One of the biggest caveats that’s always mentioned to potential QRPers is what I like to call the “frustration factor”. All the QRP “how to” books bring this up. I’ve read them, you’ve read them …… I’m sure you’re familiar with all the bug-a-boos:
“Hams new to HF should never start out using QRP.”
“QRP is difficult, don’t expect much success.”
And my favorite – “Never call CQ using QRP.”
In my personal and most humble opinion, these statements, if they are taken as absolute truisms or rules of thumb, are pretty much hogwash.
But rather than refute these, or dwell on the negatives, I would like to accentuate the positives. If you’re new to the QRP game or are perhaps thinking of dipping your toe into low power waters, you SHOULD do several things to maximize your chances for success.
DO put up the best antenna that you can. A tower and beam are the best, if you have deep pockets and plenty of property and an understanding wife. If you’re like the rest of us mere mortals, that will probably mean dipoles, verticals or whatever. If you can, put them outside and put them up as high as circumstances permit. If you install a ground mounted vertical (not a bad choice) lay down as many radials as you can. If you’re stuck in HOA Hell, attic dipoles have yielded success. Magnetic loops, either home brewed or commercially built, such as the Alex Loop have saved the bacon of many covenant restricted Hams.
But whatever the case may be, just remember a quote that my friend Chris KQ2RP recently reminded us all about in his blog. To quote K2TK, “A poor antenna has infinite gain over no antenna”. In other words, while a better and higher antenna will maximize your QRP experience, ANY antenna is better than none. However, if you’re reduced to loading up your mattress boxspring, then you had better lay in a supply of Advil. Do whatever you can to put up the best aerial you can under your circumstances. This is not the place to skimp.
DO use the full “QRP Gallon”, which is the full 5 Watts for CW or 10 Watts for SSB, if you’re just starting out. While Rockmites and other flea powered radios do a great job, save QRPp for after you’ve gained some experience. QSOs made with less than a Watt ARE a heckuva lot of fun, but if you’re a QRP Newbie, save them for later.
DO make use of the various tools available to you. Reverse Beacon Network is one of these. Not only can you use RBN like a Cluster, to see who is on and who is calling CQ, but you can use it to gauge your own performance. Not getting any answers to your CQs? Check out your own call on RBN to see where and how you’re being heard. You can also use RBN to compare one antenna against another. I did this to check out my vertical vs. my wire on 80 Meters one Autumn evening last year. I picked a lonely, deserted frequency and called CQ with one antenna for about five minutes, and then switched. By going to RBN, I was able to see how (roughly) how one did against the other.
And while we’re talking about calling CQ, go right ahead and call CQ if you want to. Odds are you will be heard by someone, somewhere, depending on propagation. Many times, when a band has seemed dead, I have called CQ and have been answered, and have had great QSOs. I see no reason on God’s green Earth why calling CQ should be limited to those running power.
DO jump into the DX pileups! This will give you experience, which will be your greatest teacher. Getting on the air, making QSOs, and experimenting with antennas, participating in the QRP Fox hunts will teach you more than any Website, book, or Elmer. Getting your hands dirty and learning “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em” will make you a veteran QRP op in no time. But remember, then it will be YOUR time to share what you have learned with those who come after you.
72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!