A few months ago I went down to the Ellis County Ham Club and was introduced to the Justin Twins. No, I did not say Wonder Twins, I said Justin Twins. As in Justin Long and Justin Lentz. Or as they liked to call each other, Old Justin and Young Justin.
The elder of the pair and I volleyed emails back and forth a few times after we met and eventually we landed on the topic women in HF and how much can be learned from HF. From there we meandered over to the topic of Field Day and finally to the GOTA station topic.
In the end, we decided the GOTA station was important enough that we would present the topic together on the Monday before Field Day. Just to get y’all in the mood.
It worked out well for the both of us since we’re both going to be intimately involved in the GOTA station for both of our clubs.
It didn’t work out so well for the blog, however, since I got busy with Field Day prep and then AFTER Field Day I was recovering from…well… Field Day. (Better late than never!)
So, here goes……. Thanks very much to Justin Long, K5JTL, for the help with this topic. Justin is a member of both the Ellis County ARES Club, as well as Southwest Dallas County Amateur Radio Club. I’ve not known him long, but what I see of him, I really like.
Anywho... ladies and gents, the GOTA station.
I was just thinking: Isn’t this a hoot? Just this past year at this exact same time Allison and I were both newbies to ham radio and we were working our respective GOTA stations as greenhorns. Now here we are, both of us pretending we’re old hands (when we’re really not) and encouraging you to try your hand at this GOTA thing.
I’m going to back up just a little bit before we launch into the merits of GOTA because we’ve got to get you to Field Day before we can get you to the GOTA station. I was listening a few weeks ago when Allison asked if you had been to Field Day. A fair number of you have so maybe I’m preaching to the choir.
But I think Field Day is a little bit like going to the state fair. If you've never been before, you need to see what all the excitement is about -- at least once. And if you go once, chances are you’ll return to see what’s new. You’ll take in more the second trip because there was just too much to absorb the first time. Sensory overload.
When you get to the Field Day site, before you even go inside or go to the tents, check out the antennas. Watch out for those guy wires, but look up fairly closely. This is how your voice will be launched into the air, using these wires. Impressive, aren’t they?
Venture inside the facilities and say “Hello!” Put some faces with those call signs you hear on the air. Meet some new friends. I love this part of it! I have a whole bunch of friends now that I didn’t have two years ago.
So you’ve checked out the antennas and said a few greetings. Now check out the various radios people are using. They are usually some of the best ones the folks in your club own. Can you tell which radio you like the best just by looking at it? I don’t know, but I’ll tell you now -- there are some that I just drool over.
Why should you want to work the GOTA station? There are multiple reasons.
First, there's a whole wide world of radio out there! Much bigger than your UHF/VHF 30-mile radius. It's a lot of fun to talk to somebody several states away or maybe on another continent! And just like there’s a wide world of radios, there’s a wide whacky world of hams, too. Some hams like contests, some like informal rag chews, some like paper chasing (amassing certificates), some like building their own equipment, some like operating portable from outdoors or the thrill of making contacts using extremely low power. Me? I'm a CW bigot. I love me some CW. But the point is — most of this stuff is done on the HF bands, not on VHF/UHF.
Also, I don’t know why it is, but guys are more interested in talking to YLs. Maybe it’s because you are rare. Or maybe it’s because you are special. But combine that with the GOTA station and you are golden! You can earn bonus points the so-called seasoned operators can’t earn. Under normal conditions, (i.e. *NOT* Field Day) some days there aren't many folks on the air to talk to, but on Field Day, all bets are off. There will always be someone around. That gives you lots of opportunities to…
• Tune a sideband rig. It’s a little bit tricky the first time, but your coach can help you through it.
• Understand the exchange. It’s easier on Field Day than in other contests. Oops, wait, it’s not a contest, it’s Field Day. It’s a non-contest contest.
But speaking of that exchange, let’s talk about that. The exchange involves giving the other station only three pieces of information -- your GOTA call sign, your club's class, and your section -- North Texas. You need to accurately copy those same three pieces of information from the station you're talking to since all contacts are verified from both sides. They must copy your information correctly and you must copy theirs correctly in order for it to count as a valid contact. Consider it inspiration!
Well, that’s pretty much it for GOTA. It’s not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. Fun, wasn’t it?
Now that you’ve left the GOTA table, see if anyone is trying to make a satellite contact and ask if they're having any luck. Ask if your club has a digital station. If they do, check out what they’re doing and ask how it works. It’s kind of neat -- you talk using a keyboard instead of a mic.
Good for you for sticking your toes in the water! Next year *you’ll* be a seasoned hand, just like Allison and I. Now go home and work on that license upgrade. It’s not that hard. If I can do it, you can do it!
GOTA. It’s not some new weird strain of GOAT, it’s GOT-A. Or phonetically, Get on the Air. The GOTA station is a special station set up specifically for Field Day. It may operate on any band, but is usually set up for HF on Field Day. GOTA stations are designed to entice the new or inactive ham onto the air and introduce them to the wonders of HF. Specifically new hams licensed since last year’s Field Day. Any license class okay, as long as you are were licensed in the past year. Same thing goes for a generally inactive hams. Any license class okay, as long as you’ve been generally inactive. (No ringers.)
Unlicensed future-hams can participate under the supervision of a control operator. Speaking of which, remember those rules from the Tech and / or General test? “A control operator must always be present at the control point.” This covers unlicensed participants, but also covers the GOTA participant who is operating beyond their license privileges. All clubs will provide a GOTA coach. But more on that a little later…
The Elmer made fun of me when I said I could tell the difference between and HF rig and a UHF/VHF rig by the size of the knob. As it turns out, that simplification is not too far off base. Since there are no repeaters involved in HF, stations can transmit on any frequency they choose. Your job as the receiving station is to turn the big knob and zero in on the best frequency to listen. Also, the transmitting station can “drift” slightly off frequency which may require re-tuning.
This makes for some great listening practice. You’ll learn to tune to the correct frequency plus, there is no such thing as a perfect transmission on HF. You’ll become adept at picking information out of the vapors. You’ll learn to ask for fills when necessary and get a feel for the timing of the actual exchange.
Additionally, HF station setups are completely different than UHF/VHF. There are a lot of new toys. Things like foot pedals that control the mic, boom and pedestal mics, and headphones. Oh, and antenna rotators! How cool is that?
After you take in all that shiny, then the fun stuff starts. There are two different methodologies to operating the GOTA station. Both involve working pileups. No, I’m not referring to those multiple-vehicle collisions you see on the news with the subtitle “Live from Los Angeles”. Pileups are ham radio geek speak. Translation? Many ham operators trying to communicate with one distant station. On the GOTA station, you can be the “one” or you can part of the “many”.
• Search and Pounce method – (Part of the Many) -- Turn the dial and tune to someone already on a frequency and working a pileup. Your job is to put your callsign out there with the correct timing so the station working the pileup hears you callsign in between the radio clutter and acknowledges you. From there you work the exchange as necessary.
• Park and bark method – (Be the one.) Sitting on one frequency and letting the pileup come to you. This method requires good listening skills and is *the reason* you need a GOTA coach.
And you will always have a GOTA station coach. Manning the GOTA station with a coach during the full 24-hour non-contest contest means extra points. So believe me when I tell you, you will have a coach. Which is great since they are very important to your success as an operator.
The coach’s job is to help you get started. Smart clubs line up our most patient, laid-back hams to act as coaches. So don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if you don’t know the coach, you’re dealing with gentle giants. But if you don’t understand the answer you receive, ask it differently or ask someone else. There are no dumb questions on Field Day. Learning is what GOTA is all about.
Another job of the coach is to help you listen so you know when to push the mic button and talk. It can be tricky at first. It’s really more about timing than anything else. After a few minutes you'll be an old hand, but it's hard to take that first step at home with nobody talking you through it. Your coach will give you a lot of help, but he or she is not allowed to do it for you. They are there to help you turn the dial and give you encouragement when you need it…Or, if you’re lucky, they’ll let you turn the rotator!
The GOTA station will be equipped with visual aids, as well. I can promise you, even if you’ve memorized the theoretical exchange verbatim, the minute you open your mouth, whatever was in your frontal lobe will evaporate like the early morning mist in August. That’s just how it rolls. So your station will be equipped with things like scripts, station call signs, maps of section areas, and lists of section abbreviations to help you along.
That’s it, girlies. Go for it and GOTA. It’s like fishing. Once you get your first one, YOU’LL be the one hooked. I promise you will love it.
Last but not least…
REALLY, it’s NOT a contest, but if it were…
• Contacts are encouraged in groups of 20, at that point, there are an additional 20 bonus points. Can do this FIVE times for a total of 100 points per operator.
• If the GOTA station is monitored full-time during the event, the bonus points will be double (so 20 contacts, 20 bonus points (X2) = 60 points)
• The maximum number of QSOs on a GOTA station for the entire Field Day period is 500, no one operator may earn over 100 QSOs.