K3WWP's Ham Radio Activities

FISTS clubMy FISTS ColumnsCW ProceduresZero Beat CktTeenagers & CWStraight Key UseCW StoriesLists

QRP Operating Procedures - Keynote # 5, 2001

A couple of issues ago we discussed DXing with QRP. Let's now discuss every day normal operation with QRP. The material in this column describes the procedures I have used to make over 30,000 QRP QSO's since 1993. A lot of this material was presented earlier in the second QRP column that I wrote for the Keynote.

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.

I like to get many of my QSO's from CQ's. There's a certain thrill in not knowing who you are going to be contacting. I always call CQ in the following manner (except in contests):

(check freq for a few seconds - if it's clear, then again)
(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 even 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. Once we have completed the exchange of that basic info, then it is time to really get things started with some serious conversation. Now is the time to let the other station know you are using QRP.

When I am answering someone's CQ, I make an effort to exactly zero beat the station I am 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. 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. Make your answer 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.

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. Check my web site for a list of these frequencies.

It helps when using QRP to send as close to perfect code as possible. Many DXpedition stations have said it is often the weak signal with the perfect sounding CW that is easier to copy in a pileup. The strong station with sloppy code is harder 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.

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.

73 until next month. Visit home.windstream.net/johnshan/ for much more info on QRP operating. -30-