NPOTA – First Pile Up

NPOTA as most reading this will know by now, stands for National Park On The Air. It is an ARRl year long event helping the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversary. It operates a lot like SOTA in that there are activators and chasers. I was able to participate last Saturday as an activator when I visited some other hams that had setup at the Pea Ridge National Military Park for an activation.

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The battle at Pea Ridge was a pivotal Civil War battle that took place March 7-8 1862. The battlefield was spread across 4,300 acres where 26,000 soldiers fought. Today it is still one of the most intact remaining battlefields from the Civil War left in the United States. If you are a history buff and would like more information about the park, you can visit the nps.gov website.  Here is the wikipedia page about the battle.

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The radio setup consisted of a Yaseu FT-450, a Carolina Windom antenna, and laptop all being powered by a small generator. The team made over 400 contacts for the day. We worked stations fairly constantly most of the day.

I watched the operators for a little while, then jumped in to log for the operator working the radio. After a while they asked me to take the microphone. This was my fist time on the receiving end of a pile up. Someone had spotted us and there were a lot of people all at once trying to contact us. I got flustered and made a lot of mistakes. After a bit, I turned the microphone over to Don, K5DB who was a lot more experienced at working this style of operation. He has been doing NPOTA all year. I went back to login but watching and listening to Don work the pileup, trying to learn. After a while I got back on the mic and tried again. I simply tried to emulate what Don did. I actually was better at it the second time. When I called QRZ or CQ, I would write down 2-4 partial callsigns or even a complete call, as I was able. Then I worked down that small list, calling for the partials. Don got it across to me that I needed to control the pileup. Ask for specific partials, ignore the ones that don’t match that are just trying to barge their way in. I was in charge! I say that not as a control freak but as someone who learned a lot this weekend, working his first pileup.

A few tips for anyone who tackles a NPOTA pileup for the first time. The more experienced ops already know this!

  1. It’s not a real contest, it’s NPOTA. So relax!
  2. If you have someone logging for you, you should have paper & pencil for notes, partial callsigns as you operate. I can’t speak to doing this by yourself as I have not done that yet.
  3. Call the stations you hear, calling back partials as needed.
  4. Don’t let bully stations barge in when you are calling a specific station. Ignore them.
  5. Maintain control of the pileup! You are the boss for the moment.
  6. You can only work one station at a time. You will get to most of them in time.
  7. You will make mistakes the first time, just deal with it a move on.
  8. Relax! it’s not a real contest!

I definitely need to get out and operate more in this the of situation.

73 and good luck!

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