Contest Free Zones...
Yea or Nea?

®1995 J.P. Kleinhaus, AA2DU,

YCCC Scuttlebutt #118, August 1995
[Printed with permission. To appear soon in NCJ - Ed.]

The ARRL Contest Advisory Committee (CAC) is studying a proposal for a "contest free zone" within the 20 meter phone band, from 14.325 to 14.350 MHz. Similar to the zone created by the ARRL Awards Committee in the ARRL 10 Meter contest, this would be an area where contest QSO’s are discouraged. We are actively seeking your input on this very important and politically hot topic. I would like to go over some of the reasoning behind thisproposal, made to the CAC by a very prominent contester and member of the ARRL’s Board of Directors, and also address some of the reasons why this change may be an easy way to solve manypotential conflicts.

Contesters historically are some of the most visible, and therefore easiest to target, amateurs on the HF bands. We tend to get on during periods of peak activity, i.e., over the weekend, and make maximum use of the spectrum available to us. Granted, most contests are single mode only, and there is always the other mode available for other uses during contest weekends. Too, there are very few contests that are world-wide in nature and thus disruptive to other users of the bands for the entire weekend. Nevertheless, there is a disproportionate amount of mail, in relation to the number of contests and contesters, received at ARRL HQ that is anti-contest in nature.

One immediate suggestion that comes to mind are the so-called "WARC bands." They are already contest free by international agreement. I see this as a feasible alternative and more desirable than carving out a chunk of the 20 meter phone band. The 17 meter band in particular provides excellent propagation even during the current solar cycle low. One look at the nearest DX PacketCluster® will show evidence of this. However, the band is not very big and could easily become filled up...but it is not being used anywhere near its capacity now. 12 and 30 meters are less useful from a day-to-day standpoint, but still provide alternatives to some of the more conventional frequencies. Of course, those of us who know the code are not scared of 30 meters, but that is not true for the majority of the complainers.

So why not the WARC bands? The real answer is simple...the old guard of amateur radio cannot be bothered with putting up a dipole for these bands, much less a simple yagi. These people will continue to crank out the anti-contest hate mail as long as "their" 20 meter rag-chew frequency is over-run by "those damn contesters!" However, instead of looking for an alternate frequency for that all-important schedule, they feel that the problem should be ours and not theirs. While their right to communicate is a valid one, and we should not stand in judgment of the content of their QSO’s, how many of you feel that we should reward inflexibility by caving in to their demands?

On the flip side of the coin are the emergency nets that need the reliable propagation on 20 meters to carry out their important functions. We all know that if a major disaster were to occur, the necessary frequencies would be relinquished by those not carrying emergency traffic. If you as a contester would not clear a frequency for an emergency, you had better examine your priorities. So where is the demonstrated need for a clear frequency if there does not happen to be an emergency during ARRL DX weekend?

I know that many contesters claim that on-the-air competition sharpens their skills as emergency traffic handlers, but how many of you are even members of ARES/RACES or even your local emergency communications oriented club? We might help our image if we actually practiced what we preached once in a while. It might even give us a leg to stand on in opposition to such a proposal!

What we must also realize is that contesters are superior operators when compared to the average public-service net oriented ham. Our station equipment is usually light-years beyond what those operators ever dream of owning. After all, who do you think buys all of those auto switched amps, smart antenna switches and multi-element long boom yagis? Certainly not the average ham interested in public safety operation. I know lot’s of these guys and they all think we are, but nuts. So while we are perfectly content to call an S-8 noise level a "clear frequency" and start calling CQ, these guys are experiencing overloaded receiver front ends, strange noises, and there are no "clear frequencies" on the whole damn band!

The CAC deliberated the issue at length during our Dayton meeting. The initial suggestion was for this contest free zone to extend from 14.275 MHz to 14.350 MHz. Needless to say, this was promptly dismissed as ludicrous. With further discussion involving CAC members and some members of the Board of Directors, we agreed to float the 14.325 to 14.350 proposal within the committee.

We offered no guarantees that such a proposal would get out of the committee alive, but merely that we would look into the issue. There are clearly good arguments on either side of the fence, but someone will have to take the first step and offer a compromise. The CAC has been handed the unenviable job of figuring out not only if the contesters should be the ones to offer the olive branch, but what form (if any) that branch should take. I am sure it is an unpopular idea with most contesters at first glance, but I need you to think about it at length and then communicate your opinions to your Division CAC representative. Rest assured that the non-contesters are rallying like crazy to have their votes counted, and as the old saying goes: "The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

In this era of rampant political correctness, it is not surprising to me that we have arrived at such a threshold, but I still find it incredibly distasteful. The issue is not scheduled for a vote until sometime near the end of the year, so I am sure this is not the last you will hear about it.