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With lots of help from my dad, I started building radios in 1966 at the age of 12. I became a keen short wave listener and spent many hours listening on the broadcast bands before stumbling across radio amateurs on 40m AM phone. I was hooked! I joined a local radio club at the age of 13 and went on to build several receive converters and valve receivers to the designs of F G Rayer, G3OGR.

Following my 5 year 'apprenticeship' as a short wave listener, I passed the RAE and the 12 wpm morse test in 1971 and was granted the callsign G4ALG. I was a very active HF and VHF contester through the 1970s and 1980s, moving to Wales in 1982. In the late 1990s I started to focus, once again, on home construction and became a keen designer, constructor, and operator of low power ('QRP') equipment; and an enthusiastic experimenter on 136 kHz.

By 2003, I found that the increasing levels of Contest QRM on the popular HF bands every weekend prevented me from testing newly-built gear and keeping in contact with old pals. By February 2007, Contest QRM had become so bad that I dismantled my radio station and sold my large collection of homebrew equipment on eBay.

Prior to going QRT, I made several appeals to RSGB representatives in an attempt to persuade the RSGB to promote fair access to the amateur bands, and ensure that contesters operated within their regional band plan. The RSGB responded by appointing an RSGB Officer to protect the interests of contesters, without creating a similar post to look after the interests of ragchewers, experimenters, or other casual users of the HF amateur bands. Subsequent announcements from the RSGB served to reinforce its obvious support for contesters who ignore band plans and use their power hungry 'super stations' to squeeze out other users of the amateur service.

I had the following letter published in the December 2007 issue of the ISWL journal 'Monitor':
"I have been extremely dismayed by the increasingly aggressive and selfish behaviour of amateur radio contesters. Although I had been a short wave listener; ragchewer; experimenter; homebrewer; and contester for over 40 years, the increasing amount of Contest QRM on the popular HF bands every weekend meant that it became impossible for me to keep in contact with my radio pals, test my newly-built gear, or carry out experiments.

Many of my friends also found the same problem. If they did try to get on the bands, they were simply crowded out by high power contesters - often operating outside their regional band plan, and unable (or unwilling) to hear existing QSOs between stations of 'normal' signal strength. Eventually, many of my pals simply got out of the habit of checking the bands - effectively going QRT. Letters to RadCom and RSGB officials were often ignored. The few letters that did get published in RadCom were either significantly edited to remove important points; or immediately 'rubbished' by an RSGB officer in that same issue. The RSGB effectively silenced any debate on the subject, branding complainants as being members of an 'anti-contest lobby'. Personally, I am not aware of any appetite for an anti-contest lobby - but I do know of many radio amateurs who desperately want to see the restoration of fair access to our amateur spectrum.

I respectfully suggest that everyone who operates outside their regional band plan - for whatever reason - helps to chip away at the spirit of amateur radio. All members of national societies have a stake in the band plans: a proportion of their membership fees have contributed to their development and publication. There's no point in going to all that cost and effort to produce band plans if they are not fully supported by all of us.

Anyway, after 40 years of amateur radio, and fed up with Contest QRM, I reluctantly decided to dismantle my radio station in February 2007. Most of my homebrew station has been sold on eBay, and the remaining items will be sold this winter.

Over the past 5 years, I have heard all the contesters' arguments. These include statements that non-contesters should instead operate mid-week; or QSY to the WARC bands; or QSY to the VHF bands; or that they should learn to enjoy contesting. Such alternatives don't make any sense to the victims of Contest QRM, and these alternatives are no substitute for national amateur radio societies ensuring fair access to the amateur bands - for all users of the amateur service.

Less than 10% of radio amateurs take part in contests, which means that a very large percentage of the amateur population is regularly displaced by a small (but loud) minority of radio amateurs. Many of those who are displaced by contesters will eventually give up amateur radio and find more worthwhile ways to spend their time.

When I first listened on the 40 metre band as a 12 year-old, the people that I stumbled across 'sold' me amateur radio - just by being there. Their politeness; their manner; their stories; and their helpful advice to others all projected that spirit of amateur radio that inspired me to build F.G. Rayer receivers; to learn morse; and to join my local radio club.

40 years on, what does the newcomer hear these days? Just people screaming '59' at each other, I suppose. "

During some recent correspondence with Fred K7LF it became apparent that we had, independently, both drawn the following conclusions about HF contesting:
- national societies tend to support the interests of contesters, despite the disruptive nature of contesting;
- letters complaining about Contest QRM are occasionally published in the journals of national societies, but these are often 'edited' prior to publication to delete important points about the scale and scope of the adverse impacts of contesting;
- only a small percentage of HF operators participate in contests;
- while there is a plethora of activities associated with ham radio, such as equipment design and construction; experimentation; DXing; rag-chewing; and exploring different modes, the only activity that is truly disruptive to other hams is contesting. All other activities and modes can operate in harmony.

It appears that many national societies bias spectrum usage in favour of contesters to help maintain sales of commercial equipment so that manufacturers and traders keep buying advertising space in their magazines, etc.   While it is acknowledged that homebrewers and experimenters tend to be less concerned about owning shiny new boxes, and are often happy to use/repair/modify old equipment to keep it going; neither Fred nor I support the view that biasing spectrum usage in favour of contesters will be good for the long term future of amateur radio.

[1] Letters in 'RadCom'
Over the years, many letters have been published in the RSGB monthly journal 'RadCom' about Contest QRM. Here are some:
- Letter from G4ABS, Dec 2000
- Letter from G3NCN, May 2004
- Letter from M0PKD, Sep 2004
- Letter from G4SIS, Dec 2005

After each published letter, there often followed a 'standard' response from the RSGB along the lines of:
(a) " we receive these complaints every year "
[we have never listened to the views of our members, and we don't intend to start now - we'd much rather go bust than try to understand the needs of our members]

(b) " it's just a case of supply and demand"
[contesters demand full use of the HF bands at weekends - and the RSGB supplies the encouragement]

(c) " encroachment only happens three or four contest weekends a year "
[if we tell our members this RSGB myth often enough, they might even start to believe it]

(d) " band plans are a gentleman's agreement "
[so, by definition, band plans don't apply to contesters]

(e) " you can QSY to the WARC bands "
[you can QSY to a dead band, or one with the wrong propagation characteristics]

(f) " you can change mode "
[you can change mode and discover that Contest QRM is affecting that part of the band too]

(g) " you can QSY to the VHF bands "
[you've tried everything else, so you might as well go QRT and find another hobby]

It seemed as though contesters had been given the green light by the RSGB to ignore band plans, and to utilise as much space at weekends as they liked. And the green light got brighter each time a letter and the customary RSGB response appeared in RadCom.

As far as the victims of Contest QRM were concerned, the RSGB message was very clear: 'Don't expect to be able to have proper radio contacts on the HF bands at weekends. Switch the rig off, go QRT, go cut the grass, go find another hobby, go SK- do anything you like - but don't keep complaining to us about Contest QRM because we're not interested.'

Although the RSGB claims not to be pro-contesting, it is hardly surprising that many believe that officers of the RSGB are addressing the needs of contesters in preference to the spectrum-access requirements of experimenters, ragchewers, and other users of the amateur service. Because less than 10% of radio amateurs take part in contesting, ignoring the spectrum-access needs of the remaining 90% of radio amateurs may be expected, over time, to result in declining RSGB membership figures.

Whatever the RSGB does now, it will be a case of 'too little, too late'. Most of those dedicated radio amateurs who have left the RSGB in frustration or disgust over many years will never re-join. Indeed, many of these have already found other interests. And the recent move by RSGB Officers to introduce more 'contest preferred segments' into band plans are laughable because, as we all know, band plans don't apply to contesters. Given that the RSGB has spent the last decade decoupling contesters from band plans, it would take the RSGB a further decade to promote and instill a joined-up approach, and hence restore fair access to the amateur spectrum.

It's probable that the RSGB has no idea why their once loyal members failed to renew their membership. The RSGB does not routinely seek to understand why members have not re-newed their membership. Even worse, the RSGB frequently insults past members by sending them letters offering renewal at a discounted rate! The RSGB still doesn't understand that dedicated radio amateurs have been cancelling their membership because of poor service, frustration, loss of radio spectrum, and poor value for money -- not because of the cost of membership.

Rarely in these enlightened times do we come across an organisation with such little understanding of the needs of its customers. In the absence of such understanding, and without any formal customer satisfaction indicators, the RSGB works in the dark, with no basis for comparison or control. Its decisions are guesses.

But this is not just my view. On the DB0FHN Mailbox, one highly regarded commentator on UK amateur radio affairs made the following observation:
"RSGB talks of "declining standards", yet has a heavy bias towards HF Contests and DX-Peditions - probably the most anti-social ego-tripping use of the airwaves possible, often rendering the bands useless for normal QSOs. " concluding:
"Amateur radio needs RSGB like a fish needs a bicycle. "


[2] UK Spectrum Forum Meeting
During a meeting of the UK Spectrum Forum Meeting that took place on 6th June 2006, there was some discussion of Contest QRM. The following is an extract from the meeting notes (Item 4, Spectrum Reports, 'HF'):
" There was some discussion on the level of HF Contesting. The RSGB had recently carried out a survey of the number of contests all levels HF, VHF and Microwave. There is no doubt that as contesting becomes more popular then the level of complaints continues to rise, mainly from older amateurs who do not take part in contesting. The main areas of complaint are, the misuse of the bands and contesters ignoring band plans. The RSGB review continues although a decision has been made by the RSGB Board to create a Sports Radio Forum under the chairmanship of Don Field, G3XTT to look at the whole contest operation in the UK. The principle complaint within the UK amateur radio community was centred on European contest activity, despite some representations through the IARU Region 1 HF Committee there has been very little improvement in operating standards or procedures.The Chairman told the meeting that the IARU Region 1 HF Contest Guidelines were contained in the HF Managers Handbook which is currently under review. Within Region 1 the Region 1 HF committee is responsible for the management of contesting.

John Butcher, G3LAS representing the Chiltern DX club told the meeting that it was possible to do some work on the scheduling of contesting however there would be no support from the contesting community for a reduction in contests.

No decision on a way forward was made."

[3] Letters in 'QST'
Many letters complaining about Contest QRM have appeared in the ARRL monthly journal 'QST'. Here are some:
- Letter from KF4HR, March 2006
- Letter from CU2JT, February 2007
- Letter from AA9UF, May 2007
- Letter from M5FRA, July 2007
- Letter from K7LF, December 2008

[4] Editorial in 'OTNews'
In the Winter 2006 edition of 'OTNews', the journal of the Radio
Amateurs' Old Timers' Association (RAOTA) the Editor, Edward Rule G3FEW wrote:
"Band Plans.
It seems a lot of amateurs are ignoring the band plans and operating anywhere in any mode. The band plans were drawn up from experience some time ago and have been very successful. This lack of consideration for others is most noticeable during contests. Contest organisers should make it a condition of entry that the band plans are observed.

Members views on this subject will be welcome. "

[5] The RSGB's Propagation Studies Committee
Even some members of the various RSGB committees are becoming increasingly frustrated by Contest QRM. During a meeting of the RSGB's Propagation Studies Committee held in Leicester on 22 September 2007, it was noted that the 14MHz beacon segment is subject to intrusion from several sources, including: stations using the segment as a tuning frequency; stations attempting to ‘police’ the frequency; and from non-amateur SSB sources. Rarely do RSGB papers acknowledge the full extent of the problems caused by contesters, so it is remarkable that a written report of the meeting recorded the following submission from one committee member: "However, these are minor problems compared with contest operations. These are not confined to a mere handful of major international contest weekends, but bleed over the IBP beacons for many hours on about twenty weekends a year."

[6] contesting.com Discussions
On the pro-contesting web site contesting.com, you occasionally find some useful discussions exploring the pros and cons of contesting. Here are a couple of them:
- Contest QRM!!!
- SSB operations out of the 40m bandplan

[7] The K3NG Report: 'RTTY Contest on 40m! Can ya tell?'
On his blog 'The K3NG Report'(in October 2008), Goody K3NG writes:
" If you start a CW QSO above 7.025 during a full bore RTTY contest, you can bet that during the QSO you will experience RTTY QRM at some point, and often it's a station that starts right up on top of you. I hate to paint a group with a broad brush or sound like a crusty old fart CW op, but it just seems like no one listens before hopping on a frequency and calling CQ in RTTY.

Would it be too much to ask for RTTY ops to send a CW QRL? if they are below 7.050? "

[8] digitalradio Discussions
The digitalradio discussion site (for 22 Oct 2007) also mentions the disruptive impact of RTTY contests with the contribution:
" The recent RTTY contest leads one to ponder: Why don't we see much backlash against contests? "

[9] QRZ Forums
QRZ forums frequently see contesters ridiculed for their inconsiderate and rude behaviour. On the 4th January 2009, one contributor wrote under the heading 'RTTY':
" Ah yes, one of the many RTTY contests this week end. How could I have forgotten about the wide signals and constant carriers to say nothing of indiscriminent frequency selection. What a bunch of rude characters. Had a number of qso's busted up. Thanks guy's, you're great and a real benefit to the nation and fellow operators. "

And here's another:
- Somebody didn't like RTTY on 40M a few nights ago

[10] Emergency Communicator Discussions
Surely, there can be no better use for our HF bands than for self-training in establishing and operating emergency communications centres. But even Emergency Communicators are subject to Contest QRM, as reported in the GlobalSET (Global Simulated Emergency Test) report dated June 16th 2008.The 17-page report mentions Contest QRM no fewer than nine times, including these observations:
" Unfortunately there is still big problem with QRM from contest stations. Many stations are not aware of (or just ignore) emergency communication priority.

"­ At 20:00 UTC ARI contest started and noise level on 40m was S9+40 at our location. It was completely impossible to hear anyone else than strong Italian contesters. "

It remains to be seen whether the Emergency Communicators will be successful in getting national IARU member societies to ensure that a dedicated range of Emergency Communicator frequencies is kept free from contest traffic. (See Request #4 inthe Statement from the fourth Global Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Conference, GAREC-2008.)

[11] eHam.net Discussions
Contests on 160m can be very disruptive to amateur radio operations. This discussion from November 2007 entitled 'ARRL 160 Meter Contest (CW) This Weekend' prompted this comment:
" I cant tell you the number of time that I have been in QSO and had a contester start calling CQ right on top of me!! ... There is NO Excuse for what I heard on 160 last night. "
and this one:

"... unfortunately the MAJORITY of contest operators are totally rude and disregarding to anyone else on or near thier own frequency. For this reason I am a CONTEST HATER!!!! "
and this one:
" we should all be working to avoid interference to others by listening effectively and operating appropriately. "

[12]Thoughts on Contest Manners - from 10 years ago!
The Contest QRM heard today has been a growing problem that national societies and the contesting community has conveniently been ignoring for many years. In his article 'Thoughts on Contest Manners - Or Lack Of', contester KH2D wrote:
" Nothing in ANY of the contest rules I have read give us 'contesters' the exclusive rights to any band for 48 hours. Some people don't LIKE contests. And after this weekend, I have a much better understanding of WHY some people don't like CONTESTERS..... The next time they start beating us up, I don't think I'll be as quick to defend us as I used to be....... "

[13] YouTube Videos
The following YouTube videos by Bert K1OIK are well worth seeing:
- Truth revealed about ham radio (If you're short of time, start the video at 01:50 into the video.)
- K1OIK confronts contesters-who scores? (Although contesters may be the lowest form of life, some contesters are capable of doing some good.)

And here's another YouTube video that a pal (another ex-ham) told me about:
- Hey SSB guys PSE QSY! (An SSB contester hogging space in the CW segment.)

[14] Sizing the Contest QRM Problem
To find out why you're experiencing Contest QRM every weekend, see:
(a) the WA7BNM Contest Calendar.
(b) the SM3CER Contest Service. From this link, take a look at the January calendar. You will find loads of contests scheduled for the 1st January alone! This is not a very promising start to the New Year for the 90% of amateurs who don't take part in contests.

[15] Impact upon members of G-QRP Club
Reporting to the UK 'Spectrum Forum Meeting' held on 20th September 2008, I was surprised to read the G-QRP Club report, as follows:
" No new Forum issues arose for the Club during the year. With the continuing poor propagation conditions on the HF bands, and therefore a lower level of activity amongst the Club's members, there has been a reduction in comments received expressing concern over 'intrusion' by data mode operators into the CW section of the bands. As the QRP calling frequencies tend to be near the top end of each CW allocation they are particularly vulnerable to such QRM. I suspect the quantity (and volume) of comments may well increase in direct proportion to any improvement in band conditions. "

This submission - on behalf of the best QRP radio club in the world - must have been music to the ears of RSGB officers. After reading this, I was left wondering whether any G-QRP members still listen on the popular HF bands at weekends. If they do, it appears that they have decided that there's no longer any point in "expressing concern" about intrusion from data mode operators.

[16] Top Notch Contester says "I have to quit doing it"
According to a Radio Sport Net item, top notch contester Scott Robbins has decided to move his life away from amateur radio contesting. The item quotes the contester as saying:
" "There simply isn't enough time to do all the things I want or need to do, so some things have to give. Radio contesting is only one of them that has to go," Robbins wrote on his blog "Those Damn Contesters Have Ruined Ham Radio."

"Being gone on extended trips, burning up vacation time to run contests, weekends in front of the radio where I'm finished and think 'Gee, you know, that really wasn't any fun at all.' -- there is no point to continuing. There is no reward. I have to quit doing it." "

[17] The FISTS Contesting Survey
The Winter 2002 edition of 'Keynote', the journal of the FISTS CW Club, reported the responses received to the question "What are your feelings on contests?", concluding that:
" operators have mixed feelings on contests! If only band plans were adhered to, then most would be happier! "

Choice Votes %
I love contesting and take part in as many as I can! 2 3
There are too many now and are nuisances! 13 25
They are bearable IF band plans are adhered to. 17 33
They don't really bother or interest me. 4 7
I enjoy taking part in some contests. 15 29

[18] FCC Position Statement about band plans
As long ago as 2000, an important ARRL article was headlined as FCC Commends Band Plans in Enforcement Letter, stating:
" FCC Special Counsel for Amateur Radio Enforcement Riley Hollingsworth used the occasion of an enforcement letter to commend the value of band plans. "Although band plans are not mandatory, they exist to enhance the required cooperation and sharing of frequencies in the Amateur Service" "

[19] rttycontesting.com Blog
In addition to RTTY contesters being ridiculed on QRZ Forums for their inconsiderate and rude behaviour [9], a contributor started a long discussion under the heading 'RTTY Contesting on the lower end of 40 meters'. Here are some of the comments:
" A recent discussion on the CQ-Contest reflector shows there is concern about RTTY stations operating low in the 40 meter band during contests. The fact that there are at least 29 RTTY contests a year means that the lower end of 40 is full of RTTY on over half of the weekends during the year. RTTY contesters are going lower and lower in the 40 meter band as RTTY contesting popularity increases.

During the 2007 CQWW RTTY contest, participants of the Texas QSO Party found it impossible to work CW on the lower end of 40 meters as there was operation from RTTY contesters as low as 7015 KHz. "

" Perhaps the way forward would be to specify RTTY operrating sub-bands in the rules of contests instead of just specifiying band. "

" The problem is there are way too many RTTY contests. Recently was the ultimate example, with more than one RTTY contest the same weekend! "

" ... The same can be said for CW contests. Look at any of the contest calendar listings and you can find three, four or more CW contests at the same time. The SM3CER calendar lists SIX CW contests or all mode contests that include CW on the weekend of 20-21 October alone. "

" having 40 CW get clobbered by RTTY 29 times a year is too much. "

" RTTY contesting on 40 meters is centered around 7.040 because that is the RTTY DX freq. In general I will tune up or down from that freq looking for contacts. If I find someone calling below 7.025 I will answer them. "

" I think that the now inefficient RTTY form of digital operation should go the way of AM, and be severely frequency restricted. RTTY today is produced (almost) entirely using computers, not the old mechanical machines. It is a wide and inefficient way to perform digital communications. Therefore, it should be restricted like AM to small segments of the band. People should be using more efficient modes such as PSK31. "

" it seems like RTTY stations have no concern about QRMing CW stations "

[20] 'Why Non-Contesters Hate Us'
Very occasionally, one of the more socially minded contesters will acknowledge the anti-social aspects of contesting and share these views with other contesters. In a 'CQ Contest' email thread, the writer of 'Why non-contesters hate us'says:
" We're darned lucky the station they stomped on was another contester. If it had been a schedule, ragchew, or net (however useless) on 21.405, this behavior would have generated at least two contest-haters, ready to lobby their local IARU society to ban our pursuit. I wonder how many of the anti-contest letters that regularly appear in QST and RadComm were provoked by similar behavior?

OE2S is not the *only* guilty party (and there are plenty here in the States - it's not just a European thing by any means) but they *are* a guilty party.

This kind of crap HAS GOT TO STOP.

[21] 'Jamboree Off The Air'
Here is another sad tale about yet more victims of Contest QRM, as described in a posting on the 'Amateur Radio' discussion forum. In the discussion 'Jamboree Off The Air', the writer recalls:
" Last weekend it was “Jamboree on the Air JOTA” and I’m sure all the local radio amateurs involved worked very hard in setting up HF stations for all the cubs, scouts, brownies and girl guides interested in radio communications. They were probably looking forward to speaking with other groups throughout the UK, Europe and even further afield.

However most of the groups, including my contact with a scout station, were forced off the air by contesters running high powered stations seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was JOTA. In fact the UK person, who I shall not name, was rude, obnoxious and over bearing and despite being informed the frequency was in use prior to his call continued to blast his call sign over the top of our attempted communication. What a great introduction to the “World of Ham Radio” for all these youngsters. "


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