QRP Success (or not) - Keynote # 6/7, 2001
I'd like to start this column with a bit of personal info if you don't mind. First thanks to all of you who contacted me about the death of my mother. Your kind words of condolences are greatly appreciated. For those of you who didn't know, my mother passed away in May after 6 weeks of various problems following a fall in late March. I am an only child and my mother and I were very close. I had retired early mainly to be able to take care of her the past 7 or 8 years so she wouldn't have to go into a nursing home. As I write this (June 26) she would have been 96 years old today.
The past couple of months have been hard on me, and have somewhat taken away my interest in ham radio. I still get on the air every day to get my daily QSO and keep my streak going - it's at 2519 consecutive days today. However once I get the daily QSO, I just don't feel like sitting there much longer to chase DX or get in contests, etc. Hopefully the interest will return before long. My mother was always very supportive of my hobby, and I sometimes think she got as much enjoyment out of seeing a big mailing of DX QSL's from the bureau as I did. Perhaps that's one reason for my diminished interest in ham radio.
Now let's get down to some QRP matters. This is a column I have wanted to do for some time now, but never got around to it. I want to discuss the reasons for success (or a lack of it) when using QRP.
There are some very basic factors that enter into how well you will do with QRP. Many times we hear that it's operator skill that determines how well you do. That's true to a certain extent, but it's far from the whole story. If you take two operators of equal skill and put one in a valley location with indoor antennas and the other on a hilltop with gain type antennas, who do you think is going to work the most DX or win the next contest? Right - the guy on the hilltop every time.
If you're a very competitive person, because of this it's easy to become discouraged with your QRP work and go back to QRO or even give up the hobby altogether.
Let's look more closely at location. There are an infinite variety of locations ranging from the very worst down in a deep valley completely surrounded by mountains to the very best on top of a high hill where you can look DOWN at the horizon in every direction. These are obviously the extremes and most folks live at locations somewhere in between. However only slight differences in location can make a difference. Why? Read on.
If you live in a valley, your RF signal is going to have to be radiated at a higher angle to get out of the valley. Now that may not make all that much difference where you are working short skip and the angle of radiation is high anyway. However it might make the difference between being heard weakly at a DX station or not being heard at all. If your signal leaves at a high angle, it may have to take 3 or 4 hops to reach the DX station, and each hop attenuates the signal somewhat. I won't go into the math here, but I will say that someone living in a flat location may be able to reach that DX station in 1 or 2 hops and be an S6, while you in the valley with your 3 or 4 hops will only be an S4. If the DX station has a noise level of S5 or S6, guess who is going to get a QSO, and who won't make it. Again you're right.
In a contest you probably will get the QSO with your S4 signal, but it may take you a dozen or so calls to the station while the ham at the better location will get him with just a couple tries. Consequently the station at the better location will have time to make 2 or 3 more QSO's while you are still struggling to get the original station in the log. Who is going to have the higher score in the contest? You're now 3 for 3.
Another factor with locations is local noise levels. You may live right in town with all kinds of local electrical noise in addition to being down in that valley. The other guy at the good location may be out in the country with only a few local noise sources, or perhaps even none. Now you have another strike against you because he will hear more stations than you will, and you can't work 'em if you can't hear 'em.
We can go through the same procedure in describing antennas. Obviously the guy with the better antenna farm has the advantage similar to the guy with the better location.
Another factor is time devoted to ham radio. If you're the type who believes family and other things are more important than ham radio, you are not going to spend the whole 48 hours in a big contest or get up regularly at 4 in the morning to try to work a certain part of the world to get that needed country to increase your DX totals. So the fellow who puts ham radio at the top of his list of priorities will win the contests and work the DX.
Does all this mean you can't succeed from a poor location with minimum antennas and a less than total commitment to ham radio? No. It only means that you will not do as well as the ham with the better location, better antennas, and a greater commitment. I am in the class of hams with the poor valley location, simple mostly indoor wire antennas, and the belief that ham radio is not everything in my life, yet I've worked almost 200 countries, won many contests, and had a great time in ham radio over the years. I've developed my operating skills to overcome the location/antennas handicap. However even with those skills there are certain hams that I will never beat in a contest nor work more DX than, even though I might possibly be more skilled than they are.
Please keep these things in mind if you feel yourself getting discouraged about QRP (or ham radio in general) because you don't think you are doing that well compared to certain other hams. Do what I do, and don't compare your results with theirs. In contests strive to beat your previous high score. In DX, just go for that new country to add 1 to your total, not to try to catch the other fellows DX total. In other words, compete against yourself, not others. It's the only fair competition. End of pep talk, and end of column. Visit me at home.windstream.net/johnshan/ for much more QRP info. Till next month, 73. -30-