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.