Invitation to enter an FT4 Contest Series in 2020
The arrival of FT8 has transformed Datamode operating for many of us. Enabling QSOs when signals are not strong or local noise makes it tough going, FT8 is often the only game in town on otherwise dead bands. However, the mode is rigid, using predetermined exchange messages in the most part and the short “rubber stamp” QSOs can take some considerable time to complete.
Given that so many EU radio amateurs are using JT modes, such as FT8, the RSGB HF Contest Committee have been keen to find ways that we can have more fun with them. Fixed exchanges are the norm in radio competitions, where efficiency is all important, and an alternative mode, FT4, has been introduced to the suite of JT modes. With fewer message exchanges than FT8 and hence a shorter QSO time, FT4 provides a great opportunity for a new style of data contesting.
In the autumn of 2019 we experimented with a series of three evening events during which we fine-tuned exchange and scoring rules to come up with a contest format for FT4 that is ideal for us to use in a new contest series for 2020. Many stations from outside the UK joined in and this made the contests more interesting for everybody.
I say “contest” but this is unlike contesting as most of us know it. And whether or not you enjoy traditional radio contesting, if you are geared up to use WSJT-X and can transmit on 80m, we encourage you to have a go at this. Arguably, an FT4 contest has more in common with an online computer game than with an SSB or CW contest, but it is certainly fun and of course it uses RF for all the interaction, with no Internet assistance.
How does FT4 make a difference?
Normal FT8 QSOs are just too slow for there to be much pleasure in having any form of competition using it. FT4 has a reduced exchange slot of 7.5 seconds for each partner in a QSO. In our contests we are combining FT4 with a QSO contest template “NA VHF” which reduces each QSO to two transmissions for each partner. This contrasts with FT8 with its 15 second slots combined with two transmissions for a running station and three for a calling station. Being quicker, FT4 does sacrifice some of the weak signal resolution of FT8 but for our contests this is acceptable.
How do the FT4 contests work?
The contests will be held monthly on Monday evenings on 80m. They run for 90 minutes, starting at 8pm UK local time (20:00 UTC winter & 19:00 UTC summer). The weeks we have chosen are where there are no RSGB HF Club contests. They will run for nine months from February to November with a month off in August. The first of the nine events starts at 20:00 UTC on Monday 17 February.
Contests begin “Le Mans” style, after 2 minutes of radio silence. To allow sufficient bandwidth we have allocated audio pass bands, beginning 3576, 3579 and 3582 kHz – and this can be extended if we have sufficient participation. The NA VHF template omits signal reports so our scoring is one point per QSO with the final score being number of QSOs made multiplied by the number of large locator squares (e.g. IO91) worked. This adds some strategy to the fun, as a winning score will combine a large number of QSO points with a good collection of grid squares. Over 100 QSOs should be achievable in 90 minutes and we are encouraging participation from outside the UK to provide more scope for grid multipliers.
As with many of our contests we also have bonus points for QSOs with HQ stations G#6XX and G#3DR; these will count for 5 points and 1 grid multiplier each.
We are sometimes shy of plunging into a new activity in case we make a hash of it. That is really not a problem with the FT4 contests as everyone taking part is new to it and we are all likely to have teething problems.
How can you take part?
The rules and all the dates can be found on the RSGB Contest site at https://www.rsgbcc.org/hf/rules/2020/r80m_ft4.shtml and here you find a link to a collection of FT4 tips and hints https://www.rsgbcc.org/hf/information/ft4_tips_and_hints.pdf which provide all the information that you need to extend your current FT8 expertise using WSJT-X software, to allow you to join in the FT4 contests:
How to make a Log file for Upload to the RSGB for adjudication
Checking for duplicate QSOs
Selecting NA VHF Contest Format
Configuring the Contest Dial Frequencies 3.576, 3.579 & 3.582 MHz
Operating using FT4
How to avoid any QSOs missing from other stations’ logs
If you would appreciate some support in getting started then please email the RSGB Contest Club using ContestClub@rsgbcc.org.
Nick Totterdell G4FAL
RSGB HF Contest Committee Chair
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