I'd like to offer some comments on the Sept VHF contest from the perspective of a decidedly non-big-signal operator who typically has limited time and interest for contests. Although my interest factor was unusually high on this one, it was largely compensated by the time factor.
The high point of my contest, hands down, was working W0AMT/R in DM55 on both 6 and 2 SSB, QRP-to-QRP. There's something really inspiring about someone carrying all his gear on his back, going somewhere high and remote, and sounding like he's in your back yard.
My longest haul was K2AK, DM41, in southern AZ, on 6 m FT8.
My strangest contact was with WS5N, DM54, on 6 m MSK144, following a failed attempt at a meteor scatter contact with someone else. Perhaps this is not unusual for tropo scatter, but his signal had wild swings in strength, making me wonder if perhaps aircraft scatter was involved.
Not too surprisingly, there were several strong candidates for biggest disappointment. Topping the list was somehow never hearing KK6MC/R significantly above the noise, in any of the grids he visited.
Regarding the question of 6 m band openings, I'll mention that I “saw” a couple of FT8 stations (K6EU, WA6ZTY) in CM97 and CM98 with weak but persistent signals rising to a decodable level over a period of several minutes Sunday AM. These signals did not have the characteristics I normally associate with meteor scatter – they were relatively constant over 15-second periods, for multiple periods.
And of course, I'd like to weigh in on the FT8 issue. Keith, no offense, I have no doubt you are a beacon station, but I'm not sure I've ever heard you on the air. I have heard you here, however, and really value your insights and advice. As much as anything, I think this is the kind of thing that will help stem the losses to our community.
So why does it seem that everyone is fleeing the traditional modes to FT8? Presumably, they are not all idiots. I like to start with the understanding that basically everything we are doing in ham radio is really kinda nuts. Once you acknowledge that it makes no sense to try to bounce signals off meteor trails or the moon when you could just pick up the phone instead, it's really not that hard to see that a lot of people like FT8 or the next mode to come along simply because they like it, not because it helps improve their contest score or is in any sense the best tool for some job. And that is just fine. To preserve weak-signal and traditional modes, it makes sense to do exactly what I see is already happening in NMVHF. Recruit, talk about why THIS stuff is fun, show your enthusiasm, help those who need it, and avoid the mode shaming.