Tuesday, June 2, 2020

ARRL Field Day: Independent Data Analysis

87 years ago marked the first official ARRL Field Day. It is absolutely amazing what technological progress has happened in just about the last nine decades in relation to amateur radio, but this is the first global pandemic that amateur radio has faced. 

With the 2020 ARRL Field Day less than a month away, preparations are very different in part due to the Corona Virus across the United States and elsewhere.

Certainly the global health crisis will change how amateur radio operators and clubs rally resources to mount efforts for portable and temporary field operations to demonstrate how reactive amateur radio can be when its required to quickly set up a national communications network away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings.

The above photo for those interested is of Joe N2LL and Bruce N2ZAC preparing the famous 80m vertical made from a former US Navy communications antenna. This great antenna gets deployed once a year at the Overlook Mountain Amateur Radio organized Field Day and has proven to be one of our secret weapons for making more contacts, especially on CW in the warmer month of June.

What really prompted this article?

After  finishing up some group volunteer work at Ferncliff Forest this past weekend, the remaining 8 OMARC members left behind held a  "socially distanced in person" planning meeting to discuss final plans for Field Day 2020, which will be closely organized to maintain good health for all interested in attending or participating.

Further fueled by a "late night virtual Slack" meeting with a fellow Hudson Valley Digital Network member Joe NE2Z, two questions were common between the two communities regarding the annual June preparedness event.

  • How important will the different "non-voice" modes be this year?
  • How many people will possibly participate in person or through the revised ARRL Field Day 2020 rules?

Separating fact from fiction

The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL) is the national advocacy group which supports the growth of amateur radio in the United States and is also the main sponsor behind "Field Day".

The ARRL has many resources for free on its website including past results and data on recent contests like Field Day.

ARRL field day scores
After taking a quick look, the ARRL has the past ten years of data available, but with some not very user friendly differences.

Data available after 2015 includes more granularity around what type of conversations or "QSO's" were made as well as the type of power source used for operating radios. The total data set offers 15 unique data points per entry.

Prior to 2015, there were only 9 data points as illustrated at left.   I commend the ARRL on trying to use data to learn more about its most public event.

What I have done is taken the 10 separate annual datasets and combined them into one. I have also added the ability to look at the FCC assigned section (0-9 Call Areas) based on ARRL section assignments.

Additionally, I decided it would be good to combine CW and Data QSO as "Non-Voice QSO" and relabeled "Phone QSO" as "Voice QSO". This offers better resolution on who likes a microphone, keyboard of code keyer when making contacts.

Having one master data set also allows for better ways to visualize or compare data and spot trends across the 160,836 data points since 2016 plus another 110,747 from 2015 to 2010.

I have excluded the "Total Score" and "Bonus Scores" columns from my analysis tool because the way which bonus scores were tabulated have changed a few times and thus made total scoring not uniform from year to year.

10 Year Analysis: High Level ARRL Field Day Trends

First lets look at how the last 10 years have trended in terms of total contacts made during field day across all ARRL sections and which also combines US, Canada and DX ARRL data.

ARRL Field Day results

Even though the total number of contacts clearly shows a decrease over the last ten years, that is not cause for concern.

This trend could be part to blame for where we are in the sun spot cycle, which does influence the band conditions between 2 and 30 MHz which is where most of the contacts during Field Day come from.

Bad weather can also influence the number of contacts, but pulling weather for all 368,004 participants over the last 10 years would have been a daunting task.

sun spots
In 2017, there was a pronounced increase in total ARRL Field Day contacts which almost perfectly lines up against the sun spot data to add fact to the analysis and partly dispel rumors about a decline in activity.

What was interesting is that while both voice and CW (Morse Code) contacts do seem to have declined, voice did not as much.  Since voice signals do not tend to travel as far as Morse code, this is potentially a bad trend to see especially when he band conditions are favorable.

Digital contacts using modes like RTTY, PSK31, etc show a major increase in recent years which is nice to see, but that is only because the ARRL has only recently started to track this.

At the national level, I can say with certainty that one of the two questions posed has been clearly answered.

Going forward, every club or individual participant looks to be spending more time learning about the benefits and challenges behind digital communication.

Who participates in field day?

Since 2010, there has been a 368,004 cumulative total of field day participants, with the average year seeing 36,800 radio enthusiasts take part in Field Day in the United States, plus Canada and a few "DX" stations.

What is troubling is a clear annual decline over the past 10 years even when the total number of licensed operators appears to keep increasing.

ARRL field day results

While there is a decrease in participation, there are positive growth changes in different ARRL sections and FCC call areas around the United States.

The only FCC call area showing positive growth participation over the last 10 years is the west coast in call area six, but call area one, seven and nine are the next most stable. The region with the largest decline are those in call area zero.

Here are the total participation in compound annual growth rates for the data presented in the below chart from 2010-2019:

FCC Call Area One = -0.36% CAGR
FCC Call Area Two = -1.84% CAGR
FCC Call Area Three = -0.50% CAGR
FCC Call Area Four = -0.95% CAGR
FCC Call Area Five =  -1.33% CAGR
FCC Call Area Six = 0.71% CAGR
FCC Call Area Seven = -0.29% CAGR
FCC Call Area Eight = -1.25% CAGR
FCC Call Area Nine = -0.40% CAGR
FCC Call Area Zero =  -2.08% CAGR
FCC Call Area Total = -0.73% CAGR

The ARRL Field Day data does not include demographic details, so the reasons behind regional growth is not conclusive.

One funny note though,  Canada participation is at 1.12% CAGR over the last ten years.  It is not yet clear if the ARRL has asked our northern neighbors for help to see how to make this event more popular.

ARRL field day results

Hudson Valley Regional Participation

Since HVDN is located in FCC call area two, we should look at New York to see how we trend and unfortunately, the four ARRL sections combine for a -3.05 CAGR which is totally horrible! Here is the breakdown:

ENY = -1.05%
WNY = -2.82%
NNY = -0.18%
NLI = =6.37%

Myself (Steve K2GOG) and  others may be to blame since there has been a noted relocation taking place from NLI northward into ENY for example.  The below charts help visualize year over year changes for the past decade in the Hudson Valley from New York City and Long Island.

ARRL field day results NLI ENY

Getting closer to home

By now it should appear that I can provide clarity around field day trends for many different things, so now lets have a quick look at the fastest growing and forward thinking club in the Hudson Valley, excluding HVDN of course since we do not yet officially participate in the ARRL Field Day with our N2HVD club callsign.

The Overlook Mountain Amateur Radio Club, in part thanks to its wide reaching 146.805 MHz repeater above 1800 feet elevation overlooking Woodstock NY in Ulster County helps the club draw a membership from four of the seven counties that make up the Hudson Valley.

Joe N2LL who is the longest tenured club member and CW op extraordinaire permits the use of his callsign for field day. 

In recent years, club leadership has helped transform the club into being more active and organized.

This is clearly evident by either not participating or not having scores submitted in some years, but since 2014 generally showing a net increase in contacts across different modes.

ARRL field day results

How do you do Field Day?

If we stick with the OMARC club as an example, they generally try to run field day as 4A or better.  The number represents the total number of on air stations at the same time during the contest and the letter defines the type of station being setup.

Over the past 10 years, only 5 different field day classes across the United States make up 55% of total deployments, but a massive 107 make up the remaining 45%. 

ARRL field day results

In 2020, the rules are slightly different because of how COVID-19 has created a socially distanced and health awareness scenario. 

1D is for participants operating from home, 2A through 4A are for clubs operating 2 to 4 stations, and 1E is for individuals operating one station under emergency power.

This year, stations can operate from home, but provide points to the club they are members of.

A big trend over the last 6 years and more evident in the last 3 is that the total different types of participation has drastically changed, but overall the total participation is trending downward as we has seen in other charts.

Due to COVID-19, it is going to be interesting to see if we will see an even greater number of 1D or 1E stations or higher number of participants that aggregate up to the club level.

This comparison is concerning as it indicates how participants think of field day is changing to be tailored to unique interests. 2020 will certainly throw all the data available into a spin cycle and who knows what the results will look like. 

If the classes of participation were more restrictive, its not clear if this would increase or further decrease participation, but likely create a large change. 

ARRL field day results

HVDN: Adding value to you

At around 9:00 PM Eastern time on May 30th is when I got nudged to look for ARRL  data to help provide fact to the two questions posed earlier in the past weekend.

A few hours later I emerged with the data set compiled from the source data found on the ARRL website.   I had some time last night and this morning to pull together this article based on my findings.

ARRL field day results

Since I spent a few hours consolidating the data, finding a way to re-organize it and be able to spit out insightful charts, maybe this exercise would be valuable to someone who wishes to articulate why field day is important locally, regionally or nationally.

Having this data now also lets us think about how the  2020 version  of Field Day will be really interesting when the results become available in December 2020.

I would propose that if you are an executive within an amateur radio club anywhere in the United States and would like for me to present insights based on this work to your club via a virtual meeting that is more specific to your own club, please contact me directly. 

I am not interested in sharing my compiled data set with the public as I can not guarantee it would be used correctly or in a responsible way. I do encourage you however, to recreate what I have done or contact the ARRL for opinion.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

Steve Bossert K2GOG

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  1. Wow, this was an interesting read. Will message you about how our club down here in Arkansas is holding up compared to the region. Only increase we get every year is more mosquitos! 73

  2. Saw this on Facebook. Cool. Would love to see the league share stuff like this in QST.

  3. Any cranky people at ARRL contact you yet? lol

  4. A few years ago it rained pretty bad and RFI at our FD site in Suffolk was horrible. Noise floor was S9 and above. After a late lunch we dismantled the whole thing. Let's hope for good weather this year!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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