A – Z Story Challenge: C is for CQ Concorso…

…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 sΓ©curitΓ© 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 It had been superceded by SOS a couple of years earlier but was still in common use alongside what we now know as the international distress call.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 πŸ˜‰ Mayday also has a French connection, coming from m’aider (help me).

Morse Key

Morse Key

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 πŸ™‚

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 πŸ˜‰ 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 πŸ™‚


A – Z Story Challenge: B is for Beer, Budgie and Bandolier

My regular readers will know that I am a great fan of the Welsh band Budgie. Whilst definitely at the Heavy Rock end of the spectrum their early albums exhibited a fantastic level of craft combined with strong rythms and a powerful driving bass. The lyrics and song titles always set them apart as, perhaps, a trifle crazy… ‘In the grip of the Tyre Fitters Hand’ or ‘Hot as a Dockers Armpit’ for example. But the guitar work by Tony Bourge and Burke Shelley was always exemplary.

The first album by Budgie to capture my attention was ‘Squawk’ – I stumbled upon it in a local record shop back in the days when you could ask for a demonstration play of the album you were thinking about buying. I had been chasing up some more Argent or Groundhogs but as I moved through the B section I was confronted by the stark design of the album’s cover.

Those who bought albums in the early 1970’s will immediately recognise the name Roger Dean. He designed some of the classic album covers of the period – For bands like Uriah Heep, Osibisa, Yes, to name just a couple. Budgie were one of his customers, but the Squawk album is quite unique in that it doesn’t show an alien landscape but a plane in a screaming descent. A closer look reveals a crows skull in place of the cockpit and nose section of what was, in those days, just about the fastest thing flying – the SR-71 Blackbird. As an album cover it is both extreme and simple and therefore a perfect description of the music contained within, because Budgie’s music retained that simplicity that so many bands of the 70’s forgot to preserve.

In 1975 Budgie produced the excellent album Bandolier. The cover design lacked the flair of Roger Dean’s work but was in line with one of the hit tv shows of the time – Planet of the Apes! Not sure why… but I’d rather be subservient to Budgies than Gorillas πŸ˜‰ The Cover might have been naff, but the music wasn’t with the powerful two-part Napoleon Bona – part’s 1 & 2 leading the heavy metal charge and ‘Who do you want for your Love’ demonstrating the strong but subtle side of the band. It remains one of my all time favourite rock tracks and I make no apologies for picking it again and adding a youtube link below along with one for another of my other Budgie favourites – Parents. Listen to the words on that one and think back to when you were a child πŸ˜‰

And where does the beer come in? Budgie should always be enjoyed with a good pint. Brains SA is a good choice Welsh beer – normally referred to as Skull Attack πŸ™‚

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

I actually thought… Damn – This is going to be a head on! – Until the police driver took action and jinked left to avoid the Dyno-Rod van that swept out of the side road into his path with no thought to the blaring sirens…Close...…I was right in the firing line if they had contacted each other. You’d think a van driver with his window wide open would be able to hear Police sirens wouldn’t you!