All too often when we hear QRP mentioned in a publication or perhaps on a web site the impression is given that QRP is an oddity in ham radio. That is, we hear how this ham built a QRP rig and when he put it on the air, he worked a station 500 or 1000 miles away. Anyone not familiar with QRP reads that and thinks - "Wow, conditions must have been fabulous at that particular time for him to do that." - or perhaps - "He must have a huge antenna system and live on a hilltop."
With my on-the-air activities publicized on this web site, I want to dispel those false impressions. QRP is something that can be used day in and day out with great success with or without 'fabulous' conditions and/or a 'huge' antenna system, especially when one is using the most efficient of all ham radio modes, CW.
Before we get to the meat of this story, here's a little anecdote from my friend Tom, KB3LFC (now-WY3H) for an appetizer:
In Jewish writings there is a story about a man who went to see a wise old Rabbi and asked the Rabbi when he should repent. Without hesitation, the old Rabbi said, "Repent one day before you die." A bit startled the man said, "How do I know when I'm going to die? I could die tomorrow!" "Exactly," replied the Rabbi.
So here's my twist on this story. Why not try QRP one day before you die? Life's too short to miss it!
Back in October of 2004, Tom and I formed the North American QRP CW Club (NAQCC) to promote exactly what I'll be talking about on this page - the use of CW/QRP on the ham bands. The club now numbers over 9,000 members and continues to grow making it perhaps the largest specialty ham radio club in the world with its devotion strictly to CW/QRP operation. LIFETIME membership is FREE. So if you're reading this, are not a member, and are interested in CW/QRP, I invite you to visit the club web site at http://naqcc.info/ and get yourself signed up pronto. Then join in all of our many club activities including our record setting weekday evening 2-hour sprints that regularly draw over 150 participants, of whom, over 100 submit logs. Then you'll be doing exactly what I do on the ham bands - helping keep CW and QRP alive and well.
First a little primer on power vs. gain. Keep in mind that one S-unit on a properly calibrated receiver is equal to 6 db. To get a one S-unit gain you have to quadruple your power output. In other words, you would have to go to 20 watts to increase your signal strength by 6 db or one S-unit from your 5 watts. Conversely, to reduce your signal strength by 6 db or one S-unit, you need to go down to 1.5 watts from your 5 watts. Although it varies considerably due to many factors, one S-unit is about the minimum change in signal strength to be just noticeable. Here's a table comparing various power levels to 5 watts. An explanation follows.
If you want to increase your signal level by one S-unit, for example, look in the last column for 1.00 and you'll see you have to raise your power to 20 watts to get that change. I think it is very telling to look at the figures below 5 watts. Some folks think it is much 'greater' to get a QSO at 2.5 watts than with 5 watts. In reality there is only about 1/2 S-unit difference between the two powers, hardly noticeable at the receiving end. To drop your signal 2 full S-units requires going down to a little above 1/4 watt. Curious about the S-unit difference between say 100 watts and 1 watt? Just add the absolute values in the last column for 100 and 1 watts (2.17 + 1.17 = 3.34 S-units). I think the table helps explain a lot about why QRP can be so successful. Oh, although it is not in the table, the difference between 1,000 and 5 watts is 3.84 S-units. If a kW signal is S9, your QRP will be around S5 all other things being equal. OK, I hope you have fun with the table and learn more about power and signal strength ratios. Let's move on to my personal situation.
After being off the air for several years while busy pursuing a career, I returned to ham radio in 1993 when I retired. Since then I have operated exclusively with QRP/CW and simple wire antennas. For new hams or others who may not be familiar with the term QRP, it means operating with low power. The current definition of low power is 5 watts (or less) RF output from your transmitter. I take this definition one step further and make it 5 watts (or less) effective radiated power (ERP) from my antenna system. I call this minimal QRP.
To keep my ERP at a QRP level, I use the following simple wire antennas: An end-fed approximately 110' long random wire antenna, most of which is in my attic with a short extension into my tiny back yard, a 20 meter (flat top) inverted vee in my attic, a vertical 15 meter dipole on the side of my house, and a sloping 10 meter dipole on my porch roof. These 4 antennas are used for all 9 HF bands. Since I started using 6 meters, I have a rotatable dipole in my attic for that band. See my antennas page here for a more thorough description along with pictures.
My location is far from ideal. I live along the Allegheny River in a valley surrounded by hills ranging in elevation from 2 to 9 degrees.
Now that you are familiar with my set up, let's take a look at what I've done with it and what YOU can do with a similar set up.
I've earned the following Awards. See my Awards section for details.
DXCC / Millennium DXCC / WAC / WAS / WPX / WPX Honor Roll / USA-CA 1500 / FISTS Century / FISTS QRP Century #002 / FISTS 2 Way QRP Century #001 / FISTS Silver Century #310 / FISTS Golden Century #198 / FISTS Diamond Century #92 / FISTS Platinum #220 / HPM-125 / "CQ Gang" Award / Canada QRP Award / Many NAQCC Simple Wire Antenna awards
There are also many, many other awards that I am eligible for, but cannot afford the cost of getting them.
One award that continues to elude me, and one that I really want is the CQ WAZ award. I am stuck at 36 of the 40 needed zones. I'm finding it quite difficult to work those zones in southeast Asia that I need.
I've won many contests since 1993. See my Contesting section for further info.
Perhaps the most telling thing that shows QRP does work very well is what I call simply 'The Streak' - making at least one QRP QSO every day. I started on August 5, 1994 and have not missed a single day since then.
Also from November 23, 1999 to February 11, 2000 and February 13, 2000 to July 15, 2000 I made at least one QRP DX QSO every day. Severe geomagnetic storms on February 12 and July 16, 2000 ended those streaks at 81 and 154 days. 235 of 236 days I worked some DX with QRP. Currently I am in another DX streak that started on March 1, 2013 and is still continuing to this day.
In addition to operating with 5 watts, I often crank the power down even further. I operate some of the QRP contests with as little as 250 milliwatts or even less.
When conditions permit, I try to work DX with milliwatt power levels. I have worked 90 countries on all 6 continents with less than 1 watt of power. Probably my best QSO was working Aruba with 70 milliwatts.
I have all 50 states worked with 1 watt or less of power. It took a while to get KL7, but I finally worked WL7E in November 2011 for state #50. For more details on the countries and states, check my Awards section - Milliwatt Lists page.
When I switched from my homebrew transmitter to a Kenwood TS-570D, I got away from mW work because the 570 doesn't go below 5 watts. After I went from the 570 to a Kenwood TS-480SAT, I finally built an RF attenuator to lower its 5 watt output down to 930 mW and got back to mW work again. Then in October 2011, I got an Elecraft K2 and now I can operate in 100 mW steps from 900 mW down to 100 mW for my mW work. Of course since October 2012 I use the fabulous Elecraft KX3 as my main rig. It has the same power range as the K2.
So you see with a little determination, you can do a lot with QRP and simple wire antennas. If you've never tried it, crank your power down to 5 watts or less and go for it - you will surely enjoy it!
Should you be lucky enough to have room to put up a big antenna system and live in an ideal location, you can expect to do even more with your QRP operations.
If you can feed your 5 watts into a huge antenna system, your ERP will be greatly increased. As a rough example, an antenna system with a gain of 13 DB will create an ERP of 100 watts (in one certain direction). This means that (disregarding polarization, propagation quirks, etc.) the ham on the receiving end will get the same signal level from you that he would get from a ham running a 100 watt transmitter into a simple wire antenna. While I am not here to make judgements, I will say that to do so would diminish the thrill of my QRP accomplishments.
Keep this in mind when you compare your results with other QRPers. You shouldn't be discouraged or disappointed if you are using QRP and simple wire antennas, and can't match the exploits of another QRPer. The other QRPer may have a vastly superior antenna system. Even among those using simple antennas, there are differences over which you have no control. For example, a hilltop QTH is obviously vastly superior to a valley QTH.
To reinforce my statement that there are different levels of QRP, let's analyze the results from a Colorado QRP Club contest that had classes based on antenna types. 34 hams reported their results. For my purposes I am going to only consider 32 of them, disregarding HP1AC in Panama and AL7FS in Alaska. I'll use only the ones from the lower 48 states.
Ant Type Entries Av. # QSO's Av. Finish Best Finish
Beam 9 44.8 5.6 1st
Vertical 7 23.9 17.3 7th
Portable 5 17.6 19.6 13th
Single Wire 11 15.4 24.9 12th
Very telling statistics! The folks using beams captured 9 of the top 11 finishing positions. They made almost 3 times as many QSO's as those using simple wire antennas. That increase in ERP makes a difference, although it is only a couple S-units in many cases.
If this page has gotten you interested in trying QRP, and you'd like to know what rigs are available for QRP operation, I've made a listing of QRP rigs that I hope covers just about every QRP transceiver or transmitter with a capsule summary of each plus a link to their home web site.