Contest? What’s a Contest?

I get asked by non-HAMs every once in a while what a HAM Radio Contest is and how it works. I think I’ve finally come up with a way to describe it without using any radio references. So we are now talking about a party game, sometimes called an ice breaker and here’s how it works.

The goal is to talk to as many people as you can and write down their name and what State they are from. You get one point for each person on your list at the end of the party but that’s not your final score. You then count how many different States are on your list and multiply your score by the number of States. For example, if you talked to 20 different people and they were from 10 different States your final score would be 20 times 10 or 200. So, to maximize your score you want to try to get all 50 States on your list.

The ideal setup would be a long, dimly lit hall with chairs along one wall but any large, dimly lit room with chairs along the walls will do. The room is open before the game starts but the game starts/ends at specific times; like from 8 PM until 11 PM. Only contacts made during that time count.

You can either initiate contacts or answer but you can’t do both at the same time. To initiate a contact you must be sitting in a chair; then you yell your name and ‘contest.’ Anyone who is standing can answer by yelling their name, you then answer by repeating their name and saying what State you are from. They then tell you what State they are from and the contact is complete. Keep in mind that the people who are sitting can only initiate and the people who are standing can only answer, but you can switch anytime you want. The catch is that you don’t want to be sitting right next to anybody since that will make it very hard to hear people answering and to tell who they are answering. So once you have a chair you probably want to hold on to it.

For example, if I was sitting I would say ‘Jim Contest!’ and somebody might say ‘Jennifer!’ I would then say ‘Jennifer, New York!’ They would answer ‘Thanks for New York, Florida!’ You both write down the names and States and you’re ready for the next contact. The catch is there are a lot of people all trying to do this at once; the room is crowded with several hundred people. At first, the more aggressive people scramble to find a good chair, and then every time somebody yells their name/contest a lot of people answer them, so they have to pick a name out of the crowd which doesn’t sound hard until you realize that a few feet away there’s another guy in a chair with another crowd yelling their names.

You are also allowed to use tools to make it easier so many people will have a cardboard megaphone they can yell into and hold up to their ear to make it easier to hear a specific person. Others might bring a bullhorn which will make them easy to hear but won’t help them hear the answers, and won’t make it easy for others to be heard.

So, there’s a lot of confusion, excitement and mayhem. The person who finds the best strategy, mixing sitting with roaming the room and is loud, as well as skilled at listening and good at timing their yells will win. Now do this via radio and that’s what a contest is…


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