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There's nothing worse to getting home, turning on the radio, and being unable to find a clear frequency that isn't full of a bunch of meaningless QSOs where somehow everyone is 599 and no one has anything to say. Are there any designated "contest-free zones", or other ways I might be able to enjoy amateur radio without contests?

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Most countries follow the band plans that disallow contesting on WARC frequencies, which include three narrow slices of shortwave frequencies at 30M, 17M, and 12M. If you stick to these frequencies you will rarely, if ever, be bothered by contests.

It's a small slice of spectrum though, so you might simply consider doing what some amateurs do and simply note the days the contests are operating, and plan activities other than amateur radio on those days. Given that most contests are short duration, occur mostly on weekends, and don't occur more than a few times a year, it's not unreasonable to simply avoid affected bands on affected days.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not interested in football, but living about 8 miles away from Michigan Stadium over the years I've noted when the home games are specifically to avoid trying to drive around during the day due to the traffic congestion 115 thousand travelers cause several times a year during their season. $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Dec 20 '13 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ Many contests are just one mode: CW, SSB or RTTY. So on a big SSB contest weekend, it might be a good idea to work on your brass pounding skills, or visa-verse. RTTY contests don't tend to choke the bands in the same way, so you can more or less ignore them unless RTTY is your thing. $\endgroup$ – WPrecht Dec 20 '13 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ … although you may find an RTTY contester occasionally straying into PSK31 areas during contests. $\endgroup$ – scruss Dec 29 '13 at 14:42
  • $\begingroup$ ... and CW operation easily going up to digital & SSB area, at least during big contests like CQWW... and the other way around during SSB contests. But it is only a few days a year, most hams can probably live with that. $\endgroup$ – Ale HB9TST Dec 15 '14 at 23:46
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One of my approaches to avoiding contests is operating on the opposite end of the band. During a big contest weekend it can be tough to avoid, when calling CQ, and someone comes back with ID and contest requirement, so the best thing to do is find the extremities of the band. Usually it's the upper end of the band, like for instance on 20 meters, I'll just call CQ in the 14.330 MHz to 14.350 MHz area. It's generally quiet there, and I have found that most call backs are other hams looking to rag chew. Like an earlier answer pointed out, just avoid the traffic by going around it.

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    $\begingroup$ It might be quiet because it's out of band. In all ITU regions, 20m runs to 14.350. Though if you change the 4s to 3s in you answer, the point is well taken. Though, being USB you need to leave room as you approach 14.350. $\endgroup$ – WPrecht Jan 7 '14 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, thanks for pointing that out. Those were typos. As far as 14.350 goes, I primarily operate QRP, so I generally don't notice too much bandwidth spillover, I think my point being is that 14.330 to 14.350 MHz is a good area of operation for avoiding contesting jam ups. There is no suggestion of intentional illegal operation going on over here =) $\endgroup$ – cj5 Jan 8 '14 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ If your rig uses more bandwidth when you turn the power up, it's definitely not operating correctly. QRP should have nothing to do with the bandwidth you use, and I think the point he was trying to make is that if you have the dial set to USB and 14.350 MHz, you are going as much as 4 kHz out of band, QRP or not. $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Jan 9 '14 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I know this. Why has this become an attack on my ability to legally operate? I'll have you know, that I operate within the parameters of my licensing. I was just answering a question. I don't understand how what you guys are telling me helps the OP resolve his question. $\endgroup$ – cj5 Jan 10 '14 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ I think it'd be best to move on from this conversation and focus on the OP's question. Further conversations can be held in chat if desired. $\endgroup$ – Amber Jan 10 '14 at 18:15
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Apart from the WARC bands you could possibly try CB radio. I know in the US is usually has a negative stigma attached to it, but alot of my local HAM's are similar to you, as in they hate contests, so they go on CB channel 38 when they can't get through on the other HF bands.

10m doesn't get used very much here, and even if it does, we get horrible QRM, so 11m (CB) is the last resort.

However, if you want to be a 'reckless' ham, you could always transmit voice over the CW and data frequencies. People might hate you for it, but It's not illegal, at least not here (UK).

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  • $\begingroup$ Understandable. I shall try to keep that in mind in the future. That's for pointing that out :) $\endgroup$ – AnaCronIsm Feb 13 '14 at 19:57

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