…or CQ Contest. You can hear this call on the amateur radio bands most weekends and sometimes during the week too. So, what does CQ mean? It is often reported to mean ‘Seek You’ but the reality is that it dates back to the Telegraph services in France where sécurité was used to initiate a message – a French Pronounciation of CQ would sound like ‘Say Koo’ just like the start of the word. Many commonly used words within telegraphy were abbreviated to save transmission time and the operators wrist/fingers when manually sending messages. It was natural that the abbreviations from the Telegraph should be carried over to the airwaves on which Morse Code was the initial method of communication.
The next thing to be aware of is that CQ is a general call – it invites anyone listening on the frequency to respond. However, a CQ may be qualified either to restrict the likely respondees or to indicate some degree of urgency to the transmission. In the early days of wireless transmission, CQD was used by ships in distress – the first message sent from the Titanic after striking the iceberg began with CQD. It had been superceded by SOS a couple of years earlier but was still in common use alongside what we now know as the international distress call. As an aside – pilots use Mayday for distress calls and Pan when they’re temporarily unsure of their position 😉 Mayday also has a French connection, coming from m’aider (help me).
So – CQ can have a qualifier added to it with a view to clarifying the sort of contact the caller is seeking. I could call CQ DX – this indicates that I want to talk to long distance stations only. Or CQ Asia – only stations in that part of the world. CQ Stateside – Stations in the USA only. But in the instance quoted in the title I’d be an Italian station looking for other stations that are taking part in a contest.
Contests have become a very popular form of radio activity in the last few years. Not everybody likes them – with the simple ‘rubber stamp’ of a signal report and, perhaps, a serial number as the exchange many operators view this as the antithesis of what radio should be about. A ‘real’ contact should be an exchange of names, locations, operating conditions, a signal report and perhaps even some info about the weather. And, of course, some Hams just like to chat or ‘Rag Chew’ as it is known. For every avid contester there is an equally avid hater of contests.
You might think therefore that amateur radio is a battle ground with the lines drawn up on either side of a divide (and it can sometimes seem like that) but such a thought would be a very far from the truth. Sitting in between are the silent majority (if I may use that expression for a talking hobby!) that embrace all forms of QSO (Contact) on the airwaves. And, I guess I’m one of those – I’ll rag chew or contest with equal pleasure 🙂
Contests come in many different varieties from local activities, like the ‘Edgware Activity Period’ where the emphasis is on taking part and enjoying yourself, to the CQWW (CQ World Wide) DX contest where the big guns come out to play and everything is taken very seriously indeed! The month of July has two of the big ones in the form of the IARU HF and IOTA contests. It is these big contests that provide the opportunity to test your station’s capabilities and to hone your own operating skills.
The IARU (International Amateur Radio Union) contest sees Headquarters stations all over the world taking to the airwaves along with the rank and file. The objective is to contact as many stations on as many continents as possible in a 24 hour period with bonuses for HQ stations – I won’t give you a link to the rules because you’ll fall asleep reading them 😉 This contest despite being one of the biggest, is a good one for beginners as the exchange between stations is just a signal report and the station ITU (International Telecomms Union) region so for me it would be ’59, 27′. Most other contests require each contact to be logged with a sequential number which must also form part of the exchange. The IOTA (Islands on the Air) contest is one of these and I would be giving a response along the lines of 59, 001 in EU-005. You will gather that the objective here is to contact stations on Islands and that groups of Islands have IOTA codes – The Azores are EU-175 whilst the Canaries are AF-004 and Jamaica is NA-097.
So there you go, a brief introduction to the world of Amateur Radio contesting. If you would like fuller details, just ask 🙂