Sunday, May 17, 2009

Working All 50

I've been asked by a few folks, "How did you work all 50 States on just 5 Watts?"

It's not as difficult as it sounds or seems. Let me see if I can coherently offer some advice or tips.

My equipment for this effort consisted of three different rigs, an Elecraft K1, an Elecraft K2 and a Rockmite 40. The antennas used were a G5RV, a Butternut HF9V, a homebrewed Buddipole, a homebrewed PAC-12 and Hamsticks on top of my car. Nothing exotic or as titillating as stacked Yagis on a 100 foot tower. Power out was anywhere from 250 milliWatts to the full boat 5 Watts; and all contacts were made via CW.

First thing you have to get out of your mind is that this task is insurmountable. It isn't by any means. You will get your share of 339 reports; but you will also get, "UR 599, UR REALLY 5W?" Even though you're using 5 Watts or less, your signal will usually be loud to someone, somewhere. I've never bought into the theory that all QRP signals are necessarily weak signals. I've worked enough QRPers who have blown the headphones off my ears to know that's just a myth.

Use propagation to your advantage. 80 Meters at night will get you the states close to you. 40 Meters during the Winter evenings can easily cover the entire Continental US. 20 Meters will get you the distant ones, also. There's an appropriate band for every season. By getting on the air on a regular basis, you will soon get a feel for what's what.

Get in on the action and use the QRP Sprints to your advantage! Every month you have the ARS Spartan Sprint, the NAQCC Sprint, the Flying Pigs Run For The Bacon that you can use as tools to help you work all 50. All these Sprints have regular participants from all over the country. If you're new to this endeavor, you can get on a QRP Sprint; and if conditions are decent, you can walk away with 20 or 25 different states under your belt on your first try!

And you don't need to limit yourself to these. The ARRL's Sweepstakes and the ARRL and CQ DX Contests will help you work the harder ones. For me on the East Coast, Alaska and Hawaii were the most difficult, and I worked these during contests. Remember, Alaska and Hawaii count as different DX entities and there always seem to be operators from these two states on during the major contests. Also remember to take advantage of the individual State QSO Parties. You can check the N2CQ Contest Calendar on a regular basis to see which state is running its party when.

Get on the air! You're not going to work 'em all by not being behind the radio! Calling CQ, or answering CQs and just having ragchews was how I got Rhode Island and Delaware, two more of the "rarer" ones in the log. If you don't want to get involved with any of the contests, that's fine too. There's no reason to think that you can't work all 50 just by "plain ol' vanilla" QSOs. You can, but remember, it might take longer that way.

If you have multiple antennas, use them to your advantage. Let's say you're in Florida and you hear Alaska running QSOs like a DXpedition. You call and call on your dipole with no luck. Have a vertical? Try it! The lower signal take off angle just might do the trick. It might take a couple of hours of continued calling to work that "rare one" that day - and if you don't work him, don't be frustrated. There will be another time and another opportunity.

So be patient and don't get discouraged. Remember, it's not an issue of if you can do WAS QRP ..... the issue is how long will it take you to complete WAS QRP. It will probably not take you as long as you think; and if the sunspots start coming back soon, it might be even quicker than that!

73 de Larry W2LJ


  1. Thanks for the tips. Sort of a "just do it" sort of thing then. I'm always impressed with any QRP contact actually, the sheer audacity of 5W and the magic of CW.

  2. Thanks for the article, a good read. I still haven't upgraded from my Technician nor have I mastered receiving CW (can send okay) but I've built some antennas and been listening on my Yaesu FT-817nd, heard a lot of the Western states on it. I was curious about if it would be more difficult to get all 50 since I'm in California, but then I saw you were an East coaster and still got Hawaii and Alaska, so I guess that answered my questions!

    Dan Dawson, KI6ESH

  3. I routinely worked CO to the east and west coasts on around half a watt. Had to get up into the mountains to get away from the noise, but that was half the fun! Thanks for nice blog!