I don’t know about you, but I used to think that great contesting stations with all those big antennas heard everything — and heard them clearly.
I’ve been very privileged to operate from some great multi-operator stations and one of the most fascinating things that I learned was that big antennas help you hear more stations — of course — but you still have to work the noise floor.
In a somewhat controversial post, I noted in “Contesting to the fourth level station” that big antennas simply allow you to hear more stations. Level one stations will be loud; no doubt about that. Big antennas also allow one to hear “fourth” level stations — those with dipoles in attics running perhaps 100 watts.
But those “dipole in the attic” stations will simply be at your noise level and you have to work them just like someone with a dipole at 20-feet needs to work some station that is at their noise level.
Contesting, in many ways, tests your skills as an operator at working stations at the noise floor. Can you get the call sign and exchange when the static and noise are at the same level as the station calling? Can you get it at the first exchange? Do you need repeats and slow down your rate?
Many contesters believe that, because you have big antennas, big stations effortlessly work stations using no contesting skills. Not true. We all work the noise floor. The stations worked may be different, but the noise floor is what tests our skills as contesters.