...and I shall rise up to where Heaven and Earth meet and from these high place I shall say unto the world, "CQ CQ CQ. CQ SOTA. CQ Summits On The Air. Golf Whiskey Seven Alpha Alpha Victor". And the people shall hear my voice and they will cry out as one and they shall be called chasers. And I will call on a voice louder than the rest and I shall say unto him "Spot me upon this hill" and he shall be called spotter. One by one I will call them and they will speak and to these I will bestow my bounty and this bounty will be know as chaser points. And a fourth voice shall speak out and he shall be known as qualifier and shall receive my bounty and I his. That bounty will be know as activator points and I shall be known as activator. And another voice shall call from on high and we shall bestow our bounties upon one another and together we shall be known as a Summit to Summit and there will be much rejoicing. Thus it is written and so shall it be.
V12, Ch7 The book of Sota
It is said that golf is a good walk spoilt and the same could be said about activating for Summits on the Air, I disagree with of course, but the analogy has some truth in it. Golf could be seen as a game for people who feel that walking on its own is not self-fulfilling enough and require a little something extra to motivate them to get the exercise they feel they need, the noble game fills that purpose and also gives its proponents a chance to socialise with other like minded individuals. SOTA activation interrupts a hill walk and adds both extra purpose and the chance to socialise with other like-minded individuals via the medium of radio. SOTA drags overweight and pale ham radio operators out of their dark dingy radio shacks and into their walking boots.
Since not long after Guglielmo Marconi’s ground breaking transatlantic transmissions in 1902 sparked interest in the use of radio as a form of communication both radio amateurs and professionals alike have climbed to the tops of mountains in an attempt to both send and receive radio signals further a field. So amateurs have been operating portable radio stations from mountain tops for over one hundred years, but it only due to recent developments in electronics, which have shrunk the equipment to much more manageable size and the wide spread easy access to the Internet that the Summits Program became possible.
There are two sides to SOTA the activators and the chasers. Activators climb to the tops of mountains and make contact with other radio amateurs on HF, VHF, UHF and even microwave frequencies as permitted by their licence using mainly FM, single sideband, or CW (Morse Code), other modes such as AM, data, and even television are permissible but are far more rarely used. Operations are carried out on or near the summit of the mountain using wire, vertical and beam antennas. The local associations within the program define what constitutes a SOTA summit; in the UK these summits are based on the Marilyns. Marilyns are listed in the book The Relative Hills of Britain by Alan Dawson (Cicerone Press 1992) and are hills which have a clear drop of 500 feet or 150m all round. Activators need to make four contacts to ‘qualify’ a summit and they receive between one and ten points depending on the height of the summit if they can qualify it. Contacts are then entered on an Internet database and the points then appear as an accumulated score in a league table. An activator can only claim points for a summit once per calendar year.
Chasers are radio amateurs who set out to speak to as many activators as they can and they get the same number of chaser points as the activator for the summit; so a one point hill for an activator is a one point hill for the chaser and likewise if it is a ten point hill they both get ten points. The chaser also enters their contacts on an Internet database and the points appear as an accumulated score in a league table. A chaser only gets points for contacting the same summit once in a day. Contacts with multi-operators or different activations on the same hill on the same day are usually entered in to the database because although the chaser receives no extra points it may confirm a qualifying contact for an activator.
Individuals who in the main would have been something similar anyway mainly do SOTA for fun, but for those that like to have their achievements recognised there are certificates and trophies. There is even a league table and awards for ‘Short Wave Listeners’. Certificates are available for 100, 250, 500, and 1,000 points with additional certificates for 2,500, 5000 and 10,000 points. At 1,000 points Activators achieve "Mountain Goat" status and Chasers/SWLs become "Shack Sloths".