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Random Thoughts On QRP And The Internet

QRP With K3WWP - Column # 74 - Some random thoughts about QRP, CW, the Internet and other things.

Let's start off talking about DX. You remember DX, don't you? That was what we spent a good deal of time working a few short years ago with our QRP rigs when the spotted Sun was heating up the ionosphere and causing great propagation conditions.

Well, the DX is still there for the QRPer - it has just moved around a bit. Instead of working stations easily on 10M with as little as a few milliwatts of power, now the attention has shifted lower in frequency to 20M and below. These are especially good times for 80, 40 and 30 meter DX as well as 20M. The lowered ionospheric absorption during sunspot minimum years allows our QRP signals to travel more unhindered on their way to distant places on those bands.

I won't go into technical details about propagation. I'll just say if you're interested in DX, try those lower bands now and for the next couple years.

Don't however give up on the higher bands. Propagation on those bands still exists all the way through a sunspot minimum. It's certainly not as abundant as during the sunspot maximum years, but it's not completely absent either.

Make it a point to check the higher bands once in a while, and if you don't hear any activity don't assume the band is dead. Try some CQ's - you may get a surprise answer. After all, the band will be dead for sure if no one tries to initiate some contacts with a CQ.

I would love to see a universal CW calling frequency established on 10, 12, and 15 meters. Then hams could try some CQ's on those frequencies and other hams would know where to listen for those CQ's. Ten meters, for example, is so vast that it is easy for several stations to be calling CQ on various frequencies, yet you can tune the whole band and hear nothing because you pass over those CQers while they are pausing. With a universal calling frequency, you could just monitor one frequency or call CQ yourself on that frequency. Of course several groups do have their own suggested frequencies like the FISTS' .058 and the QRP .060, etc., but that's still not the same as just one universal frequency for everyone per band.

Now let's turn to something that may prove to be somewhat controversial. What I'm about to say is my opinion based on my own observations that I hope are wrong, but I don't think so. I've noticed a disturbing trend lately. I run across more and more Internet Chat Groups being formed dealing with CW and QRP. The alleged intention of these groups is to help preserve CW on the ham bands and/or promote the use of QRP. Now that is all well and good and I agree with those purposes. But (you knew that was coming, didn't you) are the hams who belong to those groups defeating the aims of the groups? I think so, to whatever extent it may be. Let me explain.

Every minute that is spent communicating via the Internet in whatever way - chat groups, email reflectors, personal emails, etc. - is a minute that person could be on the air communicating with CW, be it QRP or QRO. I think this is one cause of the decline in CW activity on the ham bands. It certainly accounts for the scarceness of young 'hams' on CW. They are communicating on the Internet now, whereas in years gone by, they were using RF to communicate via CW or whatever other mode.

I have briefly subscribed to a few email reflectors just to see what they were about, and I didn't stay long. It is very time consuming to wade through dozens of 'useless' posts to get to something really meaningful. That time could be much better spent preserving CW on the ham bands by actually using it rather than just reading about how we should all strive to preserve CW on the ham bands.

I have never joined any ham radio (or any other kind of) chat groups, because I know they definitely can distract folks away from being on the air with CW.

Now there is a place for the Internet in ham radio, just as there is a place for magazines, newsletters, books, etc. All are a great way to share information if used properly and not to the exclusion of actually getting on the air and pounding brass.

I am the webmaster for two ham radio web sites - my own personal site and the NAQCC site. Both sites exist to help hams with their on-air activities and to encourage them to actually get on the air. Neither site has any chat room, email reflector, etc. because as stated above I feel those things encourage use of Internet communications and thus lessen the amount of CW on the air. Both sites are of a plain design that simply presents the information and are not so glamorous as to encourage hams to spend excess time there. It's the same with the NAQCC Newsletter that is emailed twice a month. It exists simply to promote the NAQCC on-air activities, of which there are many through which we try to entice hams back into the habit of using CW and QRP.

Think about that and ask yourself if you are wasting too much potential on-air time on Internet matters.

As far as that goes, even reading this column takes away from your on-air time, so perhaps I am being a bit hypocritical here.

Well I managed to ramble on for so long as to have run out of space. Till next column, get on the bands and use CW, be it QRP or QRO! 73 -30-