As seen in CQ Contest Magazine, 1996

(note M/S rules may have changed since this article was published)


Multi-Single Rules and Strategies

in the

CQ World Wide Contest


Ken Silverman, WM2C


The multi-single (M/S) rules are printed in CQ Magazine - aren't they!? CQ Magazine says they most definitely are. While all the rules are printed in CQ Magazine, I view the written rules as only one factor in defining our operating strategy for a competitive M/S entry. In addition to the written rules, there are operating techniques that are not defined, but perfectly legal. And finally, there are strategies in applying both the written rules, and the legal operating techniques not defined in the rules. While some people call these legal operating techniques, the "unwritten" rules, I do not.

I view these un-mentioned operating techniques as the difference between describing how to run stations at 200/hr on CW, and then actually going out and doing it. You can only describe the experience so much, and then you just have to go out and practice, to develop your own operating techniques to accomplish your goal.

For the past 7 years, I have almost exclusively been operating in the M/S class in the CQ WW contests. Most of these operations have been in the Caribbean, and South America. Each year our team hones our techniques, and pushes the rules to the limits. Who sets the limits? CQ Magazine of course. All of the rules and techniques described in this article have been coordinated with CQ Magazine, and are totally accepted as being soundly competitive, and perfectly legal. But before you use any of these M/S techniques, make sure they fit with YOUR winning strategy.

Lets get right to the rules as written in the September 1995 CQ Magazine:

B. Multi-Operator

1. Single Transmitter: only one transmitter and one band permitted during any 10-minute period as starting with the first logged QSO on a band. Exception: One - and only one - other band may be used during any 10-minute period if - and only if - the station worked is a new multiplier. Logs found in violation of the 10-minute rule will be automatically reclassified as multi-multi. The 10 minute timer begins with the first valid QSO on that band. (the rules regarding station location within 500 meters etc. are not being covered in this article)

From a high level standpoint, the M/S class allows you 2 transmitters. The first transmitter can do anything it wants within the ten minute rule - run stations, hunt for multipliers, or a combination of both. This transmitter is typically referred to as the RUN station. The second transmitter can only work new multipliers which are on a different band than the RUN station, and this transmitter is typically called the MULT station. The MULT station is also bound by the 10 minute rule, though the timers for the RUN and MULT stations are independent of each other. I think its important to remind you that the CQ WW M/S rule is VERY different than the ARRL M/S rule. The main difference is the allowance of the second transmitter in the CQ WW M/S rules.

Now lets rip apart the rule as stated above. "only one transmitter and one band permitted during any 10-minute period as starting with the first logged QSO on a band." One transmitter is allowed - that's simple. This station is typically called the RUN station, and the RUN station must remain on a particular band for 10 minutes, with the timer for the RUN station starting with the first valid QSO (not a dupe) made on that band. So if you log F6BEE on 15m at 1423Z, you must stay on that band until 1433Z. At 1434Z, you are free to QSY to another band, although you can remain on 15m for as long as you like beyond the 10 minutes. During the minimum ten minutes on that band, the RUN station can work any other station. You can run stations, work mults, call CQ, or just listen. As stated above, this station is typically referred to as the RUN station, since it is free to work as many stations as possible.

Anyone who has looked closely at the M/S rules before will notice that the 10 minute rule changed in 1995. While the 10 minute rule now clearly states the starting time - defined as the first QSO made on that band - this was not so in the past. In the past, there was no defined starting time, and listening time was counted as time on the band. So in the past, one could slide the 10 minute period around. But that was then, and now is now. The nuance of the change to the 10 minute timer will become more obvious when we look at the next sentence of the rules.

Sentence two of the rules: "Exception: One - and only one - other band may be used during any 10-minute period if - and only if - the station worked is a new multiplier. " OK, so actually two transmitters are allowed: one which can do anything it likes, and the other which can ONLY work new multipliers. Because of this, we normally call the second station the MULT station.

What is a mult? A mult is any country or zone (as defined by the CQ WW rules), that has not been worked before on a particular band. The MULT station can work as many mults during a minimum 10 minute period on a particular band. The interpretation of the 10 minute rule is the same for the MULT station as the RUN station - the first valid QSO on the MULT band starts the 10 minute timer, and you must remain on that band for at least 10 minutes. Though the first valid QSO on the MULT station must be a new mult. If the first QSO made was not a new mult, or was a dupe, or a zero point QSO, then the 10 minute timer only begins when you work a new mult. The listening time before you work a new mult on a new band is counted for the previous band you were on. Here lies the big difference in the implementation of the 10 minute rule over the previous years - even if it takes you 8 minutes to work a new mult on a new MULT band, the 10 minute timer doesn't start until you work (log) that mult. Then you must stay on the MULT band for another 10 minutes. The rule as it stands now makes the strategy of when to change MULT bands even more important.

Why did CQ change in the 10 minute rule? The rule change came about for a very simple reason: it was very difficult for the CQ log checkers to determine if you violated the 10 minute period under the old definition. Now there is a very clear beginning (and thus potential ending) of the 10 minute period. Personally I do not like the new rules. A lot of time can be spent trying to work a new mult on a new band, and the time you are calling the mult is technically counted against the previous band. I have a hunch that the 10 minute rule may change again in the future.

The RUN Station:

The goal of the RUN station typically is to run as many stations as possible. If you are loud enough, you will normally just sit on a frequency and call CQ and have other stations answer you. Otherwise you might search and pounce. Again, the goal is generally to work as many stations as possible. If a mult calls the RUN station, then the name of the game is to pass the mult to the MULT station. Passing mults in the M/S class is a very important part of the score. Knowing which band you need to pass the mult to, and which bands are open, are also very important functions of the RUN operator. A disciplined and experienced operator is required at the RUN station at all times.

One of the most overlooked philosophies of the M/S class is that the RUN station op should be the fastest operator in the group, assuming you are trying to maximize your score. While this sounds obvious, it takes a well balanced team to implement this - and the group must be intent on winning through teamwork. By not keeping your fastest operator at the RUN station, you will likely loose to the competition - I speak from experience. Our operation at 4M5I in the 1993 CQ WW CW was the first world-class M/S contest expedition with our current group of operators. It was also our first time together as a team. Each op was skilled and well balanced, and thus I assumed that each of us could run the pileups equally. This turned out to be a wrong assumption. While some operators would be running at 120/hr, others would sit down and the rate would immediately go to over 180/hr. Even an average difference of 10 QSO/hr between ops is enough to loose the contest - this works out to 480 QSOs during the contest. If we had another 480 QSOs at 4M5I in 1993, we would have won the M/S class for that year - as a result we were second.

The Mult Station:

Most newcomers to the M/S class will underestimate the importance of the MULT station. I cannot stress enough that you should consider the MULT station to be half of your score. Accordingly, you need to have operators who are skilled at finding mults, breaking pileups etc. Another key skill is for the MULT operator to pass mults to the RUN station. The MULT station should be manned full time, just like the RUN station. I often use the analogy of passing mults to that of baseball. A "single play" is where the MULT station works a new mult. A "double play" is when the MULT station works a new mult, and then passes the mult to the RUN station, where the mult is logged for the second time. A "triple play" is when the MULT station works a mult, passes it to the RUN station, and the RUN station then passes the mult to a new MULT band (the MULT station had been on the previous band for 10 minutes, so the QSY was valid), where the mult is then worked for a third time in a row. When I operate M/S from DX locations, I assume that all new mults worked on either the MULT station or the RUN station will be passed to at least one other band. I consider double-plays the norm, and get very upset when operators forget to pass, or at least to try and pass, the mult. Triple-plays are nice, and we may get a few of these during the whole contest, but there is great satisfaction in this accomplishment. But making triple-plays takes skilled operators who are aware of which bands are open, which bands you need the mult on, and the status of the 10 minute timers. I cannot stress enough that passing mults is a very, very, important part of M/S strategy.

Advanced Techniques:

Now lets talk about techniques that are not in the rules, but are accepted practice in M/S competition. There is nothing in the rules that says you cannot have other stations listening on other bands looking for mults, or checking propagation - they just can't work stations during the 10 minute periods of the other two stations. I call these other stations SPOTTING stations, and most competitive M/S operations have at least one SPOTTING station (thus three stations in total). Many M/S operations have a few SPOTTING stations that are all networked together feeding spots into the MULT/RUN stations. Some large European M/S operations have the whole club looking for mults that they put out on their local packet cluster - dedicated to their group only.

This year our 4M5X M/S group tried mult hunting with a separate radio on the RUN band (I call this the in-band mult station). This is where we had another station on the same band as the RUN station so that we wouldn’t miss any mults that showed up on that band, but didn’t call us. When a mult was heard on the in-band mult station, the RUN station would stop sending, and the in-band mult station would then try and work the mult. The hardest thing about in-band multing is actually being able to hear on the second RX when the RUN station is transmitting. This is a function of antenna separation, and station design.

Now lets call CQ on the MULT station! Yes, I know what the rules say. But you can run stations on the MULT station if you count them as zero points. Why would one want to do that? It's a trade off of working stations that you cannot work again later for points, but you can count the mults that call you. When does this pay off? Generally when you start multing on a new band, calling CQ is one of the quickest way of working a bunch of new mults. You just have to remember to count non-mult stations as zero points, otherwise you will be classified as M/M. At 4M5X in the 1995 CQ WW CW we were often CQing away on 10m with the yagi pointed towards Africa (that was the only area 10m was open to), and we were rewarded by many rare African, and a bunch of South American mults. Running on your MULT band is usually not a very good idea since you are eliminating the possibilities of working those stations again for points. The only good time to do this is usually when you go to a band where you haven't multed before, or you know there is very limited propagation and the chance is high that you will only work new mults.

Station Engineering:

I know what you must be thinking by now - this sure sounds like a M/M operation! Well you are pretty close, especially with regards to station design. With multiple transmitters and receivers, you must be able to hear on all bands with no, or little, interference. M/S station design is very similar to M/M station design. Bandpass filters for receiving (and/or transmitting) are essential pieces of equipment. Separation of antennas (especially ones that are harmonically related) is important too. Packet hookups, computer controlled radios, instant QSY amps, bandpass filters, coaxial stubs, antenna switching schemes - you name it - are all part of a competitive M/S station design. We'll continue our discussion on station engineering in a later article. For now, best 73, and I hope this article has cleared up the rules behind the CQ WW multi-single class. Ken WM2C