Thursday, January 26, 2012

Stupidity and inspiration

Argh!  Sometimes I feel like such a dolt!

80 Meters was quite vacant again tonight.  Spinning the dial, up and down, looking for someone to talk with.  I hear a loud station down near 3.511 MHz calling CQ.  Notice that I said I heard a loud station calling CQ.  But as it turns out, I didn't listen!

The operator was Car N3AS and when I called him, he politely chatted with me for a few minutes.  We exchanged the usual pleasantries and the QSO was very brief.  After we bade our good-byes, Car starts to call CQ again.  But this time, I was truly listening, and I heard him calling "CQ DX".!!  He must have been wondering what kind of moron from W2 land would call a W3 station calling "CQ DX"?  And he would have every right to think of me as an idiot - I had made the classic mistake of hearing, but not listening.

I felt about an inch tall. A QSL card with an apology will be going out this weekend.

Then I got a totally unrelated inspiration for a topic of discussion.  I get many private e-mails with regard to the contents of this blog.  And of all the questions that I get asked, the one I receive most often is (generic), "Larry, how do I get started in QRP and how can I do it in the least expensive way?"

And that's when it hit me that I never really covered this.

The answers are many - it's almost like asking 100 different people what their favorite ice cream flavor is - you're going to get 100 different answers.  But there are some basics that we can cover.

First and foremost, the easiest and most inexpensive way to get started in QRP is to use the radio you already have!  Yes, most (if not all) modern rigs will let you turn down your output power to 5 Watts.  And as we all know, 5 Watts for CW and 10 Watts for SSB is considered to be QRP.  If your rig will not go that low, then you can hook up an attenuator between the output connector and the antenna.  This will effectively get you down to QRP levels.  In fact, I just recently posted about the new attenuator that is being offered by Hendricks QRP Kits.  Of course, if you have a decently stocked junk box you can easily roll your own with parts you may already have.  Googling RF Attenuators is a good place to start.  I believe that John K3WWP covers this quite nicely at his Website.  Going this route, you can have a full featured radio that you're already comfortable with for QRP.

For those of you who truly desire a dedicated QRP radio, there are several ways to go.  Pre-owned (as the car commercials call it) or new.  By keeping your eye on eBay, QRP-L, QRZ classifieds and eHam classifieds, you can probably find an HW-8, or a Ten Tec Argonaut or any of a myriad of used QRP rigs for sale.  One tip that is not generally known ..... if you can find yourself a used Icom IC-730 at a decent price, you might want to consider it.  There's a pot under the top cover that will allow you to set the minimum output of this radio to as low as 100 mW without affecting the 100W top setting.  I had one until I foolishly sold it a few years ago.

Another thing to keep in mind.  As the Elecraft KX3 becomes available, there just might be more and more K1s, K2s and KX1s coming on the re-sale market. Those of us without deep pockets have to find some way of financing a new purchase!

If money is a real problem, but you still want to be involved in QRP without taking out a second mortgage, there are alternatives.  Building a kit is one of them.  Dave Benson, owner of Small Wonder Labs offers several kits that will yield you a high quality radio when you are done building, without breaking the bank. Another source to consider is Rex Harper's QRPMe kits  Rex offer Tuna Tin 2s, companion receivers and accessories at amazingly low prices.  Yes, these aren't deluxe-do-everything radios, but if your budget is tight, sometimes you have to go with what you can.

If you can spend a little more, then there is always the aforementioned Hendricks QRP Kits, Elecraft and Oak Hills Research for more expensive, but more feature packed radio kits. And I am sure there are others that I have not mentioned here - again, you can always Google "QRP kits" and do some exploring yourself.

The bottom line is that QRP can be as expensive or inexpensive as you want it to be.  But the great thing about this facet of Amateur Radio is that a huge, horse choking bank roll is not needed to get started or to keep enjoying it.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!

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