A little history of the August UHF Contest

Part One - the earliest years

The item at right appeared on page 74 of the July, 1978 issue of QST:

     This announcement marked the beginning of the UHF contest.  I (N6NB) had gone to ARRL Headquarters in July of 1977 as chairman of the Contest Advisory Committee, and I was on a mission.  I thought there should be two new contests in the ARRL calendar:  a contest on the bands above 220 MHz and also a contest specifically devoted to moonbounce work.  The CAC had agreed. 

     I met with several staff members, including Dave Sumner, K1ZND (now K1ZZ, who was scheduled to retire in 2016 after more than 30 years as the ARRL CEO).  Dave was then an up-and-coming staff member with a lot of ideas about a lot of different aspects of amateur radio.  Tom Frenaye, K1KI, who has been the ARRL New England Division director for about 30 years now, was also involved in this process as a contest desk staffer.  Dave, Tom and the others agreed that the state of the art had advanced to the point where it made sense to consider both an EME contest and a UHF contest.  They all seemed to like what I was proposing, and both contests went into the ARRL contest calender the next year--1978.

     Eventually Dave looked over my draft of the rules for the new contests and got out his pen.  He made several suggestions for the UHF contest that made a lot of sense.  One was to have a brand-new multiplier system for the UHF contest.  Maidenhead grid squares had not been invented yet, but they were coming.  Dave suggested using one-degree-by-one-degree grid squares as multipliers, designated by the longitude and latitude rounded down to whole numbers.  A number like 11834 would be a multiplier (it would turn out to be the eastern half of grid DM04).  Dave and the others agreed that the first weekend of August was the best time for the UHF contest.  It was near the beginning of the best tropo season of the year, and it was a time when the chance of activity-killing bad weather was at a minimum, even at northerly latitudes.

     I was asked to do a short article about each of the new contests.  What I wrote in the announcement of the first UHF contest is shown here.

     When August 5, 1978 rolled around, I was among more than 600 hams who got on for the first UHF contest.  More than 100 people turned in logs.  The contest was very different in California than it was in the northeast.  At my portable site atop Mt. Pinos, Calif., there was a LOT of activity on 223.5 MHz FM (then, as now, the national calling frequency).  But there wasn't as much activity on 432.  And 1296 was even worse.  I only managed to work five stations in five grid squares on 1296.  I had nothing for any higher band, and 902 was not yet open to amateur radio.  However, 223.5 was booming.  There had been rumors that 220 would be taken away from amateurs to make room for a new Class E citizens band, and manufacturers had started mass producing mobile transceivers for 220.  Then the FCC decided not to create a new citizens band there (although the FCC did later take away 2 MHz of the amateur allocation at 220, while giving amateur radio a primary allocation on 222-225 Mhz).  The result was that thousands of erstwhile CB 220 transceivers were dumped on the amateur market at low prices.  Suddenly 220 FM had a LOT of activity, and I took advantage of it.  I ran a kilowatt on 223.5 on a mountain at 8,800 feet elevation.  I could easily work mobiles from north of Fresno to San Diego for lots of multipliers and QSO points.

     In New England, where my friendly contest rival K1FO was seriously pursuing the new UHF contest, it was a different game.  He found far more people and multipliers to work on 432 than I did in California, but he had fewer Qs and mults on 220.  It was never easy to win a VHF contest on the west coast, but I did beat K1FO by a small margin in 1978, thanks to the popularity of 220 in California.  I thought the margin was narrow, but it was even narrower in the second UHF contest in 1979.  I won that one by all of 27 points out of 20,000!

     When K1KI wrote the 1979 results article for QST, he said this:  "The UHF Contest is here to stay!  A total of 159 entries were received this year, up 35 percent from last year, showing that the enthusiasm and activity on the UHF bands are really on the upswing."  

     In the years from 1980 onward, the upswing continued.  K1FO and others came to dominate the contest.  On the multioperator side, W2SZ was dominant in the early years of the UHF contest--as the Mt. Greylock group has been for so many years now in the June and September VHF contests.

     At first there were only two operating categories in the UHF contest:  single operator and multioperator.  Roving was allowed because there were so many unpopulated 1x1 grid squares, but rovers had their scores in each grid square listed separately.  Even in 1978, active contest operators often had friends activating rare grid squares, but the term "rover" and the rover categories came later.

     The photo at left above, taken in August of 1978, shows N6NB's portable station set up atop Mt. Pinos, Calif. for the first UHF contest. The equipment included vacuum-tube transverters and amplifiers (with 4CX250B tubes in stripline designs) for 220 and 432 MHz and a varactor tripler for 1296.  A separate 220 kilowatt amp was driven by a Midland 13-509 transceiver for 223.5 MHz. FM.  The antennas included vertical and horizontally polarized Quagis for 222, a long Yagi for 432, and a helix for 1296.  The 220 FM kilowatt is shown in the photo below. 

(To be continued)