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QRP Operating Procedure - Keynote # 10, 1996

I received Email from AA0XI (thanks!) suggesting I write about QRP operating procedures and how they differ from high power operation. I'll describe my own operating procedures that have gotten me over 11,000 QRP QSO's in 3 years.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I don't do anything differently than I would if I were running high power thus much of what I say in this column applies to QRO operation also.

I don't sign /QRP at the end of my call, and never have except back in the 60's when it was common for members of the QRP Club (now QRP ARCI) to sign that way to let other hams know they were club members. I prefer that the other station not know I am QRP until after we establish contact. I believe the signal reports tend to be more honest that way.

One practice that deserves attention is calling CQ. There is a definite way to call CQ that is the most effective. I always call CQ in the following manner (except in contests):

(check freq for a few seconds - if it's clear, then)
(check freq for a few seconds - if it's clear, then)
(check for an answer for 4-5 seconds, if no answer, then)

I continue the last two steps until I get an answer or give up. Sometimes I hear stations calling CQ a dozen times or more before signing their call. Such endless CQ's only drive people away in search of someone else. I have great success with the "quick CQ, tune a few seconds for an answer, repeat if no answer" routine. I always ask QRL? twice before I start the CQ cycle to be absolutely sure the frequency is clear.

Once I get an answer to my CQ, I use the following as my first round in the QSO:


This takes care of the three most important items to be exchanged - RST QTH and NAME. Since they are so important, I send each one twice. I use no punctuation in my exchange as it is not really needed and makes for a crisp, quick first round that takes a little less than a minute to send depending on the code speed.

When I am answering someone's CQ, again crisp and quick: KB3BFQ DE K3WWP K3WWP AR. If the operator hears me at all, he or she generally can get my call right if I send it twice. If the operator is not sure, then he or she can send QRZ?, and I will send it two more times. I do make an exception to this if I am calling someone who is quite weak. Then I may send my call three times. Or if I hear someone else calling at the same time I am, I sometimes drag out my reply to have my last call in the clear.

I think that the first exchange should contain only RST, QTH, and NAME. Once we have completed the exchange of that basic info, then it is time to really get things started. We now have a good sense of how we are copying each other, and if it is solid copy each way, the opportunity is there to have a good solid QSO. Now is the time to let the other station know you are using QRP.

I only modify the above procedures in a few rare instances. For example, I have 49 states on 30 meters and need KL7. If I come across that KL7, then I will try to be sure to get the QSO in the log by shortening my first exchange to 559 PA 559 PA like a contest or DX exchange. Then once we have gone back and forth with the RST to make it a valid contact, I will go back to my standard procedure and send town, name, etc.

Another step that should be taken is to make an effort to exactly zero beat the station you are calling. If you use a transceiver, make sure the RIT, XIT, and any other gadget that offsets your transmit or receive frequency is turned off. I use a separate receiver and VFO, so I simply tune my VFO until it has the same beat note as the station I am calling. When someone calls CQ, he almost always starts out listening exactly on his frequency for an answer. If you are there, you are more likely to catch his attention than someone who is off frequency a bit even if he is stronger. Also start to call the station immediately after he sends K. If you hesitate, he will start tuning around and may miss you.

When looking for a frequency to call CQ, try to find a spot that has about 1-2 Khz of clear space above and/or below that spot. If the QRP signal is not right up against another signal, it tends to stand out more, but try not to get overly far from other activity on the band either because when you tune across a ham band looking for signals, you slow down when you hear some, and it's easier to find a QRP signal when you are tuning more slowly. If you plop down on a completely deserted section of a band, it is easy to zip right past your signal if it is not very strong.

There are certain frequencies set aside as QRP calling frequencies. If you call around them, there is a somewhat better chance of getting an answer because other hams are expecting to hear weaker signals near these frequencies. They are: 3560, 7040, 14060, 21060, 28060.

It helps when using QRP to send as close to perfect code as possible. The great operators learn to copy not only what they hear, but what they don't hear. I hear you saying, "What's he talking about?" Consider this: If you are sending my call for example, the 3 is followed by a W. Now if your code is perfectly spaced, and a bit of QRN, QRM, or QSB wipes out the dot from the W, how do you know if it was a W or an M. From the perfectly spaced code, that's how. The space between the 3 and the first dah in the W will be slightly greater than it would be if it were an M. So even though you didn't hear the dit in the W, the spacing will tell you it was there. I know that is kind of complicated to explain, but my point is to make your code as close to machine sent code as possible, and your QRP signal will be easier to copy.

Use procedure signals correctly. Correct procedure makes it easier to copy someone. For example, you may not have been able to copy someone saying 73 to you, but if he correctly uses SK at the end of his transmission, you can be certain that it is his last transmission, and say 73 back to him.

Time to mention a pet peeve of mine. Please use the procedure signal R correctly. It annoys me to hear someone come back to me with R or RRR, then say he couldn't copy me. Only use R if you copied someone solid. That is what R means. Also it's redundant to say R I COPIED YOU SOLIDLY. Every CW operator (especially FISTS members) should know and use procedure signals like K, AR, SK, R, KN, etc. correctly.

Finally, keep in mind that no matter what you do, and how correctly you do it, there will be times you won't get an answer. Sometimes, an operator will just not bother answering a signal less than S9. Rude perhaps, but it happens. Also the station you are calling may be dealing with a high noise level or some QRM from stations you can't hear. Just forget those bad experiences and keep trying. You will succeed more often than you fail.

That's it for column #2. Thanks to Eric, KB3BFQ who proofread it, and suggested a couple of changes and additions. Please let me know your thoughts. I will try to answer your questions about QRP, if you keep in mind that I am not an expert, just one who has fooled with QRP for quite a while. Don't forget to visit http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ or write me at John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304 or Email me. What would you like to read in this column about QRP? Next month - QRP contest operating.