For many years I was a dedicated QRP operator. I even took my “Portable QRP Operation” show-and-tell out on the road for presentation at ham clubs in my area. Then along came the dark, gloomy depths of the solar cycle minimum. My forays out into the Big Blue Sky Shack became a series of disappointments. Maybe the odd QSO here and there, but most often I came home with nothing but a few RBN spots after multiple CQ calls. Something had to change.
I began to ask myself “why QRP?”. It’s a valid enough question. Just what is so magical about an output power of 5 watts? Why not 1 watt, 3 watts, or 20 watts? It has often been said that 5 watts of CW is equivalent to 100 watts of SSB. There is a mathematical proof but I won’t repeat it here. So shouldn’t 100 watts of SSB be considered QRP?
QRP has a cult-like following. There are several online organizations dedicated to it. I am a member of some of them. QRP certainly has an appeal for those of us who like to operate in the great outdoors. Perhaps the greatest advantage is that an entire station can be stuffed into a couple of pockets – antenna and all. And a QRP rig sips battery power so slowly that some can be powered all day on a 9-volt alkaline battery.
I laid the blame for my lack of portable QRP QSOs on poor propagation. Maybe my signal just wasn’t making the trip. The propagation demons in the sky were swallowing my signals, burping and grinning down at me with a smug, malicious gleam in their eyes. QRP-’til-I-die operators shrug that off as “the fun of QRP”. Not getting any QSOs is fun?
In hindsight, there could have been another explanation. The Reverse Beacon Network was constantly reaffirming that my puny emissions were making it up to the ionosphere and being refracted back down to the Earth. So why were so very few people responding to my CQs? I have a theory about that. Maybe, back then, random CQs only appealed to a small number of people. I asked myself how often I responded to random CQs. Hmmm, not too often!
Anyway, images of QRO rigs were dancing around my head whispering sweet messages of temptation in my ear. “Yes” I said to myself; “that’s the answer. Maybe I just need to blow more watts into the air and I will fill up my logbook!” But first a roadblock. I had to persuade “senior management” that I should invest in a new radio.
The Impenetrable Wall!
Many hams have probably experienced the same situation. “You already have several radios, why do you need another one? No!” But Christmas was approaching and the infinitely high, infinitely thick, impenetrable wall of resistance began to crumble. I received the go-ahead just in time to put a shiny new Yaesu under the tree and my switch from QRP to QRO was underway.
At about the same time I began to take an interest in something called “Parks On The Air”. I had looked into it but decided not to get involved because, based on my experience of outdoor operating I thought to myself “how am I ever going to make the 10 contacts required for an activation?” I signed up anyway and focused on being a “hunter”. Hunters can respond to activators’ CQs from anywhere and there is no minimum number of QSOs to meet.
My confidence grew as I saw just how many people were having fun activating parks … and how busy they were! I decided to try activating. That was a momentous decision. Within 2 minutes of starting my very first POTA activation I was working a pile-up. Wow!
My wife and I enjoy camping in our trailer. Every time we went on a camping trip I would activate the park in which we stayed. Always 100 watts. Crank that baby up as far as she goes and get those contacts a-rolling in, I thought. After the first season was over, the little box under the Christmas tree contained a Bioenno Lithium Iron Phosphate battery. The next season I tried dropping my operating power to 35 watts to see if saving battery power affected my results. It didn’t; I was still consistently getting the required 10 contacts for a valid activation in only 10-15 minutes.
Then I had another revelation. Immediately prior to a recent camping trip I was tuning my wire camping antenna in my back yard with the power turned down to the minimum 5 watts. All was good and I hurriedly packed away the radio and antenna to get ready for the trip.
On the first full day of that trip I set up my portable station and proceeded with activating the park. This activation was taking a little longer than usual. It took 27 minutes to get the first 10 QSOs, but I went on to make 18 QSOs including a DX contact in France. The next day I had moved to another nearby park for another activation and, once again, it was a bit of a slow start. I checked my RBN spots and saw I was only getting a 2dB report. “That’s not right” I thought and instinctively checked my radio’s power setting. My rig was still set at 5 watts; I had accidentally done a QRP activation!
So would I like to switch back to QRP? Yes, I think I would. But I probably won’t. Why? Well, my Yaesu FT-891 has some superb features that I find absolutely essential – especially the extremely versatile IF filtering. There is a choice of QRP radios that offer the same level of performance as my FT-891 but at more than twice the price!
I will still keep the power down on my POTA activations. The FT-891 draws a lot of current, even at low power levels. The difference in current draw between 5 watts and 25 watts is quite small. Maybe I’ll drop to 20 or 25 watts. I apologize to all my dedicated QRP friends; I can’t justify investing vast sums of money to rejoin the legions of low power afficionadoes but I am with you in spirit.