Sunday, January 17, 2021

SO2R Benefits Everyone

Don't you hate it when you try to work a station in a contest who is doing SO2R? To synchronize their transmissions and QSO flow their response to you may be delayed a second or two, or three. Or they vanish entirely or ask for repeats that seem perplexing with loud signals and a clear channel. Transmissions, especially CQs, are often interrupted. There are more of these peculiar behaviours of SO2R stations.

Working those stations can be irritating in a contest when every second counts. Indeed, many do complain, and loudly. Why does it happen and how should we deal with it? Some is due to inexpert or novice practitioners of the SO2R art -- I plead guilty. Other times it's due to the unpredictability of the stations they're working.

Some operators send slow, repeat their call or exchange without being asked, or add other non-essential tidbits -- "73 and good luck in the contest!" This upsets the SO2R operator's timing on the other radio. QRM, QRN and multiple callers can cause the SO2R operator to ask for repeats or delay their reply to you. These are common problems for everyone but more so for SO2R. 

Because we don't hear what the SO2R operator is dealing with on the other radio their behaviour can seem inexplicable -- in a sense we're only hearing one half of the "conversation". We may become irritated or frustrated, and perhaps QSY without completing the QSO. Both contesters lose in that case.

Improvement is within reach with practice. Perfection remains elusive. No matter the skill level there will always be factors out of the operator's control: propagation, QRM and other challenges. Dealing with the real world of radio is part of the contest experience. Those who prefer a more predictable competitive environment should consider e-sports. Radio can never be like that, and that's what makes it so wonderful.

All that said, is SO2R worth it? My unqualified answer: yes!

Consider the SO2R operator who annoys you on 20 meters with a delay or a request for a repeat. Had they not been SO2R you would not have been annoyed. You also would not have made a 20 meter QSO with them because they wouldn't have been there! Sure, the QSO may have taken a few seconds longer but it is still one more QSO for your contest log. 

It is easy to overlook SO2R benefits for other than the SO2R operator. Everyone they work benefits. There will be glitches, but when the alternative is no QSO at all I am happy to accept a little inconvenience.

Radio contesting is a peculiar type of competition. You and your competitors must cooperate to work each other. You put a QSO in your log, they put a QSO in their log. It's win-win. SO2R boosts everyone's scores.

If you hate dealing with SO2R operators and wish that the practice were banned, be very careful what you wish for. Your score and the joy of finding the bands full of signals would both be lessened. Consider last weekend's NAQP CW contest. What an intense 10 hours that was! 

A novice SO2R operator like me achieved an average rate of 2 QSOs per minute over that 10 hours. Yet my score was so far down the standings that I am invisible. But I had fun, and I boosted my score by at least 50%. My NAQP teammates also benefitted. You worked me more times than was otherwise possible because of it. Often I was running on two bands concurrently.

Give SO2R a shot. It's intense, maddening and a lot of fun. It takes very little to get started. Start easy, practice and as your proficiency increases your contest scores will take off. So will the scores of those you work and, in a contest like NAQP, so will that of your team or club. You can add additional equipment later if you decide to up your game. 

I use N1MM Logger+, 2 keyboards, 2 radio antenna switching, and an SO2R Mini. I don't have band pass filters and I can do it at 100 watts quite comfortably except for a few band and antenna combinations. Band pass filters are on my winter project list and I'll have more to say about it when it's further along.

Now I need practice to improve my scores and, eventually, annoy fewer of the stations who call me.

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