ad: L-HROutlet
ad: l-rl
ad: abrind-2
ad: L-MFJ
ad: Left-3
ad: HomeBrew-2
ad: Radclub22-2
ad: HamRadioPrep-1
ad: L-Geochron
ad: Left-2
Latest Awards
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued
United States Awards Issued

Issue #7 - For the Love of QRP

By Dave Jensen, W7DGJ


I remember my college years in rural Athens, Ohio, and how I used to keep a little fishing kit in the car. It didn’t qualify as a rod . . . it was just a few small pieces of bamboo that fit together and then collapsed back into a cardboard tube. While driving to school, this beautiful Ohio countryside would open in front of me like a postcard, and the thought would hit me to skip class and put a line in the water. It was a wonderful feeling to sit on the edge of a small stream and see what I could catch with a worm or beetle, and without any of the gear that I would normally have with me for a day of “serious” fishing.


To me, that feeling of sitting on the bank waiting to catch something with very limited resources is quite like the QRP experience.


Of course, I love high power operations. It’s important for me to hear those “really big signal” comments, and to get 10-and-20-over reports. Signal reports like those are a terrific way to start out an afternoon of chasing DX. While the demand for more and more power diminishes when we reach legal limit, we still want our amps to have additional “headroom” to ensure as pure a signal as possible at 1500 watts. After recently buying a hot, new entry to the big linear amplifier market (to be reviewed in January) I realized that this kind of thinking is very far removed from the pure ham radio thought process of the QRP operator.


When I think of QRP, I remember seeing those Japanese Zen gardens, or what is known there as the “Karesansui. You will recall those beautifully manicured sand-and-stone gardens that inspire quiet thoughts and introspection. That’s how I view QRP; it is quite the opposite of putting out 1500 watts and slugging away with the big boys and their big antennas. For years now I’ve been stuck in that world of big signals, fighting my way through pileups out of Arizona.  But I did start my ham life back in the 60’s with the QRP mentality . . . building small radios, sticking a wire out my bedroom window to receive, and finally when licensed – to jump in with my own shot in the dark to see what I could catch.


A Sudden Awakening


I had almost forgotten the joy I used to get out of QRP until a recent incident hit me on the side of the head. Not expecting to go QRP at any point soon, I was simply in my shack doing an intensive round of CW practice one evening. At the time, I was a student in the CW Academy, trying to move my speed into an advanced level and my instructor Tom (WA9CW) had me doing all kinds of alphabet scales and practice exchanges with my keyer. (I had a blast with the CW Academy and will tell you more about my experience in a future column dedicated to CW operations.)


Because I didn’t have an oscillator handy, I had cranked up my IC-7300 audio and turned the RF down to zero output. I was just listening to myself practice, so I started doing all kinds of odd things . . .  sending CW faster and faster for lines that I came up with in my head, doing the alphabet “scales,” or sending select paragraphs off the back of a cereal box. Then, I switched to practicing a CQ repeatedly to see if I could get my call sign firmly entrenched at a dramatically higher speed than my norm. It was frustrating, of course, because I was really stretching and making a lot of mistakes with my code. But, I thought, “I’m just by myself in the shack and there’s no one listening. So, no embarrassment.”


That’s when the weirdest thing happened. Someone came back to my CQ!


Wait a second, I thought. How could this be happening? I went back to the transceiver and checked to ensure that I was at zero power and that no RF was being generated. I checked my Daiwa to see if any power was escaping to my antenna and there was zero movement of the needle. But that guy on the other end of the CQ was in California a few hundred miles away, and he was clearly hearing me.


The first thing I did, of course, was to apologize for all the weird stuff I had been sending out, and then we had an enjoyable QSO with a normal exchange of QTH and signal reports. When I got off that contact, I sat back and wondered just how much output the ICOM puts out when you have turned your power output setting to zero. Of course, the problem was that I should have switched over to the dummy load, as something was clearly sneaking past the finals. I didn’t test it, but I’d guess it was on the order of 75 to 150 milliwatts or so. That’s not much, but it was enough to get me a 579 RST from California that evening! I remembered later that my trusty little Zachtek WSPR transmitter reaches to Antarctica on a dipole, operating on only a fifth of one watt. (Read issue #2 for more on Zachtek).


Expectations are Everything in QRP


It’s my belief that QRP can only be fun when you approach it with the right expectations. To illustrate this, I’ll tell you how I burned through two radios in two years. This was all my fault, and with nothing to do with the radios of choice.


At the end of 2020, I purchased the ICOM IC-705, considering myself lucky to be one of the first USA owners of that hot little radio. And yet, within three months I had sold it and moved on. Why? Because I just couldn’t adjust to the considerably lower power output and what that meant for sideband operations. Looking back on that radio, it was a darn good product. The IC-705 is built like a tank and the only real “con” was its lack of a tuner. If I were reviewing it here, which I am not, I would have given it an A for build quality, but my user experience was poor -- only due to having the wrong expectations.


My mistake was to try to use it like the IC-7300. I’d head out to a POTA park with my old buddy, Steve, and the little IC-705 just lacked the punch that Steve got with his 100w radio and big-as-a-toaster battery pack. I’d have 12 or 15 SSB contacts over an afternoon and W7DJ would walk away with 50 or 60. It was embarrassing.  


I replaced it quickly with a Xiegu G-90 and twice the output power, but once again disappointment set in. The controls are miniature and can’t be used with fat fingers or poor eyesight, and the filtering is just about non-existent. (But wow, what a great tuner). I might have doubled my power output and made nearly twice as many SSB contacts, but I still wasn’t “in tune” with the true QRP approach.


Finally, after my experience noted above with the unexpected QRP event on my IC-7300, I thought I’d just take my small radio out into the woods with some antennas and have fun. No pressure to compete with someone else and their big radio -- just me, my keyer, the squirrels, and 5 watts. And in that fall afternoon in the back country I had more fun than six POTA trips combined. I played around with three different antennas (a Precise RF mag loop, a Sotabeams Band Hopper II, and a Chameleon End-Fed) and made 40+ contacts on two bands over the afternoon. One reason for the improvement was the fact that I wasn’t sitting ten feet away from a 100w radio . . . the quiet of the outdoors and no other hams around allowed my little G90, even with its inherent flaws, to perform well.


But the biggest reason for my improved numbers was that I was no longer “competing” with others. Instead, I had adopted the attitude of my former self, age 20, sitting on the side of that little stream in Ohio with a line in the water. And the fishin’ was good! I had restored my love and respect for QRP operations, something I will never lose again.


73 for now,



PS - My next QRP article will be in a few weeks when I review the Mountain Topper radio, along with the Sotabeams Bandhopper antenna. A great combination and lots of fun in the parks!


Please click here if you'd like to discuss this column with Dave and others on the QRZ forum


Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

Dave Jensen, W7DGJ, was first licensed in 1966. Originally WN7VDY (and later WA7VDY), Dave operated on 40 and 80 meter CW with a shack that consisted primarily of Heathkit equipment. Dave loved radio so much he went off to college to study broadcasting and came out with a BS in Communications from Ohio University (Athens, OH). He worked his way through a number of audio electronics companies after graduation, including the professional microphone business for Audio-Technica.  He was later licensed as W7DGJ out of Scottsdale, Arizona, where he ran an executive recruitment practice (CareerTrax Inc.) for several decades. Jensen has published articles in magazines dealing with science and engineering. His column “Tooling Up” ran for 20 years in the website of the leading science journal, SCIENCE, and his column called “Managing Your Career” continues to be a popular read each month for the Pharmaceutical and Household Products industries in two journals published by Rodman Publishing.

Articles Written by Dave Jensen, W7DGJ

This page was last updated February 1, 2023 15:35