Monday, 24 September 2012

QRP v QRO – Blood on the Floor?

The mighty, omnipotent sun that our precious emerald and sapphire orb circulates is nearing the crescendo of its eleven year repeat-performance.

For the first time since 2003, I have revisited the high frequencies: the short waves of equal delight and frustration that ebb and flow with the days, seasons and years. Back then, I worked the world with 10 Watts and a rather long wire antenna. I stayed up all night sometimes to listen to the magical waxing and waning of distant continents on 80m. It was like listening to a sublime symphony. Having moved to a new house with more limited prospects for creating a good HF antenna system, I turned my back on these noble frequencies to chase the excitement of VHF and UHF.

Ironically, the drive for portable operation at V/UHF has led me to flirt with HF again. It's the inevitable purchase of arguably one of the best amateur radios ever manufactured, the Yaesu FT-817. Five delightful Watts from top band, all the way to 70cm. MF to UHF. Sea level to mountain top. CW to FM, with all modes in between. What a gem of beautifully packaged, miniaturised happiness.

FT-817. 5W on 10m.
With 5W of HF readily to hand, I’ve hastily run 10m of vertical wire in the back garden to listen to a more contemporary performance of a classic favourite. Happily, 10m has truly sprung into life. This morning I’ve just completed a QSO from home (Wales) to Greece with 5W at both ends. Deep joy. A quick bargain has even brought a Miracle Whip into the ensemble – just experimenting for fun.

But scanning through the bands in general I’m noticing a tendency to transmit at powers of 1kW and above, whatever the band, whatever the conditions. Abrupt reports of 5/9+ are exchanged with a seemingly insatiable appetite to amass as many transient contacts as possible. Then there are the pile-ups. Those ungentlemanly bun-fights where the loudest (or largest bank account and electricity bill) wins. I’m sure that there are whole streets in Palermo where the lights actually dim when DX from Pago Pago is heard on 20m.

We’ll never know if was possible to work Pago Pago with QRP because we were never given the chance. This is on SSB at least. CW operators have a greater appreciation of low power. This is an old argument that will attract equal venom and praise from our electromagnetic community. But I do believe that as technology advances, there is a global drive for efficiency. Low power is in fashion and with solar conditions as they are, we should all be ‘turning the wick down’ a little bit, shouldn’t we?

I do believe that when the sun takes its rest, there is a place for high power, particularly on the more difficult bands. There – you see? I’m not anti-QRO at all. I’m just advocating using (as your exam tells you) the minimum amount of power necessary to maintain a comfortable QSO.