Confessions of an Inveterate Milliwatter

By Ed Hare, W1RFI

People like to overcome challenges; it's part of our nature. I lack the physical skills to be a mountain climber, so I have instead chosen to challenge the fickle layers of  the ionosphere with a transmitter that runs milliwatts. It's my way of riding the knife-edge of what can be done.

Like many hams, I started chasing DX With 100 watts. I was content with this until a friend loaned me an HW-7. The meager 6 W didn't work very well with an indoor apartment antenna, but it gave me quite a thrill to work a few common European countries.

I finally managed to move to the country, where I had enough acreage to grow a better antenna crop. I also built a crystal-controlled transmitter that used a 74S00 logic

Chip as the oscillator and final amplifier, producing 250 milliwatts. A few local states were quickly put in the log. I smiled every time I told the station I was working that

My final was a NAND gate!

A few hundred miles seemed to be the limit until the 1984 CW Sweepstakes weekend. I had never paid much attention to contests, so I was not prepared for the bedlam I found when I turned on my radios that Saturday afternoon. A loud W4 was calling CQ on 40 meters, and with no expectation of actually being heard, I sent my call sign once. What's this? He's working me! Uh, let's see, I first got my ticket in, uh, '64 -- that will do. By the time the contest was over, I had worked 24 states with 250 milliwatts. Those big-gun contesters sure have good earsl Three years later, I had them all. My hand was literally shaking as I waiting for the band to improve enough to work a KU in the CQ WW contest.

Last year, my milliwatt quest continuing, I modified an HW-8 to run 10 milliwatts output. I had quite an adventure during the '88 CW Sweepstakes, netting 56 QSOs with 31 ARRL sections. The 18-hour operation boiled down to 347,200 points per watt!

The 1989 CW SS gave me state number twenty-nine. A couple of DX contests later, eight DXCC countries were in the log. All contacts were made Via an 80-meter dipole fed with open-wire ladder line.

It's a high-tech effort. I use a computer to predict expected signal levels to those elusive western states. By all indications, WAS with 10 milliwafts can be done! If any operators west of the Mississippi want to test their station's weak-signal capabilities, I would appreciate a sked!-Ed Hare, W1RFI, ARRL Laboratory Manager.