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QRP Operating - Revisited

Greetings from John, K3WWP. Here is my QRP Column #079. Since CW has somewhat taken on the aspect of a 'forbidden fruit' of late, many hams are wondering what it is about CW that makes it so hated by so many hams. As a result many are now taking up CW and finding out it is really an enjoyable, efficient mode of communications and are falling in love with it. I'd like to mainly address those hams in this column, but if that doesn't apply to you, read on anyway.

With the exception of FISTS and the NAQCC, other ham radio organizations are not doing much to teach CW procedures to those new to CW. So since I'm a proud member of both - in fact they are the only clubs I truly 'belong' to - I feel I should devote this column to operating procedure in normal QSO's on the band, then next issue devote to contesting and DXing procedures. What I say applies mostly to QRP operation, but since QRP operation is not all that much different from QRO, it will apply to anyone who operates CW.

The material in this column describes the procedures I have used to make over 45,000 QRP QSO's since 1993 when I became active again after a several years layoff from ham radio due to the pressure of work and caring for my ageing mother. A lot of this material was presented earlier way back in the second QRP column that I wrote for the Keynote.

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 whom 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:
KB3BFQ DE K3WWP GM (GA, GE) TNX CALL UR 569 569 IN KITTANNING PA KITTANNING PA NAME JOHN JOHN HW? AR KB3BFQ DE K3WWP K 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.

Due to limited space in the Keynote, I have had to compress this info. You can find more detailed info on my web site - http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ and also the NAQCC web site - http://naqcc.info/. If you're at all interested in QRP, I urge you to join our NAQCC, then you will be fighting off the CW bashers with a double barrelled shotgun, instead of a single barrel. You'll have both FISTS and the NAQCC in your arsenal of weapons.

Till next month, 73 and good QRPing from me - John, K3WWP -30-