Contesting at the Noise Floor

towerandantenna-1.jpgI 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.

Nope.

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.

Scot, K9JY

Scot, KA3DRR

Great point. I really need additional practice copying Morse code at the noise floor. Sweeps drilled this home as pulling QRP signals from the floor tested my copy ability. It is now an on-going goal for me to improve this essential skill. Thanks again!

73 de Scot, KA3DRR

I agree with you. To simulate those “noise floor conditions”, I use “Morse Runner” and add the options usch as QRM, QRN, and flutter that I want to practice on. The difference between good ops and great ops are the ones who can dig down into the noise and get the weak ones.

73, Jack K4SAC

Scot, K9JY

Jack, Scot, thanks for your comments.

I, too, use Morse Runner for CW and it really helps the copying ability during a contest.

But working the noise floor is the key trick — CW or Phone — to being a good contester or a great contester.

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