In amateur radio, we use Q-codes to signify certain terms. The primary use of these codes is when operating with Morse Code. Simply put, Q-codes help to reduce the number of characters needed to hold a conversation, also known as a QSO.
Recently, in a post on Facebook, there was a discussion about low power versus high power operation. In all honesty, there were some pretty intense feelings regarding both sides of this rather absurd argument. Yes, I called this argument absurd. Why? We will get to that soon enough, but a definition of terms is in order first:
QRM – Are you being interfered with? I am being interfered with!
QRO – Shall I increase power? Increase power.
QRP – Shall I decrease power? Decrease power.
Of themselves, these terms are reasonably innocent. However, what they technically mean, and how they have come to be understood, that is a whole different issue. However, that is the issue being looked at.
QRP is the term that has become associated with the idea of operating at low power output levels. Depending on mode, and whom you talk to, that can vary from below 10 watts peak envelope power, to nothing above five watts peaks envelope power (PEP). Then there are those operators who work one watt or less.
QRO is generally associated with those ham radio operators who use high power levels. Just what is considered high power varies from ham to ham. Some think of high power as anything above 50 watts PEP. Others will insist upon high power being 100 watts PEP, or more. Then there are those hams who refuse to operate at anything less than 1000 watts PEP, and will even avoid bands in which such power levels are forbidden by the FCC, or the band plan.
What is the rule, according to the FCC, regarding power output? According to FCC rules 97.313, regarding transmitter power, it states in paragraph A, “An amateur station must use the minimum transmitter power necessary to carry out the desired communications.”
For the QRP operator, this rule poses no concern, as the QRP operator is already using so little power, that QRM is virtually impossible. However, for the QRO operator, there might be a few concerns, especially when it comes to the issue of QRM.
I have often heard it said, and I think it true, that it doesn’t matter how fancy your rig, or how powerful your amplifier (legal limit on those is 1.5 kW PEP), if your antenna isn’t good, it just won’t matter. I have also heard it said that if they can hear your, but you can’t hear them, then you are using too much power. Seriously, just because you can crank out a full 1.5kW to “bust through” a pileup doesn’t mean that you should. Nor you use an amplifier just to check into the local rag-chew net, as you might be drowning out the signal of another ham, who doesn’t have amplifier, and may even be a newly licensed Technician.
In all honesty, if you are pushing out so much power than you can be heard on the other side of the planet, yet you are only attempting to work a station that is only a couple of hundred miles away, you should probably turn down the power. It is really inconsiderate to operate at power levels so high that stations you can’t hear are forced to hear you. In fact, you could inadvertently violate a radio silence regulation held by a member nation of the ITU. Certainly it might not be your intent, but the result is just the same.
I can’t say that I have a definitive answer to this. However, if you absolutely have to run more than 500 watts on any band, no matter how good the band conditions, you are seriously running a risk of causing QRP. Truthfully, I have found that with a good antenna, between 25 and 50 watts is usually sufficient. However, I have to leave it to the reader to decide for themselves. Just bear in mind that the more power used for contacting a given entity, the greater the risk of interfering with another station.