Sunday, April 03, 2016

A popular misconception

I saw this on Facebook:

Along with this comment:

"Why do we always congratulate the QRP operators...?!?! The ones who REALLY need congratulating are the guys/gals who smash the headphones to their head, desperately trying to make sense out of the distant RF they're hearing to make the QSO. The "skill" in QRP operation is not so much the operator employing it, but the operator trying to pull it out of the mud!"

So let's examine this for a bit ..... is this true?

A lot of times ..... yes.  A lot of time the credit should go to the stations that pull out our sometimes weak signals. And for these times, we offer a hearty "Thank You!"

However, there's a popular and stubborn misconception, or premise here at work here, if you will:

"QRP = Weak Signal"

Many times, this IS the case, but many times IT IS NOT.

This is where propagation and band conditions come into play, my friends.  And if you've spent any time at all on the HF bands, you would know better than to make the above statement, because a weak signal can be produced by any station. It's not necessarily an indicator of how much power they're running.

Many have been the times when I've had problems pulling a 100 Watt or better signal out of the muck. This could be due to the fact that the station I was trying to work was in the skip zone, the band on which we were working was only "so-so" that day, or for a plethora of other reasons.

Many have been the times when other QRPers have literally blown the cans off my ears with their 5 Watt signals (N9NE comes to mind, on a regular basis). So in the end, you really can't "'judge the book by its cover", nor make assumptions about the station based on the loudness of its signal.

The station that's pinning your needle just might be a QRPer, while the station that you can barely hear may be running a kilowatt.  It's all in the antenna, the band, and the ionosphere, and how all these elements are interacting at the moment.

So what's the lesson to be learned?  

1) Don't be afraid to try and work the weak ones.  I have been guilty of this myself.  There have been instances where I thought "Oh, this guy is never going to hear my 5 Watts!", only to find out that he was running 100 Watts, or better ........ but for whatever reason, he was hearing me much better than I was hearing him.

2) Propagation is not always reciprocal. (This is #1 in reverse.)  Just because the station you are hearing is 20 dB over 9 doesn't necessarily mean you will be heard equally as well at their end.  There may be a high background noise level on their end that you don't know about.  Yes, it IS frustrating as all get out, but don't beat yourself up because the "loud one" didn't hear you. Sometimes, it just works out that way.

3) Power is relative, but it's not an absolute. So as I've said so many times before, you should just forget that you're a QRPer. You're just another fish in the Amateur Radio sea. A smaller fish for sure, but just another fish. And sometimes, just sometimes, the smaller fish gets away with snagging the bait and swimming away to play another day, while the big fish gets snagged by the hook and ends up on the dinner plate.

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


  1. Thanks for sharing that. I've been trying to understand more about QRP and this corrected me on some things.

  2. Good evening Larry, I have to remind myself of your point 3, all to often I get hung up on my power being QRP and just that idea in my head sets up limits that should not be there.
    73, Mike

  3. Well stated! And, just because your QRP signal doesn't appear on the RBN site, doesn't mean you are not being heard by someone out there.

  4. Some times to work QRP u need to forget you're QRP

  5. Nice post, Larry. I would like to add that there are so many more aspects to this scenario, ala Jeff Foxworthy style (my apologies for using the "he" pronoun in advance, of course I mean to include YLs, too):

    If a ham is using his Heathkit radio from the 1950s...he might be a QRP station.
    If a ham inherited some QRP equipment...he might be a QRP station.
    If a ham soldered up a transceiver kit (Rockmite, Heathkit, KX1, etc.)...he might be a QRP station.
    If a ham has a poor antenna or poor antenna options...he might be a QRP station.
    If a ham can't afford a "Big Time Operator" rig and a Yagi atop a 100' Rohn tower...he might be a QRP station.
    If a ham station is located in an area where QRO may interfere with monitoring instruments, such as in an assisted living facility, dorm, or apartment building...he might be a QRP station.
    Finally, if a ham typically doesn't want to fish with sticks of dynamite, use a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack, or call in a backhoe to plant a tulip bulb...he might be a QRP station.

    There are so many reasons a station might be QRP, and while life may be too short for QRP, I would say life would really get boring if I had a nearly 100% guarantee that my QRO signal was being heard throughout the world all the time. I like a challenge. I know that I am not any less of a ham than someone with a kilowatt amp, and I don't mind that they are using that sort of equipment. I enjoy working strong stations, but I particularly enjoy working weak stations more. As a hobby, I enjoy making contact with someone who has taken the time to make their own antenna, perhaps assembled their own transmitter, maybe even a separate receiver, and is trying to make contact with affordable equipment. I would love to have the latest Elecraft, Yaesu, Kenwood, etc., but any contact I make with my KX1 and homebrew, inverted V antenna is much more rewarding to me than one I would make with QRO equipment.