I got a really nice e-mail from Todd, KK7WB, who is getting back into Amateur Radio after being away for a bit. He wants to get back on to HF; but doesn't want to spend a king's ransom in the process. So he has decided to go the QRP route. Simple equipment that won't drive him into bankruptcy is an attractive thought; but ...... will it work? Can it be fun? As Todd put it, "With this being the solar minimum how successful has QRP been for you? Is it still worth your time go get on the air and do you make many contacts at all?"
Here's my answer; and the reason I'm posting it is because there are probably some folks out there who think "That W2LJ talks a good game; but I'll bet he goes running for the 100W rig first thing when the chips are down!" Not true! In fact nothing could be further from the truth!
How successful has QRP been for me? VERY! Since 2003 I am 100% QRP. I clung to my QRO rig for a few years after the switch over; but sold that off about 3 years ago. I own a K1 and then laboriously saved up enough for a K2. It took me a while, but I finally did it.
QRP has been a lot of fun and continues to be. I have been a Ham for 30 years now, first licensed in 1978. I can say without fear of lying that QRP has been the most fun in Amateur Radio that I have ever had.
I think the trick in becoming successful with QRP is just learning to forget that you're running QRP. To me it's just Amateur Radio. I have learned that even while running 5 Watts, your signal is going to be loud SOMEWHERE. I get my share of 449 and 559 RSTs; but I also get my share of 589 and 599 RSTs, also. In fact, I got a 599 from a guy in Williamsburg, VA once who would just not believe that I was using a Rockmite at 500 mW! My antennas are nothing exotic - a G5RV at about 25 feet and a ground mounted Butternut HF9V vertical.
Now before I go painting a picture that's all butterflies and roses, there will be times your QRP signal won't do the trick; and there are times you will get frustrated. I find those times to be a distinct minority, though; especially if you're blessed with the virtue of patience. If you learn how propagation works; and you learn how to work DX, you'll get your share of that, too. DO NOT try to work DXpeditions the first few days out - work them towards the end when THEY are begging for contacts. Jump into a DX contest on the 2nd day - you'll be amazed how many foreign stations will listen for a weaker signal when there's points to be had!
I have found ragchews to not be a problem - with one caveat. I rarely mention I'm running QRP. If you just let a ragchew flow, they can last a long time. I have had nice ragchews busted up because all of a sudden I have QSBed ONLY AFTER I mentioned I was running QRP! I think it can be psychological on the receiving end! Plus, unfortunately, you're going to run into ops who will just not QSO with anyone who puts out less than a 599 signal; but then it takes all kinds to make up this world we live in.
As far as the sunspot cycle goes, if the bands are dead - they're gonna be dead whether you're QRO or QRP. If you can't seem to make a contact; then it's time to go build something or read a book or QST or something. But I would urge you to go take a look at John Shannon K3WWP's Website if you haven't already. John is a special individual for sure; but he really proves that QRP works. He's made at least one QRP QSO a day for like the past 5000 days or something like that - we're talking YEARS here! And he doesn't own a tower or beam. He uses all simple wire antennas; and I'm pretty sure that 1/2 of his longwire is inside his house!
As far as rigs go, simple inexpensive ones will yield as good results as fancy, expensive ones; and sometimes I think the contacts are more rewarding with the simpler ones. A side benefit of QRP is that since it tends to dwell on simpler rigs; it kinds hearkens back to our Amateur Radio roots when everything was homemade! I would urge you though, that if you're going to be using monoband rigs, rather than something that has multi- bands; that you get something for 20 and 40 Meters. Those are the two bands I operate with the most success, although on winter evenings, 80 Meters is quite workable, too.
Lastly, the QRP fraternity is truly special. I have made close friendships with several Hams that I never even met in person! I consider them to be amongst some of my best friends. For the most part, QRPers are extra special friendly and very supportive, helpful and generous. For the life of me, I can't explain why - it just seems to be that way.
Don't worry about being QRP, Todd. If you don't consider it to be a handicap; then it won't be. Put up the best antenna you can (even if it's just a random hunk o' wire) and get whatever rig you can on the air and start having fun. You might not be able to work everyone you hear; but believe me, you'll start filling up your logbook quicker that you would have imagined!
Everything I said there, I believe in 100% I realize QRP is not for everyone; but for those of you out there who can't get on the air any other way; but remain skeptical - "Let not your heart be troubled". You WILL have fun!
73 de Larry W2LJ