Successful QRP Contesting

Well I did it.

I competed in the Radio Amateurs of Canada’s Winter Day Contest using only my NorCal 40 set at just under two watts and my NorCal 40 set at five watts.image

Despite sharing the NorCal name, the rigs are very different from each other but both acquitted themselves very well in the contesting environment. While not covering the entire CW portion of the bands both rigs cover enough of the bands to make it easy to search and pounce.

Sure this isn’t as good as having a rig that covers the entire band but it sure beats xtal control like on my CRK-10a which is locked on 7030.

So let’s get down to it. Technically how did the rigs work out? CRK10A

The NorCal 40 and 20 were designed differently and my subjective feel for them is I like the NorCal 40’s receiver a little bit more than the NorCal 20’s. It seems quieter but that could have been the band conditions. Having said that, if memory serves me right I think the NorCal 20’s QSK is smoother and one of my 20s has lots of mods (variable RIT, loud speaker, paddle/straight key input).

Both rigs are more than sensitive enough, able to hear just about anything my big rigs can hear and certain they can hear signals that are strong enough to hear me at QRP levels.

Both rigs are selective enough to contest. I’d love a better crystal filter in the circuit but that would add complexity and cost which isn’t actually needed. I could have added one of my digital audio filters to the headphone output but I never really needed the extra help.

The NorCal 20 has the 10-turn potentiometer mod which makes tuning much smoother and offers lots more mechanical bandwidth. It also has a CW enunciator that when pushed tells you in CW your frequency. And while both rigs have memory keyer chips, only one (the NorCal 20) has two CW memory spots.

The memory message buttons are a little tough to hit and to make fire at the right time in the heat of the contest so for both rigs I used my Idiom Press LogiKeyer which worked flawlessly.

One issue is neither rig has AGC. Both have RF control knobs so you can control the amount of RF gain but when Harry, VA3EC, fired up his 100 rig on the frequency of a guy I was trying to work it was a painful experience in the headphones. Nicely though, the NorCal 40 didn’t overload and Harry’s signal couldn’t be heard anywhere off his operating frequency. Hadn’t expected the rigs to have this much rejection.

So how did I do?

On both bands I worked around 45 Qs. While that’s not a lot, it’s pretty good for the 12 hours I was on the RAC Winter Contest doing search and pounce with a limited bandwidth at 2 and 5 watts. This suggests that a single-band operation on one of the big contests would yield a much more impressive score.

BTW the two watt rig worked as well as the five-watt setup and as well as my 100-watt rig. I can say this with some assuridy as almost all of the Qs were made without the need to repeat anything. A few that needed repeats were Qs at the prevailing noise level and while physics says the 100 rig will be several S-units stronger, the two-watt rig still got the job done.

Seriously folks I used to be a QRO contester (800 watts) and if I was running and had a station located on higher ground, up in the country, I’d be running QRO for some contests especially if they were SSB tests. Remember your basic 100-watt station is a much more lethal contester than most people realize or take advantage of especially when it comes to CW or digital contests.

Having said that consider building or buying (I paid $40 assembled for one of my NorCal 20s at the Dayton flea market) a fairly robust QRP rig and using a resonant antenna.

This is essential. Non-resonant antennas like badly cut off-frequency dipoles, 43-foot verticals feed with a autotunes at the base, or other similar contraptions can’t compete with even a simple dipole that exhibits a 1:1 SWR and is fed directly with a low-loss cable like LMR-400.

If getting a properly cut antenna up is an issue, consider the higher bands like 20, 15 or even 10 for a single-band operation. Regardless of where we are in the propagation cycle, all of these higher bands usually have some activity during the big contests. !0 and 15 often close during the night time hours so you can get a good eight hours sleep as well.

Antennas such as single-band dipoles or even commercial radial-less verticals like the Cushcraft R-5 or R-3 which can be erected just about anywhere using a single mounting pole will surprise you with how well they can radiate a few watts of signal when cut properly. (I recently worked VK and JA using a ground-mounted Butternut clone HF-6 at 5 watts just to show it can be done.)

The difference between QRO, 100-watt low power and QRP contesting isn’t as great as some fear. The basics of building a competitive contesting station apply regardless of power. In fact, QRP contesting requires a flawless installation of hardware and a similarly flawless implementation of good contesting procedures.

Regardless of the power level, anything less will lead to frustration…trust me, I know 🙂

Xmas WAX Present

I follow a lot of Ham Radio websites, groups and email reflectors and there’s a ton of great information on many of them.WAX logo final

A new one to me is the Barrie Wireless Amateur Experimenter Group (WAX Group). WAX consists of a bunch of Hams in Barrie, Ontario who like to get together to talk about and build different projects.

Meeting at a local Tim Horton’s coffee shop the group is growing and if you’re in the Barrie area (about 60 kms north of Toronto on Hwy. 400) why not drop by and say hello.

The website has got tons of great links. Check it out. This is good stuff. (If Ham Radio is getting old for you, look at this page of 100+ Things to do in Ham Radio!)


Dave, VE3JX, has sent us a lengthy, thoughtful and welcomed reply to my last post: Whiners, complainers and do-nothingers and I’ve taken some time to reflect on it before replying to his points.

Dave suggests (read the reply yourself as I’m paraphrasing and leaving a lot out for brevity’s sake) I tone down my complaints about Radio Amateurs of Canada.

He’s right of course. What I should do is quit writing and walk away. It would be better for all concerned expect of course the future of Amateur Radio in Canada. Besides what RAC doesn’t get is they should treasure and embrace their critics as we are still engaged. Hundreds, no thousands of other Canadian Hams have just given up in frustration and have gone silent.

Dave suggests it might be better if I and people like me did something positive to help correct the problems that plague RAC and “start or continue a positive discussion.” It’s a nice idea but Dave, like many others, may not understand what’s wrong. So let’s begin another journey into the heart of darkness as I see it.

Dave makes some very nice comments about my time as the VP of PR for RAC and I do thank Dave for adding these words as I didn’t hear much praise when I was there. If fact, one guy continually went out of his way to protect anything that was in place regardless of how broken and actively resisted and sabotaged anything that was offered that was new. Social media efforts and John, HK3C’s CQ Canada initiative come to mind. Frustrating to say the least but the ability to work together obviously wasn’t one of the requirements of being on the RAC leadership team.

And that’s at the heart of the issue as far as I’m concerned. RAC is a dysfunctional organization because of the lack of a functional empowering leadership team that knows the difference between serving the members as opposed to governing them.

ARES is falling apart across Canada for exactly the same reason. And essentially it comes down to a lack of talent at the top which causes great frustration among all those other talented and dedicated volunteers who find their efforts are frustrated – even sabotaged at every turn and eventually just leave never to be heard of again.

Dave suggests a club of clubs concept might be the answer. I would caution that RAC is already being run as club where all none members just aren’t represented. If RAC is to be truly a national organization it has to represent all Canadian Amateur Radio operators whether they are members or not. This is essential.

Here’s what I’d suggest:

  1. RAC proclaim itself the national organization that represents ALL Canadian amateurs (and not as some board members have declared only paid-up members which is an organizational model which just isn’t working)
  2. Develop a vision and mission statement and post it and put deadline dates on it
  3. Develop a list of the top 10 actions to be taken in 2015 and form committees empowered to proceed
  4. Reestablish our relationship with Industry Canada
  5. Give away the excellent digital The Canadian Amateur online and drop the print edition. In this way we’ll attract many, many more new members as nobody bought a RAC membership just to get TCA
  6. Fix the damn website. It’s a disgrace and has been for a decade
  7. Put more energy into social media (Facebook and Twitter) to attract younger people
  8. Open a video channel and allow upload by Hams videos of meetings, workshops, product reviews, contest activity and special events
  9. Fix ARES by empowering the bottom-down approach (clubs lead the way)
  10. Start with a clean slate of board and executives

Now number 10 is the major impediment to implementing points one to nine. With the numbers of volunteers who are quitting RAC continuing unabated it may not be long before the organization just fails.

Then we can go back to the drawing board and starting with a new group of folks, have a look at what needs to be done to create a truly national organization that represents the interests of all Canadian Radio Amateurs and my work here will be done.

Whiners, Complainers and Do-Nothingers

It never fails to sadden me when I read or hear of some Amateur Radio “official” who upon retiring from his exalted volunteer position decries those who complain about those of us who dare complain about the state of Amateur Radio today.

What Sparky seems not to understand is those who complain are still engaged. It’s those who have given up and gone silent are the folks we should be concerned about.

But after many years of commenting, whining and complaining about the ineptitude of some and outright laziness of others “in charge”, I and many others, remain committed to creating a better future for Amateur Radio in Canada.

Now of course there are some very bright lights within our Amateur Radio community in Canada but the overall drag of having to deal with a dysfunctional organization makes it hard to see any progress or even hope.

And those who find themselves upset, might have been better purposed actually doing something rather than just taking up space or pretending that all is well and nothing needs fixing.

Men and women with integrity are leaving their posts at our national organization and our public service arm in droves. And I’m not talking about a handful, I mean a lot of good folks are leaving. Just check out the organizational charts of both groups. There are more vacancies in some cases than volunteers still on the job.

What does this movement away tell us?

It says that what we’ve got isn’t working. It’s time for a change.

I am hopeful that a new movement in Ontario to form a provincial organization finds its legs and gets going soon. And it can’t be soon enough for me and many like me.

It’s time for a change.