QRP is a very old radio-telegrapher's Q-signal meaning "Reduce power." If followed by a "?" the signal means "Shall I reduce power?" There are literally thousands of amateurs throughout the world who answer with a resounding "Yes!"
In the world of QRP operators, the term is defined loosely as operating with a power of 5 watts on CW and 10 watts PEP on SSB. If you think that you cannot do much with that little power, consider these facts. QRPers regularly earn DXCC and other DX awards. QRPers have made contacts garnering thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of miles per watt. QRPers regularly accumulate scores in the larger amateur radio contests that rival or exceed the scores of high power stations.
QRPers often repeat a longstanding slogan: "Power is no substitute for skill." For newcomers and old timers alike, the slogan presents a special challenge. With the amateur bands becoming ever more crowded and with more of what The Old Man (Hiram Percy Maxim, the original W1AW) would have called "rotten operators" using more space, we must all increase our skills in every aspect of amateur radio in order both to enjoy our hobby and to effectively render public service through it.
No better means of perfecting skills in every aspect of amateur radio exists than making the decision to forego power for QRP operation. There are, of course, operating skills to be mastered and honed. QRP also offers the chance to develop our building skills through a wide variety of compact but highly competent kit transceivers. With a few batteries, one can take QRP to the field (and not just on Field Day) to enjoy that special challenge. It includes not only the ability to operate and to keep the station going, but as well to install an antenna that is easy to carry, is easy to put up and take down, and is effective.
For both newcomer and old timer, QRP offers one other significant benefit: it can be very economical. It is not unusual to find an operator whose single-band transceiver, antenna tuner, keyer, paddles, and antenna have left him a good bit of change from a $200 bill.
However, the first steps into QRP are often (and perhaps unnecessarily) the source of fear and trepidation. We have become so used to the modern 100-watt output transceiver that the thought of making lots of contacts with 1/20th that amount of power seems almost impossible. And how is one to be able to compete on the air with the so-called "big guys?"
Introducing the newcomer to QRP therefore takes considerable sensitivity and patience, as well as good practical guidance. The following notes are not designed to be a tutorial on QRP itself so much as a small and incomplete set of suggestions for helping someone over the threshold into QRP.
However, there are a number of things we can do to help the newcomer get his or her feet wet and learn what to expect of QRP. This assumes that the newcomer has a fairly standard transceiver in the 100- watt output class.
First, we can help the student to learn what QRP sounds like. If possible, make arrangements with a local who can control rig power reasonably accurately and who has a strong signal (without overload) at the student location. Have the other station reduce power in definite steps, starting at 100 watts and ending up at about 5 watts (or even 1 watt). The 20:1 power reduction between 100 and 5 watts will show up as between 2 and 3 S-units, depending on the meter calibration (or lack of it).
If the local was S9 before, then S6-7 will still be quite strong. The newcomer has learned that QRP signals are not quite so weak as he or she might have suspected. Having the student then practice copying very weak signals (as QRM and QRN permit) is a good way to build confidence that he or she can copy a QRP signal.
Next, have the newcomer start reducing power in definite increments, again with the local using 5 watts or less. Have the local give signal reports at each level. It is important here also to use honest readability reports, rather than the standard R5. However, for this experiment, the R-report should not change by much, if anything.
When the newcomer hits 5 watts and exchanges signal reports with the local--also running 5 watts--interrupt the proceedings. Congratulate the newcomer on making his or her first QRP-to-QRP contact. Try to ensure that the local QSLs with a QRP notation for the newcomerūs records and long-term memories.
This exercise can be repeated, but without pre-arrangement, until the newcomer is comfortable making his or her own contacts. After a while, a new thought sets in: why should one consume all the electrical energy it takes to keep the big rig running when all that QRP requires is a low power transmitter and a sensitive, stable receiver with a good QRM filter? At this point, most hams asking this question become QRPers for life.
Band CW SSB 80 3.710 40 7.110 15 21.110 10 28.110 28.385
Have (and help) the newcomer to listen on or near these frequencies for signals. Weak signal strength is not always a sign that the station is QRP. Some low power stations add QRP after signing their calls; others do not.
Not only Novices appear at these calling frequencies, but experienced operators call CQ there also. They are anxious to help the newcomer make QRP contacts to build both skills and confidence. So a newcomer should not be afraid to answer a station that is obviously not a Novice. The other operator will be glad to adjust his or her code speed to the level of the newcomer. This is an old and honored tradition among experienced hams on CW and applies at all power levels.
On 10 meters, there are Novice privileges on SSB. At the present time, SSB QRP is just beginning to draw more attention. One factor influencing this increase is the availability of SSB kits. I suspect that once the initial surge of 10-meter DXing and 10-10 work calms down as 10 meters opens up on a regular basis, we shall hear 10-meter QRP on the Novice calling frequency. I have worked a number of 10-meter QRP SSB stations, most notably a completely solar-powered station using about 1 watt. He was S5 or better and completely competitive with the QRO stations.
When the newcomer advances past the Novice to the General level, a large world of QRP will be opened to him or her. There are QRP calling frequencies in the U.S.A. on all of the ham bands from 160 meters through 2 meters. One incentive toward advancement is for the newcomer to understand what will be opened for use. Therefore, for reference, here are the remaining US QRP calling frequencies for each band:
Band CW SSB 160 1.810 1.910 80 3.560 3.985 40 7.040 7.285 30 10.106 20 14.060 14.285 17 18.096 15 21.060 21.385 12 24.906 10 28.060 28.885 6 50.060 50.885 2 144.060 144.285 144.585 (FM)
European QRP calling frequencies differ from those used in the U.S. due largely to differences in amateur radio frequency assignments. For those wishing to chase QRP DX, the European QRP calling frequencies are these:
Band CW SSB 160 1.810 1.843 80 3.560 3.690 40 7.030 7.090 7.060 30 10.106 20 14.060 14.285 17 18.096 15 21.060 21.285 12 24.906 10 28.060 28.360 6 50.060 50.285
If there is a local or area QRP club, the newcomer should be encouraged to attend meetings or get-togethers, depending on the groupūs nature. Some clubs, like the Michigan and Colorado QRP Clubs, hold regular meetings. These are often informal, often with a meal, program, and some show-and-tell. The show-and-tell may involve some new kit just built, some QSL cards for significant contacts, or even some old-time gear that was used for QRP before the days of solid state.
Other groups hold nets or on-the-air meetings. Still others meet once or twice a year, sometimes at a picnic, sometimes at hamfests.
At last report (which is not likely to be too accurate), there were QRP clubs in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New England, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
One good way to meet other QRPers is to join one of the e-mail lists devoted to QRP. QRP-L (@Lehigh.edu) is the largest QRP list. On one side of the coin, it can overwhelm someone not used to receiving 50 messages a day via e-mail. However, it does represent the entire spectrum of QRP interests: operating, building, problem solving, field operations, and helping newcomers.
Subscription instructions appear in the section of this article devoted to QRP resources. Learning how to make the best use of an e- mail list is itself an art. Knowing when to send a message to the entire list and when to address one to a specific individual takes a little practice. However, once a person has had a few questions answered, the process grows more natural.
Another avenue of involvement is to join one or more of the clubs sponsoring regular journals. A list of some of those organizations also appears within the resource section of this article. Also given are costs, contact people, and a brief note on what to expect from the journal.
QRP ARCI is the QRP Amateur Radio Club International, a venerable US-based QRP organization that began many years ago when dropping power to 100 watts was considered a big step in the right direction. Today, QRP ARCI adheres to the 5-watt philosophy, and many members encourage milliwatting, the reduction of power to levels below 1 watt so that power may be given in milliwatts. Microwatting is not uncommon among members.
The QRP Quarterly, the journal of QRP ARCI, is one of the most diverse of all in its content. It not only offers technical articles, but also has information on operating, club awards, and club-sponsored operating activities.
Each of the other journals listed (and others not listed) in the resource section has something unique to offer. Many QRPers support as many of them as possible (if only to be sure that something new does not slip by unread). Every newcomer should be encouraged to support at least one of them. Reading new things about QRP on a regular basis is not only a good way to increase one's knowledge; it is also an excellent pathway to developing new interests.
1. Operating: General operating to make QRP contacts remains the focal interest of most QRPers. However, there are some special operating arenas that deserve note.
a. Field Operation: Since QRP equipment is so compact and can often be operated from batteries, many QRPers like to take to the field and set up portable stations on hilltops, campgrounds, and similar locations. Part of the fun lies in developing an ever-improving station for this purpose, including antennas that are light to carry, easy to assemble, and effective on the air. Many field operators would enjoy the company and help of a newcomer as he or she learns the ropes (sometimes literally) of operating this way in exchange for helping to carry things, assemble the station, and help with the operating and logging.
Here is a list of what an ardent field operation QRPer might take with him or her:
b. Contest Operation: Many QRP organizations sponsor a number of different types of contests, from short ūsprintsū to longer efforts. Rarely are QRP contesters so abbreviated in their operating ways that they will not take time out to make sure a newcomer has every part of the required exchange. And when a QRPer wishes you "Good luck!" at the end of the contact, he or she means it.
An alternative to strictly QRP contests are the "big" contests, many of which have a special QRP category. Here the challenge is to compete for contacts with higher power stations. Most QRP contesters do not sit and call CQ, but instead search for other stations calling CQ. This "search and pounce (SAP)" method, as Rich Arland, K7YHA, once called it, has run up scores for QRP operators that would have been respectable in any category of the contest.
c. Fox-hunting: A recent QRP phenomenon is the fox hunt. Everybody knows who the fox is, where he is, and what his frequencies will be and at what times he will be on the air. The trick is to catch him. Everything is informal, so even failure to get the fox this time brings a determination to get the next one.
d. Milliwatting and microwatting: Eventually, 5 watts becomes too small a challenge for some QRPers. They reduce power first to 1 watt and then even lower. One of their major challenges is to measure accurately the actual amount of power they are sending to the antenna. A second challenge is to be heard at all. Schedules with like-minded low power operators are a way of life, and sometimes they use special code words to be sure they were actually heard. Those who engage in this portion of QRP work usually have well-trained ears, which are often a better signal discriminator than the very best DSP filters available. Good ears and a good fist are important skills for all QRP operators.
2. Building: Many QRPers are lifelong builders of ham gear and accessories. One of the appeals of QRP is that rigs can be simple enough for the average ham to build from a kit and for the more technically inclined to design or redesign. Letūs break this area down into several areas to see how a newcomer might be transformed from an appliance operator into a home brewer.
a. Kit Building: Kit building from Heath and other now-departed sources was once a routine part of amateur radio. The complexity of modern transceivers has largely ended this trend, except in one area: QRP. A number of large and small companies have devoted considerable effort to designing a variety of transceivers that the average ham can build and successfully use. A partial list of kit-makers appears in the resource section.
For the newcomer, even a fairly simple kit can seem mysterious without guidance. Helping the newcomer to select his or her first kit and then guiding the person through the building process so that the result is something successful and useful for the station are two important areas of effective Elmering. However, once the first kit is done, a third area becomes important: guiding the newcomer to the next stage in challenge rather than to the most challenging kit on the market.
One very important set of lessons that almost demands the aid of an Elmer is the art of testing the gear that one is building. Only a very few of the simplest kits can be built, smoke-tested, and then found to work or not. Whenever there are two or more stages, each can be tested as they are built, so that any problems are discovered early on, when they are easy to identify and relatively easy to fix. Some kit instructions proceed in this manner; other kits require experienced intervention for such testing. Helping the newcomer to understand this process is a piece of teaching likely to last a lifetime in the student.
b. Tinkering: The term "tinkerer" was once a highly respectable word for the basement, garage, or shop builder and inventor. Many QRPers are avid tinkerers. Some like to modify and improve the kit they have just finished building and testing. Others like to build and revise circuits they find in magazines. Still others like to build from scratch.
SPRAT, the journal of the G-QRP Club is more than 50% devoted to tinkering in the best traditions of modifying and improving circuits and gear. In the issue I happen to have in hand, there are two complete fairly complex projects, with a fistful of small circuits--one an ultra-simple transmitter, some simple test detectors, a junk-box filter, a modification of an existing circuit, and a couple of handy circuits that a builder might use in his or her own more complete design.
In contrast, but not too much contrast, is QRPp, the journal of the Northern California QRP Club (NORCAL). NORCAL has become very well known for its club-designed and produced transceiver kits. The particular issue of QRPp that I happened to pick up has three complete projects, plus two more extensive articles on both the electronic and mechanical details of modifications to two rigs--plus the start of a multi-part tutorial. It also has a good collection of short items.
Is one journal preferable to the other? It depends on one's interests and the emphases within those interests as to which journal might be more useful or valuable.
Whatever the special nature of one's interest in tinkering, the beginning tinkerer needs help getting started. Learning where to get parts, which parts to get, how to handle the parts, when to use which of similar parts are all lessons needing a good source of information and advice. There are dozens of pitfalls to the process of designing and building a prototype, and a little help in avoiding even a few of them can transform discouragement into the persistence that brings success.
3. Antennas: There is a debate within the ranks of QRP operators: whether it is proper to use sophisticated high gain antennas atop tall towers or whether the QRPer should use the simplest antennas possible to go along with the simple gear he or she may be using. The debate really describes two kinds of QRPers. First, there are those who simply wish to use the least power possible as a means of reducing QRM. Their goal is to achieve as much as possible with the lowest reasonable power. These folks tend to use the best antennas they can obtain or build. Second, there are QRPers who are committed to doing the absolute most with the absolute least, perhaps with the idea that someday they will be able to do everything with absolutely nothing. These dedicated minimalists tend to insist on simple antennas. Since many of them are also lovers of field operation, their desire for simple antennas also has a practical side. Whatever the reason or direction, QRPers tend to experiment with antennas more than most folks. Wire is the favorite antenna material, and the lighter the better. However, the variety of materials used to support the wire ranges from fishing rods to PVC to towers to whatever will hold it in position.
Since a good antenna--however defined--is crucial to effective QRP operation in any of the categories we have listed, good instruction in antenna basics is absolutely essential for the newcomer to QRP.
But antenna basics also come in two parts: antennas as electronic components and antennas as mechanical devices that require good construction and maintenance. Even learning to analyze the antenna possibilities and restrictions of one's own yard can benefit from a practiced eye, plus a little help in getting the antenna in the air.
Nevertheless, it would be inappropriate to suggest that QRP is the exclusive interest of amateur radio. Even the major QRP organizations recognize that there are conditions, needs, and services that may call for higher power levels from time to time. And all of these areas also call for effective Elmering.
However, QRP can become so consuming an interest that the practitioner always desires more information about one or another thing in the field. Therefore, the resources section also contains a starter list of books, some devoted to QRP operating, others devoted to QRP circuitry and equipment. Only antennas are not included, since the QRPers antenna books are also every ham's antenna books.
In the end, all of ham radio is enriched by whatever it is that each ham learns. And it is enriched even more by whatever we pass on to others.
2. SPRAT: The "Small Powered Radio Amateur Transmitter" or SPRAT is published by the G-QRP Club 4 times each year. Under the editorship of Rev. George Dobbs, G3RJV, each 44-page issue in 5.75x8.5" format contains 60% construction articles in each issue (circuits, antennas, test equipment, etc., both basic and advanced, with some pcb layouts) from many different countries. Each issue also contains award, operating, contest, G-novice, SSB, VHF, and member columns and news. SPRAT comes with membership in G-QRP Club, which can be obtained by U.S. residents for $14 per year from Bill Kelsey, N8ET, Kanga US, 3521 Spring Lake Drive, Findlay, OH 45840, USA
3. QRPp: NORCAL, the QRP Club of Northern California, publishes a feature-packed 72-page quarterly in 5.75x8.5" format. Edited by Doug Hendricks, KI6DS, the journal features over 20 articles per issue, mostly devoted to technical and construction topics, including new designs, conversions, improvements, and modifications. Some issues feature NORCAL club projects, such as the NORCAL 40(A), the Sierra, and the recent "38 Special." Cost is $15 per year from The QRP Club of Northern California; Jim Cates, WA6GER; 3241 Eastwood Road; Sacramento, CA 95821 USA. Make subscription checks payable to Jim Cates, not NORCAL.
4. Low Down: This award-winning journal of the Colorado QRP Club appears 6 times per year. Each 40-page 5.75x8.5" issue, edited by Rich High, W0HEP, contains technical articles, rig profiles and other equipment reviews; overseas QRP operating features, club member profiles, and CQC activities news. Technical Editor Paul Harden, NA5N, provides a regular circuitry or technical feature, while W4RNL supplies "Antennas From the Ground Up." Low Down comes with membership for $15 per year from the Colorado QRP Club; P.O. Box 371883; Denver, CO 80237-1883 USA.
5. Lo-Key: Published 4 times each year, this 32-page 5.75x8.5" journal comes with membership in the CW Operators QRP Club of Australia. Annual cost is $14 A from Kevin Zietz, VK5AKZ; 41 Tobruk Avenue; St. Marys, SA 5042 Australia. As a service to U.S. hams, N8ET accepts subscription money at Dayton and forwards it in order to assist with currency conversion. Edited by Don Callow, VK5AIL, each issue contains two to three construction articles/issue, including advanced ideas, equipment modifications, keyers, etc. (some with parts kits available); along with awards, contest, and net program news.
Adrian Weiss, W0RSP, The Joy of QRP (Milliwatt Books), 1984, $23.00 (includes 1st class postage), 151 pp. An informal overview of QRP that emphasizes operating, but with a few projects; considered a classic.
Brad Wells, KR7L, Your QRP Operating Companion (ARRL), 1992. $6.00, 96 pp. An introduction to QRP operating, including ragchewing, DXing, and contesting, with lists of QRP clubs and organizations, as well as net and calling frequencies.
Dave Ingram, K4TWJ, How to Get Started in QRP (National Amateur Radio Association [NARA], P.O. Box 598, Redmond, WA 98073. 1992, $9.95, 131 pp. A beginners guide to QRP, touching on operating, commercial and home brew gear, accessories, antennas, VHF/UHF QRP, and battery and "natural" power.
Richard Arland, K7YHA, Low Power Communications, Vol. 1-3 (Tiare Publications; P.O. Box 493, Lake Geneva, WI 53147), 1992, about 100 pages per volume. Price varies from $14.95 to $19.95 per volume. Volume 1 is a basic book on QRP, focusing on the newcomer to the QRP arena, helping him/her get off on the right foot. Vol. 2 is a more advanced volume featuring many top names in the QRP hobby (AA2U, N4BP, WB8VGE, etc.) telling how they pursue various facets of QRP, such as DXing, contesting, DXpeditions, antennas, satellites, milli/microwatting, and solar power. Vol. 3 is devoted to equipment evaluations: commercial, kit, new and used; how to buy used gear; also includes software and antennas.
Dick Pascoe, G0BPS, Introducing QRP: An Introduction to the History and Skills of Low Power Operating in the UK (R. A. Pascoe), 1996, $8.00, 84 pp. A succinct introduction to the history of QRP, the basic equipment for QRP, and the operating techniques needed for QRP. Available in the US from Kanga, USA (see address under the kits listings).
Joel Kleinman, N1BKE, and Zack Lau, KH6CP/1, Editors, QRP Power (ARRL), 1996, $12.00, 175 pp. "The best recent QRP articles from QST, QEX, and the ARRL Handbook." Designed to update QRP Classics for the 1990s, with chapters on QRP operating, construction practices, transceivers, receivers, and accessories.
Paul Harden, NA5N, The Electronic Data Book for Homebrewers and QRPers (Five Watt Press), 1996, $20.00, 150 pp. QRP rig circuit analysis, component specification sheets, QRP operating aids, and QRP rig lab tests. Also includes the QRP Yellow Pages, by Rich High, W0HEP.
Doug DeMaw, W1FB, W1FB's QRP Notebook, 2nd Ed. (ARRL), 1991, $10.00, 179 pp. Construction projects for QRP transmitters, receivers, and accessories; most projects have circuit boards available.
Rev. George Dobbs, G3RJV, Ed., G-QRP Club Circuit Handbook (RSGB: Available from Kanga USA), 1983, $12.00. A compilation of QRP circuits from the pages of SPRAT from 1974-1982; considered a classic.
Drew Diamond, VK3XU, Radio Projects for the Amateur (RSGB), 1995, $12.00, 130 pp. 30 chapters of projects and techniques for the QRP builder from the Australian point of view, but with parts available almost anywhere.
Ed Noll, W3QFJ, Solid State QRP Projects (MFJ), $12.95. 52 QRP projects using transistors, FETs, and ICs without requiring extensive electronics knowledge.
Of course, standard amateur radio reference books, such as The ARRL Handbook for Radio Amateurs and The ARRL Antenna Book, are recommended for every ham's bookshelf. However, if the newcomer is to make best use of these materials, special guidance by a long-term Elmer may be needed.
EMTech 3641A Preble Street Bremerton, WA 98312 USA Kanga US 3521 Spring Lake Drive Findlay, OH 45840 USA (Note: Kanga US handles British Kanga and Hands kits, as well as other US kits.) Oak Hills Research 20879 Madison Street Big Rapids, MI 49307 USA Small Wonder Labs Dave Benson, NN1G 90 East Robbins Avenue Newington, CT 06111 USA Ten-Tec 1185 Dolly Parton Highway Sevierville, TN 37862 USA Wilderness Radio P.O. Box 734 Los Altos, CA 94023-0734 USA
The World-Wide Web holds a basic resource for QRP that will provide many links to other pages of both relevance and interest. The URL is http://qrp.cc.nd.edu/QRP-L/ and the pages are maintained by Steve Hideg. Of special interest to the newcomer will be photographs Steve has taken of a wide variety of assembled kits for QRP work. Links to kit-maker pages will show additional photos of kits, both inside and out. The Web site is also linked to many of the archival documents of QRP-l, including a world-wide list of QRP clubs, an expanded list of periodicals, an equally expanded list of electronics books of interest to QRPers, and a list of antenna books.
The abbreviated list of resources has only scratched the surface
of what is available in each of the categories. Nonetheless, Elmers
should be very selective in recommending materials, offering new
resources only at the rate the newcomer can effectively absorb them.
From Proceedings of the 1998 National ARRL Education Workshop, (Newington: ARRL, 1998), pp. 30-38. Š L. B. Cebik, W4RNL. Data may be used for personal purposes, but may not be reproduced for publication in print or any other medium without permission of the author.