Don’t know contest exchange? You are an idiot!

FinishAfter virtually every contest, the e-mail reflectors light up with posts about the stupidity of contesters (usually new) who do not understand the exchange. Or the exact, best way to format the exchange to maximize every second of the expert contester’s time to achieve a winning score.

The e-mails range from quietly supportive to out-and-out elitist, as if our new contesters need to figure it all out before the contest and perform at the 10,000,o0o point level right now. Or else they aren’t good hams.

We’re an exclusionary hobby

The great feature about ham radio as a hobby is that there are many different segments for the hobby. Bored with SSB? Try CW. CW drive you crazy? Try DXing.

But in each of our little segments of the hobby, we build our own little walls. You want to be a CW contester? This is what you need to do. Do it any other way and you are outcast.

SSB? You do it this way or you aren’t a real man…er, woman…er, contester.

We don’t need exclusiveness, we need inclusiveness

There are enough challenges to the hobby without beating our own members as not being perfect enough to get everything right the first time. There is a difference between pounding on people and constructive criticism in a contest.

When we, as a hobby, take up pounding on people as not being ethical, smart, or not doing the exchange correctly — and therefore are idiots — we defend the status quo and don’t embrace those who are trying to learn. Instead of being Elmers, we become elbows pushing ourselves to the front of “I’m right, your wrong, so get over it.”

The next time you want to go over the top about how people are contesting, think about when you started. Did you know the exchange? Did you know how to contest? Even if you had an Elmer, did you do everything right the first time? Never experienced ONE frustrating moment when you couldn’t get it right? Never felt shamed when someone flamed you for being a dunce because you didn’t know everything to do in the heat of battle?

If you did, you’re a genius. If your like the rest of humanity, give your fellow hams a break. We’re all in this together, we all need to learn, and we all need to use the spectrum in order to protect it. Exclusivity for your part of the hobby is a poor way to encourage growth of ham radio. But it’s a great way to push away hams and potential hams from the hobby we love.

I might write my own blog post on this, and I can understand a bit of what you write, but I think you are making more out of this then there really is (much as you criticize the contesters after the contest).

I’m new at amateur radio (1.5 years) and even newer at contesting (less then 1 year). I follow the CQ-Contest and the RTTY mailing lists. before each contest, there’s a discussion of macros, often initiated by new folks getting advice from more experienced operators. As many different people respond, there’s usually that many different answers.

Now after the contest, there’s the flurry of folks posting about their experiences. Those often include what worked and what didn’t (equipment and tactics), what bands were good and what bands weren’t good, etc. And as you describe in your main post, there’s often criticism of newer (often first time) operators that might not have done it exactly the way the more experienced operator would have liked. I think in all cases, everyone says “just work them and move on” because these obsessed contesters value each second and criticizing the other party during the contest would take even more precious seconds away.

But you’re describing and generalizing about what I feel is an extremely tiny (almost insignificant) portion of the operators that participate in a contest. And this small, insignificant portion of the participants seem to complain about anything and everything related to their contest experience and not just the exchange.

In addition, based on the pre-contest chatter about the world’s most perfect exchange shaving off 11 milli-seconds, none of them seem to agree on what is optimal, so it’s no surprise they don’t like whatever others do during the contest. It’s just an excuse on why they couldn’t do better. I wish I had all the time some of these folks do to complain, but I’m busy with my life and working.

I did learn what I felt was a good way to do my exchanges based on combinations of input and reasoning, and as a new contester, I wasn’t put off by what I saw. I don’t think it’s turning folks away.

David – K2DSL


All good points. I also subscribe to the same e-mail reflectors and see the same posts. What I am writing about is only partly associated with the reflectors.

First, the reflectors. They usually provide a very good discussion of what the right way is to shave off 11 milliseconds of an exchange and it is a good place to see a discussion of best practices. Some take it way too far and argue for one way or another and that is certainly their prerogative. I agree — where do they find the time?

Outside of the reflectors, while we’re running the contest (or trying to work the DXpedition or being the SSTV station hearing the SSB station, etc…), we criticize the people who we think just don’t get it. It’s one thing to complain about deliberate interference, something completely different to complain about people calling simplex on a split operation you’ve been listening to for an hour and a half.

Locally, our attitudes are helpful. The club member, the willingness to help local hams. Once on the air and not face to face, we’re much more territorial. Exclusionary. Not inclusive. It’s our attitude.

I’m reminded of a Twitter comment I saw just a couple of days ago. This (now veteran) ham was reminding people that when he first came on the air as a no-code tech, he was told to get off the repeater until he became a “real” ham.

For someone new to overcome something like that just starting out in the hobby takes persistence and stamina. In today’s world, that’s rare given our obligations. Getting something like “come back when you are a real ham” today and the person is like to say one unpublishable word with “you” after it and leave the hobby.

I think there is too much of an exclusionary attitude in ham radio. Endless unwritten rules, real regulations, unwillingness to try new methods (see: CW Skimmer, no code, digital modes) or tolerate forward looking technology into the hobby.

We don’t need more “younger” members of the hobby. We need more members, period. Being inclusive to others while we’re experts with 25 years under are belt (and waistline) needs widespread adoption. I think we are much too rigid in our attitudes about the hobby to be that inclusive.

And so I write.

We need to have a reasonable discussion of this in the hobby and take a hard look at our attitudes. I’m not saying I’m right, but I think we have a problem.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

Scot, you are correct….there is way too much elitist behavior (as opposed to nuturing behavior) in the amateur radio community. It seems that email lists and forums such as amplify this (easy for one person to gather a large audience).

I have been undoubtedly guilty of this at times, too. I suspect we all have. But some people make it a full time job…I guess it provides some level of satisfaction or something. Maybe prozac would help 🙂

And don’t forget, we do have a large number of really good Elmers in the ham radio community.

73, Bob K0NR

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