Go Small, Go Now!

Started by gil, October 03, 2012, 10:13:16 pm

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I remember reading about building sailboats and came upon the saying from a famous sailor: "Go Small, Go Now!"

It can be applied to many things in life, radio being one of them. Sure, you might want to save up for a $1000 transceiver... But if you recently got or will get your license soon, you really don't need one right now. Hell, a $139 CB can get you started, without the license. What I want to draw you attention on however is QRP (low power) radios. You don't need more than a few watts to make intercontinental contacts, believe me. You just need a decent antenna, which could be a simple wire up a tree.

If you want to start really small, then there is Morse code (CW mode). CW radios are very small and very cheap. The Rock-Mite kit for example costs $29 and can be built by anyone with decent soldering skill which can be learned in an hour. See http://smallwonderlabs.com. There are more complex kits like the Elecraft K1 (http://elecraft.com). TenTec right now has two-band CW radios for sale at $188 (http://tentec.com) as well as mono-band kits. Learning Morse code can be a lengthy and frustrating process but for someone on a budget it is unbeatable. Making a first Morse QSO is something anyone can be proud of, even if it was just exchanging call signs.

For phone (voice) operations, the choice is more limited when it comes to radios under $300. MFJ has a great line of SSB radios, the MFJ-94xx series. Here is my favorite: http://www.mfjenterprises.com/Product.php?productid=MFJ-9440X. It will do CW as well with an added module. 10W is plenty of power to work the whole World. If you like building, check out http://ozqrp.com and http://qrpkits.com. I have bought kits from both and can attest of their quality.

Believe me, putting more money in complicated radios will not make your signal go further or make you hear much better. You just get a ton of extra features which, however nice, are not needed to operate successfully. Don't even get me started about amplifiers... Band conditions and antennas are the main limiting factor, power comes third. From a prepping perspective, current draw and portability are very important factors, keep that in mind.

Go Small, Go QRP, Go Now!



I'm going to get an MFJ-94xx for my 14 year old son.  This little rig gets great reviews, does 10W and will do voice as well as CW while drawing only 0.1A in receive.  The voice operation will hold my boy's attention while he gets better at CW (hes at about 3wpm right now).  My delima is, which band?  He's in the Scouts and will take it camping.  A 20M antenna is much easier to deal with than a 65' long 40M antenna.  But isn't the 40M band is open more than 20? 
For mono-band QRP rigs, what do most people get?


I'm ordering my Rock-Mite on payday! QRP is where it's at. I have an old Heathkit HW-8 (CW only) that puts out about 3-4 watts on 80, 40, 20 and 15 meters, and it's a great little rig. Eventually I'd like to get a Yaesu FT-817ND for portable ops, but a Rock-Mite in my pocket is in my very near future.


Hello Bob,

20m is more open during the day, though it also can be open at night. 40m is more of a night band, or local day band. Right now we are at the top of the solar cycle, so 20m might be a good bet, given antenna length requirements as you mention.. We'll be good for another three years probably. 40m always work, so it is a difficult choice. If you don't want him to be up all night on school days, 20m is the way to go ;-)



October 04, 2012, 02:25:35 am #4 Last Edit: October 04, 2012, 02:27:28 am by gil
Hello Ray,

That's great! I highly recommend the Mighty Box from American Morse and the connectors kit from Small Wonder Labs. Both save you a whole lot of time..
You can also buy a 2SC799 transistor on Ebay to replace Q6 (R18=2.2 ohms - use a heatsink on Q6!) and get from 1W to 2W depending on DC voltage and chosen band.. It increases your chances of success.. It sure is a fun little radio. I have the 20 and 40m models, but I'm not done yet!



I wish I could grasp code, I would have been in ham radio back in the 70's.


Gambrinus, just keep at it... as some point, it will click. It has been very difficult for me. Try http://lcwo.net, "Morse Marchine" option. You only need to get to about 8wpm to try real QSOs.
I've been learning the code for months, and I'm still at 8wpm, but I'm using it on the air. You will find people willing to go slow for you. Me included  ::)


October 04, 2012, 11:06:47 am #7 Last Edit: October 04, 2012, 12:38:19 pm by RadioRay
$1,700 - 25,000  Manpack Radio // 20-50 Watt, depending upon type//
$ 200 +                2x Batteries
$300 +               Solar panel or hand crank  generator
                         Antenna kit (wire prefered)

$280 - $1000  +  Laptop/message terminal
$80 - 120           interface unit & cables
$200                 2x batteries
//recharge using the same as the manpack radio//

Large rucksack to carry it all (>25+ pounds ???) in ADDITION to your already full rucksack (>40+ pounds) , of 'camping' gear.
and muscles & endurance like a Green Beret, because this stuff is HEAVY!

Kinda like this - -

Ps. He is SMILING because he has a TRUCK to carry it all...

Learn a skill: Morse code, in this case, and carry a multi-band "QRP" ham radio, the size of a paper back book //also can listen to shortwave radio with it...//, in an accessory bag the size & weight of a small shave kit...

Which contains not only your transceiver, but also your antenna kit, spare AA batteries.  Your messaging unit is between your ears and you can write down the received messages if you need a hard copy...

So, my advice to ANYONE wanting radio communication further than the range of a handi-talkie is to learn the Morse code (the G4FON 'Koch' FREEware is excellent as are MANY on-line Morse tutors.)  Gil knows the latest websites to learn the code. By learning a skill, you operate VERY efficently, inexpensively and in an effective manner.  You can take your Morse radios along with along WITH your daily 'carry' rather than instead of being able to carry anything else.

OTOH - if you hae a LOT of money and muscles like a Green Beret, then please contact ME and I will act as your communications sales agent, set you up with excellent, mil-spec gear that is going to not require you to learn much of anything and -naturally- it is going to be EXPENSIVE, heavy and I will CERTAINLY take my VERY generous commission...    ;D  Thank you KINDLY!

I remember a certain fellow who was doing a cross border operation long ago...

Speaking of his VERY expensive, state-of-the-art, military communications equipment, here is the gist:

'This stuff was amazing, the message terminal was about the size of a paper back book, could send and receive text, maps, pictures and even operator drawn illustrations. It hooked into our manpack radio and sent it's transmissions as a high speed burst.  It did everything - except actually WORK!  We finally dropped back to plan B and made contact with base in a neutral country, using enciphered Morse without any problem. Sooner or later, you find yourself on the side of a hill, with the stub of a pencil, pounding it out in Morse code.'

Lighten your load - use skill not money.

QSL:  "Go Small - Go Now!"

>RadioRay ..._ ._

"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


October 04, 2012, 02:28:37 pm #8 Last Edit: October 04, 2012, 02:35:52 pm by underhill
Somewhere in the middle of the above aproaches is my current carry-about radio, which is an FT-817ND, along with a palm radio paddle.

Doesn't do as well as the smaller rigs on power consumption, of which I am very aware of, but does much better than my rig at home.

Also, it covers shortwave bands, as well as vhf/uhf bands for public service and ham chatter, for info gathering.  I know the KX1 will receive shortwave and ham ssb as well with the right option, tho not the vhf/uhf, but throwing in an ht still weighs in a bit less, if you want that.

Now if I can only keep track of the da's and dit's as they are streaming at me, I'd be sitting much happier :/ .

Would be nice to be able to run it all from a few AA batts for more than a few hours.



October 04, 2012, 03:38:53 pm #9 Last Edit: October 04, 2012, 03:50:00 pm by KC9TNH
Quote from: underhill on October 04, 2012, 02:28:37 pmSomewhere in the middle of the above aproaches is my current carry-about radio, which is an FT-817ND, along with a palm radio paddle.

Doesn't do as well as the smaller rigs on power consumption, of which I am very aware of, but does much better than my rig at home.
I've done QRP, still do, I sometimes do QRP+ with like 20w (alot of those old mil rigs only had 20w). I love my 817, and there is lots to be said for low power consumption. That said, for a true beginner I would not recommend it  unless you are able to throw up a really WELL-executed antenna that hears VERY well and has 0 loss any azimuth. It is simply frustrating for many people. Yes, I know people have all kinds of stories about this/that piece of wire or broomstick they've used - and it's been done. I'm just sayin' for someone to take it up from scratch who doesn't already LOVE it, it may be a bit frustrating and lack of contacts feeds the online classifieds.

QRP is neat, operationally sound, very portable. But think hard before you make it your very first setup. Now if you've got the determination of a honey badger, have at it!  ;D

For those 817 owners who haven't seen these tips, these are worth heeding:

My AA alkaline pack is my last resort; fully-new it barely brings the rig up to minimum operating voltage of even the regular batt pack. Give some thought to a freshly charged regular pack that comes with it and a small gel-cell for extended walkabout.


I think "QRP frustration" is an SSB thing... It must be because I have experienced zero frustration using only a few watts with CW. Sure, QRP is not for contesters or anyone who absolutely wants to make contact on every attempt.. That said, I get a reply most of the time. An if I don't, who cares.. Even in case of emergency, I am sure someone would hear me somewhere. SOS in Morse is unmistakable and would certainly clear a frequency real fast.

I like the FT-817ND as well, and might buy myself one some day when finances allow.. I would still pack my K1 with me though...



October 07, 2012, 07:57:36 pm #11 Last Edit: October 08, 2012, 11:43:43 am by underhill
After posting on another thread here, (re nets) got me to thinking about another experience, that while not first hand experienced, lends to this lowpower discussion.

I have participated on the insomniac for several years now, for the reasons mntioned on the other thread, it is hosted on a linked repeater network, and thru IRLP, so there are several hams from other countries, including japan.  Well after the March '11 quake and tsunami, for a couple weeks the japanese hams, if they got on, would give brief sit ops of what was happening in their country after the quake/tsunami to recover.

One of them came back a couple weeks later, with a concise description that I thought would be useful here on this thread.  This is a synopsis that I had shared with another net I participate in locally, called rescuenet, consisting of sar,first responders hams, and others interested in emergency response ( http://www.socalrescuenet.org )

"Since the quake/tsunami, at least one of them would come on and give a
brief synopsis of his local situation.  that night, Jxxxxx, Toshi, came
on and illuminated us on the situation, lack of any comms, power etc.
his closing statement sort of stuck with me, tho I know I have probably
paraphrased it wrong by this point, anyway:

"computers, the internet, cell, all these systems are wonderful and
young people are doing amazing things with them.

But..  Please encourage your children to pursue study of ham radio.
when something happens, they are all gone. nothing.  All you have left
is ham radio.

After the Tsunami, they were getting by with just handhelds, as even
power for HF was very hard to come by."

Long winded, and I apologise.  But the concern regarding having sufficient power to run your radios cannot be discounted, so small, light and simple is a good thing, when things go a bit wonky.  Don't really care what the choice of gear is, but knowing how to run it, and knowing how to power it seems like a really good idea.  Low as possible power draw is obviously a plus.

And in all things, ymmv



Quote from: RadioRay on October 04, 2012, 11:06:47 am

QSL:  "Go Small - Go Now!"

>RadioRay ..._ ._

I love these pics. The second one is what I aspire to. I am so excited over the timing of this particular topic. Dick our local mortician and I were discussing Marine Radios/VHS just yesterday. When I mentioned HAM and CW he about fell backwards. He grinned to quiet his thoughts I guess. Basically he was speechless until he started telling me that a antennia and radio would cost thousands of dollars with no end in more equipt. So I had to ask, Have you tried HAM operations. He swiftly said no. He could not understand why a person would bother with HAM.

I started telling him about how the brain/mine was slowing starting to be able to fear the breaks and changes. Like I told WhiteTiger in a PM, I felt like a zebra.

Anyways, I love this site "radiopreppers." It keeps me inspired.

Oh, for you folks that collect QSL cards that spell words, here is a neat link. http://www.kb6nu.com/more-qsls-10812/ 


I want a QSL like those Hallmark cards that have a mini speaker in them and a chip with a recording. Only thing, it would play a greeting with my call sign in Morse when you open it!

Tess, tell the mortician you can buy a brand new Ham radio for less than $200!