The 500 Milliwatt Challenge

By Chris Thompson, K4HC


Just before Christmas, I was able to purchase a new HF radio, the Elecraft KX3, along with the companion 100 watt amplifier. Shortly after, I was able to sell my old HF radio and complete the “KX Line” by getting the PX3 panadapter. Most of you already know the KX3 is an outstanding QRP radio by itself (when not using the amplifier), and has an excellent receiver. I have been extremely satisfied with my purchase. As K4AX says, I now am drinking the Elecraft Kool-Aid.

Since I now had this wonderful QRP radio, I decided I would set a challenge for myself. The challenge would be to work 100 countries using QRP power – 5 watts or less.

While I’ve never been in the “Life’s too short for QRP” crowd, I’ve never used low power extensively. I’ve always been a 100 watt guy. I knew from my experience chasing DX at the 100 watt level that my goal was possible – you don’t have to be the biggest signal in the pileup to be heard. I just had no idea how easy or difficult this might be.

I decided that I would not use the weak-signal digital modes of JT65 or PSK31, but to do this using CW, SSB and RTTY. I also don’t use the “/QRP” designator after my call – mostly because that causes problems with Logbook of the World confirmations.

In full disclosure, my primary antenna for 20 thru 10 meters is a 2 element Hexx-Beam mounted on my roof, at about 30 feet above ground level. While this antenna does provide gain compared to a dipole, it’s only 2 to 3 dB – at most doubling my effective radiated power.


As it turned out, it wasn’t very difficult at all. In just over 7 weeks of casual operation, I was able to work my 100 countries. The highlight was working South Sudan for country number 100 using 5 watts on two bands, 20 and 15 meters. I used about 80 percent CW, but about 20 percent of my contacts were using SSB.

With that out of the way, I decided I would give myself a more difficult challenge – what I dubbed “The 500 Milliwatt Challenge”. I was now out to work 100 countries using a half watt. I figured THIS would give me a real test. I had a few surprises along the way.

I experienced something I’m not used to – being “CQ’d in my face”, where a strong station was calling CQ – I’d respond, only to hear him call CQ again. This wasn’t because a stronger station beat me out, but because I just wasn’t being heard. This certainly didn’t happen all the time, but often enough that I learned to just accept it. I wasn’t going to work everything I heard using a half a watt.

I also had a couple of honest rag-chews along the way, including one with a guy in Japan who was running 500 watts, while I was running 500 milliwatts – a 30 dB difference in output power.

I also broke through a few pileups along the way. K2CPR tried to shame me away when he was calling CY0/VA1AXC – Sable Island – on 15m SSB one afternoon, saying he’d been trying for 30 minutes. Patrick did work him first, but I got the DX in my log just a few minutes later. PW0F – Fernando de Noronha – was another notable pileup on 20m CW I managed to crack. Those two in particular prove that you CAN be competitive with flea-power.

Some of my contacts were amazingly easy, needing just one call. Some were surprisingly challenging – especially when a particularly strong station would call CQ in my face.

97 percent of my 500 mw contacts were made using CW, with two SSB contacts and one RTTY contact. Country number 100 – Kaliningrad – was worked just less than 8 weeks after I started the 500 milliwatt challenge.

My longest-distance contact was to Australia, at 20,173.2 Miles per Watt (distance divided by power).

What’s next? I’m not sure at this point. I just know I’ve been having fun!

By the way, Elecraft Kool-Aid is grape flavored. And it’s delicious.



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