Planning and Operating a Special Events Station - 2014

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by WB4AEJ, Jul 30, 2014.

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  1. WB4AEJ

    WB4AEJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    In May of 2010, I wrote a QRZ article about Planning and Operating a Special Events Station (SES). A lot of time has gone by and I have some more experience I wish to share. And I received additional suggestions from amateurs who read the previous article. So consider this a rewrite of the previous article. I apologize in advance if parts of it seem like they are from the previous article. – Fred, WB4AEJ

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Special Events Stations are a means to add more excitement to the pursuit of amateur radio operation. They are educational and can be a lot of fun. Some of the ‘old timers’ frown on it and say that chasing QSL cards is not what amateur radio is all about. They try to put down those who focus on chasing QSL cards. I am an ‘old timer’ as a twenty word per minute Extra class operator with nearly forty years in amateur radio. And I say shame on them.

    While I agree that chasing QSL cards is not what amateur radio is *all* about, I believe that chasing those cards gains radio experience that results in better operators. This is better for the amateur radio service as a whole. Once one gains that operating experience, the sky is the limit.

    When asked why your club hasn’t sponsored any Special Events Stations, the answer you will often get is ‘We don’t know how to do it!’. I am here to resolve that issue for you.

    Choose a significant event so it can draw interest. If you choose to do an event that is insignificant to most, it will not get much attention. And your efforts will not yield much in the way of results.

    More often than not, a Special Event finds you, not the other way around. When I lived in Maryland, our local community college was having a science fair each year. I was contacted and asked if our club could sponsor an exhibit at the science fair. I took it up with the membership and the board of directors and got their approval. I registered our special event and we operated as SES N3S for the event. Then we began doing it each year for the short time I remained there.

    I contacted a history professor at New Mexico State University to find out if there was a person from or event that took place in New Mexico that would be significant to the original founding of this nation. If so, I was going to offer to run it as a special contact for the 13 Colonies. I had doubts when I emailed him. And he confirmed that he knew of no such person or event. That just confirms my statement of the previous paragraph.

    In my previous article on Special Events Stations, I was honored to have it reviewed by Ken Villone, KU2US. Ken was the mastermind of the now annual ’13 Colonies’ Special Event. You can find out more about ‘13 Colonies’ a their Web site. Ken pointed out that it all comes down to planning if you are going to have a successful Special Event Station. I say Ken is right. Plan your SES well in advance. Don’t wait to the last minute to throw it together. It can be done, but the approach often fails to yield the best results.

    Since I moved to Las Cruces six years ago, I discovered that MVRC (Mesilla Valley Radio Club, our local radio club) was providing communications on the White Sands Missile Range each year for the annual Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon. After I had been a member for just under a year, I proposed that we operate a Special Events Station for Bataan as well. I got with George (KD5OHA, who runs communications on the marathon course during the event) and together we contacted the folks who plan and run the marathon each year. We got their blessing and I’m proud to say that we have operated that Special Event as K5B for the last five years. I have already reserved K5B for next year’s marathon. As long as I continue to live here, I mean to see that K5B continues to be heard from New Mexico to honor the victims and survivors of the Bataan Death March.

    When the final space shuttle flight was taking place, a group of amateur radio operators were operating SES N4S near the Kennedy Space Center for the duration of the shuttle flight. Since we are the nearest club station to the NASA facility at White Sands, we were contacted by amateurs from N4S and asked to operate an SES for the duration of the launch. Regrettably, it was very last minute. But we put it together and had quite a few contacts. We operated as N5S for the duration of the event (not continuously as we did not have the ‘staff’ to run it 24x7). And yes, we did fill all QSL requests with a very nice card that WØWGA put together for us.

    Anyone can apply for a Special Events Call Sign so long as he or she is a licensed amateur operator of any class. Even a novice can apply. For most operations, I recommend that it be obtained by someone with at least a general class license because the general class bands are nearly always the best place to operate Special Events Stations. Remember that whatever bands you will be operating on that the class of operator requesting the call must include privileges on those bands or special identification will be required. That can be complex and slow down your operation.

    Registering a 1x1 call is free. Remember than a club call is not as attention getting. Be aware that a 1x1 may normally be registered only for a maximum of 15 days. An extension can only be granted only in exceptional circumstances. For example, had the final shuttle flight lasted for more than fifteen days, we would have requested that the ARRL VEC give us that extension. However, it did not go that long and we didn’t have to make that request. If you know that the event will go for more than 15 days, contact the VEC in advance of applying for your 1x1 call and explain why you will need more than fifteen days. Seeking their advice before applying will help to address the issue.

    Go to to apply. Click on the ‘Search 1x1 Calls’ link. Set your start date for today and the end date for a month from today. When I did that just now, I found Special Events that honor the Navajo Code Talkers, International Lighthouse and Lightship Weekend, the Battle of Fort Stevens, and the list goes on. When you register your Special Events call, your event will be listed as well. You really should be reading some of these listings before you register your station as it will help you know how to you write your own SES listing.

    When you select the ‘Request 1x1 Call’ link, you will find the 1x1 request form in front of you. Use it to provide the required information. Select a call that reflects upon your event. ‘K5B’ was used because the B stood for Bataan, the 5 is the district in which the marathon took place. And many of the victims and survivors of the march were from this area as well. We chose 'K' because it was a popular amateur prefix.

    You can choose ‘N’, ‘K’, or ‘W’ as a prefix. Any single digit numeral (Ø-9) can be next. The suffix letter can be any alphabetic character (‘A’ through ’Z’) except ‘X’. I’m not really sure why using the ‘X’ isn’t allowed.

    There are a number of VECs (Volunteer Examiner Coordinators) that can process your request and assign your 1x1. They include ARRL, W5YI-VEC, W4VEC-VEC, WCARS/VEC, and Laurel ARC, Inc. Any one of these can process your request. I’ve always used ARRL because they are very prompt in handling these requests. But it is up to you as to which VEC you ask to process and approve your request.

    While the description doesn’t show up in the search, it really is needed for the VEC to understand the details of your event when approving your 1x1. If you have a URL to a Web page that gives information about your event, be sure to include it in the event description.

    After you have submitted your request, it can take several days and maybe as much as a week before the chosen VEC approves your request. Be patient. They will notify you by email once it is approved.

    Someone pointed out to me [during the comments on my previous SES article] that you must be careful when selecting an event. If it has any commercial purpose or if money is collected for the event, it may be unacceptable in the eyes of the FCC. Most events are just fine. But a few may be problematic. Use good judgment and operate within Part 97 rules. If you are not sure, contact your VEC or the FCC and seek their advice before applying for your 1x1 call. Thanks to NA4IT for this information.

    You should be able to find an artist in your radio club. If you offer a QSL card or a certificate for contacting your station, it should be attractive and contain photos or artwork pertaining to the event. Our club artist is Elden, WØWGA. He has made some beautiful QSL cards from photos and from artwork.

    Don’t be in a hurry to print your QSL cards, though. It is usually a big mistake to print them before the event. You will need an image of the card to display [with ‘SAMPLE’ in big letters on it] on your Web page. And you don’t yet know how many cards you will need. The time to print them will come well after the event has concluded. I will show you how to get the cards cost effectively. So keep reading.

    I gave a list of ways to publicize your event in my previous article. Here they are again with some additional ones.

    1. Create a Web page with the Special Event information on it.
    2. Ask QST to include it in their listing of Special Events Stations (contact them at least four months in advance).
    3. Email other country’s Amateur Radio Publications and ask that your Special Event be included in their journals (RSGB, WIA, RAC, etc.). They will probably need four months as well.
    4. Send it over amateur radio mailing lists.
    5. QRZ has a forum entitled, ‘Contests, DXpeditions and Special Events’. This is a wonderful place to publicize your event.
    6. Arrange to list your 1x1 call in the QRZ database shortly before the event. Contact QRZ directly if you need help gaining control of that listing. Be sure to release control of it after you send your QSL cards.
    7. Contact other radio clubs and ask them to share the information with their membership.
    8. Ask your ARRL Section Manager and other ARRL Section Managers to spread the news.
    9. Contact Amateur Radio Newsline. Be sure to write up a blurb for them to broadcast for you.
    10. Put up a sign at area hamfests in the months prior to the event to publicize it.

    It is important to be complete and clear when publicizing your event. Include all relevant information. Are you providing a QSL card? Are you providing a certificate? Tell them how to request your Special Events QSL card or certificate. Usually that is by sending you their QSL card and an SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) to your address or your club address. Be sure to tell them what size envelope you need (Number 6 ¾ (3 5/8” x 6 ½”) for QSL cards or Number 10 (4 1/8” x 9 ½”) for certificates (you will fold the certificates into three parts to put them in the envelope). Always ask them to use Forever stamps as that reduces the possibility that someone will send an SASE with the wrong amount of postage on it (it has happened to us despite our request that they use Forever stamps).

    Publish which frequencies you will operate near and the dates and times you will be operating. State that you will be operating ‘as nearly as possible to’ the frequencies you publish (publishing a frequency does not guarantee that you will be able to use it. You may need to move up or down to find a clear spot). Try to use general class bands. Using the advanced class bands will prevent general class stations from calling. Using the extra class bands could also prevent advanced class stations from calling in addition to general class stations. Remember to consider their frequency limitations. If you are trying to attract DX stations, please consider that their frequency limitations may not be the same as ours when you choose your frequencies. If your focus is on working DX stations, you may have to do some homework when selecting your operating frequencies. Try to find out what the operating bands and license limitations are in that country. Contacting their equivalent of the ARRL (RSGB, WIA, RAC, etc.) to inquire might be a very good way to go.

    Using DX Summit to list your station and the frequency you are currently on is another way of attracting attention. Try to use it while you are operating. Click on ‘Sign In/Register’ to create a user name (your call sign) and password [if you don’t already have one]. Then click on ‘Send Spot’ to enter your call sign, password, your 1x1 call, frequency, and a brief description of your event. Once you press the ‘Send’ button, your information will be displayed on DX Summit so that other stations will be able to quickly locate you. You may want to put the URL to your QSL information in that description field. Remember you are limited to thirty-four characters.

    Having the QSL information on your Web page can speed things up when you exchange contacts. Give them your URL so they can get the full instructions. Also include your operating frequencies, dates, and times on your Web page. Also put the mailing address for them to send their QSL request. Be sure to add ‘U.S.A.’ to the end of your address for the benefit of the DX stations. I often suggest that they put the Special Event call on the lower, left corner of the outer envelope (an ‘outer envelope’ is the envelope containing the other station’s QSL card and SASE. When you open the outer envelope, you should find both inside it). This helps separate the club’s business mail from the SES’s QSL requests. Also tell them the deadline to request your SES QSL and that they should allow four to six weeks from that deadline to receive the SES QSL card.

    For DX stations, I suggest that you request that they send you their QSL card if they are reachable via bureau. Tell them you will send their SES QSL card via the ARRL Outgoing QSL Bureau. Say that you will not be accepting their QSLs from the incoming QSL bureau because it could be a year or more before you would receive them and that the cards will no longer be available by then.

    Give the DX stations the option of sending an SASE with sufficient return U.S. postage for international mail if they don’t want to wait for the bureau. Since some countries do not accept cards from the ARRL Outgoing Bureau, those stations will need that option if they want your card. You can suggest that they send you enough cash to pay for the return postage. But even that can be difficult since U.S. currency is very hard to get and expensive in a number of countries.

    The U. S. Postal Service recently discontinued using International Reply Coupons (IRCs). So the option of using IRCs for return postage with DX stations is no longer available.

    It is very important that your operators be able to answer questions about the event. For K5B, I took it upon myself to read a book written by one of the Bataan survivors who told the story of Bataan. I also attended a planning meeting with the folks at the White Sands Missile Range to gain insight into events that would take place during the marathon.

    Keep a good log of all contacts. It is best to use a logging program. This allows you to sort by call sign, date, and/or band and print the log for use when it is time to process QSL requests.

    Have plenty of operators available and let everyone take turns. When possible, have someone else keep the log for the operator.

    Proper identification of a 1x1 Special Events Station requires that you give the 1x1 call every ten minutes and at the end of your transmissions. In addition, you must give the trustee’s call sign (your call or your club’s call if that’s what you used to register the 1x1) once per hour.

    You really should keep the contacts brief when you find yourself in a pileup. Courtesy is important as you roll on to the next station. During times of low traffic, take the time to talk about the significance of the event you are operating for. This could attract more attention to your event.

    Use the three by three calling method. Call 'CQ' three times, say ‘from’ or ‘this is’, and give your SES call sign three times. Repeat this process two more times and then listen for calling stations. When you are in a pileup, change to the 1x1 method. ‘CQ Bataan from K5B’ is what I used for 1x1.

    When being hammered by an enormous number of stations, there are two effective methods to alleviate congestion. The first method is to ask them to call by call area. Say, ‘Stations from call area one call now’. Once you work all the stations from call area one, move on to call area two, and so on.

    The second method is to listen for their call signs and then pick out one or more. Then call them one at a time. This works but continuously separating calls from stations that are walking all over each other can be a trial in itself.

    Collect the log and hold onto it once you’ve completed your event. The information it contains will be needed when you prepare your QSL cards.

    This past year, we used a Web application known as ‘Cloudlog’ on our club Web site so we could have our members operate K5B and make log entries from their home stations into a common database and greatly increase operation and the number of contacts. Thanks to KØSKW, MØVKG, MØVFC, M1BXF, and W5ISP for providing it as open source for use by the ham community. We will likely be using it again in 2015.

    Most QSL companies require a minimum order of five hundred or a thousand cards. Even so, this can be the most expensive method. A personal or club station may find this cost effective. An SES rarely needs that many. Unless you get enough requests to need five hundred or a thousand QSL cards, there is a better way. The ratio of the QSL requests we received to actual number of contacts we made was about twenty-five per cent. That seems to be the norm. So if you have four hundred contacts, you can expect to get about a hundred QSL requests.

    Count the number of requests you received in the mail. Then count the number of DX stations you worked. Add those two numbers together and then add fifteen to twenty per cent more to that number. You can consider this an accurate count of how many cards you need.

    Our local printing company printed our cards four to a page using cardstock. They printed our artwork in color on the front and our QSL Report and address fields in black and white on the back. Then they cut the cards into 3 ½” x 5 ½” (the cards should never be larger than that. If they are, they become difficult for you to put into the SASEs or for the QSL collectors to put in their binders).

    The cost can be quite reasonable and varies according to the quality of paper that is used. Since QSL cards are essentially post cards, you should use cardstock or the equivalent. The first year we operated K5B, we were charged forty-five cents per page of cardstock to print our cards and an additional charge of between two and three dollars to do the cutting. Let’s assume you need two hundred and twenty-five cards. Round it up to a number that is evenly divisible by four. In this case, that is two hundred and twenty-eight. Since there are four to a page, dividing two hundred and twenty-eight cards by four cards per page yields fifty-seven pages. Multiplying fifty-seven by forty-five cents yields twenty-five dollars and sixty-five cents. Adding three dollars for the cutting yields twenty-eight dollars and sixty-five cents. So you can see that it can be done quite cost effectively at a cost of less than thirty dollars.

    Provide a couple of the QSL cards to those who sponsored the event. You should also give a couple to your club historian. Elden, WØWGA recently put up a bulletin board in the MVRC club house with all of the QSL cards he has made for our Special Events Stations.

    At your ‘QSL Party’, pour out your bin so the outer envelopes are placed into a pile on the table. The Special Events cards should also be placed there. Put your Special Events log where everyone can reach it. Place your now empty plastic bin on the floor next to the table. You’ll also need a trash can to place the outer envelopes in as you open them. Put your rubber stamps with your return address and the name of the event on the table as well [if you have them].

    Discard the outer envelope and keep the QSL and SASE. You should fill out your blank SES card or certificate from the information in the log and not from the other station’s QSL card. Place your now completed SES QSL card or certificate in the SASE and seal it. If the SASE does not contain a return address, use your return address rubber stamp on the upper left hand corner of the SASE. If you have a rubber stamp with the name of the event, stamp it between the return address and the stamp (otherwise, write your 1x1 call in the lower left hand corner of the SASE). Be sure not to rubber stamp over the Forever stamp as the Postal Service might consider that the ink on the stamp means the stamp has already been used and return the SASE to you.

    Place each now sealed SASE in the bin or box that you used to keep the outer envelopes in before taking them to the post office.

    Repeat the steps of the last two paragraphs until you have filled all the requests.

    Have someone take the plastic bin to the local Post Office and mail the SASEs. Use a Post Office that will postmark the SASEs in the same city of the event (Las Cruces, New Mexico for the Bataan Memorial Death March Marathon).

    Go through the log and list the DX stations you worked. Find out which ones are reachable by the ARRL Outgoing QSL Bureau. For the stations that are reachable, fill out a card for each one. Follow the instructions on the ARRL Outgoing QSL Bureau Web site. Usually, this requires proof of ARRL membership or affiliation, a check for the required amount (two dollars for up to ten cards or three dollars for up to twenty cards (for more than twenty cards, look at their rates on their Web site), and the cards sorted in alphabetical order by prefix. If you want to send cards to the other DX countries, you will have to decide if you want to foot the bill for the postage or wait and see if they send you their QSL card and see what arrangements can be made to get your card to them. If you really need their QSL card [for DXCC as an example], you should send them an SASE with enough postage from their country sufficient for international mail. I used to purchase foreign stamps from a stamp collector’s store for this purpose. Go to the post office Web site for their country and find out how much postage is required to mail the SASE from the DX country to the United States. Then find an online or local stamp store to purchase that much foreign postage from them. Put the postage on your SASE and put it and the SES QSL card in an outer envelope with enough U.S. postage for mail to that country.

    You will receive late requests from those who did not promptly mail their request. Any QSL cards for the event that are left over should be kept on hand to fill those requests. If you are out of cards when you receive a new request, remember that they were told what the deadline was and they missed it. For Johnny come lately requests it is first come, first served. The instructions you published for getting a QSL card clearly stated that. If you are out of cards, it is their fault, not yours.

    The artwork on your QSL card or certificate should always take great pride in the event and in amateur radio. Remember that it is the only proof that your event ever took place. And you should never use the artwork more than once. Each year, you should have a new photo or artwork. And put the date and the sequence of the event on your card or certificate (21st Annual Bataan Death March Marathon, 22nd Annual Bataan Death March Marathon, etc.). You should have a reputation for good artwork. That will go a long way towards bringing them back each year.

    I received a suggestion that it is not a good idea to list your personal or club call as a ‘QSL Manager’ for a 1x1 station. Since the 1x1 call may be used many times in a single year, you might get deluged with QSL requests for contacts that were not with your station. Thanks to K3KO for this suggestion. N4KC made a similar suggestion.

    Another suggestion was to upload your logs to LOTW or eQSL. Thanks to KJ8O.

    TA2RX suggested considering sending QSLs for one hundred per cent of your SES contacts. This could be expensive but might be worth it depending upon your preferences or circumstances. You could put postage directly on the QSL cards at the post card rate to save some money and then mail them.

    MØDCD suggested giving newly licensed operators a chance to operate the SES station. Remember that even unlicensed persons can operate as long as they are supervised by an operator of the proper class.

    This article is based upon my experience running three Special Events Stations (N3S, N5S, and K5B) and the suggestions I received from the comments of my previous article. Thanks to KØSKW, K3KO, KJ8O, KU2US, MØDCD, MØVFC, MØVKG, M1BXF, N4KC, NA4IT, TA2RX, and W5ISP for their suggestions. And thanks to WØWGA for the artwork he does to support K5B each year and to the artwork for N5S and MVRC’s artwork.

    Please join us by calling K5B next year on March 22, 2015. Check out our K5B Web page for details.

    73, and happy operating from WB4AEJ.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 30, 2014
  2. W0OLL

    W0OLL Ham Member QRZ Page

    Unlicensed operators must observe 3rd party rules when working DX stations. FM Ray Frazer W0OLL in Leesburg, FL. Tx fer the article 73's W0OLL
    WB4AEJ likes this.
  3. AA7EJ

    AA7EJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    As far as pile-ups go I prefer to let the QRP, mobiles, portables "cut in front ".
    In Museum Ships Weekend ( very special special event for me ) I once called for "submarines" and Pampanito from SF bay answered.
    But my favorite is " ...any military personnel, veterans ... first...".
    Resulting contacts are often highlights of the event.

    73 Shirley
    WB4AEJ likes this.
  4. AK4PX

    AK4PX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Based on your article, backed by my personal experience, the one mistake I made with my Dry Tortugas activation was using my call instead of a Special Event call.

    Next time baby :cool:
    WB4AEJ likes this.
  5. N2LXM

    N2LXM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Great right up. As the current President of the Ocean - Monmouth A.R.C., N2MO and the Fort Monmouth A.R.C., K2USA I am proud to say we do many special events during the year. Some from Our Clubs facility and some off site. As we are located on a former military base were the first EME( Project Diana) was done, and was the home of the Marconi Belmar receiving station we do and event for each one every year. As well as days of National Celebration. Our off site events such as the International Lighthouse weekend are great outings for the club membership. Planning is the key and with the support of great club membership all goes well. Your great write up should be the go to tool for all those clubs who want to do something, but don't know were to start.
    WB4AEJ likes this.
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