Thoughts on QRP, QRO

I’ve accumulated a lot of QRP rigs over the years with most of them having been built from kits. But after 33 years in the hobby, 2011 was the year I became QRO-capable.

I suppose it’s human nature that we categorize ourselves and each other.

For years, I thought of myself as a QRPer. I took pride in that label but now I can no longer use it. Or can I? After all, I like both tea and coffee. My garage contains a Ford and a Toyota. My laptop contains MP3’s by George Strait and Coldplay.

I don’t like labels because I don’t fit into either of them. Few, if any, do. Whenever I hear a QRO op saying the tired old “Life’s too short for QRP” refrain, I’m reminded of my own experiences in QRP and how those experiences not only enriched the hobby for me but my non-ham life as well.

Fully 90% of the hams I know in person, I met through QRP. I believe QRP is more social than any other aspect of the hobby. QRP has taken me on backpacking trips I wouldn’t have gone on otherwise. Many were solo trips that, due to having a tiny radio along, weren’t solo.

The homebuilt rigs…all QRP. Fun to build, fun to operate. And working Europe with an AA battery-powered ATS-3 on 80 meters – what a hoot!

Life’s too short for QRP? Whenever I hear that, I listen politely while my inner shrink diagnoses the speaker as a small-minded bore.

And now to QRO:

I know with almost absolute certainty that ST0R on 40 meters and 4W6A on 80 meters wouldn’t be decorating my logbook if I were limited to 100 watts. Ditto for Lesotho and Swaziland on 20 meters. Horrendous pile-ups for the first two; iffy, weak paths for the latter.

They wouldn’t be in the log without a kilowatt.

Many QRP’ers have their own refrain for those who use more power than the QRP’ers think they should with their tiresome proclamation that “You shouldn’t use that much power”, usually said in a preachy, Prius-owner type of holier than thou rant. For them to be correct, I’d have to have the same goals as them. I don’t.

They bitch about splatter, saving the earth and being green. In other words, they’re perfectly content in imposing their beliefs on others. They haven’t worked 200 countries on 80 meters, therefore I shouldn’t either.

Obviously I’m talking about the extremes of each category where idiocy becomes visible rather than just suspect. Fortunately, most hams are balanced and take a more harmonious view of all that the hobby offers. QRP and QRO have enriched the hobby for me in ways unique to each of them.

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  16 comments for “Thoughts on QRP, QRO

  1. January 4, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Well said John,

    I’ve worked well over 150 countries with QRP. With 100w it’s almost 100 more than that. There is a time and place for high, low and QRP power.

    When a new one comes along, I try to get him in the log using high power (100w for me!) and then go after them on other bands with QRP.

    Almost all my early gear was QRP. Not because that’s what I wanted but because it was easy to find tubes like 6AG7’s….. made nice Xtal controlled Osc’s. Link coupled to an antenna and key the cathode. Wheeeeee!! Heck, I even ran 2 watts of AM on ten meters and worked the world. As a young kid I didn’t know that it was supposed to be hard to do that!

    Started in 1952 and just a few weeks ago, in the ARRL 10m contest, I ran some CW at the club station. There was an amp. Ran about 800w out. First time I ever did that. What a blast. A bit of power and a nice antenna and people came back to me on the first call most of the time. That was fun, but so was the visit. Spent way to much time visiting and not much in the contest but we did have fun!

    I was very lucky to have been the editor for the QRP ARCI Quarterly for about 3 1/2 years. That opened up the door to met so many very, very nice people. QRPers do have fun!

    But so do contesters no matter what power level they use. Ditto with DXers and all the other groups.

    There sure is something magic about making your own rig and using it, be it a kit or one you designed from the bottom up.

    My newest “kit” is the KX3 that is on order….. hurry up and ship guys…. I’m excited!

    Becoming a Ham is the second best thing I have ever done. Marrying the great little gal I did is the #1 thing! Still going strong after 53+ years. Have had my license for 60 years this month.

    • January 5, 2012 at 12:04 am

      Thanks for your comments Ron – I’ve been following them for years on QRP-L and have always found them to be based on real-world wisdom – something that’s often in short supply.

  2. Jerry N4EO
    January 4, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    I like dogs and one of my best friends like cats and he’s a ham. We get along, but our animal friends don’t. At home in Tennessee I take glee in working ZL with a 1/2 watt RockMite on 14.060. The other part of that story is my 4-L wide spaced monoband Yagi at 110 feet. Here in Iraq, my QRP tree, the mulberry, supports a few wires at less than 35 feet in EFHW configurations. Running a K-3 with 100 watts presents challenges to ears at both ends of the propagation pike when distances exceed 3000-4000 miles. So which is pure QRP?
    Perhaps neither, but that doesn’t stop the fun.

    • January 5, 2012 at 8:30 am

      Jerry, I hope my time in front of the radio will one day coincide with yours and good conditions. And don’t forget to let us all know when your license renewal comes through!

  3. January 5, 2012 at 2:50 am

    Hello John, a nice “yin yang” story :-). As for me, I like all things radio. And that’s not limited to QRP alone. I would love to work with a KW some time. It’s just that I don’t have the finances to buy such a thing. Actually I never missed any DX QSO that would be made with a KW, it’s always my feeling that my antenna is just not good or high enough. Besides that we are depending on propagation, without it you even cannot make a QSO to the other side of the world with 100KW. On the other hand if you’re using a good antenna and QRO and you keep the stations coming to you in a pile-up it gives a rush for shure. I think that’s what you try to tell us…..there are always both sides. 73, Bas

    • January 5, 2012 at 8:15 am

      Bas, I envy your Yagi and keep thinking of ways to add one here. In fact, a guy is going to call me later this morning with a price estimate for installation on an 18m tower. And of course N7EIE’s idea…

  4. January 5, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Well said John. Rather than the battle calls of “Life is too short for QRP/QRO” (insert name of individual religion here), I think I’d rather go with “Life is too short for personal dogma”.

    I’m nowhere near as accomplished with my ham radio achievements as you John but I’m going to allow myself to go from 5W to 100W at some point in the future – either when I’ve achieved QRP CW WAS (4 states away) or QRP CW DXCC (still only 23 confirmed – shockingly low I know).

    I think it would be grand to have gain antennas up at 200 feet with the full legal limit. Some say that life would be too easy with that kind of firepower but I disagree. If life becomes too easy, it just means you haven’t set your goals high enough. There’s always a station to be worked that requires just a tiny bit more antenna gain, receiver performance, or transmitter power.

    • January 5, 2012 at 8:18 am

      Dave, I’m not “accomplished” – I’ve simply been at it a while. And you are accomplished in the detail and focus you bring to your home construction projects. I’ve never seen anything built or photographed with more attentiveness – ever.

      I was starting to wonder what happened to you…you finished your K2 and then haven’t posted anything new to your blog in a month. Actually, it all makes perfect sense!

  5. January 5, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Good morning John, I may as well throw my two cents in here….for the longest time I was a QRO op. I then moved to an antenna restricted area and was forced to drop it too 100 watts….then with the attic antenna and wanting to keep my hamming under wraps I am now QRP and QRPp. I will admit I was not thrilled at all with going QRP at first. I thought I was bound to making North American contacts only. I have been very surprised at how well a QRP signal can go. Having said that would I have more in the log if I was still QRO…..yes is the answer. So as for someone who had to go QRP I am having fun but QRO is always possible if I move to a radio friendly area.

    • January 5, 2012 at 8:21 am

      It was exactly those circumstances that proved to me the effectiveness & value of QRP – operating & maintaining a low profile. That in turn led to me embracing QRP in all the kits and outdoor operation that it lends itself to.

  6. January 5, 2012 at 7:31 am

    Hi John,

    A very well written, thought provoking post.

    I think I can safely say that I am a huge fan of QRP. To me it is not really only about the low power it is all that it entails. Most of the QRP folk build their own equipment; they are forever experimenting with antennas or some or other gadget.

    Recently I acquired an amplifier; initially felt guilty using it, almost like I was cheating. However, if conditions are marginal then the only way to have a successful QSO is to use the amp, it works!

    Having said that, the pleasure I get from having a short QRP QSO, preferably two-way QRP QSO is most satisfying and memorable. Especially so, if the QSO was conducted by using a minimalistic setup: A tiny homebuilt transceiver powered by a few penlight batteries and a temporary wire antenna and paddle of course.

    Keep up the good work….

    73, Pierre ZS6A

    • January 5, 2012 at 8:24 am

      Pierre, to your points, I’d add that QRP is an excellent training platform. A DXer gets a better sense of band conditions and technique when using a self-imposed (or externally imposed) power restriction. Factors that may not manifest themselves at higher power become obvious at QRP. Learning how to overcome them serves the operator well at all power levels.

  7. January 5, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Hey John,

    Great post (as usual!). I agree, there’s nothing like balance. Even if you’re a dedicated QRPer or a dedicated QROer, it’s a choice that YOU (not you personally, but whomever) made. If it works for you fine, if it doesn’t, don’t bash the other guy. We’re not talking brain surgery or a cure for cancer here – just a hobby.

    The same courtesy that you speak of needs to also be extended to the other “arguments” – contesting/non-contesting, SSB/CW, etc, etc.

    Maybe the quote should be, “Life’s too short to sweat what the other guy is doing – enjoy what you’re doing and leave well enough alone.”

    • January 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      My point exactly. Read the last sentence of this post and ponder the arrogance required to have made it, by someone who in all likelihood would prefer to be thought of as an open-minded champion of diversity, etc. That said, it is human nature for use to categorize and be hypocrites. I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself, though hopefully not so shamelessly.

  8. January 6, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Yes, yes! Hurrah to your post and all the comments! Myself, I’ve learned that QRP is a mindset that cannot be defined with metrics. I challenge myself to finding that outrageously scenic and beautiful outdoors “spot” and operating my backpacked rig and antenna, enjoying the best of both worlds, the qsos with QRP friends and the stunning beauty of a great location.
    I thoroughly enjoy hiking, mountain-topping, backcountry treks in rain forest or sea shore. The icing on the cake is a reward of qrp operation and the inevitable “You are where?!!! Wow! Sounds like fun…..!” exclamation. And a great location makes up for the 5 watt signal, especially when you can put up a small antenna on a 3,000 “tower”, aka mountain top! And the coup de grace is sharing that experience with like-minded friends, on either end of the connection! The older (and hopefully wiser) we get, the more life’s adventures become about the stories we collect and are then able to tell. So go out and start creating those “stories”! 72, Guy

    • January 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

      Guy, you certainly practice what you preach and I’m sorry I won’t be able to join you at VP5M but I have made up my mind to work you guys while QRP and outdoors from the Wichita Mountains since I’ll be there on a biz trip while yall are soaking up the sun in Montserrat. I’ll be using my QRP+ for its all-band (and split) capability.

      My consolation prize in not being able to go with you guys is a choice between 2 other radio-related themes. I’ll probably post about that next in a “thinking out loud” write-up.

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