “QSL” means confirm. Do not use “QRZ” because QRZ stands for “who is calling me”, except when several stations called you at the same time for the previous connection.

Of course, there are possible variations of this scheme, but the main thing is: speed, efficiency, accuracy and correct use of the Q-code.

Many contest operators use computer programs to keep a log. Make sure you test and practice the program before using it in real life.

In addition to calling CQ during a contest to make connections, you also need to search the ranges, etc. multipliers or stations you haven’t worked with yet. This is called seek and swoop. How to do this? Make sure you are right on zero beat with the station you want to work in (watch the RIT indicator!).

Submit your initial only once. Don’t shout like this: “DL1ZZZ from LZ2ZZZ”; DL1ZZZ certainly knows his initial and knows you’re calling him because you’re calling on his frequency. If he doesn’t answer you within one second, call again (one more time) and so on.

Example of a QSO on a phone contest


Whiskey One Zulu Zulu Zulu Contest (CQ Contest by W1ZZZ)

Oscar November Six Zulu Zulu Zulu (ON6ZZZ Responds)

ON6ZZZ five nine zero zero one (W1ZZZ reports to ON6ZZZ)

Five nine zero zero three (ON6ZZZ gives his report to W1ZZZ)

Thanks W1ZZZ contest (W1ZZZ terminates connection, identifies and calls CQ contest)


During some major international contests (CQWW, WPX, ARRL DX, CQ-160m – all of them, both on telephony and CW – the participants do not always follow the IARU band plan. This happens almost without exception on 160m and on 40 t, due to the limited spectrum of these bands intended for telephony. But it is pleasant to find that during these contests thousands of hams intensively occupy our bands, which is very positive from the point of view of requiring the bands to be used (use them or lose them.) The temporary inconveniences caused by this exception should best be taken on the positive side.

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