The Gambler

The joy of "You're pinning the needle!"
Are oft the words a DXer yearns to hear
But while it may take many, many a year,
QRO QRO with each QSO will bring the knock,
"There's RFI all down the block . . ."  

    One of the Local QRPers was by the other day and he had a pensive look in his eye. It was clear that once again he had a problem with the Eternal Enigmas of DXing and the Mysteries of the Ages. And it didn't take him long to start the questions. "You know when they post speed limits, like 55 MPH or 30 MPH and that sort of thing." he began, "Well, don't the traffic police who enforce this sort of thing have a built in 'forgiveness factor'?" We looked at the QRPer for a moment, then asked, "What do you mean, a 'forgiveness factor'? Do you mean they don't charge every person they catch speeding? Where did you hear this?" The QRPer had sparked our interest for, although we tried our best to obey all the traffic laws, there had been the odd time we had glanced down at the speedometer and found ourselves over the limit. This didn't seem quite right, so we asked, "Do you mean we might not be charged with speeding if we were actually doing, say 50 MPH, in a 30 MPH zone?"

    "No, not at all", the QRPer replied, "I'm sure if you were going that fast you'd end up with a ticket. And if you got caught, rightly so! If it was safe to drive that fast in a 30 MPH zone, then it would be posted 50 MPH, not 30 MPH. What I meant was what if you were just a bit over like maybe 5 MPH. Most speedometers are not exact and if you were clocked at 35 MPH in a 30 MPH zone, wouldn't they just forget about it and let you go." We had to admit the QRPer might have a point, but this was out of our area of expertise. So we replied, "You may be right, and we suspect a minor digression like that could be forgiven or overlooked. But it might not. If the traffic cop was in a bad mood, you could end up with a ticket. What's this got to do with DXing, anyhow?"

    "Oh, nothing really", the QRPer replied slowly, the pensive look on his face growing, "just that sometimes DXing can be like a race." We had to agree with this, but we still weren't clear on what the QRPer was driving at. He looked over at us and tried another direction: "Well, suppose you were filling out your income tax form and you ended up owing the IRS $500 and you figured it to be $490. If they caught the mistake, they probably wouldn't audit you or make you pay a big fine over a little bit like that, would they?" We took a deep breath and looked at the QRPer, trying to figure out where he was going with this. "Probably not", we replied, "but you would be better off talking to a lawyer or an accountant about these things, not a DXer." The QRPer was walking back and forth, his chin in one hand and the other holding up the elbow, deep in thought. Finally he said, "You are right, if either of these issues were really a problem for me, I'd see an expert in the field. But what I was thinking was more in general terms . . . as they might apply to DXing and breaking pileups for rare DXpeditions. Most government regulations leave a little 'gray area' . . . a little slack for movement one way or the other, right?"

    We had no idea where the QRPer was going so we simply nodded and said "Maybe some of them." And this was what the QRPer was waiting for. "So you agree! That's what I thought . . . a minor transgression, should you get caught, would likely be forgiven, or at most, you'd be warned and told not to do it again, right?" We held up our hand and this point and tried to head him off, for we were not about to have this QRPer put words in our mouth. But he was off and there was no stopping him. "So, if you can speed a little or make a little mistake in your tax calculations, then surely a little mistake in your amplifier output power would fall into the same category, right? And as with radar guns and tax accounts, mistakes with a watt meters are to be expected! Measuring these things is never exact."

    It is amazing how quickly an discussion you are barely following can become crystal clear!! "You bought one of those new amplifiers with the three 3CX800A7's, didn't you?" we asked, looking the QRPer right in his beady little eyes. "The one that's good for 3500 out on either CW or SSB!! And you want to know how far you can push it before the FCC will cite you for excessive power, right?"

    The QRPer looked at us for a moment, then replied, "Yes and no. I do have one of those amps . . . I just got it a couple of weeks ago. But I have no intention of exceeding full power. I just got it so I wouldn't have to drive the exciter so hard. My old amp had a pair of 3-500Z tubes and I feel that this one will be loafing at full power with about half the drive. I simply bought it to save my rig. The problem is I'm not sure I can measure the output power accurately enough to be sure I wouldn't be a bit over from time to time. But if it happened, it'd only be a little bit. Surely the FCC has an allowance built in for this, on the off chance they happened to catch me making this mistake, don't you agree?"

    At this point we weren't agreeing to anything so we simply hauled the QRPer up the hill to see the Old Timer. On the way we advised him to skip the speeding ticket and tax comparison . . . the question being asked was clear and the Old Timer's patience at times was short. The QRPer repeated the story about the new amplifier, ending with "and since 100 watts one way or the other is hard to measure accurately, I would be safe in assuming that if the FCC found I was running just that much over, they would simply ignore it, right?" The Old Timer looked at the QRPer for a second or two, then said, "You bought this amp to save the rig, right?" The QRPer nodded in agreement. "Then set your output power at 1200 watts, and even if you meter is off by as much as 20%, the most you'd ever put out would be 1400. Well within FCC guidelines." And that was all he would say.

    We walked back down the hill with the QRPer in tow and it was clear he was not satisfied with the Old Timer's advice. "What kind of answer is that?" he asked in a rather sarcastic tone. "If I have an amp that's good for 3500 watts out, why should I set it for just 1200? That's only about a third of what it's good for!! I might as well have kept the old 1500-watt amp."

    We thought this over for a moment, then replied, "If you want to save the rig, follow the Old Timer's advice. But if you are really trying to break those big pileups with the 'extra 100 watts', remember what Tom said: "Don't gamble unless you can afford to lose, and if you can afford to lose, you don't have to gamble." The QRPer stopped in his tracks and looked right at us. "What?", he said with a confused look. QRPers who are close to understanding often ask "What?" when they don't really want the answer they hear!

    Son of a Gun! It is often hard for the young and wanting to understand the Eternal Enigmas of DXing, so we tried another approach. "Look at it this way", we said, "as Lord Baden Powell, the Hero of Mafeking said: 'Be Prepared!' And hope that the traffic cop, the tax auditor and the FCC inspector are all DXers!! For only a DXer understands DX and only another DXer understands a DXer. And with that we sauntered away, leaving the QRPer still confused and wondering why we were humming that Kenny Rogers song as we went. True-Blue DXers are gamblers, but they know when to hold them and know when to fold them! Absolutely. That's why they are DXers! And don't argue with Kenny because you'll lose. Every time!!

This story is in the public domain and may be reproduced in any format. - VE1DX

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Last updated on Thursday, 12 April 2007