A few days ago, Bryan Herbert KE6ZGP, posted on Facebook that he’d come first place in his section for Single Op QRP phone in the 2011 ARRL 10-Meter contest and posted a picture of his certificate. I thought it was pretty neat-looking and gave him my congratulations, telling him that I was envious, but happy for him, and also noting that I’d never won anything like that, as 2 hour sprints were about the most I had any kind of stamina for.
Then a little over an hour later, the front doorbell rang. It was the mailman with a few packages for my neighbors and a large brown envelope for me, containing this –
I had completely forgotten entering the ARRL 10-Meter contest. It was almost a year ago! I had participated (casually), submitted my log, and promptly forgotten about it. Now I know that I am by no stretch of the imagination even a semi-serious contester, so figured that there probably hadn’t been many other QRP CW contenders in my AARL section. On checking the ARRL site I found that there had been just one other. Nevertheless, I was very happy to have this piece of paper, which is already framed and hanging on the wall.
In other news, I have been doing no home-brew – sorry about that. My INTJ mind is either very pre-occupied with something, or not noticing it at all. Currently, I am engrossed with the task of committing as many music CD’s as possible to hard drive in order to de-clutter my living space. It’s all part of a long-term plan for the future which may include living in an RV, or simply another apartment. Either way, I want less stuff, and 10,000 music CD’s are awful heavy when it comes to moving time. While busying myself with the task of ripping and scanning during the day, I have had the K2, my main station rig, tuned to 40M and in particular, the Noontime Net on 7268.5 KHz. My mind works in strange ways, and for the 3 years I was into CW, that was all I was interested in. I had spent plenty of time operating SSB (and FM on the 2-meter band) in the past and it no longer held any interest for me – it really didn’t. Every now and again, I would tune up to the phone portion of whatever band I happened to be in and after just a few minutes of listening, wonder how anyone could remain interested in amateur radio if SSB was their main mode of operation. I like the mental challenge of decoding a CW signal in my head, and that is as much of an attraction to me as the radio part. Decoding SSB in my head was a skill I learned when very young, so there’s not much challenge there!
Nevertheless, while busying myself with the task of ripping CD’s and scanning all the artwork, I had the K2 tuned to 7268.5 KHz from about 9:30am – 2pm every day to listen to the Noontime Net. I have never done a lot of listening to nets before and at first, couldn’t quite understand the attraction of checking in to a net on a regular basis when the main purpose of doing so seemed to be to just check in and then not do much else. However, there is a little bit more to it than that, and after a few weeks of listening, I started to get a feel for it and checking into the net became a welcome part of my daily routine. EDIT: After a few months of checking in daily to the Noontime Net, it has become a very welcome part of my daily routine and to amend what I said a few sentences earlier, there is a lot more going on with a net like this than first meets the ear. It is a very well-run net that manages to check in a lot of people every day, while still having time for the occasional bit of friendly chat. It never wanders into the territory of “clique-ness”. The balance between the business of checking in a lot of people, while retaining a sense of camaraderie and connectivity is perfect. KV7L Lynn is the net manager, and along with every single one of the net controllers, is to be commended for pulling off this feat. It’s not an easy thing to do.
The Noontime Net is a traffic net, and traffic is indeed passed on occasion. After a few weeks of listening almost daily (at first on the WBR regen receiver when I was still fresh out of building that) I began to recognize the regular characters, including the very distinctive voice of Clyde AA7WC who took early check-ins daily until his recent illness. I checked in a few times, and then having the radio on and listening to the net in the background as I did other things around the shack, checking in on an almost daily basis started to become a welcome part of my daily routine. Many days, I will check in fairly early, and the re-check later. It’s also interesting to listen to many of the same stations regularly to see how propagation affects how we all hear each other – and this brings me to the aspect of the net that has interested me the most in the last week or two.
I had been checking in to the Noontime Net with my K2’s full output power of 15W. About 10 days ago, I decided to dial down the power to see whether I could still check in with one of the net control stations. On CW, you can turn the power down to 100mW, and on SSB, 1W. I dialed down to minimum SSB power and called Lynn KV7L in Princeton, Oregon. I thought I was running 100mW but forgot that on SSB, even though the K2 may indicate an output power of 0.1W, it is actually putting out 1W. To my surprise, Lynn gave me a 58 report. He is 412 miles from me. I also got a 59 report from a station in Bakersfield, about 245 miles to the south. Thinking I was running 100mW, I was ecstatic but in retrospect, a 58 report from a station 412 miles distant when you’re running 1W of SSB is still pretty good. Since then, I have regularly checked into the net with just 1W and am heard well by KV7L in Princeton, OR, W6FHZ in Reno, Nevada and N7WH in Boise, Idaho.
I often received unprompted reports of good audio too, for which much of the credit has to go the K2.
All of this has gotten me quite excited about seeing how low I can take the power and still successfully check in to the Noontime Net. I cannot dial the power on my K2 below 1W on SSB, so the next step is an attenuator. Even though I have not been doing any home-brew and am concentrating most of my efforts on non-ham radio pursuits, I think an attenuator is in my immediate future. I would love to be able to tell net control that I am running just 50mW – or even 10mW! Stay tuned to this space. Maybe I can get something together in the next few weeks. (EDIT – I ordered an attenuator online before this post was even finished – keep reading.)
The upshot of all of this is that although when people think of QRP, they usually think of CW, and the 13dB disadvantage of SSB compared to CW is well-known, you can still achieve things with QRP SSB. Bryan Herbert KE6ZGP has made many great DX contacts with just 5W of SSB (and even FM during 10M openings) and he told me recently how he thinks the potential of QRP SSB is underestimated.
On another tack, I was in Cost Plus the other day and saw a mint tin that was just crying out to have something built in it. Some people think of electronic gadgets as boxes of “black magic” and indeed, even us hams think of radio as quite magical. I like to put as many of my mint tin projects in different looking tins as possible, to make them easier to tell apart from each other. I think this tin fits the bill perfectly. What piece of black magic could I build into this enclosure?
My recent experiences successfully checking into the Noontime Net with just 1W PEP of SSB made me keen to see if I could check in with even less power. The minimum amount you can dial the power down to on the K2 on SSB is 1W, so to get it down further I would need an attenuator. I was looking for a cheap way to do this without having to build anything, and settled on this 20dB inline attenuator that I got from eBay for $6.99 including shipping -
I like it because unlike the step attenuators in regular enclosures, I don’t have to come up with an extra BNC to BNC cable. It’s quick n’ dirty n’ cheap. Without setting up a separate receive antenna, the attenuator also attenuates the signal on receive, but as I plan on initially using it to check in with net control stations that are very strong here, that won’t matter.
In theory, when I set the K2 to 1W and connect the output of it to the attenuator, which is terminated in a 50 ohm load, the 1 watt should be attenuated by 20dB, giving me a final output signal of 10mW into 50 ohm, but when I connected the output of the K2 (set at 1W in CW mode) to my OHR WM-2 QRP Wattmeter, the output of which was terminated in a 50 ohm load, I measured 40mW and not 10mW. I do believe the meter to be calibrated accurately so I am not sure what is going on here.
The next step should be to construct my own attenuation pad to verify these results but for the meantime, the Noontime Net was in progress and I wanted to see if net control could hear me. KD7RTE was taking check-ins and couldn’t hear me, but Lynn KV7L in Princeton, OR gave me an S3. He is 412 miles distant – not bad for 40mW of SSB.
I have gotten into the habit of checking into this net with 1W PEP and I think I will continue to do so, but the quick n’ dirty experiment with QRPp was pleasantly fruitful. I kind of wish it was possible to use the front panel control on the K2 to dial the power all the way down to 100mW on SSB, the way you can on CW – or even lower. QRPp is fun! 40mW is flea power, and it’s especially gratifying for a signal of such low power to be copied 412 miles away on SSB.
In other news, it has become harder to operate the radio, because Sprat The QRP Cat has decided that she likes biting the fingerpieces of my Bencher paddle. I try to put the K2 in test mode so she doesn’t transmit. When she’s not practicing the code, she just likes to get in the way when I’m trying to operate the radio, and steal the spotlight -