Monday, August 01, 2011

QRP and DXing

I rarely post on the Elecraft reflector these days but I do check Nabble from time to time to see what's going on and today I saw one thread that got me annoyed. Someone who had just built a new base version K2 posted that until he had done so he hadn't realized that it was possible to work DX using 15 watts. Someone then piped up that QRP DX claims are pretty meaningless unless the antennas used are also mentioned - a point with which I'd agree. But then someone had to add the hoary old argument "They also don't report how the guy they worked had to struggle to pull them out or what his equipment was."

This argument gets my goat every time. Whilst many people use QRP through choice, when it comes down to antennas many people don't have a choice. If you live in an apartment, or like me in a tiny house on a postage stamp sized plot, or if you have HOA restrictions, or again like me have an awkward neighbour who likes to make your life difficult just because he can, then having a tower and a beam, or even a decent long wire antenna high and in the clear simply isn't an option.

What these people seem to be saying is: "If you can't run high power and a beam like me then don't waste my time." Now, excluding a lot of people from the hobby just because they aren't fortunate enough to be able to put together a top class station doesn't seem to me like a good thing for the future of the hobby.

It is surprising what you can work using low power, even with modest antennas. And what the naysayers who have probably never even tried using low power and simple antennas don't realize is that it is also surprising how many contacts don't have to struggle to pull the QRP station out of the noise. In fact they have probably worked many low power stations themselves without realizing it because the other guy never mentioned he was using QRP. The attitude that "life's too short for QRP" is just bullshit.

But when making contacts with low power and limited antennas is a struggle there are always other things you can do. Personally, ticking countries off a list has always seemed to me to be an exercise in frustration, especially since the advent of the DX Cluster which means that you'll almost never come across a DX station that isn't on the end of a pileup. And whilst it's nice to have a chat uisng the radio, these days it's so much easier to have a discussion about the hobby online using forums, blogs and so on.

For many of the QRP persuasion, ham radio is a lot to do with seeing how far a little radio signal can go. And there are so many ways you can do that - with QRSS beacons, WSPR and weak signal digital QSO modes like JT65A. Today I saw a Google Groups post from Joe W6CQZ/4, the author of the JT65-HF program, who is using the mode to make contacts running 500mW to a 20m Hamstick mounted on the metal roof of his shed. This sort of thing is much more satisfying than working DX using a superstation. Let's fact it, anyone could do that if they had deep enough pockets and enough real estate. Where's the challenge in it?

So if you can't run a superstation don't be discouraged by the braggers with their QRO gear and big antennas. There's a heck of a lot of fun to be had in this hobby using low power and simple gear. And I'll bet a whole lot less frustration, expense and envy as well.

11 comments:

Casey Bahr said...

Julian,

I know what you are talking about, but in this case I'd have to give the hoary old argument guy the benefit of the doubt. If you just take his statement as it stands, it's true. The negative color is a matter of perception. I've been there, the QRO guy "struggling" to work the QRP'r, but it's not like someone put a gun to my head, I chose to work them. If you have great antennas and great equipment then I would think it would be as much a pleasure to use them to pull out QRP signals as it would to be the QRP! Otherwise, one has lost some of the point of all that great gear.

I really didn't understand your other point about QRP not being a choice for some ops. I guess if you are causing RFI to the neighbors with QRO I could buy that (though it's more likely it's their crappy unfiltered electronics), but there is hardly a price difference between QRP and QRO rigs (newness and features aside).

Bottom line: There are so many aspects to this hobby, nearly limitless, and low power communication is just one of them. Let the complainers be, they don't get it, probably never will. I don't use QRP all the time, I'm not a fanatic about it, but I love a high Mile/Watt thrill as much as anyone!

Lynn (D) said...

While I don't consider myself a QRPer, I also don't have nor want a kilowatt amplifier either. I've got a modest iCom 706MkIIg rig that I run at either L (5w) or 4 (40 watt) power, depending on my mode.

WSRP is neat to have running at 5w while I'm working around the shack (my dining room table which is also where I do my day job) just to see how far I can hear and/or be heard.

I've been running JT65-HF as well and crank up to 40w when I'm trying to make a contact.

Both of these interactive modes share rig time with APRS and they're all primarily on 30m. My ears just aren't trained well enough to pull human speech out of phone operations, so digital is my preferred game.

I've been quite pleased with my WA8LMF-inspired 30m mag loop (http://tinyurl.com/MagLoop) which is still just sitting on the ground at the top of it's 10' PVC pipe.

I'm still puzzled by the JT65-HF signal reports that sometimes have me 5 or 6 lower than what I'm copying, sometimes neck and neck, and sometimes the received report is better than what I'm copying. Someday I'll actually try to make sense of it, but so far I'm making contact with 75% or more of the CQs that I answer, so something must be working right.

Power isn't everything. I just purchased a used FT-817 and am anxious to get it set up on the mag loop. If it works well here, I hope to take the pair portable and see what I can do with it in the boondocks. I just wish we had some close hills higher than the causeway over the river on the way to the beach!

Lynn (D) - KJ4ERJ

Julian Moss said...

Sorry if I wasn't clear Casey, but I was trying to say that big/high antennas were not an option for many. I agree there isn't much of a cost issue with running 100W. Whether you can get away with using that much power if you can't site the antenna away from other equipment is another matter.

Justin Pinnix said...

Julian,

You should remind the "Life's too short" crowd that QRO is illegal in the US :-)

"§97.313 Transmitter power standards.- (a) An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications.
"

Just kidding. I love your blog and am glad to see you're still posting. My best wishes to you and Olga during this difficult time.

72 de AJ4MJ

Anonymous said...

A similar thread was recently running on eHam and, like you, I had to chime in. What surprises me are the mis-informed opinions of some who ought to know better.

Hajo said...

Some 20 years ago I switched to QRP due to antenna restrictions. It took some time to learn until I found out that it was more than just 5 watts. It was about cw, self building, community ... it was fun and a challenge. So later, when we moved I stuck to QRP but with a bigger antenna. Now I am back to square one with nearly no antenna, but still QRP. For me QRP turned out to be some sort of lifestyle. Do more with less. http://hajos-kontrapunkte.blogspot.com/2011/04/is-qrp-way-to-small-is-beautiful.html

And one last point: When you work QRP in a contest. You don't have to tell them. They will hear you and come back faster than you can read their call sign.

72 de Hajo DL1SDZ

Larry W2LJ said...

Julian,

I participated in the Flight of the Bumblebees here in the US yesterday. 5 Watts to a wire up in the trees. I had 36 QSOs covering both coasts of the US and into Canada and all over! It constantly amazes me as to what you can do with 5 Watts - AND ..... I really didn't have to struggle to hear any of the stations I worked.

Larry W2LJ

Koroccotta said...

QRP is the only way I can operate. I am a 100% /P /QRP operator.

For me QRP is like going to fish. Sometimes you get fishes and sometimes you go empty at home, but always enjoy the hobby.

In my short operation experiences I have contacted people from SA, EU, NA, Middel and Far East from EU with only 5w. And that's amazing.

In the other hand, I like to think that QRP operators as I am are more "Polite" and example of good manners.

And finally, for those that say that "you are not using such a low power" I always carry my mobile phone and take a shot in that interesting contacts.

You can take a look if you want at:
http://www.youtube.com/user/koroccotta

And you will see what you can do even in the lows of the solar cycle.

Cheers. :-)

EA1HFQ /p /QRP Manuel.

Alex Hill said...

I did once hear someone in the Bahama's I think that was clear as day. It wasn't until I heard he said he was running 8kW that I understood why.

It astounds me that people lug all sorts of kit to summits just to get 100W out. Imagine how much stuff I could leave in the car by mistake!

Steve Nichols said...

Nice to see you updating your blog Julian. A major Dxer gave a talk at my local club and was moaning about how hard it was to pull weak QRP signal out of the noise when working DXpeditions - sounds like he hated it. But where's the skill in pulling out 599+ signals out of the aether?

I'm with you - running 100W to compromise antennas in a surburban garden feels like QRP sometimes.

Probably harder than running 5W to a tribander at 80ft as one QRPer I know does!

Steve G0KYA

Lee said...

I've mentioned on my site that a lot of the "heavy lifting" is done on the other end of a QSO. So what? I'm more of a contester than a DXer, and most contesters are just happy to get the QSO, even if they do have to dig a little harder.

I've just been a QRPer since February of this year and am having a blast. One thing I've noted is that QRPers tend to try to work other QRPers, so most of us know what it's like to listen to a weak-ish signal. Since I started I've been really happy (and amazed considering condx) with what I've been able to work with 5 watts and basically a dipole up 40 or 50 feet.

So amazed, that I've started keeping an informal listing of QRP DXCC totals since the ARRL doesn't maintain such a list like they do for DXCC. Check it out at www.aa4ga.com - click on "QRP DXCC" and submit your totals!

Lee, AA4GA