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On Competing


*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

This is another one of those issues that kind of puts itself together the way it wants to be, without too much regard for what we humans may have originally planned… Therefore, I’m pleased to inform you that this issue of CQ has decided that it wants to be a mini-contest special! And that’s a good idea, since September is the unofficial start of the fall contesting season (Our September/October contest calendar on page 92 takes up a full page!).

If your vision of ham radio contesting is sitting in your (or someone else’s) basement or attic for 24 or 48 hours, contacting other hams sitting in their basements or attics, then this issue says you need to read it thoroughly. We do report on that kind of traditional contest operation with the results of this past spring’s SSB weekend of the CQ World Wide WPX Contest (p. 18). But we also have a photo essay on the 2018 World Radiosport Team Championship (WRTC), in which all of the competitors gathered in one location and operated from tents scattered across the German countryside (p. 10). And this month’s Homing In column (p. 55) fills us in on the results of the 2018 U.S. Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) championships, in which the competitors were all outdoors in the woods, “foxhunting” for hidden transmitters. In addition, this issue’s “Learning Curve” column (p. 72) is all about competing in VHF contests using FM, with an emphasis on mobile or “rover” operating. Plus, KØNM tells us how he decided to relearn Morse code at age 70, mostly so he could join the fun of “running” — or calling CQ and working a string of stations — in CW contests (p. 38). Finally, Contesting Editor K3ZJ previews the upcoming fall season of major HF DX contests (p. 91), starting with the biggest of them all, the CQ World Wide DX Contest.

So, this issue tells us, ham radio lets you exercise your competitive spirit in your shack, in your car, in a tent, or while running through the woods; talking into a microphone, tapping on a key or computer keyboard, or just listening to “home in” on a hidden transmitter. The variety of ways in which we can compete using ham radio is much broader than one might think.

Why Do We Compete?

Since competition seems to pop up in so many aspects of ham radio — even DXing, QRP, or kit-building can get to be quite competitive — and since the issue was taking care of organizing itself, I had some time this month to do a little digging into why we have the urge to compete in the first place. The Psychology Today blog seems to be a good place to find a “professional” perspective. Most of the relevant posts, perhaps not surprisingly, are focused more on the negative aspects of competition than on the positive ones.

For example, social psychologist Sander van der Linden wrote in 2015 that for most people, “there is something inexplicably compelling about the nature of competition. Perhaps that’s because, as some scholars argue, ‘competitiveness’ is a biological trait that co-evolved with the basic need for (human) survival.” Nothing negative there, except that the title of the post is “The Psychology of Competition: How Competitions Can Lead You to Do the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason.”

Likewise, psychologist, author and blogger Susan Krauss Whitbourne wrote on the same blog that the “competitiveness that drives us to win at sports, sell more Girl Scout cookies, or enter home projects for judging at fairs is all a part of our natural motivation to express our competence and have it validated by others.” Again, pretty positive. But most of the rest of the essay (titled “Does Narcissism Drive Your Urge to Compete?”) goes on to discuss the negative aspects of competition, when the urge to win “turns cruel and vindictive.” Fortunately, most ham radio competitions remain friendly, perhaps because all that any of us can win are bragging rights and something to hang on the wall.

The best analysis I’ve seen, which “Learning Curve” editor KOØZ found and used in his column this month, is not from a psychologist but from a screenwriter. Ron quotes the character “Coach Keating” from the movie, Dead Poets Society, as telling his soccer players that sports “are a chance for us to make other human beings push us to excel.” It’s a perspective that focuses on the positive —competition not only validates our existing competence, it motivates us to improve. And that’s how I see ham radio contesting.

Dr. van der Linden notes that competitions have “the undesirable quality of being a ‘zero sum’ game (i.e., in order for you to win, someone else must lose).” While ham radio contests have winners and losers like any other competition, losing is not always an “undesirable quality.” Sometimes, losing will prompt you to figure out what your competitor did better than you did, and how you can improve your station and/or your operating to do better next time — and perhaps win. KØNM writes in his article about watching another ham operating during Field Day and making twice as many contacts as he could, even though the other op’s code speed was the same as his own. The difference, he concluded, was the other operator’s “efficiency” and that motivated him to work on improving his own efficiency in making contest contacts.

Competing in amateur radio is not a “zero sum” game as van der Linden suggests. Rather, it is a sum-plus game in which all participants who are so motivated can not only score points but also gain the opportunity to improve and to “make other human beings push us to excel.”

Issue Notes

A few housekeeping items … you may notice that we’ve freshened up our page layouts a bit; no changes in content, just a new look for how we’re presenting our articles. We also introduce a new column, and welcome back a former columnist, this month. Anthony Luscre, K8ZT, who was our New Products Editor some years back, returns with a quarterly column on “Microcontrollers in Amateur Radio.” Anthony will be focusing on all the many ham-related projects one can build using Arduinos, Raspberry Pi’s and similar devices; if you’ve got something innovative built around a microcontroller that you’re using in your station, Anthony would love to hear from you. His first installment begins on page 65.

Finally, two scheduled columns are missing this month. “Communications Horizons” editor Rob de Santos was too busy with his day job to get his column finished by this issue’s deadline, and “Listening Post” editor Gerry Dexter’s computer went to the great bit-bucket in the sky … taking his column with it. Gerry expects to be back up and running with a new computer by next month. Rob expects to have his column back on track by its next scheduled appearance in the December issue. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our great columnists for carving out time in their schedules to share their knowledge and experience with all of you, even when “real life” sometimes gets in the way.

Enjoy this issue, whether or not competition is “your thing” in ham radio (there’s plenty here for non-contesters as well). And thank you for your ongoing support.

– 73, Rich, W2VU
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