Contesting Part 5 – QRP Contesting

I’m in the middle of the ARCI QRP fall contest and I’m having a blast at 750 milliwatts!

So I thought I’d add this piece on QRP contesting while I was listening to Brian VE3MGY pounding out the brass Sunday morning at 7.030.

So why 3/4 of one watt for output? It puts me in a very desirable category as far as points are concerned. It also puts me in a competitive but tough category when it comes to actually working guys.

That’s not to say it can’t be done. I’ve worked into Florida and have heard Texas and stations in the U.S. mid-west but conditions are not great. If they were better I have no doubt that I would be hearing many more stations right across North America and working most of them as well.

I normally run 5 watts and I find virtually no difference between running 5 watts and 100 watts when it comes to CW or RTTY. SSB is a whole different story but it’s still not impossible. I’ve worked stations in Russia on 40 meters late in the afternoon with S-9+ signals.

QRP CW is easy. Most guys don’t go over 20 wpm and a lot of the guys are doing 10 wpm. Everybody wants to work you.

When you know you’re copying just a call sign, report (which in contests is almost always 599 even if you can’t hear the guy….I know but that’s how it is in contesting. It’s way too tough to complicate matters. In fact, I’m listening to K2ZR calling CQ but there’s so much QSB I won’t be able to work him until conditions improve.) it`s pretty easy to get the report right..

Now the best radio for QRP is any of the big rigs throttled down to 5 watts using an accurate watt meter like the WM-2 which goes full scale at 10 watts, 1 watt and 100mW!

Next and just as good if not better is my FlexRadio 1500. The front end on this $600 radio is the best I’ve every heard.

I can go down to less than 25Hz of DSP brick-wall filtering and hear one station at the noise level.. Amazing! And the Flex will run 5 watts full out or easily go down to as low as you want to go.

Next up I’d recommend an Elecraft K2 on CW. You can buy these used for $500 to $700 depending on accessories or I’d also recommend (although I haven’t used one) the new KX3. This 10-watt rig (there’s a 100-watt amp in the works) is getting rave reviews and it’s $800 new plus accessories which can take the price up to around $1500.

There are a ton of QRP kits that are cheap and cheerful. Here’s what I’m working on.

I’m using a Drake 2B receiver as a casual monitor while I read the Sunday newspapers and drink my coffee.

What I am discovering is the Drake can hear everything the Flex hears. As they are on slightly different antennas (the Flex is on an Alpha Delta 80-40 shortened dipole at 30`or so and the Drake is on a Par 40-20 end-feed antenna sometimes the Drake actually hears better than the Flex. It sure hears more. 🙂 It hears about 2 kHz at a time.

Now I can use the passband down to .5kHz but that`s not the same as 25Hz of Flex filtering. But, our hearing can act as filters as well and although the Drake isn`t a single-signal receiver it`s a sweet sounding rig. I`m thinking of adding a TimeWave DSP-9 in front of the headphones which should make a big difference in contest operating.

Next step would be to add a TR switch (looking at a K8IQY Magic Box kit at $45) and a QRP transmitter likely from a kit.

This is a cheap way to get into QRP or QRP contesting or DXing. Buy a used receiver like a Drake 2B, Drake R4B, R8 or even an older Hallicrafters or Hammarlund receiver (The older the more likely the receiver will drift a bit as it warms up.) and add a two to five-watt transmitter with a TR switch and go have fun for next to nothing.

Whatever the rig it will need a BFO and a CW filter of some sort to work well.

Now as for antennas for QRP: For North American QRP work any dipole will do. The higher off the ground the better the performance.

If you`ve got a beam you`ll easily work the world. Verticals will work but it will be harder as the lower angle of radiation inherent in their design will send your QRP signal farther (making close in work harder) but remember  you`re going to be competing with noise and QRM and QRN and it`s rough working DX when you`re QRP.

QRP is amazingly effective when band conditions are good. After getting your feet wet at 5  watts the next logical step is one or two watts and then who knows how low you can go 🙂

Have fun. I`m getting back to the contest with the hope that 15 meters opens up this afternoon.


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