Things To Do With QRP - Keynote # 4, 1997
This month some ideas about things to do with QRP. First some comments about the column.
Thanks to Bud WA2BQI, for the kind words in the latest Keynote (2/97), saying my column encouraged him to give QRP a try. That is why I decided to write this column in the first place - to encourage those who may be handicapped by their location and forced to run low power to keep RF interference to a minimum, those who can't afford to buy a big commercial rig, those who don't have room for a huge antenna system, etc. All too often the newcomer to the hobby or someone contemplating getting into the hobby is intimidated by reading articles in the mainstream amateur publications that show only the stations with thousands of dollars of equipment and huge antenna arrays. That's all well and good, but I want to point out that you can also succeed with QRP and very simple antennas. Once that is realized, and you do get on the air with QRP, it is important to learn how to do things correctly so your confidence on the air increases and you don't become discouraged. For example, if you know what you should be doing when you enter a contest or a traffic net, you are much more likely to join the contest or the net. That's what this column boils down to - showing the way to have fun in amateur radio.
As we are all painfully aware, propagation conditions have been terrible over the past 3 or 4 years. Ironically, that matches exactly the period when I got back on the air after many years of inactivity. So I have had to figure out things to do with QRP to pass the time until good conditions return again.
No matter what the conditions, you can always find a rag chew or two each day, probably on 30M, 40M or 80M. I prefer to call CQ when I want to rag chew. That way you can be fairly sure that a station who answers you is copying you well, and you can have a good rag chew. If you answer someone's CQ, there is a chance he might not be copying you well, and if that happens too often you can get discouraged. If your objective is a good rag chew and you do it by answering a CQ, pick out only the strongest, steadiest signal to answer. You can make this into kind of a contest or activity by seeing how many consecutive days you can get a QSO. On April 30, 1997, I will hit 1000 consecutive days with at least one QRP QSO. If you have the time, this is an easy thing to do with your QRP station.
Perhaps the next easiest thing to do is to try for QRP WAS. Start with a general WAS, i.e. a contact with each state using any combination of bands. Do it with rag chews, get into contests, check into nets. Any way you can get a new state and get closer to that goal. If you have trouble with Alaska, I would say get into the big contests, SS, ARRL DX, CQWW DX, etc., and watch out for stations like KL7Y and KL7RA that I seem to work in most big contests. Look through the contest results in CQ, QST, etc. and find a station that was very active from the state you need, make a note of his call and watch for him in the next big test. Getting a basic QRP WAS is not at all hard. I just checked, and as I write this (3/6), I have worked 41 states in 1997, and probably could have them all had I been trying. In last year's SS, I worked all but AK, HI, ME, and WY. The ARRL endorses the WAS award for QRP so this is an easy way to get a nice piece of wallpaper for your shack.
Once you get the basic WAS, you can use the WAS concept, and make it more challenging by trying for single band WAS. I have done this on 40 and 20, and need only KL7 to complete 30. Then you can move on to 5 band WAS, getting WAS on all 5 main bands (80,40,20,15,10). I need 5 on 80, 3 on 15, and 18 on 10 to reach that goal. The 18 on 10 and the 3 on 15 will come when conditions return. The 5 on 80 will be harder, especially KL7 and KH6. Next you can add in the WARC bands and 160M and go for 9 band WAS. Choose something that suits you. Perhaps WAS with a straight key or WAS with less than 1 watt. Working only 2 letter calls. Whatever. The methods are endless, and none are impossible to achieve - it just takes a little effort. And it can really keep your interest in hamming going strong. Once you achieve one goal, move on to the next, slightly harder one. It's a great feeling of accomplishment.
When you get tired of doing things working states, I guess the next logical step is to work the next smaller political division here in the USA, the county. This activity consumed a lot of my ham time back in the late 60's, and can be very addicting. You can make this as hard or as easy as you want to. You can very quickly get the basic USA County Award for working 500 different counties. If you've been a ham long enough to have 1,000 QSO's, you probably have 300-400 counties already. Get into the state QSO parties, check into the CW County Hunters Net on 14.056 Mhz (which WA8EOH and I founded back in 1966), check someone's county before you answer their CQ, and work all 9 HF bands regularly. Soon you will have 1000 or 1500 counties. At this point, to continue racking them up you will have to concentrate on working the mobiles in contests and on the net. I am working on seeing how many I can work by counting only QSO's with a ham who actually resides in the county, i.e. no portables, no mobiles. I am now at 1650 and the going is very slow. I know I'll never get them all that way, but I still do work a new one now and then. There are also awards for working all the counties in a particular state. This ranges from easy to very hard. The 3 counties of DE or the 8 in CT are quite easy. All 21 counties in NJ have a sizeable ham population and that state is not too hard either. The 5 in RI are another easy group. At the other extreme, TX has 254 counties, many of which do not have any active hams. You have to go the mobile route to complete TX and several other states.
Perhaps more challenging than working states or counties is working DX. I found it very hard to get something that sounds as simple as working all continents. I just could never seem to work an Asian station despite the fact that Japan has more amateurs than any other country. I had no trouble working the other 5 continents, but had to wait quite a while to get Asia in the form of 4Z4DX. After that I worked several Asiatic Russian stations and a couple of Japans. I think that when sunspots increase over the next few years, getting WAC will be a snap as those difficult East Coast USA to Asia paths that pass near the poles will be much better. When that happens perhaps it will be easy to get WAC in a weekend or even in an hour or less. Right now it is somewhat of a challenge for the minimal QRP operator, and is a good next goal once WAS is achieved.
Working toward the DXCC award can be fascinating and addicting. I'm sure we either know, or know of, a ham whose life revolves around working that one more country. You may think that QRP and DX don't mix too well. I didn't either until a couple of years ago when Eric, KB3BFQ was just getting interested in ham radio, and would always want me to work some DX. I told him it was not that easy with the low power I was running, then I went and proved myself wrong. In the past 3 years at the low point of the sunspot cycle, I have worked 125 countries with QRP and simple wire antennas. I don't think it is possible to make the DXCC Honor Roll (currently 319 countries) with such a setup, but there is at least one QRPer on the Honor Roll. It was done with huge antennas which boosted the actual radiated power to much higher level than 5 watts, but nevertheless is quite an accomplishment. The ARRL does not currently endorse the DXCC award for QRP, but if you do it, it is still something to be proud of.
Perhaps I have dwelled too much on the award aspect of QRP. There are other ways to enjoy QRP also. Richard Booth, AB4LG and Don Shipman, W3RDF wrote to me about a QRP activity they have down in SC. They formed a group in 1995 which is now called The Grand Strand QRP Society. It is completely informal, with no dues, no business meetings, no officers and elections, (no business, just fun). They just meet and share information, show and tell, and operate for a couple of hours. Many have been sparked by the gatherings to build their own little rigs. About once a month they have outings where they set up their QRP rigs and do some operating. If there is a good enough wind, they put up an antenna connected to a kite. The society encourages the attendance of their XYL's and lady friends. The society was formed because their local clubs did not focus on operating and building. If this is true in your area, you can do something similar to this in your area. If you would like more information, contact W3RDF at DLShips@aol.com
I don't have a specific overall idea for next month's column. I do have several odds and ends including many of your comments and questions and I think I'll build the column around that. If you are new to FISTS and would like to see some of my earlier QRP columns, they are now available on my web site on my CW page under the FISTS emblem. The URL is http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ As always, you can contact me via Email or regular mail (hate to call it snail mail as many do since my dad worked for the PO for many years) at 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304. And that's it for now. -30-
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