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My QRP Operation in the 1996 Sweepstakes - Keynote # 11, 1996

I had planned to discuss QRP operating procedures in contests in my column this month, but with the ARRL Sweepstakes just finished, I thought I would put off my procedures column for a month. Instead I'll describe my operation in this year's SS to illustrate how a minimal QRPer approaches a big contest.

I wasn't really too enthused going into the SS this year, and that is often a good sign for me. I seem to do better if I am not too psyched up about a contest. Also I am less disappointed if I don't do well. Last year with a moderate effort, I made 464 QSO's in 71 sections. This year, if conditions were with me, I was going to try for 500 QSO's.

For the first time in a Sweepstakes, I would be using a computer and the CT contest program. I knew that would help me with dupes. I can generally dupe in my head up to 150-200 QSO's, but beyond that, it gets confusing, especially with the 2 X 1 and 1 X 2 callsigns that abound these days. Did I work N4ZZ or was that N4ZR, maybe N4RZ? The computer would eliminate that confusion and save me some time that I usually waste looking for dupes in my log or my dupe sheets.

I didn't even go near my station until a few minutes before the contest started. I decided to start on 20 meters, and stay with it as long as it was open for me. That way I should be able to pick up some needed western multipliers before going to 40 and 80 later on to run up my QSO numbers. 20 meters is not one of my better bands for racking up QSO's, but it is a good multiplier band. Most stations use multi-element beam antennas and high power on that band, and I have only my ground mounted vertical dipole to compete against them.

After a few minutes on the band, it quickly became apparent that conditions were not as good as last year. The stations were just not hearing me as well as they should. It took 6 minutes to get the first QSO, KJ0G in Colorado. My fifth QSO came 8 minutes later in the form of K0WA in Kansas, a somewhat hard to get multiplier. That encouraged me a bit to stay with 20 and go for the multipliers as I had planned. Tuning around I heard W0SD in SD, and decided I better get him in the log for my SD mult. I couldn't work him through his pileup though, so I punched his frequency into the R71A's memory so I could come back to him quickly. I moved on and worked some other stations, coming back to W0SD every few minutes. Finally on about the 4th or 5th time I returned to him, I worked him.

At 2215 with only 21 QSO's, but 16 multipliers, on 20 I went to 40 and quickly noticed that the band was already in a longer skip condition, and my plan to rack up QSO's with the nearer stations was in jeopardy. The first 10 minutes on 40 got me 8 QSO's and 6 new mults including GA from KM9P who was already at 111 QSO's, 5 times as many as I had. I know Bill is a great contest operator who has a super contest station so it didn't bother me. I know that when I make a QSO, I can turn over the information every bit as fast and as well as the big contesters, and if I had a big signal like they do I could run stations just like they do. The minimal QRPer has to learn that most stations are going to zoom past him in QSO totals, not because he is a poor operator, but because his signal does not have the strength to attract others to him. I long ago learned to live with this limitation, and every QRPer who wants to succeed in contesting must learn the same thing or he will quickly get discouraged and give up as a contester.

45 minutes on 40 brought me only 24 QSO's so I moved on to 80 earlier than planned, hoping it might provide me with some short skip QSO's. Just before I left 40, I snatched W5XX for MS, another fairly rare mult.

I stayed on 80 most of the time from 2315 till 0445 with a couple of brief swings back to 40 to see what was happening there. 80 sounded much like 40 meters as it too was in longer skip than usual. Working W1ECH in VT at 2338 brought my mults to 32, but my QSO total was falling further and further behind last year's pace. Just to illustrate how conditions were, I didn't work my first '3' until QSO # 100 at 0435. My antennas are not very high in the air, and they don't produce that good low angle radiation needed when the bands are in longer skip conditions. I stuck it out on 80, as 40 was even worse. One highlight on 80 was working WB0O in ND fairly easily after chasing him to no avail earlier on 20 meters.

At 0445 with only 104 QSO's in 39 mults, I thought I would close out my Saturday operating with another half hour on 40. As soon as I hit 40, I was rewarded with the two Caribbean mults in the form of KP4TK for PR and just a few QSO's later K8HVT/KP2 for VI, a hard mult for me in the SS.

The half hour also provided a great regional opening to Texas. I ran off a string of NTX and STX stations, all of whom answered me on the first call like I was running a KW and a beam. These strong regional openings often take place on the bands, and when they do, the QRPer can rack up a lot of QSO's quickly. If you are working TX like I was, it's best to forget about other areas for the time being and call every strong '5' that you hear. These openings are often short-lived, and you must hurry to get as many easy QSO's as you can.

The PR, VI, and TX stations buoyed me up a bit, and I decided to stay another half hour and try 80 again. Skip was even longer than before. I could hear K3ZO in MD, which at first led me to believe skip might have shortened up, but I quickly realized he was the only short skip station I was hearing. The band wasn't really open to that area, but with his super powerful signal, he was making it through. I did try him a couple of times, but as I suspected, he couldn't hear my QRP at all.

I tuned around and heard KC7V in Arizona, and thought I would give myself a laugh by trying to work him, knowing I could't possibly be getting out to AZ. I proved myself wrong immediately as he answered me on my first call, copying my information the first time through. That was the first time I've worked AZ on 80 meters with QRP. The very next QSO was with W3GH here in my own county, and he had a harder time copying me than KC7V did. One last QSO brought me to 121 QSO's and 43 mults the first day, and I turned in for the night.

At 1300 I returned to the madness. 80 meters was still open, and finally short skip was in. I got 25 QSO's in 53 minutes including nearby new mults EPA, ENY, SNJ, DE, and WV before swinging up to 40 meters to try to work some nearby stations there. I was in luck as 40 was in short skip, and I worked 21 stations in a half hour, then tried 20 for a bit, working new mults LAX and SJV there.

For the next few hours, I jumped back and forth between 40 and 20, running up my QSO's on 40 and looking for mults on 20. K6XO/7 gave me UT as he does in most contests. Another rare mult in NE showed up in my log as I worked KB0JSU. A short excursion to 15 proved valuable, and I wished I had tried that band earlier. I worked 4 new mults in a row (EWA,ID,EB,SDG) to up my total to 61.

I had been keeping my eye out for my friend Lee, WA1LNP who seems to enter every contest as I do. He is in NH which I still hadn't worked. Well, when I gave up on 15 and went back to 40, WA1LNP was the first station I heard, and I quickly put him in the log. That completed all the US sections east of the Mississippi except for Maine, and I don't think anyone in Maine operates CW contests anymore, as I didn't get Maine last year, and never got it this year either. Around 2300 with 290 QSO's in 66 sections, I decided to go to 80 meters to make my final stand and try to get that run of stations that I couldn't last night. Hours of 26 and 18 QSO's followed before I took a half hour break at 0100. At 0129 as I returned from break, I again tried for something I thought I couldn't work. I heard VE7CC on 80 and, as I did with KC7V, worked him very easily to put BC in the log as my 69th and final multiplier. I guess the moral is don't try to figure out what you can and can't work. Try 'em all. The last hour and a half of the contest was very slow with only 20 QSO's to make my final total 353, far short of the 500 I had hoped for, but just about as good as could have been done with minimal QRP and poor band conditions.

My best hour was the 1400 hour Sunday morning with 29 QSO's. Last year I had 32 QSO's my first hour which was my best. My Sunday totals were comparable to last year's, 232 vs 245, but Saturday really did me in, 121 vs 219.

When I started this, I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to get enough info to fill a column. I was wrong again.

Next month, the first of a two parter on contest procedures, then after that I get to your questions and suggestions. I have gotten a few ideas from you, and would like more. If you have any specific questions about QRP contesting or any other aspect of QRP operating, let me know via Email or regular mail at John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304. Also be sure to visit my internet site at http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/. If you are participating in the Vanity Callsign Program, I now have several links to VC info to help you find out when your application has been approved. I also have a link to an interactive application form. -30- -73-