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The Power of Less Power


*Email: w2vu@cq-amateur-radio.com

Welcome to this year’s QRP Special. Low-power communication has been an essential element of amateur radio since its earliest days, and CQ’s coverage of it goes back to our very early days as well. The first mention is in the May 1947 DX column, about a ham operating from post-war Macau — then a Portuguese enclave on the coast of China — as CR9AN. He was running 20 watts, which was considered QRP at the time. There were many other mentions of QRP operating over the years, but it wasn’t until 1973 that we started a regular QRP column here in CQ. That first column, by Ade Weiss, K8EEG, appears elsewhere in this issue as one of our two “CQ Classic” articles this month. The second is “The Song of the Flea,” by Mort Waters, W2NZ, who later became the editor of CQ’s then-sister publication, Modern Electronics.

The goals of our QRP columns over the years — as well as our more recent QRP Specials — have been not only to chronicle the adventures and achievements of low-power operators but also to attract new people to taking on the QRP challenge by showcasing the possibilities when you turn down the power. (Remember, the FCC says you should use only the amount of power necessary to conduct your communication.)

An interest in QRP also opens the door to deeper involvement in other aspects of ham radio. In my case, getting interested in QRP and having a taste of success with low-power contacts has led me to get back into building, work on improving my CW skills, figure out ways to incorporate QRP ham radio into outdoor activities, and more. I’m still working on how to turn my bicycle into an antenna support and find the time to put more effort into working QRP phone as well as CW.

QRP is also a social activity. Low-power enthusiasts are more than happy to share tips and techniques, along with encouragement when success may come a little less easily than one might hope. They can also be very persistent and very persuasive, so beware.

In my case, the indoctrination began with former QRP Editor Dave Ingram, K4TWJ (SK), who many years ago sent me a mint tin containing a tiny 40-meter transmitter with a keying line that doubled as an antenna (see photo). Unfortunately, Dave is no longer with us, but his inspiration and enthusiasm live on, and my one little flea-powered transmitter has now multiplied to somewhere around 10, most of which I’ve built myself, along with a host of QRP-focused accessories.

My biggest on-air prize so far has been a 30-meter QSO with OK1MBZ in the Czech Republic while running one-half watt. This qualified me for the QRP Amateur Radio Club International (QRPARCI) “1,000 Miles Per Watt Award,” with 8,262 miles-per-watt, based on the 4,131- mile distance covered by 500 milliwatts. To me, this is what makes QRP extra-special. When the propagation gods are smiling (which they still do occasionally, even without many sunspots), there’s no particular challenge in working Eastern Europe from the northeastern U.S. with 100 watts and a basic antenna. But half a watt? That’s a different story.

That’s the power of less power to inspire greater involvement in so many aspects of our hobby. And to those of you among us who like to say that “life’s too short for QRP,” I’d like to say that life’s too short not to try QRP.

With that, let’s dive into this year’s QRP Special. Our focus this year is on QRPactive hams telling their stories of fun and on-air achievement with low power. We share seven of those in this issue (eight if you count mine), plus a “first look” at a QRP digital-mode mode transceiver kit written by its designers and, as mentioned above, two QRP-focused “CQ Classics.”

Beyond the borders of QRP-land, we’ve got a great project for repeater owners on building a UHF linking system for VHF repeaters that won’t require climbing the tower or installing new antennas; the 2020 WPX crossword puzzle (WPX contest season starts this month, with the RTTY weekend on the 8th and 9th); and an interesting look at sloper antennas and the question of whether an antenna’s orientation can affect the audio tone of an incoming signal.

A Conversation About Logs It’s been several decades since the FCC required amateurs to keep a log of their contacts, but most of us do anyway, especially for contacts that might be counted toward award or contest credit. Fifteen years ago, CQ began to make contest log entries public, for a variety of reasons. Other major contest sponsors have since followed suit, and most contesters find this useful. DXers, on the other hand, have a different focus and many see things differently. This month, DX Editor Bob Schenck, N2OO, begins a conversation on the pros and cons of public logs, offering both his own perspective (con) and that of well-known contester John Crovelli, W2GD (pro). Contesting Editor Dave Siddall, K3ZJ, joins the conversation as well, along with one other prominent contester (who asked to remain anonymous). If you are either a DXer or a contester, or both, we urge you to read the complete discussion, beginning with Bob’s DX column on page 93, and to share your thoughts on the subject as well for possible future publication. CQ has provided a forum for conversations like this among its readers and writers for 75 years, and we encourage you to become part of this tradition.

It’s February … time for antenna work … and if not, then maybe time to snuggle up in your shack with a QRP rig (or your QRO rig with the power turned down), discover for yourself the power of less power and maybe write your own “song of the flea.”

– 72 (the QRP version of 73), Rich, W2VU

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