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Operating NS

Basically, NS is like the NCJ NA CW Sprint. In addition, the multipliers are counted on each band, so the band-multiplier strategy of NAQP comes into play. The other rule modifications don't effect an operating strategy as much: dupes count, 100 watt maximum power, 160 meters as a fourth band, and the 5kHz QSY rule relaxed to 1kHz.

Beginner Strategy

Because of the QSY rule, no more than two stations can be worked on given frequency before tuning at least 1KHz away.  This can be confusing and disconcerting for the new contester, or a contester new to sprint contests.  In addition, the order of the exchange elements is recommended to be different depending upon which of the two QSOs is being worked on the frequency.  This adds further confusion and often frustration for the newcomer.

However, once a QSO is established on a frequency, it is likely that a series of QSOs to continue on that frequency, with different stations only there for 1-2 of those QSOs.  Therefore, a newcomer can listen on the frequency, copy the QSOs and get into the rhythm of the exchanges before jumping in.  There is no need to frantically tune around the band as stations are jumping from one frequency to another.

Marc, W6ZZZ (sk), offered the following suggestion assuming you can switch bands quickly (160m/80m/40m/20m) without a lot of fiddling around and retuning:

  1. Pick your "best" band, the one where you feel "strongest" be it 20m or 40m. Assume it is 40m for the following discussion.
  2. Sweep 40m from about 030 to 050 and make all the contacts you can (at whatever speed you can do this). Go for accuracy and ask for fills if you need it. Also if you do a S&P QSO and then call CQ about 3 times with no answer start S&P again.
  3. Sweep 20m.
  4. Sweep 40m.
  5. Sweep 80m.
  6. Sweep 40m.
  7. Sweep 160m (1805-1820kHz).
  8. Go back to step 2 if you still have time left.

Ken, N6RO, said: "Strategy in this version of NS is the hardest yet!" and "Multiplier strategy is now the name of this game."

Intermediate Strategy

Send your ideas to N6ZFO.

Advanced Strategy - SO2R

Jim (N3BB):

It's an interesting transition from one radio to two radios. The Sprint format offers both the highest reward for SO2R compared with SO1R but also requires the most difficulty in making that transition. There are some outstanding SO2R operators in the NS family, including N6RO, N4OGW, N4AF, W9RE and others. My own experience with the transition may be summarized as follows:

1. Your score will go down at first compared with one radio. There will be a period of wacky QLFing and it will be embarrassing to transmit the wrong stuff at the wrong time. Stick with it and you will recover and eventually exceed the one radio scores.

2. There are two primary ways SO2R will help in the sprint format. Note, the sprint format. In a regular contest, you simply run on one band with the highest CQ rates, and S&P on the next most productive band for contacts and/or multipliers. In a sprint format such as the NS, there is no "running," so the plan is completely different. Use SO2R for these two purposes:

A. When you are completing a "couplet," and will be leaving a frequency, you can start a CQ on another band at the same time you are receiving the exchange information from the station who will be remaining on the frequency. After you send your info to him and he starts to send his info to you, you initiate your "inactive radio" CQ. Program this "inactive radio CQ" to be the same length as the exchange you are receiving. Of course this is an inexact science, but with some experimentation and practice, you will come up with a practical length. In my case, this CQ is "CQ NS NS N3BB N3BB" The intent is when you receive the exchange, ending with the station's call (since he is staying on frequency), you can send your QSL (this is important, you must send a QSL. In my case, I like "TU" as my QSL as it's a bit easier to copy than a single dit or a single "R") and immediately you will have someone calling you on the other band. In this case, you turn the couplet into a triplet.

By the way, once you get this triplet, it's possible to continue to extend the "inactive radio" CQing and this results in ping ponging back and forth between two bands until finally you don't get a caller. I've actually had this continue for five or six continuous QSOs on occasion. When you are doing this, it's important to listen on the inactive band and be sure you are CQing on a clear frequency. I realize a "clear frequency" might not actually be clear as it might involve a station you can't hear because someone is skipping over you, but in general it works.

The late W4AN told me that in the NA Sprint when he first broke the magic 400 QSO mark, he didn't answer a single person (to start a couplet) the first hour. He ping ponged back and forth between 40 and 20 meters doing "inactive radio" CQing and continuing to go back and forth. I'm not sure I believe him literally but I do believe the overall concept.

B. The second key function of SO2R is using the "inactive radio" CQing as a "space filler" while you are looking for someone to call to start a couplet. It's a free CQ on the inactive band. If no one answers you, there is nothing lost since you are tuning on the "active band" looking for someone (who is not a dupe) to call. You don't even listen to the "inactive radio" CQ until it ends to see if someone calls you. Otherwise just keep sending those free CQs on the "inactive band" while you are tuning for someone to call on the active band. Another advantage of these "inactive radio" CQs is that you will pick up some additional multipliers as well as QSOs from semi-active stations in the NS or Sprint as they will answer you. W4AN used to say "In the ideal case, you should be transmitting one hundred percent of the time to maximize your contacts and scores in a contest." This will increase the more time you have a signal on the air and this will increase your score.

Like any type of strategy, there are details which make it more effective and these come with practice. Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" states it takes ten thousand hours to become expert in anything. I believe this, whether it's skiing downhill or playing golf or tennis or competing at a high level in the NS or the Sprint!

Tor (N4OGW):

I think it took me one full summer NS season to become comfortable with sprint SO2R. Before that I could do simple SO2R in NAQP, SS, ... Sprint is a substantially different technique, but once you learn it, SO2R in "regular" contests will become even easier.

Before trying sprint SO2R, one thing that might help is to be able to do SO1R sprint without using the paddles for anything. Jumping back and forth between paddle and keyboard will slow you down and makes SO2R harder. I also can't send manually and listen to the other radio. You should have memory keys programmed for number, name, state, and call fills (NR?, ...). This might be difficult on certain logging programs that don't provide enough memory slots.

At least for me, learning SO2R sprint was all about learning specific patterns for the two modes Jim mentioned, down to the individual keystrokes. You can practice these with your logging program outside the contest with just sidetones on. For example, if I am cqing on band 1 and looking for calls on band 2, I do (trlog):

1. focus radio 2
2. press F8 repeatedly
3. press space if I need to call someone on radio 2
4. type call and press enter if someone answers on radio 1

It really helped me to precisely know what keys I am going to press. Of course things go wrong, and the harder part is to cope in those cases!

Eric (NO3M):

Once you are comfortable with the methods and suggestions by Jim, N3BB, and Tor, N4OGW, there are a couple additional SO2R methods that can be used to maximize operation. Alternate CQs to generate a "couplet" or "triplet", or as a "filler" are primarily serial methods, with a slight overlap between QSOs. The next progression is to execute parallel QSOs. For this to work smoothly, timing is imparative.

The first scenario is where you are finishing your exchange and will inherit the frequency or are calling CQ on one radio, in this example, on Radio A:

Radio A
Radio B
Send your exchange or CQ
Copy caller callsign
Send your exchange
Copy his Exchange
Send QSL
Find someone via S&P
Send your callsign
Copy his exchange
Send your exchange (jump ball)
Copy caller callsign

Does the above look familiar? If you've done SO2R in non-sprint contests, it is the "standard" SO2R sequence except for the Radio A "QSL" and listening for a caller on Radio B. The above could result in a "quad", depending on whether you were finishing a "couplet" on Radio A to start with. Did I mention timing is imparative? To make this work, you may need to adjust sending speed to manipulate the flow of both QSOs. Also, if the sequence was started on Radio A with a CQ instead of a "couplet", and you must wait a second or two to answer someone's CQ or jump ball on Radio B, you can always send your call (ie. F4) an additional time as needed after your CQ. This sequence also depends upon cleanly copied exchanges, or things can become a mess very quickly.

The above method is an excellent way to squeeze two QSOs out of those last seconds in NS. Call CQ on one radio, and answer a needed station on the other. As long as the exchanges start flowing in all directions before the 30 minutes, you just bagged two more!

The next method is pushing the envelope a bit. This method involves answering two CQs or jump balls concurrently, basically setting you up for inheriting the frequency on both radios (jump ball), but with a slight twist on one side:

Radio A
Radio B
Send your callsign
Copy his exchange
Send your RUN exchange
Found someone via S&P
Send your call (just before your exchange on radio A)
Copy his exchange
Send your exchange (jump ball)
Copy next caller

Notice your exchange on Radio A; it's the exchange sequence: HIS CALL MY CALL. This exchange sequence is used to discourage a caller afterward, since you'll be throwing a jump ball on Radio B. This works best when the Radio A band is "drying up" and there are few stations left to work. This method also does not necessarily following a smooth ping pong effect, ie. you send your callsign to both stations in short order. This decision depends upon when either operator is listening, their sending speed, etc. Of any method, I think this one can get sticky and confusing quick, especially if someone were sitting in the wings during your RADIO A QSO and pounces on you when you're trying to flee! There is also the occasion where both operator's exchanges slightly overlap, in which case knowing name and QTH helps, already pre-filled or known from a previous QSO.

The above methods are great ways to squeeze out those extra few QSOs. As Jim and Tor rightly point out, it takes time and practice to become comfortable with any SO2R method; when you start to think about the next step, you can easily lose focus on the current dialogue and get into trouble. SO2R really demands that one act and react on reflex, especially in a sprint-style contest.

While the alternate CQ scenarios can be done in nearly any situation where you are vacating a frequency, the above methods are for specific situations and may not present themselves often, especially if S&P on the opposite radio yeilds no stations to work. In that case, quickly find an open frequency and push out an alternate-CQ. Advertising one-self or being engaged in a QSO at all times is the ultimate goal of effective sprint SO2R as N3BB echoes from the late W4AN.

Send your ideas to N6ZFO.


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