To Do About It
by Keith S. Williams, W6DTY
is means of communication.
It is most efficient when all who speak it follow the same grammatical
rules and pronounce its words in the same way. Isolated groups of
a given linguistic stock tend to develop differences in speech
They speak with different accents, follow different rules of grammar,
difference growing with continued isolation until each group finds it
to understand others even though all speak the same basic language.
Morse Code is, in a way, a language. It has been efficient
all of us have followed the same procedure and used the same “QST
Now, however, isolation is beginning to make itself felt. A new accent,
a new dialect, the “Novice Accent” is beginning to be heard.
It is the one defect in an otherwise excellent innovation in amateur
pre-Novice days an amateur launched forth in the mainstream and in very
short order lost his beginner’s accent and was taken for a
Now, on the other hand, most beginners start out on 80 or 40 meters
by Novice status, to band segments populated almost entirely by other
Novices. They are the isolated linguistic group mentioned
People speak a language with the same accent as those with whom they
and work. New hams pick up habits and operating procedures of the
gang they chew the fat with.
is increasingly easy to pick out a new General Class operator on the
bands. His speed may be up to par and he may have an excellent
but his procedure is apt to be rather odd. He has difficulty in
just what is going on and his transmissions can be very confusing to
general run of amateurs. Standard ham operating procedure has
established by years of usage. In many cases it is established
it is the most efficient or intelligent way of doing it. In other
cases a certain procedure is used because it has always been done that
way and everybody understands what everyone else is doing.
would like to comment on some specific points concerned with ham
I trust it will not be too boring. You old timers can go to the
department as I want to talk to novices.
you, Bill Novice, heat up the filaments and prepare for a session of
pounding, don’t be too hasty. It is not good practice to start
CQ while you’re waiting for the reciever to come to life. Check
gear and when you’re satisfied it’s all ready, take a few minutes to
See what’s going on near your own frequency and then tune back and
a bit. More than once I’ve heard some good DX going to waste
the brethren are busy honking out CQ’s without, apparently, having
more than two seconds after turning on the rig. Pick some station
who is already calling CQ and answer his call rather than adding to the
the bedlam with a CQ of your own. On the remote chance that you
no CQ’s, go ahead and try one.
things are important:
- Your receiver has a
tuning dial; use it — it keeps corrosion from setting
in and you may hear someone calling you off your frequency. Many
a time I’ve heard a WN or KN station call CQ time after time and be
by stations in other parts of the band with no QSO resulting. If
a fellow calls CQ, signs and says “K”, then starts another CQ in ten
you know he’s not tuning. He just sits there like a lump,
a call on his own frequency. He has few QSO’s and he creates
QRM with his useless calling.
- Don’t make your calls
too long. Contrary to your first impression,
a long call does not attract eager prospects. Rather, just the
. . . the longer you call the fewer the answers you receive.
are a restless lot. After waiting through ten or twelve CQ’s the
average operator will lose patience and start looking for someone
One night, by actual count I heard one novice operator send 57 CQ’s
signing his call! This is pure madness! This applies as
to your calling another station as it does to a CQ. Make your
short. With a little thought you will realize that if the other
hasn’t heard you in the first minute or less he’s probably not going to
hear you at all.
CQ pattern that has proved very successful over a long period is the
three-by-three. CQ three times, sign your call three times and
the whole thing three times. Personally, I punch out four CQ’s, sign
times and repeat three. This is more than sufficient and results
have been satisfying. When answering a CQ, make your call as
as conditions warrant. For instance, on 40 meters, on a weekday
about ten o;’clock you hear W6DTY calling CQ near your frequency with
no activity on the band; you only need call about three times, sign
call three times and you’re in. If you’re 25 kilocycles away,
a bit longer, but not too long because it doesn’t take the receiving
long to tune through the band when activity is light. On the
hand, when QRM is heavy, make your call somewhat longer because it
a receiving operator longer to comb through the mess. In other
make the length of your call suit conditions. It is seldom
even under the worst conditions, to call a station more than eight
or ten times before signing your own call.
fall into the habit of expecting all call signs to begin with WN or
There are about two hundred other call prefixes in use throughout the
Once I heard a WH6AWU call CQ half a dozen times on the 40 meter Novice
band, putting in an S9 signal. Now, while most Novices on the
would dearly love to QSO the Hawaiian Islands, no one answered until
some poor soul came up calling W5BAWU!
Novices misuse the procedure signal DE. DE means “from” and it is
sent only once before each series of a call sign. Do not repeat
before each transmission of your call sign in a series. It is
to hear something like this, “CQ . . . CQ DE KN6ZZZ
KN6ZZZ DE KN6ZZZ CQ . . . ETC.” This is not good
Under poor receiving conditions it is very confusing to the receiving
who is trying to dope out your call letters. The extra DE throws
him every time. (Along the same lines, never sending DE messes up
many a receiving station when they are used to listening for it.)
When you sign for the last time on a CQ don’t be fancy.
Just send the procedure signal “K”. This invites
anyone who heard your CQ to answer. Do not send
either by itself or followed by K. When making calls,
A̅R̅ is used only when you have called another station but
are not yet in contact with him. A̅R̅ is a procedure signal sent
as one character, di-dah-di-dah-dit. It is not sent as the two
separate letters A and R. Examples of current, standard
1. . . . CQ CQ CQ DE KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ K, and
2. . . . WN4YYY WN4YYY WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ A̅R̅
When you have established contact there are certain preliminaries you
get squared away before you begin discussing the weather. At the
beginning of a QSO, on the first transmission from the other station,
operator is interested in two pieces of information first. He
to know how his signals are being received and where the other station
is located, in that order. Most operators, for some odd reason,
to know the other fellow’s name, but that is third in importance.
Until recent years all hams were very happy to be called OM or OB and
nobody cared what your name was. Giving the signal report,
and name, in that order, has become standard throughout the world and
always sent first, prior to everything else. It saves time
avoids confusion if you follow that standard.
. . . WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ R GE OM ES TNX FER CALL
B̅T̅ & UR RST 579
579 HR IN
PODUNK PODUNK CALIF B̅T̅
1 NAME IS BILL BILL
B̅T̅ RIG HR . . . etc. Once
the preliminaries are out of the way proceed with the QSO as it may
Rag Chewing is lots of fun.
radio is full of abbreviations. There is good reason for
It saves time. You can say more with less wear and tear on the
A great many abbreviations are standard the world over. You’ll
them listed in handbooks. Don’t go overboard, but learn to use
universally understood shortcuts in operating. A good example is
“AND.” It is a word which is heard only on the novice bands.
Learn to send “ES” instead of “AND.” It’s standard practice; it’s
quicker and easier to send. While you’re at it, learn the proper
use of abbreviations. If in doubt, look them up in the handbooks.
for period and comma were practically never heard on the ham bands
the novices got going. They are still not in use except in Novice
bands. You may need to know them to pass a code examination, but
they are clumsy and awkward in ham communications. All
can be handled by the question mark and by the sign
What do you need with a comma? Nothing! Don’t bother to use
Anyway, some of the old timers might not recognize it.
Most Novices are currently sending a comma between the name of their
and the name of their state. This is a waste of time and
No punctuation is needed there at all. Forget the lengthy,
signal for period. Just use the long break sign
or thoughts. It is much easier to send and sounds smoother.
The only time in ham radio when formal punctuation signals are called
is in such things as official bulletins, etc.
sign over to the other station make it quick and easy and use one of
standard methods. I have heard novices say, “. . . NOW I AM
IT BACK TO YOU SO HERE IT COMES . . .” Long winded guff is okay in its
but it shouldn’t become a habit on c.w. Some of the boys are now
sending, “. . . SO BK TO YOU . . .” This is an improvement, but it’s
universally understood because “bk” means BREAK, not back. All
need to say, really, is “HW” or “WATSA?” Either signal indicates
to the other fellow that you are through for the moment and are about
sign over to him. If it’s your last transmission it is customary
to part with a certain amount of love and kisses. Don’t drag it
into an absurdity. Haven’t you heard some fathead send, “WELL
NOW I MUST QRT AND WISH YOU MANY 73S 73S TNX FOR THE SWELL QSO BILL AND
73S BEST OF LUCK AND LOTS OF DX AND BEST WISHES TO YOU AND THE FAMILY
SO 73S AND I WILL SEE YOU AGAIN SOON BILL 73S . . . etc.?” all
have to say after you’ve told Bill you must QRT is something like this:
TNX QSO OM 73 GN V̅A̅2 WN4YYY DE
that it is not necessary to add an “S” to 73. By itself 73 means
“best regards.” If you say 73's you are, in effect, saying “Best
Regardses,” which is just plain silly.
or two about correct procedure when signing over to the other station
when ending a QSO. It’s all very simple but much confusion is
When you are turning the QSO over to the other operator you proceed as
follows: . . . SO WATSA OM? A̅R̅ WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ K. The
indicates that you are through for the time being. The K says,
ahead and transmit to me.” Incidentally, there is a variation of
the K signal. You may have heard it and wondered what it meant
and as like as not you have misused it. I am referring to the
This signal indicates that you are engaged in a QSO,
that you are inviting the other operator to go ahead with this transmission
and you do not wish a third station, the “breaking station,”
so called, to interrupt by calling either of you. This signal was originated as
an aid in DX operating and is not often needed in domestic communications.
Therefore I don’t advise its use in ordinary QSO’s. But if you
have occasion to use it do it right. It is definitely not a substitute
for the plain signal “K”. I have heard Novices end a CQ with
This is obviously simple-minded . Translated to English it means,
“I am calling a CQ, a general call, inviting anyone to answer, but
do not call me!”
ending a QSO use the signal, V̅A̅.
This is easy. V̅A̅ is never the last signal sent. The last
is either your call or the letter K. If you have made your last
but will stand by for the other station’s closing remarks you send, “.
. . 73 ES CUL GN V̅A̅ WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ K.” The V̅A̅
that you have made your last transmission. If you have completely
finished the QSO and wish to remain open for business you just
don’t put anything at all after your call. If you intend to
station” and hit the sack you should indicate this fact by adding the
immediately after your call. Listening operators are thus
that you will not be in the market for another QSO. It saves them
procedures are fixed by long usage and in part are called for by
The correct procedure is just as easy to learn and use as the Sloppy
type. If you are just starting on your ham career you might just as
start right. Bad habits are difficult to break. If you find
it hard to remember what to send and when to send it make up a sheet
standard forms and keep it on your operating desk. Refer to it
in doubt; first thing you know your procedure will be automatic.
Once learned it isn’t forgotten.
winded, I don’t mind adding a few items which can be classed as
(or, The Bleatings of an Old Goat). First on the agenda is an
complaint about birds who come back with “R” when they have copied only
part or perhaps nothing at all of your last transmission. This
scream of mingled rage and pain has been heard since Marconi first sent
three dots across the Atlantic. You’d think that, after all these
years, the R-for-Roger pest would have become extinct, but it is not
Every day some fellow manages to come back to you with something like
“... WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ R R R OK OK BUT PLEASE REPEAT MY REPORT
AND YOUR QTH ALSO MISSED YOUR NAME AND DID NOT COPY YOUR LAST QUESTION
IN THE QRM . . .!” The simple fact is that if you send
“R” you are indicating that you copied solid everything
the other operator sent. Do not send a single R if you missed
any part of his transmission. Just send a break sign,
your call when you go back to him, if you missed
anything, and tell him what you missed. There is nothing
more exasperating than to hear, “R BUT MISSED EVERYTHING
with this business of receipting, one other point might be
If you have copied the other fellow’s transmission solid and have so
by “R” when you go back to him, he can be expected to have sense enough
to know that you got what he sent. Therefore it is needless wear
and tear on your key and a waste of your time and his to go through
rigamarole of “OK ON THIS, OK ON THAT, OK ON YOUR RIG, OK ON YOUR WX,
ON YOUR DOG HAVING JAUNDICE, ETC., ETC.” Just up and proceed with
your remarks and comments. If he asked a question, answer
If he made a statement that requires no answer, make no answer.
really very simple.
rogue’s gallery character is the guy with long, deathly silences.
He sends your call, signs his, says, “R ES TNX FER DPE OM
then apparently lapses into a coma. When you finally decide that
the oaf has suffered a heart attack and departed this vale of tears, he
suddenly comes to life and burps out a couple of BT’s and staggers
with “RIG HR 807 WID 50 WATTS
B̅T̅ . . .,”
and shoves off for dreamland again. This makes the receiving operator
nervous. If your mind goes temporarily blank when you are on the key, send something
. . . a series of B̅T̅ or V,
or most anything. Just don’t sit there leaving the other operator
to wonder if you are still alive. There is nothing worse than a
of clatter on the air except complete silence.
topping the list of the Ten Most Wanted Men in ham radio is the bird
the sloppy fist. He makes life a horror for those who try to copy
him. He has no idea how many dots he’s sending — he just throws
plenty so that you can take your pick. He runs letters and words
together or, just the reverse, he separates parts of letters and chunks
of words. He sounds as though he’s using a loose toggle switch
a key and sending in Japanese kana code. On top of all this he
up his spelling and procedure continually and fills the air with
of dots to indicate errors. Some operators (?) go on for years
unaware that their fists are bad. In fact, they may even fancy
as artists on the key. They get huffy if anyone suggests that
are not 100% readable. They suggest that the receiving operators
need a little practice. If you are one of those boys, you are
a hopeless case. However, if you know that your sending leaves
to be desired and you are sincerely interested in developing a good
fist you can cease worrying — it’s simple. Just practice
But not on the air.
a code practice oscillator and send to yourself. The ideal manual
fist is one that sounds like a tape transmitter. Don’t
It’s a skill that’s easy to acquire. Of course, to begin with,
must know how good code sounds. The simplest way is to turn on
receiver and tune in a commercial tape circuit and
listen.3 Tune around,
find a station sending press or other traffic and just sit and
You don’t have to be able to copy it solid. Maybe you can copy
seven words a minute and the commercial is sending at 20 or 25.
matter. Don’t worry about what he’s sending, just pay attention
how it’s sent. Listen to the individual
letters; get the feel
of his rhythm and spacing. Then adjust your key, get comfortable,
and send to yourself. Try to make your hand-keyed letters sound
the tape-sent letters. Send from a newspaper or book and pay
to spacing between words and letters as well as to the shape of each
letter. At first it may seem an impossible task but you’ll be
how rapidly your sending improves. Sure it’s a lot of work, but
weren’t born with a telegraph key in your hand and you have to
You don’t write a letter in such an illegible scrawl that it can’t be
(or do you?), so why transmit a botched-up mess of dots and dashes to
poor wretch on 40 meters who is trying to read it.
can be pleasant and easy. It is not, as often averred, a lost
You are welcome to dive right in and flail away at the old brass pump
But, please, use genuine International Morse and standard
It will make life a pleasure for both you and your adversaries.
- For those who have never
worked CW, this may require a little translation.
||“From,” meaning that this transmission is coming from
the station whose callsign follows.
||“Roger,” i.e., I received your last transmission
||And (from the old American Morse ampersand
||Your or You're
||Signal report in the Readability,
Strength, and Tone
So the whole
string translates as follows: “WN4YYY this is KN6ZZZ.
I copied your last transmission solid. Good evening old man and thanks
for the call. Your signal is coming in perfectly readable, moderately
strong, and with no ripple here in Podunk, California.”
- The prosign that the author
is now almost universally shown in print as
The resulting code, of course, is the same.
- Commercial or military
tape-sent code is a bit harder to find these days than it was when the
article was written. A good substitute is the MP3 files of W1AW code
practice available at