As I have previously blogged about in this space, my ham radio resolution for 2019 has been to get on the air and make contacts with the low-power or “QRP” kits – transmitters, receivers, transceivers, and accessories, that I have built.
Today I write to report that I have achieved my goal, having made my first two QRP contacts today with W1NVT in Vermont and N1QLL in Maine on 40 meters.
My station today consisted of:
- the WA3RNC 40M transceiver semi-kit I built,
- the Four State QRP Group 4S Tuner kit I built,
- the Vectronics VEC201 keyer kit I built,
- a basic LM386 audio amplifier I built,
- an MFJ 813 QRP SWR watt meter,
- DC power provided by the Hammo-PWR 12aH portable power box, purchased from Quick Silver Radio, and
- my G5RV antenna running N-S about 70′ up in the trees parallel to my driveway in Cheshire, CT.
QRP: What and why?
Operating QRP (ham radio slang for ‘low power’) is a distinct niche within the hobby. The generally accepted definition of what qualifies as QRP, is using a transmitter putting out 5 watts of radiated RF power, or less. By comparison, most commercial high frequency amateur radio transmitters today are capable of transmitting 100 watts. Many hams will use amplifiers to increase the 100 watts up to 1.5 kilo-watts. Operating high-power is known as QRO, as opposed to QRP.
QRP operations attracts tens of thousands of hams, including yours truly, but why? After all, conventional wisdom holds that more power = more contacts as a stronger single may be received further away and be easier to copy.
Speaking for myself, there are several factors that have attracted me to QRP. Here are the top five:
1.) Building and operating my own gear
Any regular reader of the AB1DQ.com blog will know that I love to melt solder, to build kits and home-brew projects, and to troubleshoot and repair vintage electronics.
It all began when as a child I would while away the hours in my grandfather’s workshop. As a younger man, Grampy had enrolled in the DeVry Institutes home radio & television repair course (originally known as the DeForest Course) and his workshop contained not only all of his text books and tools, but also a cornucopia of old radio an TV carcasses for me to ‘work’ on. (I let out more than my fair share of magic smoke in those days, and blew the house circuit breakers more than once!)
Today when I am in my workshop, I feel a connection to my late grandfather, especially when I am using his vintage test equipment that I have restored and kept in service.
And, as magical as it is to have someone on the other side of the planet respond to a signal I transmitted using a commercial radio, it’s just that much more special when I hear my call sign coming back to me on a radio I built from scratch.
Amateur radio is the only citizen radio service sanctioned by the FCC that not only allows, but encourages, its licensees to build, modify and experiment with their own transmitters and QRP allows me to do just that.
2.) The challenge & satisfaction of using minimal power
Quoting the FCC rules §97.313 Transmitter power standards…
(a) An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications.
Because the communications I desire is any communication with another station using a transmitter I built myself, 5 watts is more than enough power to get the job done – and its going to provide me with plenty of fun
One S-unit, the minimal change in signal strength that is noticeable, is equal to 6 db. For one S-unit increase in gain you would need to quadruple your power output. To gain one S-unit from 5 watts output, you would have to go to 20 watts to increase your signal strength by 6 db.
K3WWP, a co-founder of the North American QRP CW club NAQCC has provided this handy table on his excellent website addressing the matter:
This suggests that all other factors being equal, an operator could expect his signal report to go from a very good 579 report to a perfectly copy-able 559 when running 5 watts vs. 100 watts barefoot.
What I know from first hand experience is that I have on occasion logged successful contacts on SSB from Connecticut all across the US to the west coast running 5 watts on my Kenwood TS2000. If I can make transcontinental contacts running QRP phone, it should be that much easier to do so with the narrower bandwidth needed for CW.
3.) QRP is inexpensive
A lot of hams get their General class ticket giving them access to the HF bands but then discover that commercial gear, can be cost-prohibitive.
The popular basic Icom IC-7300 currently retails for $1,099 and the bare-bones IC-718 (the very first HF radio I purchased back in 2002 when I was first licensed) costs $599 new today.
Compare those prices to the cost of my QRP station above…
The WA3RNC transceiver base model without the digital dial, retails for $99, the 4S Tuner retails for $53, the VEC201 CW keyer is $30 and the MFJ-813 QRP wattmeter costs for $40 new. That comes to under $220 for everything (sans paddles, power supply and antenna—all of which you would need to get on the air with either basic Icom radio above).
4.) QRP is portable
The small size of most QRP radios and equipment makes it ideal for portable operations, easily fitting in a backpack or suitcase. Many QRP operators enjoy taking their stations with them when they travel and operating from hilltops, campsites, or hotel rooms is very popular.
Although I have not yet done so, it is my desire and part of my 2019 radio resolution to go portable with my QRP station. This weekend I attended NEARfest in Deerfield NH as I do most years. The weather was a washout for the most part, but I did stop by the Quick Silver Radio table in the commercial building to address my need for portable power.
Proprietor John Bee, N1GNV, a good guy and fellow member of the Meriden Amateur Radio Club here in Connecticut, hooked me up with one of their new Hammo-PWR power boxes, which contains a 12 aH rechargeable battery in a compact water resistant ABS case and some PowerPole connectors.
The only piece I am now missing for my portable QRP operations is a very good portable antenna. In the coming weeks as the weather improves I plan to experiment first with my Buddi-Stick antenna as well as some wire antenna ideas including easily transported dipoles and end-fed wires – stay tuned to this space for updates!
5.) The QRP community is awesome
There are many excellent radio clubs dedicated exclusively to low power building and operating and I am a member of several of them.
The QRP Amateur Radio Club International publishes my hands-down favorite ham radio magazine, the QRP Quarterly. I read every issues cover-to-cover as soon as it arrives as it is chock-full of excellent articles including technical pieces, equipment reviews, hints and kinks, and experiences of fellow QRPers.
The North American QRP CW Club is a dynamic club dedicated to the promotion of QRP operations. Each month the NAQCC operates a fun month-long on-air challenge and a sprint. There is no membership dues and the club also publishes an excellent online newsletter each month.
The QRP Club of New England is another fine local club to which I belong. The club holds a weekly CW net on 80 meters on Thursday nights and always presents well attended informational sessions and a buildathon at the Boxboro New England Hamfest each September. I really enjoy meeting other club members and melting some solder with them each year.
For many years I have enjoyed building various QRP kits and feel I have learned a lot about radio fundamentals along the way.
This year I am finally venturing into going on the air with the radios and equipment I have built and the prospect of making contacts with homemade is very exciting.
I invite other QRP enthusiasts whether old timers, noobs like me, or prospective QRPers to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share their experiences.
Stay tuned for future blogs about my experiences and in the meantime,
72 de AB1DQ/QRP