One of the easiest and cheapest ways to get onto the shortwave bands after you’ve passed your exam and got your ticket is to buy a used rig (often referred to as a boat anchor) for somewhere between $500 and $1,000 put up an antenna and get on the air.
But not everyone can drop that much cash so quickly on an HF rig especially if they shelled out $100 to $500 on a VHF/UHF hand held.
You’ll hear a lot of the old sparkies say that newcomers should avoid QRP as trying to talk to other guys at five watts or less is too frustrating. I’m here to say to that “Nutz!”
I regularly contest with my FlexRadio 1500. True at $500 used it’s not dirt cheap but this software defined radio (which needs a fairly robust computer to make it work) runs circles around rigs costing ten times as much. (See Sherwood Engineering’s Receiver Data site.)
Besides the difference from running 100 watts compared to 5 watts is an S9 signal compared to an S7 signal. That’s it. Two S units. If you weren’t watching your S meter your ears would never be able to tell the difference.
Now this isn’t necessarily a rig I’d recommend as your first rig but it’s a contender even though it doesn’t have any controls and is fixed on one frequency only (thus the low price). But it does have a built-in keyer and honestly there is something very nice about listening to a direct conversion radio. There are none of the artifacts generated by radios that use IFs to change the frequency of the radio or even SDR rigs that used a computer’s soundboard and tons of processing.
First many if not most QRP rigs come as kits. You’ll need a soldering station and some basic tools but these will last you a lifetime.
When it comes to really simple kits you can’t get much simpler than a Tuna Tin 2.
This transmitter only runs 330 milliwatts (1/3 watt) and needs a receiver and an antenna to make lots of contacts on 7030 kHz the QRP watering hole on 40 meters, I’ve got one and it actually works. Takes an hour or so to assemble.
Next up there’s the slightly more sophisticated rig I really like which is my HB1A (aka the Ten Tec R4020). This 5-watt dual-band (40 and 20 meters) vfo controlled rig has a built-in keyer (it can also take a straight key) and runs off internal or external batteries or a 12-volt power supply. It has a variable filter and can hear sideband as well as CW although it only transmits CW. It originally cost around $200 and there’s a new four-band model at $300 but used you might find a used HB1A around $100 or so. Really good rig for the $ but early versions had reliability issues as it was made in China.
A new all-band CW/SSB rig out of China, the X1M Pro is about to be replaced by a seven-band version.
QRP is an excellent solution to finding a nice rig for very little cash outlay. Have fun and hope to hear you on the bands.