OK, why would an amateur operator decide to operate with flea power when most hams are using much higher power? Well, stay tuned and I'll try to explain the allure of QRP.
Once you get into QRP'ing, you soon learn that most QRP'ers are very active on the air and many are also busy on the workbench building and tinkering with equipment.
There are many fun on-the-air operating activities each month. Some are short fun contests with crazy themes like the annual Zombie Sprint at Halloween, while others may be outside "Field Day" events. Also, there are weekly nets sponsored by several QRP clubs.
QRP'ers seldom lack excuses (opportunities) to get on the air, either for a short QSO or a fun operating event.
While you can certainly turn down the drive on an existing QRO rig and try out low power operation, most QRP'ers find that building kits or home brewing their own rigs is an exciting aspect of QRP. There are many vendors and clubs that are currently producing excellent kits designed for QRP'ers. There are probably more choices of rigs available now than ever before. Many of these kits are very economical and are easy to construct. Some are high performance rigs that rival and exceed the performance of the mainstream commercial rigs.
It's fun and easy to build kits and the finished rigs are capable of excellent on the air results. If they don't work or you have problems later, both the vendor and the multitude of hams on the Internet are an available resource to help get things going. Many QRP'ers become quite confident of working on their own rigs because they gained a good understanding of the circuit because they built the rig.
Want a challenge? Try home brewing a station accessory or a radio from scratch. The QRP club bulletins are loaded with projects that the average ham can build. You don't have to etch PC boards if you don't want to. By building with either "ugly" or "Manhattan" construction methods, rigs go together quickly and easily using basic hand tools.
Most of the current crop of QRP radios are very power efficient and can be operated from a small battery. You are not tied to the power lines when you go to the field or on a trip with your rig. A one or two watt rig can be operated for several hours from a AA battery pack and five watt rig will work all day (and then some) from a small gel cell battery.
It's very easy to toss a compact rig, antenna and battery into a backpack and operate from the great outdoors. Throw a wire up into a friendly tree and get on the air from the woods or the city park!
Likewise, a small rig fits into a suitcase easily for those trips across the country or to distant ports of call. Ever want to be the DX station? Pack along a QRP rig on that next trip overseas and see what it's like to operate from the other side of the pond.
Sure you can! It's actually pretty easy to make QSO's with low power. Let's make a short comparison between QRO and QRP:
Say you have a commercial rig that has an output of 100 Watts and you work someone who gives you a 589 report on CW. If you lower your power to 5 watts, you will be about 2 "S Units" lower and should be 569 copy. That's still solid copy.
The math for the above illustration if you're interested:
10 Watts compared to 100 Watts = 10 dB reduction
5 Watts compared to 10 Watts = 3 dB reduction
Total power reduction 10 dB + 3 dB = 13 dB
One "S Unit" = 6 dB, therefore 5 Watts is only about 2 "S units" lower than 100 Watts.
Put that 5 watts into a gain antenna (like a beam), you will be hard pressed to tell the difference between a 5 watt and a 100 watt station.
The FCC rules state that amateurs must use the minimum power necessary to carry out the desired communication. Based on this rule, it may be illegal to run 100 watts when only 5 or less is needed to make the QSO! Why create unnecessary QRM on the band when QRP will work.
I mentioned above that QRP rigs are power efficient. This means that your electric meter won't be spinning as fast when you are on the air. Also, you probably won't need to worry about RFI exposure problems. Your little 5 watt rig isn't going to be a RF hazard to your family or neighbors.
TVI and interference to consumer electronics devices in your home or neighborhood is unlikely. You can keep right on operating during TV's prime time hours and no one will notice!
Want a thrill? Try DX'ing with QRP for an adventure. Anyone can work Europe or Japan with one of those 100+ watt commercial rigs. Try it with a little battery powered QRP rig that you put together yourself for kicks! You will soon learn advanced operating techniques, like listening, timing your calls or selecting the best transmitting frequency.
One of the many popular activities is the QRP-L Fox Hunts where you have a two hour period to work the Fox, which is a QRP'er who volunteers to serve as the Fox station. The Fox tries to get as many QSO's possible during the two hours. The Hound (that's you) tries to get through the ensuing pile-up of 100 or more QRP'ers to be heard by the Fox. It is both fun and educational as you learn to bust pile-ups with a five watt or less transmitter. You will quickly learn pile-up techniques that will help earn you that rare DX QSO on the the bottom end of 20 meters.
QRP'ers also work to get every possible milliwatt into the air by minimizing feed line losses and using efficient antennas.
I've lost count, but there were a bunch of reasons above explaining why QRP is pretty neat, but the main reason to try QRP is my motto:
Put some FUN back into your radio. Try QRP!
This article is not copywrited. It may be freely reproduced and distributed as desired. Enjoy - - WØCH March 14, 2001