Winter Field Day Flop

Hey, it's Winter Field Day!

Hey, it’s Winter Field Day!

Winter Field Day, sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Amateur Radio (SPAR), has been a favorite event of mine since the first time I participated in one back in 2012. It’s a weekend of operating that I always look forward to, as it officially kicks off the new year of ham radio for me and gets me excited for events, hamfests, and contests to come.

Yet, the event has been hit-or-miss for our club. Despite good planning, getting the word out on the local nets, posting updates on our field day plan on the website, and another excellent setup at a local emergency operations center, this past weekend, I’m sad to report, was a miss.

We logged less QSOs logged than last year for sure, but we had more than 60 contacts, and that’s not horrible to be honest. I would say more than 90% of those QSOs were made with stations who were not officially participating in Winter Field Day, and who had no idea what Winter Field Day is.

Winter Field Day simply needs more participants. Since the event started in 2007 it has gained participants at a glacial pace. The first year WFD had a meager 28 logs submitted, and three of them were merely check logs. Seven years later, in 2014, SPAR reported 55 logs submitted.

According to the ARRL’s figures, some 35,000 amateurs participate in summer Field Day, and anyone who has looked at the results in QST knows many logs are submitted. In 2014, there were 2,634 logs submitted for summer field day according to ARRL’s official list.

Anyone who has worked summer Field Day knows that you can’t spin the dial without landing on a “CQ Field Day” call. I heard exactly two “CQ Winter Field Day” calls on Saturday, and that was hours after the event officially began.


Comparing these two events isn’t really fair, but I put the numbers out there to show the divide between the two events. Summer Field Day is the ARRL’s premiere event. It’s THE main event in ham radio. Yet SPAR Winter Field Day is merely a ripple caused by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing on the contest calendar.

So what can we do to make more folks enjoy this fine event/contest?

Change the date. Late-January is a tough sell for some folks. We’ve just come off the holiday, money might be tight for gearing up, etc. It’s also so early in the year that people simply overlook it on their calendars.

Make CW and digital contacts count 2 points. This is the model for summer Field Day and it encourages amateurs to use those modes. As it stands now, WFD is mostly an SSB event, even though contacts using other modes get a multiplier.

Go to a 12-hour format. Perhaps more folks would participate in a shorter event. I know we’d retain some of our participants if they were only in for a 12-hour haul. Leave the 24-hour slog for summer.

Make the exchange easier to handle. The WFD exchange isn’t particularly difficult, but it is a lot of information to deal with: Station class — in our case M)ulti I)ndoor — section, and temperature.

So on Saturday, we were saying, “Please copy Mike India, in Sierra Charlie, with a temperature of 45 Fox” and since most of my contacts aren’t officially participating, I would then have to explain in more verbose language what all that meant, then grill the calling station on whether he was operating at home or outdoors or away from his home, try to get the temperature, and his ARRL section, which could be different from his state abbreviation.

I had a hell of a time doing this on PSK last year, particularly while fending off “brag tapes” and ragchewers, and I can imagine how hellish it would be trying to explain this contest to someone on CW.

I know this is an emergency exercise, but I’m personally not a fan of the weather report (hey, it’s winter, we know it’s cold in most places!), and would rather just issue RST + state, or alternately, RST + temp.

Suggested frequencies. Generally, I’m not a fan of these, but if it helps cluster some action around a portion of the dial and makes it easier to find participants, then I’m all for it.

Get the word out. SPAR has a PR problem; no one has ever heard of Winter Field Day. We need to change that. Refresh the web site, hit some forums, e-mail reflectors, blogs, etc. Use social media. Get more clubs engaged. Could the ARRL possibly want to get involved in helping this become a bigger event?

Regardless of how any of these suggestions may have an impact, I really think getting the word out is key, and not just posting news on a club site, or mentioning it on a radio net — but getting out and operating.


15 thoughts on “Winter Field Day Flop

  1. I became a member of SPAR this year to try to promote the event. It’s a great event similar to the FYBO QRP get-together that happens later in February. On the message boards I found something interesting. The longer exchange was proposed, ignored, and passed by default.
    Also, we have been unable to submit our logs as the email address provided is returning an error. No one who can fix this problem has responded on the message boards.
    My suggestion for anyone who enjoys this event is to join SPAR. If there were more people behind the contest there might be more people involved on the air. I would also suggest moving it to coincide with some other contests, perhaps a weekend with a few state QSO parties. If the exchange were similar it would net more contacts and more fun.

    • I know for a fact that this guy runs nothing but a modified CB through a TV coax Jpole as his main rig. He also thinks that Bazooka antennas are second to none. Be very careful about the advice he gives….

  2. Hi Cory, thanks for your thoughts, and congratulations on your great YouTube channel as well!

    SPAR has always been one of my favorite events. It was basically the event that introduced me to HF and that was very influential in my development in this hobby, as I haven’t found working repeaters very satisfying since. I definitely hope folks can get the word out because it’s a nice alternative to the busier summer FD. I just wish more folks would participate.

    I haven’t been able to submit our club log either owing to the e-mail bounce-back. I hope someone responds to that issue soon!

    Hope to catch you on the airwaves one day! Thanks for reading!

  3. Would like you know that WFD is still alive with or without SPAR support.
    A Winter Field Day Association has been created and we are in the process of creating a website just for WFD. Soon, we will have the ability to accept logs, leave comments, etc.
    We are hopeful that the 2015 logs can be resubmitted to our website for proper scoring.

    The website is currently hosted by QSL.NET (winterfieldday).
    Presently, there is a Facebook page dedicated to WFD.

    • Tom, thanks for the efforts of the new association! I’m glad to see someone hasn’t forgotten about WFD, which as I’ve always told people, is one of my favorite events and the one that “made me a ham.” I have not tried submitting our club log again since previous efforts have bounced back. I’ll try and stay up to date on what the association is doing and submit our club log when the option becomes available.

      Thanks for the links and for keeping us up-to-date on what’s happening. I hope our club will participate again this year and help keep the event alive!

    • Winter Field Day is alive and well. Under new management. Winter Field Day Association.
      We have streamlined the exchange for now. Callsign, WFD Category and Section.
      We also have a Facebook. Approx 134 members so far.
      Please spread the word and hope to hear you on the air for WFD 2016!

  4. Is there any word on changes for WFD 2017? My club participated last year for the first time and our local turnout was a huge success, We have begun planning for 2017. Only thing I was disappointed in was the Winter Field Day Association website, seems very lacking.

    • Hi Noah, I don’t know what the folks at the Association have planned for 2017, but maybe keep an eye on their Facebook page for the latest updates. Our club had a good turn-out for 2016 also. The difference was this year we felt like the Association did a good job of getting the word out and participation seemed higher overall.

      Previous years have been really spotty, but I think the event is on track now!

  5. Greetings,
    Check out the December ARRL QST. Very good article about Winter Field Day.
    We continue to grow and getting the word out o more Hams.
    Hope to hear many more on the air for WFD 2019!

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