Part 3: QRP Activator Chat with N9MM and The Old Timer

So when you were out activating with Randy and Jerry, what it like? Did you do anything beyond operate?

N9MM: Oh yeah. We spent a lot of time sitting around chatting about this and that. Both have had nice business careers which they retired from. And both have interesting family stories. But we talked a lot about radio too.

Like what kind of stuff?

N9MM: Well, some of the operating tricks I’ve learned over the years an a DXer and contester.

Like what?

N9MM: I think its really important to be enthusiastic, or at least pretend to be, especially on SSB where the tone of your voice is easily heard.

That make sense. I’ve heard special event stations with operators who sounded like they didn’t really want to be there. I’m sure they did, but they didn’t sound like it on the air.

N9MM: I know. I believe enthusiasm draws a crowd. You almost always hear it in DXpedition operators and contesters. Both are a big operating drag, though, where the ops get really tired, but the they fight through it and make it sound like they really want to work you.

N9MM: One of the best ways to sound enthusiastic is to have a quick voice cadence. Talk much faster than you normally would. That’s what radio and TV people do. And get as far from a monotone voice as possible. Oh, and to be more engaging I usually call people by name.


N9MM: Everybody loves being recognized. I learned that years ago in business. Call a customer by name, and they’ll love you. Works for Activations too.

I’m no good at names. I could never do that.

N9MM: Me neither. I’m terrible at names, but in the beginning, I spent time memorizing names of guys that I expected to work. Started with the most obvious, like Jess. Later I started using software to assist, which is one reason I use N1MM+ even though other programs are easier for POTA. N1MM+ has a feature called Call History. In that file, I populate call signs/names, so that when I enter a call sign, a name appears, I know the ops name before replying. This has been a nice tool to help me learn names of the most active Hunters, but it’s a nice crutch for those more casual Hunters. I think I have upward to 2000 station/name combinations in the Call History file now, and it grows with each Activation of course.

That’s cheating. Here all this time thought you were a Name Genius.

N9MM: Better living through software. But kidding aside, I think recognizing people by name on the air is a really important part of being a good activator.

N9MM: Another thing, when calling CQ on SSB, giving the park name seems to help. I think people like to know who and/or where they are calling. For those Hunters with a directional antenna, it helps them know where to point. Plus giving the name gives the Activation a feeling of a special event station. Some people like to work them who might pass aside a CQ POTA call. I know it slows things down with a longer CQ, but if you’re calling CQ, then things are already slow. Just saying. So my SSB CQ goes something like this, “CQ CQ Parks of the Air from November Nine Mexico in Huntsville State Park in Texas Nancy Nine Mike Mike.” Make sure to take a breath before starting or you will for sure run br gasping by end!

How about on CW?

N9MM: Of course adding the park name makes CW too long so I skip it there. But I have learned a trick that helps when signals are weak and suffering with QSB. After the exchange I usually I try and repeat how the guy ends is exchange. For instance if he sends TU es 73, I send the same TU & 73 back. It helps reinforce the QSO and let’s the other guy know I copied, and that he is in the log. When signals are strong, it just seems like a friendlier way to terminate the QSO instead of a consistent, machine-like ending.

That’s interesting. I’ve never paid any attention to that.

N9MM: I’ve mentioned it in passing a couple times, but I want to emphasis what an important part N1MM+ logging software plays. The two things it does that really matters is the Partial Call Lookup and Call History files. It’s not unusual to get a partial call, and with the help of memory and N1MM I can usually figure it out without asking for repeats which helps everybody. Second, I can’t emphasis enough how important it is to call people by names. N1MM+ does both of these well. In September I started paying more attention to the call history. Now, between the September trip and this one, I have over 2,500 unique calls I’ve worked. N1MM+ is a little more trouble, but it pays dividends. And yes, I’ll share my call history with anyone that wants it.

What about pileups? What is the best way to handle them?

Old Timer: That’s easy. Make everyone in the pileup think they are next.

N9MM: The Old Timer is right about that. The trick, however, is being able to do it. My best advice is “No Drama” and “Work ‘em Fast.” Never chew out a pileup for it will send you to a place you don’t want to go. And set a pace. If you can’t get a whole call, then go for a partial, but keep a rhythm. That helps keep things under control.

N9MM: Part of that is to speed up and slow down based on callers. If there are multiple callers, be as quick, and brief, as possible. “W4JL 59”, “73 N9MM”, “KO4SB 57”, “73 N9MM” etc. Nothing wasted. Then “W4JL hi Dave 59” when things are slower. Or “W4JL hi Dave Nice Signal 59” when things are even slower. Always be friendly, but being friendly with multiple callers is not making people wait.

This all seems to be really good advice. I suppose you shared this with Jerry and Randy.

N9MM: Yes I did. I wish there was somewhere to write it down so others could benefit.

Let me ask, what would you like to do differently?

N9MM: Be louder. I want more people to be able to hear me longer during the band openings. I have a crappy signal into Europe. 100 watts and a simple vertical doesn’t cut it in these marginal band conditions. I know many struggle to hear me. I hate, hate, hate that.

N9MM: Let me take a minute to talk about QRP. First, a very good friend of mine plays with QRP a lot. I think he holds some QRP contest records, but he has very good antennas. Jim, K5RX, has a pair of 185’ towers supporting wires for 40, 80, and 160. On 160m he has four full sized verticals in an array. With five watts he is able to break pileups on 160 because of his antennas. But he pairs QRP with good antennas. Too many people pair QRP with bad antennas which is where hardship begins.

N9MM: Talking about QRP Jim explains that with low power, the openings are a lot shorter than with higher power. Have you ever wondered how the big dogs in contest work so many QSOs? Its because their big stations allow them to have longer openings, oh, and they are stronger, so more S&P types can hear them. Where an opening may last hours for the big dogs, the openings may only be a half hour with QRP. Jim says the skill is in being able to find that half hour.

N9MM: I think there is a parallel here for QRP Activators. Shorter openings, fewer Hunters hearing them making for Activation struggles. Randy, N6MMA, who was once a QRP guy (maybe still is under some circumstances) has been quite outspoken these days about combining QRP with a good antenna. I agree. If you really want a challenge, run QRP with a highly compromised antenna in a hole or canyon. Thinking that wouldn’t be a very rewarding combination. Just saying.
That’s quite interesting. I’ve never really thought about QRP that way.

N9MM: Look, I’m too old to fight a war with QRPers. There’s a place for everything.

Are you bothered at all by the mess going on with some in the US and WWFF. It makes me, and a lot of others both confused and frustrated.

N9MM: Of course, at times. But then I remind myself to keep on doing what I do, visiting great parks, and making QSOs. It will work itself out.

Old Timer: Remember when everyone thought DXCC would fall apart when Bob White retired in ’76? I guess some won’t, or maybe most won’t. But believe me, it was traumatic when the rudder of the program left.

One final question, then I need to get home. XYL, bless her sweet heart has, a list of chores for me. How long have you and the Old Timer known each other? It seems like it must be a long time.

N9MM: Yes, it has. Hugh Cassidy, WA6AUD, introduced us back in the early ‘70s, maybe ’73 or ’74.

Old Timer: I hardly remember him from back then. Norm was an ordinary QRP DXer. But to his credit, he has stayed with it.

N9MM: Yeah, I was running a SB-101 barefoot with a TH-6 tribander. Worked a lot of DX back then, and started operating DX contest to find, and work, new countries. Then one thing led to another. Operated some long yagis and tall towers and big amplifiers, but now I’m bare foot again with a K3 and excited to work common European countries again. Kind of funny how it has worked out.

N9MM: Glad you could drop by this evening. I hope you understand that I’m doing nothing special that most can replicate.

Old Timer: And remember, POTA People always Stand Tall, some just taller than others.

With that, we got a knowing smile from the QRP Activator, and he bounded out the door with new purpose for the New Year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR ALL…de N9MM and The Old Timer

 Written by Norman Myers, N9MM. Used with permission