Signal Reporting, QSL Cards, The Phonetic Alphabet, and Morse Code
You have passed the examination, been issued a licence, and have a callsign. You have acquired a transmitter and receiver. You are now set to begin operating.
Golden Rules of Operating
LISTEN: This is the first rule. The strongest reason for listening before transmitting is to ensure that you won't interfere with anyone already using the frequency. The second reason for listening is that it may tell you a great deal about the condition of the bands. Although a band may be dead by popular consent at a particular time, frequent openings occur which you can take advantage of if you are listening at the right time. The third reason for listening is that if you can't hear 'em you are not likely to work 'em. Several short calls with plenty of listening spells will net you more contacts than a single long call. If you are running low power you may find it more fruitful to reply to someone else's CQ rather than call CQ yourself.
KEEP IT SHORT: If we all listened and never called, the bands would be very quiet indeed. So, if after listening, you have not made a contact, call CQ. The rules for calling CQ are:
1. Use your callsign frequently. Whoever you are calling knows their own callsign. They are interested in finding out yours.
2. Keep it short. Either they have heard you or they haven't. Either way, it is a waste of time giving a long call. If they are having difficulty in hearing you, use phonetics, but keep the overs as short as possible.
When using CW send a 3 by 3 CQ. This means the letters CQ sent three times, followed by your callsign sent three times, and then the same group sent again, for example:
CQ CQ CQ de ZL1XYZ ZL1XYZ ZL1XYZ
sent twice and finally end with the letter K (for over) after the second group.
It is a nice and polite touch to add the endpiece pse (please):
CQ CQ CQ de ZL1XYZ ZL1XYZ ZL1XYZ PSE K.
For voice operation you should repeat your call phonetically, for example:
CQ CQ CQ from ZL1XYZ ZL1XYZ ZL1XYZ
ZULU LIMA ONE X-RAY YANKEE ZULU
maybe three times and finish with:
calling CQ and listening.
4. Don't attempt to engage in DX pileups (many stations calling a rare callsign station) until you understand the accepted conventions for calling and replying.
A very bad practice may be observed in this activity. A station calling may carry out what amounts to an endurance exercise on the basis that the station who calls the longest gets the contact, purely because it is the only one that the DX station can hear clearly. This is unacceptable behaviour and should be avoided.
5. When you have made contact with that rare DX station make sure that they have your call and town correctly, give her/him your honest report, log your contact details, and then let the next station have its turn. Rare DX stations are not usually interested in the state of the weather in Eketahuna.
DO UNTO OTHERS: This rule if faithfully applied, would make the crowded HF bands far more tolerable.
1. Don't interfere with another station for any reason (except in extreme emergency).
2. Don't use full power to tune your antenna to resonance or when making matching adjustments with your antenna tuner. Always use a dummy load, or a noise bridge which enables you to tune your antenna accurately before transmitting.
3. Keep your power down to the minimum required for good communication.
4. Don't use excess audio drive or compression. This causes splatter and interference to other stations.
If there are other amateur operators in the area, it is courteous to make yourself known to them when you first begin transmitting. Check for things like cross modulation problems. If you are causing another amateur interference which is unrelated to equipment faults, you will have to come to a mutual arrangement about transmitting hours. The above suggestions apply to all modes of operation. Some modes have their own particular rules, and these will be discussed in detail separately.
Repeaters were set up to provide a wider coverage on VHF and UHF as well as to provide facilities for emergency communication. So there are special rules governing repeater operation.
1. Keep contacts short. Three minutes is the generally accepted maximum length for an over using a repeater.
2. Leave a pause between overs. This is to enable weak stations with emergency traffic to make contact. Three seconds is the accepted break.
4. Don't tune up on a repeater's input frequency.
These are the main rules for using repeaters.
Other points to note when using repeaters or working simplex channels are:
1. Long CQs are not necessary or desirable on VHF or UHF channels. Just report that you are monitoring the channel. If anyone is listening and wants to contact you they will respond to your brief call.
2. When you want to contact someone through a repeater, it is not necessary to give a series of long calls. Either they are listening or they are not. A short call followed by: are you are about Bill and Ben? will usually bring forth a response. Some people respond to their name rather than to their callsign.
Do not keep triggering the repeater to make sure that it is there. This annoys the other people who monitor the repeater and it is not a good operating practice. A better way to announce your presence is to call and request a signal report from someone who may be monitoring the repeater. This may also result in an interesting and unexpected contact.
CW - or Morse Code - Operating Morse Code
Although CW operating appears to be slow compared with the use of voice, widespread use of abbreviations enables a CW contact to be conducted quite quickly. The first point to master in CW operation is the meaning of the various abbreviations for words and phrases in common use. A list is given below.
Other expressions are also used. An expression such as up 2 means that the operator will be listening 2 kHz higher up the band at the end of his call.
The international Q-Code is also used for common instructions and consists of three-letter groups, each of which has a well defined meaning. The Q code is used to ask a question when followed by a question mark, and also used to provide a reply. For instance, if you are asked QRS? it means that the operator you are contacting is asking, should I send more slowly. The reply could be QRS 12 or whatever speed is suitable to the receiving operator.
When used on voice transmissions, many of the Q code signals take on a slightly different meaning, for instance the letters QRP indicate, low power, and QRX means, standby.
Operating CW is slightly different from voice transmission in that it is essential for the beginner to write everything down. As you become more proficient you will be able to copy in your head, but this comes only with practice.
Have a good supply of writing material handy. It adds to your difficulties if, when having to copy an incoming signal, pencils are lost, or blunt, or the supply of paper has run out. In your early days of CW sending, it helps to have a sheet of card on which is printed the name of your town, your own name, and a few details of the weather and so on. It is amazing how easy it is to forget even the spelling of your own name in morse code when in the middle of a contact. Operating convenience is fairly easy to arrange and gives a conversational style to CW transmissions. It also enables you to hear any interference on the frequency, and you can then stop to find out if you are still being heard. When calling CQ pause frequently.
A lot of your operation on the bands will be by voice, whether in the SSB or FM modes. Here are a few do's and don'ts.
1. Speak clearly into the microphone. It is a good idea to contact a local operator and ask for a critical report. Adjust your speaking distance from the microphone and audio gain control to obtain the best results. If you change your microphone or transceiver, repeat the process with the new equipment. It is often better to talk across the microphone instead of into it.
2. If conditions are difficult, use phonetics . A copy of the standard phonetic alphabet is below. This list is used and understood by all operators and will get through far better than any other phonetics you may invent.
3. During overseas contacts the use of local slang and abbreviations should be avoided as the person you are contacting may have only sufficient English to provide the essential QSL information.
4. The voice equivalent of break-in keying is VOX. This enables the transmitter to be automatically turned on with the first syllable of speech. Adjustments are provided on transceivers fitted with VOX which enable the audio gain, delay, and anti-vox, to be adjusted. These controls should be carefully set so that the transmitter is turned on as soon as speech commences, and that the delay is just sufficient to hold the transmitter on during the space between words, but released during a reasonable pause in the conversation. This will enable your contact to reply quickly to a comment, and permits an easy conversational flow.
The RST system of signal reporting is based on a scale of 1 to 5 for readability, and 1 to 9 for signal strength. A tone figure of 1 to 9 is also given in the case of CW reports - for the purity of tone.
The RST System
1 - Unreadable
2 - Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable
3 - Readable with considerable difficulty
4 - Readable with practically no difficulty
5 - Perfectly readable
1 - Faint signals, barely perceptible
2 - Very weak signals
3 - Weak Signals
4 - Fair signals
5 - Fairly good signals
6 - Good signals
7 - Moderately strong signals
8 - Strong signals
9 - Extremely strong signals
1 - AC hum, very rough and broad
2 - Very rough ac, very harsh and broad
3 - Rough ac tone, rectified but not filtered
4 - Rough note, some trace of filtering
5 - Filtered rectified ac but strong ripple modulated
6 - Filtered tone, definite trace of ripple modulation
7 - Near pure tone, trace of ripple modulation
8 - near perfect tone, slight trace of modulation
9 - Perfect tone, no trace of ripple or modulation of any kind
The R readability part of the report is usually easy to resolve with a fair degree of honesty, although you will sometimes hear a report of readability 5, and could you please repeat your name and location!
The biggest problem in reporting seems to be the accuracy of the S signal strength reports.
Some receivers are fitted with an S meter. The indication is usually related to the receiver's AGC level. AGC The meter may be a moving-coil or an LED bargraph. The usual scale is for an increase of +6 dB in the receiver input signal for each S point up to S9, with a +20 dB indication then up to +60 dB. In practice, on the HF bands, an S meter needle makes wide changes and at best is just a simple indicator of variations in the propagation path . Its best use may be for comparing two incoming signals, such as when your contact station changes antennas.
Variations in equipment, propagation, the type of antenna and power of the equipment used by the operator at the other end, can all influence a signal strength report. With these variables the best you can do is to be consistent in the signal strength reports you give and hope that your contact does the same. This applies particularly to DX contacts. However, if your local contacts begin to give you reports that are at variance with what you normally receive, it's time to have a good look at your antenna and equipment, as something may have become disconnected or out of adjustment.
The T part of the RST reporting system refers to the tone of the received signal and is used in CW reporting. On a scale of 1 to 9, a 1 would indicate a heavy AC hum. A 9, indicates a clean tone, as from a sine wave audio oscillator. It is unusual to hear a signal that is not T9 these days. The numbers in between give variations of the above conditions. Again, honesty of reporting. If a signal is not up to standard tell the operator. He will appreciate it. If your signal is not up to scratch, fix it. You owe this to other users of the bands.
When using FM these signal reports become meaningless. The audio level of an FM signal will not change with an increase in signal strength - the background noise will drop as the signal strength increases. This is called quieting. A typical report could be strength 5, very little noise. Signal reports from a repeater are generally meaningless, but a report to a user that he is fully limiting the repeater, or that his signal is breaking badly will sometimes help someone who may be checking a new site, or trying to access a repeater that he has not been able to work into before.
The original digital means of communication was the Morse code and this is still in use as a method of transferring information by means other than voice. Today however Morse has been joined by a number of other methods each with its own advantages and disadvantages. RTTY, AMTOR, and Packet Radio, have all been given a great boost with the arrival of the computer and the advent of satellites with store and forward facilities. It is now possible to pass information to many parts of the world with a hand held transceiver, modem, and computer. Each of these means of communication has its own particular operating protocol and a study of it is well worthwhile before you venture into digital communications. Digital
Confirming The Contact - QSL Cards
Most amateurs follow up a contact with an exchange of QSL cards to confirm the contact. When you design one for yourself, remember that these cards are sometimes used to obtain awards and certificates and if used for this purpose must contain the following information:
1. Your callsign, the callsign of the station worked, and your address. This should appear on the same side as other QSL information.
2. The date and time of the contact. The date should have the name of the month written. For example, 5 March 1990. In the United States 5/3/90 means May 3rd 1990. Times should be expressed in Universal Time. If local time is used this should be stated. Remember that when using Universal Time, the date changes at midday in New Zealand. (1 p.m. during daylight saving time.)
3 Signal Report.
4. Frequency of Operation.
5. Mode of operation. Some awards require the mode used by both stations to be stated. For example, 2-way SSB.
6. If the card is to be sent through the NZART QSL Bureau, the call of the station to whom the card is to be sent should be printed on the back of the card. If a QSL manager is used by the recipient, that is the call that should be used.
7. Other information which may be included is a description of equipment, NZART Branch number, County, and Maidenhead Locator.
The New Zealand Association of Radio Transmitters, NZART, operates a QSL bureau. Cards may be forwarded through this if you are a member. Details of the bureau are in the Annual NZART CallBook. If you send a card direct, it is a courtesy to send a self-addressed envelope and international reply coupons to cover the cost of return postage.
Frequency Bands and Metres
Amateur Radio frequency bands are often referred to in terms of wavelength. This Table relates the frequency bands to the wavelength equivalent:
The Phonetic Alphabet
This is an extract of APPENDIX S14 from International Radio Regulations
When it is necessary to spell out call signs, service abbreviations and words, the following letter spelling table shall be used.
Letter to be
to be Used
CHAR LEE or SHAR LEE
IN DEE AH
JEW LEE ETT
NO VEM BER
ROW ME OH
SEE AIR RAH
YOU NEE FORM or OO NEE FORM
The Following Are General Phonetics Used by Radio Amateurs
Figure or Mark
to be Transmitted
to be Used
Morse Code Abbreviations
be seeing you
calling all stations
see you later
this is; from
distant foreign countries
the CW laugh
radio frequency interference
love and kisses