Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Whither QRP?

My very first transmitter in 1972 used an 807 final, managing perhaps 40 watts. That was as close to QRP I got since, like many, I believed that bigger was better. Provided my budget and living arrangements permitted it, every station change since then was a step upward. That is, until 1992 when I abandoned the hobby for other things.

When I returned to air in 2013 after 20 years on inactivity I decided to do so in the smallest way possible: low power and no outdoor antennas. Since my venerable FT-102 was not working I chose to purchase a KX3. QRP fit the bill at the time since I could play around and test my renewed interest in the hobby, and do so without any risk of EMI at home or in the neighbourhood. The first antenna was the aluminum eaves trough winding around the roof of my two-story house.

After a few months with the eaves trough antenna I went on to build better antennas and (necessarily) reintroduce neighbours to my old hobby. Despite subsequent antenna size increases I stuck with QRP because I came to enjoy the idea of doing big things with little power. That is, the challenge motivated me to stay active.

More importantly it kept amateur radio as a hobby, one where I was no longer obsessed with "bigger is better" and feeling obliged to do well at DX and contests. The pressure was off. The old imperatives don't take hold of my mind as they once did. If I up my power I don't think it'll corrupt my thinking. Thus I firmly set the acquisition of a new rig and more power in my 2015 plan.

I have accomplished quite a bit with QRP and a small antenna farm over the past nearly-two years. My updated DXCC totals as of early January are posted at right. Compare these with my results at the time I dismantled my station in preparation for the new tower and yagi.

My contest results have also been good, and can be found by a search at 3830. All my results are with QRP, 10 watts for daily operating and 5 watts in contests.

What's driving me away from QRP is the plateau I'm experiencing. I've reached the point of diminishing returns, especially in my primary interests of DXing and contesting. Even with the tri-band yagi my DXCC count only increased 20 entities over the past several months. I can eke out more with my current setup but I have to admit it is becoming fatiguing. My predicament has gotten worse with my foray onto 80 meters where working much within North America with QRP is difficult, let alone DX. A better antenna would help but I can't do much more with for low band antennas at this QTH.

With the inevitable decline of sunspots, increased geomagnetic activity and a renewed emphasis on low bands the limits of QRP are evident. Further, I don't believe that I have anything to prove by persisting with QRP. Consequently the following box has found a home in my shack this week.

This is the Yaesu FT-1000MP Mark V Field. According to the serial number it is 13 years old. It should be obvious that I purchased it used. It needs some cabling and modification to integrate well into my station and meet my operating needs. I have put it on the air for several QSOs and proved what a 10 db power boost can accomplish. I muscled through a 40 meters pile-up and worked a weak UA0 on 15 meters that I otherwise would not attempt with 10 watts.

Getting this rig is about more than power. The KX3, wonderful though it is, has its limits. Most of these are in the receiver. There is only so much performance you can get with direct conversion and DSP filtering. I plan to write a comparison of the KX3 as a base station and DX/contest rig versus the FT-1000MP in a future article, and why I selected this particular transceiver.

I can now also enjoy SSB, which is not often possible with QRP. In retrospect it's a shame I chopped off the Yaesu 8-pin connector from my Heil headset. I will have to make an adaptor so that I can use the 3.5 mm mic plug on the headset with both radios.

The KX3 is not going anywhere! I like it, so it stays. I will now have two rigs in my shack. This also does not mean that I am done with QRP. I remain uncertain whether it is a good idea to run 100 watts at all times. I lean towards staying with QRP for the remainder of this season's contests. I might use the KX3 in contests or the FT-1000MP with the power turned down to 5 watts.

Once I have the new rig sufficiently integrated with station hardware and software I intend to push my DX progress. I will not separately catalogue my DXCC count as QRP. Therefore the table above is my final tally for purely QRP DXCC. What I will do is stick with the count starting with my return to the hobby in 2013. This is more meaningful to me than sorting through mounds of records and QSL cards from the distant past. I enjoy DXing, not the collection of certificates. I have in fact never applied for the DXCC award.

While I proceed to enjoy the power boost I will wait and see if any of my neighbours notices.

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