Less is More For Many QRP Operators
By W1SFR - Steve
A buddy of mine said to me the other day. "Steve, life is too short to QRP". Ok...he's a guy into contesting and cranking out the QSO's. I'm not that guy. I'm in it for the challenge. I don't want things to be TOO easy so getting that QSL from a far away station when I'm only running 5 watts is a lot more satisfying than working the same station with 100 or 1500 watts. Heck, if it was too easy...everybody would be doing it! For me working QRP CW is at the very root of the amateur radio experience and everytime I turn on the radio another adventure awaits me. I hope those of you who read this and have never tried operating QRP, will give it a go and at least see what it's all about. Like they say " QRP...when you care to send the very least".
QRP is derived from the common Q signal that relates to signal power. "QRP?" means "Should I reduce power?" So it's come to be known as QRP radio or low power radio. The understood definition of QRP radio is 5 watts output or less. There are some who will say that QRP guidelines for SSB are different and are defined as 10 watts or less PEP. Most QRP ops use CW as their mode of choice, but there are plenty of SSB and digital QRP contacts being made every day. In fact, PSK31 is particulary suited to QRP operations as it is typically a low power affair to begin with
There is a subset of opeartions known as QRPp. That would be less than 5 watts output with many hams challenging themselves by making QSO's less than 1 watt. Beleive it or not, there are MANY hams out there that have made WAS (worked all states) at 1 watt or less! I have made WAS easily at 5W and now have about 210 countries as well
There's no telling how many QRP ops there are out of the millions of ham radio enthusiasts there are all over the world, but I can tell you, there are tons of them. In every country CW ops are drawn to the challenge of seeing how far they can go with as little power as possible, and that's the beauty of QRP
I can tell you there is great satisfaction in making low power contacts. Breaking through a pile up at some far away DX station is quite thrilling considering that you're in competition with some stations pumping out 1500 watts, but that's just part of it. It's also a lot of fun to tell that op in DXland that you're using a kit built single band radio at 5watts and have him come back and ask you to repeat your power level. You can almost see his chin drop..
My farthest contact to date measured in MPW (miles per watt) was with a French station at 100mw. I live in Vermont, so the calculation came out to 38010 miles per watt! Crazy but true. That's pretty good, but there are records that far exceed that. In fact, the record is in the micro watts for millions of miles per watt.
I started my ham experience as a CW op and I wanted to know what it was like to build my own radio and operate bare bones, and that pointed to QRP operations. There were two reasons why. I felt like CW and kitbuilding were two things that were very important to me personally to feel a connection with the roots of ham radio, and I didn't have a lot of money. I chose to build an OHR 40 meter CW only rig. (Illustration 1 below). I also built the frequency meter and the power meter, just to complete the station. Sitting at my kitchen table on a snowy February night on the very same night I got my ticket, with my homebrew mag loop antenna on a tripod about three feet from my head, I called CQ. My very first contact was with an Italian op if you can believe that. I still look at that first log with my QSO crib sheets on occasion to relive that glorious moment in my life.
The first question on most ops minds is what kind of radio should I get? Well, you can simply dial down your current output and get started that way. Or perhaps you like the outdoors and want to try your hand at portable ops. QRP is perfect for that. Here' s a rundown of some popular QRP rigs from the simple to the sublime
The Rockmite Transceiver Kit. .5W output (very small and can fit in an Altoids tin)
There are literally hundreds of other kits out there to discover, so turn down your radio, build a kit, or buy a "store bought" QRP rado. Any way you go, you'll soon discover the joy of low power radio. Oh.....don't forget the most important part of your QRP adventure....the antenna! I use a simple antenna that is offered on my website, KX3Helper.com (shameless plug). It's a 35' 18 ga random wire antenna with a 9:1 unun. It weighs only 8 ounces total and it's the perfect compliment to the KX3 with internal tuner. With a throwing weight and some line, you can get operational in a few minutes from just about anywhere you want.
Illustration 1: OHR 40M 5W CW tranceiver,
Watt meter and Display