K3WWP's Ham Radio Activities

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

What Is QRP?

Column #97 by John K3WWP. It's always nice when hard work goes rewarded. These comments from Tom KC9RXI in a letter I received recently serve to make my efforts worthwhile in writing these columns, "John, .......... I have read your column in the Keynote news letter for the past 2 years. You have taught me a lot about operating on the air. Thank you. The work and effort you put into your column is greatly appreciated. 73, Tom KC9RXI."

And thank you Tom for taking the time and effort to put your comments down on paper and mail them to me. The reward comes from knowing my efforts help someone. I also get a lot of comments in on the air contacts from hams who read and appreciate the columns.

Just exactly what is QRP? I liken it to Kleenex. Huh?? Kleenex is a word that has pretty much changed meaning over the years. Originally it was a brand name for facial tissues, but it has evolved into a generic name for facial tissues. When you're visiting someone and need to sneeze, you don't ask for a facial tissue, you ask for a kleenex.

Likewise QRP is one of a series of Q signals designed to shorten telegraph communications and make them more efficient. For example QTH? means roughly "What is your location?" and QTH Kittanning, PA in response means "My location is Kittanning, PA. That's a big savings in letters sent and received. QRP? meant originally (and technically still does) "Shall I reduce power?" and QRP meant "Reduce power."

Nowadays QRP has evolved into a noun meaning operating with 5 watts or less output power. You might say something like, "Rig KX3 at QRP 4W to a dipole." In common usage and by current definition QRP means an operation with 5 watts or less. I hear some folks say erroneously, "I'm running QRP at 8 watts, 10 watts, etc." Not on CW they're not. It's 5 watts or less, period. Any awards, certificates, achievements that are earned with QRP must be done using 5 watts or less output power.

Now what happens with that 5 watts after it leaves your transmitter (or amplifier) technically doesn't matter. You can send it to a large beam on a tall tower with 13 DB gain, and you have approximately 100 watts of effective radiated power. That (unfortunately, in my opinion - no nasty letters, please) is still considered QRP. Personally I try my best to keep my ERP down around 5 watts as well by running simple wire antennas with as little gain as possible. Of course a dipole does have a little gain in some directions, but not all that much. We're not going to get into a technical discussion here about the gain of various types of antennas.

Our NAQCC does recognize that QRP with high gain antennas does give one an advantage over simple wire antennas. We have a separate GAIN category in our monthly sprints. We also specify in many of our awards, challenges, and other activities that contacts must be made using simple wire antennas. We also list in our sprint results a brief note about the antenna type and height for each participant to allow more meaningful comparison of scores. Even with simple wire antennas, there's a (big) difference between a random wire in the attic and a fan dipole at 60 feet, even though in both cases the antenna is receiving 5 watts of RF from the transmitter.

Which brings us to this segue. Many folks believe that QRP needs to be done with some kind of tiny little rig with no more than a tuning knob, volume control, and a couple buttons on it. Well, that's well and good if they feel that way, but there is absolutely nowhere in the current definition of QRP as to what type of rig is used, as long as its output is set to 5 watts or less. I think this is one reason why I hear all the time about folks having trouble making contacts with QRP. Let's face it, those little rigs are complicated to use, and for older folks or folks with big hands, even more so. I liken using some of them to setting a digital watch where you have to push this button three times while holding in these other two buttons at the same time (while standing on one leg?)

If you want to succeed with QRP, you can use a little tiny rig with a lot of patience and practice, or you can get a big mainstream rig with virtually a separate control for every commonly used function. It should be a rig that covers all the HF bands plus maybe 6 and 2 meters as well. Rigs like that make operating so simple, you will automatically be a success with QRP. I've used a TS-570D, TS-480SAT, K2, and now a KX3 as my main QRP rig since 1999, and my success rate has climbed higher with each change in rig, and is a few times greater than when I used my old homebrew QRP setup, although even then while the transmitter was homebrew, I always used a good commercial receiver like a Drake SPR-4, Icom IC-71, etc. I think those are the right model numbers - I am getting older and the memory is fading along with that. HI.

Let's talk a bit about my latest rig, the KX3. It is an absolute marvel, and in conjunction with an amplifier for those who use QRO (high) power, it's increasingly being used (along with it's big brother, the K3) by many of the top operators in the world for serious contesting, DXpeditions, etc. where top notch equipment is a must.

Of course it has all bands from 160 through 6 meters. All of the common things found in the current top rigs like dual VFOs, automatic antenna tuner, full break-in, computer interface, and on and on. I'd like to mention a couple of really great features that help to make it a stand out rig for me (and probably others as well). I've always been good at zero-beating by tuning in a signal so the tone matches the side tone of a rig, but it's even easier to zero beat with the KX3 which has a visual zero beat indicator where you line up two marks on the display and you're perfectly zero-beat. It will even fine tune the zero beat automatically with the push of a button once you get close. This is something a lot of folks could use as a good portion of my CQs are answered off frequency by a few Hz up to as much as a full kHz once in a while. This needlessly occupies two frequencies on an already shrinking CW territory on the bands.

This is getting long, so finally one more paragraph. I love the dual receive capability of the KX3 where you can hear VFO A in your left ear and VFO B in the right. It has many uses, but working DX that has a wide pileup is perhaps at the top of the list. Recently I found TX5K quite strong with an accompanying pileup of equally strong stations spread out over 4 or so KHz. Now guessing where to call in that pileup is JUST a guess, but not with the KX3. I set it up for split operation as usual, then switched on dual receive. I listened to TX5K in my left ear, while tuning the pile with VFO B in my right ear. After a bit I figured the pattern how TX5K was working the pileup, and set VFO B a tad higher than the last station he worked and sent my call when that QSO was done. With my 5 watts and a dipole vs. the KW/beam stations, I only had to wait through perhaps a dozen QSOs till TX5K came back with K3WWP 599. I could never have done that without the KX3 unless I just happened to be very lucky to have guessed where to call.

The bottom line: To succeed with QRP, get a good rig and you'll find it so easy, you'll never have need to use QRO again. Visit my web site at http://home.windstream.net/johnshan/ for much more QRP info or email me at jsk3wwp@windstream.net if you have any specific questions. Also check out the NAQCC website for more QRP/CW info, and if you're not a member, I invite you to come aboard. Our goals are pretty much the same as those of FISTS, except ALL our activities are done using QRP. The URL is http://naqcc.info/ 73 -30-