Tips For Successful QRPing
QRP With K3WWP - Column # 91 - About 5 years ago I had a column dealing with successfully using QRP on the ham bands. Since I continue to get questions about the subject, I'm going to re-hash that column here with some updated notes added. Read and answer the question honestly. If the answer is positive, go on to the next question. If you answer negatively, read the answer to see how you can improve.
1. Are your CQ's short and to the point? The best CQ pattern is a simple 3X2 with breaks of 4 or 5 seconds to listen for an answer. For example CQ CQ CQ DE K3WWP K3WWP K, listen for 4-5 seconds, briefly tuning up and down 500 Hz or so with your RIT to catch anyone calling you who is not zero beat. If you don't get an answer, repeat the sequence until you do or until you get tired and go looking for someone else's CQ, or QRT and do something else like go fishing. Please never call endless CQ's before sending your call. How often have you heard someone send a string of 10, 15, or even more CQ's without identifying himself? Doesn't that turn you off? It does me, and I tune away from that person very quickly. Remember short CQ's with frequent breaks to listen for answers are the best way to go about getting a lot of QSO's with your QRP (or QRO) station when calling CQ. To emphasize further, short CQ's with short listening breaks in between. Short CQ's to not turn folks away when they hear you. Short breaks to listen so there are no long gaps when you are not transmitting. If someone catches just your call at the end of a CQ, they'll listen a bit to see if was a CQ or you were in a QSO. If you wait too long to send CQ again, they'll tune away thinking it wasn't a CQ.
2. Is your Morse as near to perfect as possible? Many DX stations say it's much easier to copy a weak station whose sending is perfect than a strong station who is sending a conglomeration of dots and dashes that only occasionally form letters. Strive for perfection in your sending. Listen to W1AW or other 'machine sent' perfect code and strive to emulate it when you send CW. I'm sure you've all been forced to try to figure out if that was a Q or the letters MA, etc. While trying to figure that out, you miss the following letters and the confusion compounds itself. Be sure each letter is sent as one unit, not as the above example with Q being sent with an extra space in the middle of the letter. It is equally as bad to run letters together. I often get folks who want to tell me what their horse's name is and they send NAG is Joe. Of course that comes from running the M and E together to make it sound like a G. Going beyond letters, be sure that words are spaced apart correctly as well. There are many ways of doing this. I find if when using a paddle, I make it a point to briefly rest my hand on the table in-between words, that automatically gives me that little extra spacing needed to separate words from each other.
3. Is your keying free from chirp, clicks, and drift? The same thing applies here as to sending perfect Morse. It's much easier to copy a signal that is clean and crisp than one that sounds like a canary singing or a cricket chirping. Make it a point to periodically check your signal on the air either by exchanging stations with a ham friend so you can hear your own signals, or having someone you can work who will honestly tell you if your signal is not up to par. Most folks are reluctant to tell someone if their signal has any defects. You hardly ever hear a T in the RST that is not a 9 nor hear a C or K after the RST even if your signal deserves such a report. You need someone who will be honest about your signals if you really want to find out. If you have a separate transmitter and receiver, it's easy to check yourself. I used to always know just how my signal sounded before I got a transceiver. Now all I ever hear is how the sidetone generator in the transceiver sounds. It could be perfect and still transmit a defective signal. Unfortunately less than perfect signals are all too common among many of the little dedicated QRP rigs around. There are also many that do have perfect signals as well. It's up to you to find out which are which and only use the good ones if you want to succeed. The best option is to use a really good main-line commercial rig and just set it to QRP power levels like I did with my Kenwood TS-570D and now my TS-480SAT. A bit on the expensive side, but I'm certain my signals will be perfect.
4. Is all (or as much as possible) of your RF being radiated up to the ionosphere? When you are dealing with such a small amount of RF to start with, it is important to waste as little of it as possible heating up your feedline or any of the many other ways it can be wasted. If you use a single band antenna, be sure it is resonant as close as possible to the frequency you use the most. If you use a single antenna on several different bands, use some sort of matching network to get an SWR as close to 1:1 as possible. I hear many stations running 100W or more who are much weaker than they should be, and I'm sure there is a mismatch somewhere in their antenna systems. I know QRP works great even with simple antennas if you're just sure those antennas are doing their job. Oh you can occasionally make a QSO with a badly mis-matched antenna to be sure. In the fast paced contest atmosphere, I've now and then forgotten to switch antennas and made QSO's on 20 with my 10 meter dipole, etc. before I noticed my error. So it does happen, but a perfect match works much better.
5. Do you use proper procedures in your operating? This covers a multitude of things. I'll just mention a few here. If you DX, be sure to listen to the DX station before jumping in and calling. Find out his pattern. Some stations finish each QSO with their call; others send simply dit dit. Learn what the station you're trying to work is doing before you jump in. Also be sure where he is listening. If he ends with UP, UP 1, etc., never call him on his own frequency. Call 1 (2,3, whatever) kHz higher than his frequency. Often times the station won't say UP, and then it's up to you to figure out what he is doing with some careful listening. If he's very rare with no pileup on top of him, then it's virtually certain he is working split frequency. Search for the pileup a kHz or two higher in frequency. Otherwise don't do things like ending your CQ's with KN, don't call someone at the end of a QSO if they have sent CL. Learn all the procedure signals and what they mean, then use them only in the correct way.
6. If you are calling CQ at 30 WPM, and someone answers you hesitatingly at 20 WPM, do you slow down to answer him? This is a rough one, but generally it is best to match your sending speed to that of the station you are working. There are cases where someone can copy 50 WPM, but just can't send faster than 20 WPM. However, never answer someone's CQ faster than the speed at which they are sending unless you know them and know they can copy faster.
7. Do you zero beat a station each time you call someone? This is very important, so learn how to zero beat someone with your rig if you don't already know. If the station you're working is running 400 watts, and you call him 500 Hz higher in frequency, it is quite possible that another station will not hear you and jump right on top of you. However if you are on the exact frequency of the 400-watt station, you can pretty much be sure that he will keep the frequency clear for both of you. Even more important, when you zero beat someone exactly; the two of you are only using one frequency instead of two leaving that much more room for other stations. Finally, if you call off frequency, you are less likely to be heard. The station you are calling will almost always start off listening on his own frequency (except for some DX operations as mentioned previously), and if someone else is zero beat and you are not, guess who is going to get the QSO. Also some stations NEVER use their RIT and listen ONLY on their own frequency. I know that for a fact as when I mentioned tuning around with my RIT in between CQ's, one station said he never thought of that, and thanked me for mentioning it.
8. One thing that many QRPer's do is to sign /QRP at the end of their calls. I've made over 52,000 QRP QSO's, worked 212 countries (entities), all states many times over, and all continents many times over in the past 17-18 years and have never done that, so... Also many DX station say they will not answer anyone who sends /QRP and definitely will not log a station as /QRP in their logs for QSLing purposes.
There are many other things that you can do to be successful with QRP. I often think of little things while I'm operating and will try to make notes and present them in a future column. Meanwhile I'd appreciate hearing any suggestions you have.
Contact me in any of 3 ways: John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201-1304 - home.windstream.net/johnshan or via email. Visit our NAQCC site at naqcc.info/ 73. -30-