Sunday, February 20, 2022

QRP in the ARRL DX Contest (CW)

I'm only a casual contester, if that - but the newly-built TR-35 had me wondering what might be possible with a simple rig, a dipole and low power. I've been QRP-centric before but took a decade-long detour with a KPA-500 and then a Mercury IIIs.

Those Big Boys are gone now and I'm back to my QRP roots.

So what's "life in the fast lane" like with a 10 ounce rig?

The TR-35 is a 4-bander: 2 WARC bands and two contest-able bands; therefore it can avoid contests or jump into the fray.

The contest started Friday evening and, after an episode of "All Creatures Great & Small" with the little lady, I excused myself for a couple of hours to deploy some dots and dashes to the other side of the Atlantic.

Those staccato bursts were initiated with N3FJP's contest software, to the tune of 30 wpm. The TR-35 handled it well and the replies to my calls were frequent. The log filled up steadily.

My MO throughout the contest was: operate 30 minutes, take a break, operate 90 minutes, eat lunch, 30 minutes, get some sleep, etc. Like I said, I'm not much of a contester but the newness of the rig and the fact that DX stations were consistently copying my 5W signal kept me glued to the shack.

The station here is far more effective on 40 meters than on 20. The antenna is the same - an 80m dipole up 100 feet and fed with ladder line for all-band operation. A dipole on 20m is nothing; different story on 40m, when it's that high up.

Repeats were often needed on 20m; rarely was that the case on 40.

The funnest part of the contest, by far, was calling a station who'd generated a mini pile-up and the op comes back to me! Luck was the major part of that but timing of the call is ever-so-important (and often under-emphasized) and it became a private contest within a contest to see how quickly I could get through when numerous others were calling the same station.

After 5 hours of on-the-air time, I'd worked 52 DXCC entities, 6 continents and 18 zones. The 12AH battery had been discharged by only 1.2 AH. Am I green or what? That's the part of this whole thing that really amazes me - how little power was required to make so many DX contacts/multipliers.

Many people think that FT8 is more efficient than CW. That may be true if RF is the only consideration, but when DC input is taken into account, as it must be, CW is King.

The TR-35 is definitely not a contest radio, nor was it meant to be. I could almost always hear multiple stations and had to use what little gray matter I have to furnish the needed selectivity that the radio lacks.

Its 6dB bandwidth is 250 Hz. Yes, I measured it. With high-fallutin' test equipment. And 250 Hz is fine for a rig of this type...POTAing, SOTAing, ragchewing, etc. However, the skirts don't seem very steep. More on that later...

Some may have noticed that there's a little orange relay in the parts that make up the TR-35. Fret not - this relay has nothing to do with keying; it's used to select which of two LP filters is in use based on the band selection. 17/20m share one filter, 30/40m share the other.

At some point during the contest, I remembered that I had a slightly larger knob (in photo above) for tuning that would be a better choice than the one included with the TR-35. It's a small change that made a world of difference, at least in the constant tuning of hunt-&-pounce contesting. One-finger tuning rather than two-fingered "pinch & turn" tuning required of the smaller knob.

I had a lot of fun in the contest - thanks to all the DX stations who participated.


In the event of insomnia, my full write-up on the TR-35 is here.




  1. At least someone had fun.
    I had to sit this one out. Storm after storm, gusts and more gusts, for days on end. Last weekend, the past week, this weekend, today, later on this week...
    The record was broken of consecutive storms in a short time spell.

    I can't raise my telescopic tower then which means no full potential on 10+15+20, a pathetic 40m performance and no low band wires. Statistically ARRL DX CW has the most chance of coinciding with a gusty period or a full blown storm over my head.

    The G's and DL's report the same issue on 3830. I've seen some antenna damage reported too this part of EU.

    I tell myself to compensate in the SSB part, but I'm not stoked about that mode. As you mat know...

    I wonder why you sold the amps. Unhappy about them? Or just going down the QRP road? Recently I sold my KPA-500 too. I never thought I could get rid of it (2nd hand semi-QRO market is non-existent here), but I stumbled upon someone who was looking to expand his K3-line. Strike it while it's hot!

    73 John. We will work again, even if you're QRP.

    1. Good morning, Franki - You may notice that I didn't work Belgium at all this weekend :-(

      I'm glad your comment has no mention of wind damage. I did listen for you in the contest even though you'd previously mentioned that you wouldn't be active for this one. And I looked for your call on the beacon network but nothing there since the 160m contest. I'm glad you have no damage other than CW-withdrawal!

      As for the amps, I'll be retiring on March 11 and moving to a no-outdoor-antenna QTH. Hard to believe, ain't it? My tower/Yagi came down a few weeks ago and are now at their new home near Abilene (WB9WIA). I'll have to enjoy the hobby in other ways - like POTA ops and solder-melting. And other hobbies, like photography and RC airplanes.

      I'm gonna be a hurtin' unit when Bouvet finally gets activated...

      73 for now,

  2. PS
    There will be a "flagpole" in my yard, if you know what I mean...

  3. Not working Belgium: solely stormy WX to blame, it kept the antennas of the usual suspects down. Some even suffered antenna damage. We broke the record of number of consecutive officially recorded storms in x number of days. There has been significant property damage across the path of these suckers, from EI/GW/G over ON/PA to north DL. So it goes to say some towers and antennas took a serious and sometimes lethal beating.

    My yagi got blown off north but that’s always after a storm. I should redo the clamps. In fact it was already off a bit after last year but I couldn’t be bothered. It’s not an electrical/RF problem but rather aesthetics. But now it’s too far off the 40m dipole on top and it looks sloppy. It’s a quick fix but I hate tower works.

    Looking for my call on the BCN network: oh man, I feel honored. You got it made when people expect to work you and wonder why they don’t. Can’t wait to tell mom I achieved contest rock star status! ☺
    I haven’t been on much, mostly because of the WX. I got fed up with raising/lowering the tower every other day or so. I did make 3500 QSO (mostly CW) as ON75UBA during the first weeks of 2022 so I was not really off the air. As far as you can plan in life, my CW withdrawal will coincide with my SK announcement. I hope.

    Retirement: I hope you can enjoy that next phase for a few decades.
    I have been thinking of POTA and outdoors activity a lot over the last two years (lockdown anyone?) but I’m such a high rate contact hog… It’s nothing for me to plan and prepare, haul everything into the bushes and then work only a few locals and a G/DL/PA/F…

    Bouvet: you could build a killer portable antenna, get QRO on loan, carefully time the open path to Bouvet and work ‘m from some wide open spot? That would be quite an achievement.

    Flagpole: you gotta pledge your allegiance to the HF flag OM!


    1. You're a fixture, Franki - if I don't hear and work you in a DX CW contest, some forensic investigation is in order! Yep, I'm thinking positive about Bouvet on CW, despite the RF suppression retirement plan. It's (theoretically) a year away, so there's time.

      But long before then, I pledge to copy your RF from the flagpole!


  4. Good morning John, after reading your post and how you mentioned it's not the power you are running to get answered in the pile-up it's the timing of dropping your call. I saw this when I had a pile-up over the weekend. As soon as I dropped my call it was a mess of dits and dahs. No matter how good your code it still would sound like a mess. Then as you said some knew how to call drop. Those were the ones I heard and sent my exchange to. For me, it was a lesson learned in the real-time and real world. Great work with QRP!

    1. Hello Mike - I'll remember that technique when I hear you running a frequency in CQ-WPX in a few months! It is helpful to have a short (on CW) callsign. I wouldn't try it with WB0QQY/0!


  5. Thanks for the report, glad to see someone having so much fun with so little power...

  6. I'm torn between buying a TR 35 or waiting for the 45 model. I have several QRP Labs rigs and love em. But, a rig without the endless menu's really intrigues me. Oh well. Wish I knew the price and available date of the 45. Maybe buy both?
    Gary W0CKI, since 1954

    1. Hi Gary - I looked at Boris LZ2JR's website today hoping to see that his RGO One might soon be available as a kit. Instead, he mentions that the next batch of RGO One's won't be available until September at the latest due to parts shortages. Elecraft rigs are all backordered as well and have been for some time.

      John WA3RNC is unsure of when the TR-45 will be available. If you want one of these kits I'd suggest getting the one that is currently available, while it's available. If you don't like it, you can probably sell it for close to what you paid for it.