Mention "QRP operation" and most radio amateurs think of a
small CW transceiver for the HF bands. Mention "VHF QRP" and the response may be
more like "what's the matter, your transmitter broke?" The surge of interest in
QRP is largely focused on the HF bands and most weak-signal operation on the VHF
bands is high power, for good reason. Putting together a competitive weak-signal
station requires careful attention to every decibel in the system --- receive
sensitivity, transmission line loss, antenna gain and, yes, transmitter power.
On the other hand, there is something to be learned from the QRP community about
having fun with amateur radio.
What is QRP?
QRP is normally defined as operating with 5 Watts of output power or less. If
you dig a little deeper, you'll find that low power operation carries a lot more
QRP is generally associated with:
• Compact, portable, battery-powered equipment (often used portable in the
• A personal challenge and/or a minimalist approach (get the job done using
• Emphasis on operator skill (especially CW operation)
• Contesting or other events that promote QRP activity
Are these elements of radio operating relevant to VHF and
Our VHF equipment is not always compact and portable but in
recent years there has been a significant reduction in the size and weight of
VHF and up equipment. It started with the combination HF/VHF/UHF mobile rigs
from ICOM (IC-706) and Yaesu (FT-100). For QRP enthusiasts, the FT-817 from
Yaesu is a backpack-ready 5 Watt rig that spans HF through 70 cm.
(Unfortunately, none of these rigs include the 222 MHz band.) Now that I think
of it, we should include the older single-band all-mode rigs such as the FT-290R
and the IC-502. More importantly, we see hams using these rigs for VHF/UHF
mountaintop and grid expeditions. So, yes, there is a match between compact,
portable operation and VHF and up.
With regard to taking on a personal challenge in radio
operating, the weak-signal VHF/UHF enthusiasts are already there. The higher
bands were once thought to be of no use except for limited line-of-site
propagation. The weak-signal ham community has proved that idea wrong.
The weak-signal VHF world also puts on emphasis on operator
skill, including the use of CW. You must be a fast and efficient radio operator
to make contacts when VHF band conditions are marginal or changing rapidly. Most
serious VHF operators have had the experience of trying to work a distant
station on SSB, then switching over to CW to complete the contact. Whether you
like using CW or not, it does get through tough conditions better than phone, so
it is important to have in your bag of tricks.
With regard to contests, this is where QRP VHF is formally
established. The major VHF contests have a special entry category for QRP
operation, with a maximum power level of 10 watts, not 5 watts. The ARRL
contests refer to this category as "Single Operator Portable" while the CQ
World-Wide VHF contest just calls it "QRP". The intent of these categories is to
encourage portable operation, presumably from a rare grid or mountaintop
In summary, we can check the box on all of the main QRP
elements as applying to VHF and higher.
Intro to VHF QRP
First, let's talk about some of the more popular frequency bands above 50 MHz. I
am going to discuss the bands up through 70 cm because they are the most
commonly used. Certainly, there is a huge amount of spectrum above 70 cm with
lots of potential, especially if you are into experimentation and homebrewing of
equipment. Note that I am using the term VHF quite loosely, to mean any band
above 50 MHz.
50 to 54 MHz
SSB: 50.125 MHz
FM: 52.525 MHz
communications but Sporadic-E and F2 propagation are common.
144 to 148 MHz
SSB: 144.200 MHz
FM: 146.52 MHz
The most popular
VHF band, used for local communication via simplex and repeaters.
Normally local communications but long distance tropo propagation and
Sporadic-E propagation occasionally occurs.
222 to 225 MHz
SSB: 222.100 MHz
FM: 223.5 MHz
similar to 2M but rarely sporadic-E
420 MHz to 450
SSB: 432.100 MHz
FM: 446.0 MHz
similar to 2M but no sporadic-E
Note: This table
shows the US amateur bands, other countries may have different frequency
There are a number of transceivers available for VHF QRP. One of the most
exciting rigs to appear on the scene is the FT-817, which covers HF, 6M, 2M and
70 cm. More recently, ICOM introduced the IC-703, which is primarily an HF QRP
rig but is available in a version that includes 6 meters. MFJ offers a couple of
single-band transceivers, the MFJ 9406X 6M SSB rig with 7 watts output and the
MFJ 9402X 2M SSB rig with 10 watts output.
Elecraft, the well-known manufacturer of radio kits, recently
introduced a line of transverters that will allow HF rigs to operate on VHF (see
"CQ VHF Reviews the Elecraft K2 Transceiver", CQ VHF, Summer 2003). According to
the Elecraft web site, there are three models: XV50 (50 MHz), XV144 (144 MHz)
and XV222 (222 MHz) with 20 to 25 watt output.
There are older rigs available on the used market such as the
FT-290R series from Yaesu and the IC-202 series from ICOM. These are low power,
single-band rigs for 6M, 2M and 70 cm. Check out your local hamfest or online
auction such as Ebay (http://www.ebay.com).
The antenna for any amateur radio station is a critical component. The key
difference at VHF and higher is the shorter wavelength, which means antenna
elements are much shorter and perhaps more numerous. The polarization of the
antenna is important under most situations, since you want to have your antenna
with the same polarization (horizontal or vertical) as the station you are
contacting. Most FM-oriented stations use vertical polarization, consistent with
easy mobile mounting and simple omni-directional antennas. Serious weak-signal
VHFers almost always use SSB or CW and horizontal antennas.
For the 6-meter band, we can adapt many of the standard HF
wire antenna designs. For example, the classic half-wave dipole is a good
choice, providing an efficient radiator about 9 ½ feet long. A quarter-wave
vertical is also a possibility, especially for mobile installations. Antenna
polarization is not an issue for long distance propagation via the ionosphere
since the polarity tends to change anyway. For local contacts,
horizontally-polarized is generally the way to go. Yagi beam antennas for 6
meters are normally mounted horizontal and provide gain over a dipole.
For the 2-meter band, the wavelength and antenna elements are
quite short (about 1 meter or 39 inches) compared to the typical HF antenna.
Here, the yagi antenna is the most popular, with as few as 3 elements and as
many as 17 elements. For CW or SSB work on this band, you'll definitely want to
be horizontally polarized. For FM, vertical is more common.
The bands higher than 2 meters tend to also use yagi antennas
but with correspondingly shorter elements. The shorter wavelength allows for
more antenna gain within the same antenna dimensions. Of course, a directional
antenna means that you need a method for pointing the antenna in the desired
Transmission line loss is an issue at VHF and higher frequencies. This loss is
usually specified in dB per 100 feet of cable length. The losses of some common
coaxial transmission lines are shown in the table below. Small cables such as
RG-58 have high loss at VHF frequencies, losing 3 dB (half the power) in 100
feet at 50 MHz. However, RG-58 might be acceptable for shorter cable runs, say
25 feet or less. RG-8x is not much larger in diameter but delivers lower loss.
For longer runs, the larger "full size" RG-8U and 9913 are necessary to control
transmission line loss.
Loss per 100
Loss per 100
Loss per 100
Source: Cable X-perts, Inc. catalog,
The place to start on VHF is to go to the calling frequency and call CQ. Unlike
the HF bands, there is a tendency to mix CW and SSB operation on the same
frequency space on VHF. For example, on 2 meters you might hear an SSB signal
calling CQ on 144.200 MHz then a few minutes later hear a CQ using CW. Someone
might even respond to the CW CQ using SSB and take up the QSO on phone. It is
good operating practice to move off of the calling frequency once contact is
established. However, you'll hear people rag-chewing on the calling frequency,
especially in areas that have little VHF activity.
Without a band opening, you are dependent on local activity to
make contacts on the VHF bands. Local activity is, well, local and depends on
how many VHF operators there are in your area and how often they get on the air.
The amount of activity on these bands will vary dramatically from place to
place. Some areas have a formal or informal activity night, sometimes by band.
For example, Monday night may be the 2-meter activity night, while Tuesdays
might be for 1.25 meters. Obviously, this is a good time to get on the air,
check out your equipment and work some of the local VHF crowd. Another
opportunity is a local VHF net, most common on 2 meters.
Finally, VHF contests are great for concentrating activity and
represent a chance to work lots of stations in a short period of time. These
weekends are my favorite weekends to operate VHF, not so much to compete in the
contest but to enjoy the higher level of activity on the bands.
Besides a signal report, a key piece of information that gets exchanged on the
VHF bands is the grid locator, which indicates your approximate position on the
planet. The Maidenhead Locator System divides the earth into rectangles that are
1 degree latitude by 2 degrees longitude. The VUCC (VHF/UHF Century Club) and
other awards are based on the number of grids contacted. When you get on the SSB/CW
portion of the VHF bands, the operator on the other end will likely want to know
your grid. For example, the grid that covers greater Denver, CO is DM79. For
most VHF and UHF operation the four-character grid is used (e.g., DM79), but two
more characters can be added to create a more precise 6-character locator (e.g.,
The best way to determine your grid is to take an accurate
latitude and longitude measurement and convert it. A GPS receiver is a very
convenient and accurate way to determine your position and many of them can
display the location in the maidenhead grid format (usually 6 characters).
Otherwise, you may need to consult a map of your area that shows latitude and
longitude. The ARRL web site (http://www.arrl.org/locate/gridinfo.html) has more
information on the grid system, including a web page that can calculate the grid
locator based on latitude and longitude.
One of the advantages of QRP operating is that the equipment is small and
portable. You can operate from almost anywhere! For VHF, the obvious thing to do
is increase your height above average terrain. In other words,
drive or hike to your favorite mountaintop location and activate it. In
Colorado, we have an event designed just for this purpose, called the
Colorado 14er Event. VHF contests are
excellent opportunity to operate from your local high spot. If you don't
have a mountain close at hand, then check out the local fire tower, lighthouse,
grain silo or skyscraper.
We made a quick tour through some basic operating information for the bands
above 50 MHz. This is just a start, so please give me your feedback, ideas and
suggestions on future topics.
72, Bob KØNR.
ARRL Web site, vhf grid information:
Yaesu web site, FT-817 information:
ICOM web site, IC-903 information:
Elecraft web site, vhf transverters:
MFJ Enterprises: vhf transceivers: