Kendall Amateur Radio Society

   KB5TX


 

QRP

The Kendall Amateur Radio Society is proud to announce that our past President, Bob Rosier - K4OCE, has been inducted into the QRP Hall of Fame for 2018 by the Amateur Radio Club International (ARCI).

Bob is known throughout the Amateur Radio World as “Mr. QRP.” He has every QRP operating award given by MILLIWATT, CQ and the ARRL, and was the first operator to work QRP DXCC.  He has written a number of articles published in MILLIWATT, CQ and QST, to encourage others to try QRP.  His QRP home-brew transmitter helped the QRO World try QRP and experience the excitement of this segment of our hobby.  We are very proud to have Bob as a member of our Club.  Bob tells you how to do it in the article below.

 

 

QRP Operating Methods

Bob Rosier, K4OCE

I was asked to share QRP operating methods in hopes of increasing this mode of operation.  A well know QRP saying may sum up why many operate in this mode; “Power is no substitute for skill”.  Many of you already have good operating skills, so I will try to concentrate on methods that can be applied to QRP.  It is important to do your homework in advance of a DXpedition or a DX contest. You should be checking propagation for the best times and frequencies, gather data on the DXpeditions itself as to the frequencies they plan to use and which bands they will operate. DXpeditions often have a Web Page with good information in advance including their operating frequencies and sometimes propagation charts. Often, a QRO stations will just wait until the DX is spotted, then start calling. Doing the research often gives some advantage to the QRP station.

To start with, you may be needing some convincing before trying QRP, especially working DX at the 5 watts, 1 watt, or even at lower power levels. Let’s pursue that a little.  The different between 1000 watts and 5 watts is 23dB. This is equivalent to just under 4 S-units on your receiver's S-meter (an S-unit = 6dB).  If you were to receive an S-9 running 1000 watts, then you would receive an S-5 if you drop your power down to 5 watts.  This would be a perfectly readable signal to a DX station. The following chart may help to understand how much you could lower your power and still be copied. As an example, if you were running 600 watts and received a signal report of S-6, you could drop your power down to 2.4 watts and still be copied.  2.4 watts is approximately the power of a standard flashlight.  Not only is that cool, but you have used about 1000 watts less power to accomplished the same goal…....making the contact.

I sometimes mention to my DX friends, that making a contact running 1000 watts is really rather boring. Don’t you get a little tired of hearing the same generic QSO information?  “You are S-9 plus old man, and you have good audio, and that’s a nice shine on your shoes.” Well, maybe not the last part, but with QRP you will be perfectly happy receiving 55 or 559 signal report at the 5 watts level and have much more of a feeling of accomplishment.  QRP also exemplifies the spirit of the FCC rule (97.67 (b)) that states that “amateur stations shall use the minimum amount of power necessary to carry on the desired communications.” 

There are internationally known QRP frequencies. These are not calling frequencies, but more like centers of activity….places where QRPers are likely to hang out. Of course you may operate QRP anywhere that your license allows, but it is a good idea to check around these QRP frequencies on a regular basis.

Band

CW

Phone

160m

1810 kHz
1843 kHz

1910 kHz
 

80m

3560 kHz
 

3985 kHz
3690 kHz

60m

 

5346.5 kHz (Ch2) 

40m

7030 kHz
7122 kHz

7090 kHz
7285 kHz

30m

10106 kHz
10116 kHz

 

20m

14060 kHz

14285 kHz

17m

18096 kHz

18130 kHz

15m

21060 kHz
 

21285 kHz
21385 kHz

12m

24906 kHz

24950 kHz

10m

28060 kHz
 

28365 kHz
28385 kHz

6m

50096 kHz

50185 kHz

2m

144060 kHz

144285 kHz

   Frequencies in italics indicate a preference in Europe.
Digital modes - keep to higher end of usual frequencies.

 

You can operate QRP and make lots of QSOs with just a dipole. I have had a great deal of success on 30 meters with just a simple dipole. With the good propagation we had back in the spring of 2016, I worked both Juan de Nova, FT4JA and Heard Island, VK0EK with just one watt and a 30 meters dipole. On 30 meters there is generally fewer stations, and the 200 watt power limit makes QRP more competitive. The propagation on this band is a cross between 20 and 40 meters. At night, it is usually open for DX and there is practically no QRM. There is much less thunderstorm static than on 40 or 80, and don't forget that a 30 meter dipole is 20 feet shorter than a 40 meter dipole, so the construction is simplier.

When I built my multiband dipole for 12, 30, 80, and 160 meters using traps, I cut each section of the dipole a little long. With a pulley system from the top of my tower, I could easily raise and lower the dipole to make measurements. I would make a measurement, then lower to do some trimming, then repeat the operation until I had resonance at the lower part of each CW band where I like to operate. Naturally you should try to place your dipole broad-side to the desired direction of transmission. Mine is running North to South and this has worked very well. The trimming I did on my multiband dipole may seem like a lot of trouble, but if your impedance mismatch results in a drop of 2 or 3 watts of effective radiated power, it would be of little concern when running 1000 watts, but becomes a big concern at the 5 watts level. 

Obviously a beam becomes an advantage when running lower power, as does your transmitter tuning, your coax, and the antenna itself. I used a simple Kenwood TS-570 for many of my DX contacts. This rig could be set to 5 watts, and I found that at the 5 watt setting, the output power on all bands measured between 4.8 to 4.9 watts on both CW and SSB, perfect for QRP. My present rig is an older Yaesu FT-1000MP and I choose that rig mainly for the dual VFO and good receive filtering. For QRP awards, you normally use input power of 5 watts for CW, 10 watts peak-to-peak on phone. However, If you have an accurate way of measuring power, you can use output power so long as you are just below the 5 watt levels. This is another way of picking up a little additional power, and by now you probably understand that every little bit counts. My present antenna is a Cushcraft X9 with the ad-on 40 meter rotatable dipole. I used the more expensive LMR-400 coax and ordered it for the exact length needed and with silver plated coax connectors. By using coax relays at the top of the tower to switch between the multi-band dipole, the beam, and an ad-on 40 meter rotatable dipole, only a single run of the coax was needed making the LMR-400 cost effective. On 20 meters the total cable loss is about 0.3dB. 

Again I would like to emphasis that a good antenna, low loss coax, measuring and using output power rather than input power, all contribute to transmitting a decent signal. Still, you can only expect to pick up about an S-unit over a dipole. Directivity of a beam, of course, is another advantage. I have heard over and over that being successful with QRP requires a really good antenna. That’s like telling your host of a dinner party that her wonderful meal must be due to her good pots and pans. There is definitely skill involved, something that is only learned with experience. You will gain this experience with every QRP contact.

When purchasing a property, realtors often tell you it is location, location, location. With QRP it is listen, listen, listen. Perhaps better said, it is listening, practicing, and patience. How is the DX station operating? Is he just random, is he calling by call area, is he split frequency and up or down, is there good propagation at this time?  Think of working QRP as learning to play a guitar. If I play, I may be able to help you a little in learning to play, but it is up to you to practice, practice, practice.

One of the best ways to get started in QRP DX is by operating in one of the annual DX contests. This gives you the opportunity to call over and over again on the same frequency until you get a clear opening to the DX station, and the DX station really wants to work you for the points. Although I prefer adding /QRP to my call, in contests you may want to consider using just your base call to avoid confusion, and I have found that many DX stations in these contests won’t add the QRP to their log anyway. They are only interested in a quick QSO. If you get discouraged at the beginning of a DX contest, just wait until there are only a few hours left in the contest.  At that point, DX stations are often begging for new contacts.  

Before a contest or an upcoming DXpeditions, you should do a lot of research.  You should regularly monitor Announced DX Operations which lists stations that will be in contests or stations that will be on a DXpedition.  Contest rules and exchange information is also available on this site. In the case of a DXpedition, you should have the propagation data written down showing the best times and best frequencies to make a contact. Always check to see if the particular DXpedition has a Web Page.  They often do, and they supply their operating frequencies and often propagation data.  It should be obvious that you need to determine the best bands and the best times to work a particular DX station. I use DX Toolbox for propagation, and DX Monitor for DX spotting. There are lots of others: DX.qsl.net, eHam.com, DXMaps.com, DX Summit, DX Scape, etc.  Sometime I will listen to WWV on 5, 10, 15 and 20 MHz to get a quick idea of propagation. 

 When you are just looking for new countries, first check propagation, aim you beam to the direction of propagation, then carefully tune down the band for any DX. This is often called the “search and pounce” method. I often hear DX stations calling CQ with no responses. This method requires a lot of listening, but often pays off. I have found that this method works really well when there is an active rare DXpedition going on. The DXpedition will keep the big boys busy giving you a better chance of searching the rest of the band for new DX. 

Many of the propagation sites will also show you the grey-line.  So, what is the grey-line? The ionosphere is a section of the earth’s atmosphere that form layers due to ionization by solar and cosmic radiation. The F-layer is where most HF signals bounce off. At the lowest part of the ionosphere, is the D-layer. Signals don’t generally bounce off this layer, but this layer absorbs a lot of your signal on the way up to the F-layer, and again coming back down to earth. During a short period of time, however, (typically 20 minutes) at dust and at dawn, the solar rays do not reach the D-layer because of the angle, but still reach the F-layer. Signal levels can increase significantly during this short period of time and I have personally worked some DX by the grey-line that I was not able to work at other times.  

Now that you are prepared, once the DX station is on the air, you need to take the time to determine his operation methods.  There may be more than one operator, so this is sometimes difficult. It is always tempting to just jump in and start calling with the rest of the world, but here is an example of a QSO.

A DXpedition to the rare Bouvet Island 3Y0Z resulted in a lot of attention, perhaps because it was well announced ahead of time.  You should note the announced frequencies they plan to use, and often a DXpedition will provide propagation. If not, there are lots of propagation sites as I mentioned earlier. DX Monitor and other similar web sites provide real time data from hams all over the world. When I heard Chuck Brady (who is also an Astronaut by the way) he announce that he is listening over a 20kHz range (rarely does DX use this wide a range). My first thought was that this was really going to be a challenge. Often it is wise to wait until later in the operation when the pileup diminish to some degree.   After monitoring 3Y0Z for about a half hour, I noticed that he would tune down from the higher frequency, down to the lower frequency, but instead of starting back up the band, he would jump up to the higher frequency and start back down. I first tried following him down the band calling a few kilohertz ahead but with no results. As he was getting close to the lower end, I moved up and parked myself at the highest frequency. After calling for less than a minutes, he came back to me. He was impressed that he was having no problem copying my 5 watt signal and even mentioned that he was reading me as well as some of the other stations. I thanked him and wished him luck with the DXpedition.  I thought it was a little ironic that here I am having somewhat of a rag-chew with one of the rarest station.  Besides the QSL I received, I also received the 8” x 10” glossy color picture above of the space shuttle with my call and Chuck’s signature. I believe that he sent this only because I was QRP.  Other hams I asked never received such a picture.  Here is another perk to QRP. I often receive extra things included with the received QSL card. Stamps, a note of congratulations, post card from the area, or in this case a very nice pictures.

I always liked to add /QRP to my call, and the majority of my QSLs have that added. When signals are marginal, however, this can cause some confusion on the receiving end.  On the other hand, adding QRP sometimes results in the DX station calling you out of curiosity.  On phone, it is a little easier to mention that you are QRP.  When several stations are calling a DX station, there is another trick. Instead of trying to give your long call, you might try to time an opening and throw in “QRP”. Many times I have had the DX station stop and ask “who is the QRP station.”  In about half of the time this has happened,  the DX station then asked if there are any more QRP station on the frequency, so in a way you have helped your fellow QRPer.

I seldom call CQ, but if you do call CQ on CW and sign /QRP, some hams may think you are asking to work only QRP stations. I suggest the following: “CQ DX…CQ DX…CQ DX…HR QRP 5 watts de W5ABC/QRP”.  The “HR” is simply an attention getter so that the listener will perk up in time to here “QRP 5 watts” and hopefully want to give you a report.   On several occasions, I have had the receive station drop their power and we end up in a 2-way QRP QSO which is really cool.  

There are several DX nets in which you can check in and are then given the opportunity of working any DX station that has also checked in. This can work well for a QRP stations. I would get my call on the list by calling in at 100 watts, and then I would drop my power to 5 watts.  When my turn comes, I have a clear frequency to make the call at the QRP level, and in my experience I have made the contact about 80% of the time. 

There are many new digital modes, and these modes work extremely well at the QRP levels.  In recent months, I hear a lot of station including lots of DX stations using the FT8 mode. I hope to be operational in this mode soon.  Also, I haven't talk as much about SSB, but I have worked about the same number of countries on SSB as CW.  I just happen to prefer CW.  Since you can't afford slipping up on your call sign when calling a DX station, I highly recommend a memory keyer. With QRP, sometimes you only get one shot at a QSO.  Good luck, and good DX.

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