As many of you know, I’m a ham operator. I spend a lot of time listening to the HF bands, not a whole lot transmitting, but I do listen. One of the things that tends to irritate me is when I hear some wag putting someone else down because they have a “little signal”, by which they mean 100 watts or so.

Let me stop and point out that 5 watts — not 100, but five — is sufficient to go around the entire world, even with a minimal antenna such as a dipole or an inverted vee. You need the right conditions, of course, but that’s always been what ham radio is about. It’s not a phone or IM system, it’s radio.

But here we have these people, dissing and being obnoxious when the transmitting station has “only” 100 watts.

Let’s look at the effect of adding power: It makes you easier to hear. But it does nothing to improve your reception. Which, essentially, makes you deafer at the same time it makes you louder. What will happen is that more stations can hear you, but of those stations that can hear you, the ones that you are likely to hear only include those using similar amounts of power.

Now, in sharp contrast, let’s look at the effect of adding antenna gain. This differs from adding power in a very important way: this symmetrically aids your station in that it both increases your ability to receive them, and increases the other station’s ability to hear you.

So of you’d like to improve your station, please consider spending your money and/or time on improving your antenna systems if it is in any way possible. Your signal will be stronger and you’ll be “less deaf.”

And you won’t end up being one of that most obnoxious group of people who sneer at perfectly normal radio installations. Won’t that be nice?

As far as I’m concerned, the best use of a power amp in this context is to drive it to about 100 watts output, just the same level your transceiver or transmitter could have managed, with a drive level of just a few watts. The benefit is that your main radio loafs along at low power output, likely keeping it much cooler and making it last longer.

To answer the obvious questions, yes, I have an external power amp. Several of them, in fact. Two for HF, and one for VHF. But no, I don’t drive them to many hundreds of watts under typical conditions. In an emergency when someone hearing me matters more than me hearing them, I’m perfectly willing to crank them up. I do not, however, view “barefoot” stations as being somehow inferior or incomplete, nor do I troll the amateur bands only looking for people using high power.

If you are an amplifier user, I ask you to consider these things carefully. Better antenna installations benefit both ends of every contact. Amps at high power don’t. Think about it.