NEQP: Phone vs. CW
In our continuing saga to focus attention on the upcoming New England QSO Party (May 7 – 8), please bear in mind that these topics are just one man’s opinion. So tailor them to your own taste. Today’s topic for your consideration is phone vs. CW.
At first blush the choice should be obvious: CW contacts are worth 2 points, phone 1. And for many of us, the choice is obvious: CW prevails. But there are other considerations. First of all if CW is simply not your mode, then work phone. But before giving up altogether on operating some CW, consider this. NEQP has traditionally been more of a CW exercise than phone. All the mobiles in New England work almost exclusively CW. But because of longer skip, you may not work that many NE mobiles. Activity has gradually shifted over the years from CW to more phone. So which is it: phone or CW? If you can certainly operate CW in the 20 wpm range, some CW should be in your plan. Speeds will be moderate. It’s not like trying to copy what sounds like a near-RTTY station in the CQWW DX Contest. If you send CQ at a speed comfortable for you, return calls will likely be at the same speed. It’s almost impossible to beat the 2-points of a CW contact.
Before we leave the attributes of CW, what about digital? Digital counts the same as CW: 2 points. Historically there has been very little RTTY activity. But last year I believe there was some activity. It’s probably worth a shot if you don’t waste too much time if it’s not panning out.
If you operate a lot of CW or exclusively CW, you WILL eventually see your rate drop significantly. You will basically run out of CW contacts at any kind of decent rate. That of course is the time to switch to phone. If you have a big signal, you will never run out of Qs on 20 meter SSB. In 2009 (I was QRP last year, so the numbers are not indicative) I worked 955 stations on 20 meter phone. No matter how many times I came back to that band, there were a new slew of callers. Low power with wires or low tri-bander should still find a ready supply of phone contacts. Remember, we are the “hunted.”
So what’s the answer? First, operate the mode with which you are most comfortable. If you feel a bit marginal on CW, try it anyway. You may find you will do better than expected. When you run out of CW contacts on a given band, switch to phone. Or switch bands. In 2009 I operated twice as much phone as CW and came in second in New England to W1UE who operated more CW. Last year I won the QRP category for New England with a near even split between CW and phone… eking out a victory over a station who operated only CW. So you see, it all depends! Best answer: probably shoot for an even split. But be ready to modify or go with the flow on the fly.
Recommendation on best way to start: CW on 20.
Look for our next topic in a few days: New England mobiles.
73 and happy NEQP planning.
— John, W1XX
CTRI Contest Mangler