I suddenly got very strong QRN all over the shortwave band. On 40 meter it was S9 +20 dB. This made it next to impossible to conduct any ham-radio activity from my home QTH. A report was sent to the state run Electrical Safety Authorities and an inspector has visited me once to investigate the source. The noise is likely coming from the governance of the fans to the ventilation system in this house and the house next door. One more visit by the inspector is upcoming in order to finally get rid of the problem. This is supposed to happen in the first part of January 2012. These things take time you know....
Update January 2012.
The inspector has been inspecting for the second time. It was found that one shielded power cable from one of the frequency inverters to the fan motor of the ventilation system of the house was not grounded on the motor side. It was also found that the bushes at many of the motors of these cables that is supposed to insure ground connection was semi-loose and only “hand tightend”. These should be tightened hard with a pliers to ensure connectivity to ground. This is a sign of an improper installation of the istallers. A mandatory injunction will be sent from Electrical Safety Authorities to the owners of my house that will force them to correct the faulty installation.
In the meantime my contest activity is on hold and all my ham radio business is conducted "/P" and away from my home QTH.
Update March 2012.
After the owner of the house was ordered by the Electrical Safety Authority to correct the above mentioned irregularities it was finally done. The result is that the previous noise of S9 + 20 db on 40 meters now is reduced to between S7 to S8 in LSB mode with 2.4 kHz bandwidth. It is certainly not perfect, but in CW mode and with 250 Hz bandwidth and employing of DSP noise limiter of the IC-703 the band is again workable.
If this will mean that I will result in me commencing my previous quite energetic contest activity is another matter. During the last year my eyes have open up to the thrills of working radio in the bush and /P during my SMFF activity. So it is up to what is more fun: being outdoors enjoying Swedish nature and wildlife working SMFF or sitting at home trying to push the limits what is possible with QRP and simple equipment in a contest....
It is all about what activity you think is the most fun and rewarding, and not least, what give you the most positive feedback, isn´t it?
Contesting is still rather new for me. After having had my licence for 31 years, I worked my first contest in 2001. More consistent contesting did not begin until 2004 when I bought my IC-703 and, perhaps more importantly, was able to put up a more serious antenna.
All my contesting is done in the QRP-category, or if the contest does not have such a category, in the Low Power category with about 10 watts. I have tried some PSK-31 contesting but found it rather boring and uninspiring. One could try to work SSB, but I really think it is a bit unfair to my fellow contesters working that mode with only five watts. Besides, I like CW so I think I will stick with it more or less exclusively.
I have worked some contests were everybody want to work you (like Scandinavian Activity Contest and IARU HF World Championship as HQ-station) but found it less interesting. It's just like you are some kind of radio-beacon! Same with the more local contest like PACC and OK-OM DX Contest, I also find those contest rather boring. I like to be able to switch between S&P and Running in order to maximize my score. If I can't, I have a hard time putting up with 24 hours straight of total concentration. I prefer contests in which everybody can work anybody. So, the goal for the future is to participate in as many such contests as I can and to try to do better each time. I will also try to take part in more QRP-contests and to work the available /P-contests.
I am well aware of the fact that to be really competitive you need good antennas. Beams or something significantly better than I have right now is, however, something I only can dream about. We have, on the other hand, very good ground in Mölndal. This place is an old sea bottom with clay-like soil and the ground water panel very close to the surface. Therefore the same antennas seem to work better in Mölndal than in other places.
In any case, if a ham have the space and money to afford a tower and a big beam, he or she can probably afford one of those new fancy 100 watts transceivers and some kind of amplifier. If you have all that it's unlikely that you are going to get involved in QRP contesting. In consequence the majority of those who do this form of contesting use wire antennas or simple verticals. Even so; everybody has restrictions and conditions they have to live with, and I have mine. One can only accept them and concentrate on having fun instead of longing for something you can never have! For my part it is not so much about winning, but more about doing better, to learn more and to get more experience of everything that is connected contesting. For each new contest you learn something new, and the more contests you do, the more you learn!
So, what's the secret of QRP contesting?
First of all, I don't think that this form of contesting is for everyone. I do think that it takes a certain orientation towards life in general and amateur radio in particular. It's a lot about realizing that nothing is for free in life and to be inspired by the struggle against overwhelming odds. You have to be able to accept that not all you call will answer. You have to accept that you will be the last in the queue in a pileup. In particular you must realize that much of your contesting activity will be done S&P. Working running will be done only occasionally, and when you do, you will do so at a much lower rate than high-power stations. I would say that 30-40 qso:s an hour is acceptable running-rate for a QRP-station.
For those who work high-power maybe this seems like taking away all the fun and excitement in contesting. For them it's all about having a set-up that creates a big signal - and thus the ability to work running - in ways of the rigs, the amplifiers, towers and antennas. The real skill for them is to be able to work the pile at a constant and high rate. For the QRP:er, on the other hand, it's all about working S&P with a high and consistent rate, not to get bogged down in a pile, or in calling a station that will never respond to your efforts. However, it's also about knowing when it's worth doing some running, and when it's not.
There are a few tricks you can use while S&P and trying to break a pile. You can send you call slightly after all the rest. You can be some Hz above or below the running station's frequency. You can drift slightly in frequency while sending your call. All to make the running station noticing you among all the other stations calling him. However, the simplest and best is to just wait. Most contest software have the ability to store callsign and frequency. Thus, you can store that information, move on to work other stations, and return when things have calmed down a bit.
I have read at many places that a QRP-station should aim at working running at the end of a contest when everybody is looking for that last QSO, or that last multiplier. I would say that it depends on what contest. In the big contests it might be so, but I have also found it quite rewarding to work running in the first hour of a contest when everybody are at their toes and eager to work whatever there is to work. After lunch and dinner when hams retreat from their families to their shacks is also a good time for a QRP-station to work running.
What strategy to use depends much on the contest. Some contests are “easy” and some are “hard” for qrp-stations. Big international contest that focus on multipliers or some specific high-point stations, like the IOTA-contest and WWDX, are hard as everybody is focused on working these stations for points, or for getting a new DXCC-country. That so, they have pileups, and as a QRP-station you are of course the last one in the queue in everyone of them. This can be quite frustrating at times! On the other hand; some regional contests with a focus more on everyone working everybody and thus no station having huge pileups are more “easy” for a QRP-station and consequently feels more fun and rewarding.
In addition you have to know some “rules of good behaviour”. You don't use the DX-portion of the bands, that is, the lowest 5 kHz of the CW portion of each band. Usually you find high-power stations between 05 kHz and 30 kHz at the lower parts of the bands. It's not considered good manners to transmit on the QRP-frequencies plus-minus 500 Hz. Meaning 3.060, 7.030, 14.060, 21.060 and 28.060 plus-minus 500 Hz. Usually you will find QRP and low-power stations from the QRP-frequency and 10 kHz down on the 20, 15 and 10 meter bands and from the QRP-frequency and 5 kHz above on the 40 meter band. Of course in the largest contests, like CQ WW and CQ WPX, all rules are off and there is only the law of the jungle...
In QRP-contests where everybody, or almost everybody, use only 5 watts or less it's another matter. The terms are more equal. It's more a matter of being situated in the right spot. Unfortunately, my QTH up in Northern Europe isn't the best. Stations down in Central Europe have a more favourable position and can work more stations than I can. For me it doesn't matter; good results or not, I think it's fun anyhow, and a bit interesting, putting a different flavour on the contest experience.
All what have been said above is, however, one thing; if you really want to be a top-scorer in whatever category you participate in, it isn't that 100 % essential to have expensive equipment, powerful amplifiers or monstrous antennas. If you look at the score of The Russian DX Contest, which also list the number of hours each participant have worked, you see that the score is closely related to the time spent in the contest. This is particularly true for the QRP-category. The reason is of course what's been said about S&P. So really, it's more or less a matter of working all the hours you are allowed to work. If you do, you are almost bound to become one of those at the top of the list. In the coming years this might change to some degree as the sunspot cycle improve and 10 and 15 meters open up. On these bands power isn't as all-important as on 40 and 80. We have some really exciting years to look forward to during which contesting promises to be even more fun than what it already is!
This isn't to say that it's only a matter of blood, sweat and tears and persistence and not giving up, but I would suggest that it's quite a lot of it. If you then do it often enough you will eventually learn when to switch bands and when to S&P and when to work running and all the rest...
Finally a word to those who consider entering the QRP category....
Is everybody really, really working only with 5 watts, you may ask? My answer is that, as everywhere else, there will always be those who try cheat. The Russian DX Contest has done a lot to restrain such things by publishing the number of hours worked. This is information that comes automatically by analyzing the computer logs. Hopefully, this will be common practice in the future, in particular for the large worldwide contest. If you have the hours worked it's easy to extract the “impossible” scorers. Sometimes it's even more easy to figure out, like with the poor guy who stated “600 watts” to the 3820 Score Submits and then appeared in the QRP-category of the contest. In addition; if you have been in business for a while you will eventually know who are the real QRP-contesters and who are not. When you do, you compete against them and simply ignore the rest.
Of course there's absolutely nothing wrong in turning down the power to 5 watts on your regular 100-watt rig. However, then you must accept that your results will be put in question, particularly if your efforts has resulted in a position at the top, or near the top of the list. We all know how easy it is to “just happen” to turn a bit on the power button when a rare multiplier does not respond. Because of this you should get yourself a dedicated QRP-rig, at least if you are considering doing some serious QRP-contesting.
Click on the pictur to review the latest standings!