And What To Do
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 habits.
They speak with different accents, follow different rules of grammar, the
difference growing with continued isolation until each group finds it difficult
to understand others even though all speak the same basic language.
Morse Code is, in a way, a language. It has been efficient because
all of us have followed the same procedure and used the same “QST English.”
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 radio.
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 native.
Now, on the other hand, most beginners start out on 80 or 40 meters confined,
by Novice status, to band segments populated almost entirely by other
Novices. They are the isolated linguistic group mentioned above.
People speak a language with the same accent as those with whom they live
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 c.w.
bands. His speed may be up to par and he may have an excellent fist,
but his procedure is apt to be rather odd. He has difficulty in understanding
just what is going on and his transmissions can be very confusing to the
general run of amateurs. Standard ham operating procedure has been
established by years of usage. In many cases it is established because
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 operating.
I trust it will not be too boring. You old timers can go to the DX
department as I want to talk to novices.
you, Bill Novice, heat up the filaments and prepare for a session of brass
pounding, don’t be too hasty. It is not good practice to start calling
CQ while you’re waiting for the reciever to come to life. Check your
gear and when you’re satisfied it’s all ready, take a few minutes to listen.
See what’s going on near your own frequency and then tune back and forth
a bit. More than once I’ve heard some good DX going to waste while
the brethren are busy honking out CQ’s without, apparently, having listened
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 hear
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 answered
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 seconds
you know he’s not tuning. He just sits there like a lump, expecting
a call on his own frequency. He has few QSO’s and he creates beaucoup
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 opposite
. . . the longer you call the fewer the answers you receive. People
are a restless lot. After waiting through ten or twelve CQ’s the
average operator will lose patience and start looking for someone else.
One night, by actual count I heard one novice operator send 57 CQ’s before
signing his call! This is pure madness! This applies as much
to your calling another station as it does to a CQ. Make your calls
short. With a little thought you will realize that if the other station
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 old
three-by-three. CQ three times, sign your call three times and repeat
the whole thing three times. Personally, I punch out four CQ’s, sign three
times and repeat three. This is more than sufficient and results
have been satisfying. When answering a CQ, make your call as short
as conditions warrant. For instance, on 40 meters, on a weekday morning
about ten o;’clock you hear W6DTY calling CQ near your frequency with practically
no activity on the band; you only need call about three times, sign your
call three times and you’re in. If you’re 25 kilocycles away, call
a bit longer, but not too long because it doesn’t take the receiving operator
long to tune through the band when activity is light. On the other
hand, when QRM is heavy, make your call somewhat longer because it takes
a receiving operator longer to comb through the mess. In other words,
make the length of your call suit conditions. It is seldom necessary,
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 KN.
There are about two hundred other call prefixes in use throughout the world.
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 band
would dearly love to QSO the Hawaiian Islands, no one answered until finally
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 it
before each transmission of your call sign in a series. It is common
to hear something like this, “CQ . . . CQ DE KN6ZZZ DE
KN6ZZZ DE KN6ZZZ CQ . . . ETC.” This is not good practice.
Under poor receiving conditions it is very confusing to the receiving operator
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.)
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 <AR> either by itself or followed by K. When making
calls, <AR> is used only when you have another station but are not yet
in contact with him. <AR> 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 procedure are
1. . . . CQ CQ CQ DE KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ K, and
2. . . . WN4YYY WN4YYY WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ KN6ZZZ <AR>
When you have established contact there are certain preliminaries you should
get squared away before you begin discussing the weather. At the
beginning of a QSO, on the first transmission from the other station, each
operator is interested in two pieces of information first. He wants
to know how his signals are being received and where the other station
is located, in that order. Most operators, for some odd reason, want
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, location
and name, in that order, has become standard throughout the world and is
always sent first, prior to everything else. It saves time and
avoids confusion if you follow that standard. Example:
. . . WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ R GE OM ES TNX FER CALL <BT> UR RST 579 579 HR IN
PODUNK PODUNK CALIF <BT>1 NAME IS BILL
BILL <BT> RIG HR . . . etc. Once
the preliminaries are out of the way proceed with the QSO as it may develop.
Rag Chewing is lots of fun.
radio is full of abbreviations. There is good reason for this.
It saves time. You can say more with less wear and tear on the key.
A great many abbreviations are standard the world over. You’ll find
them listed in handbooks. Don’t go overboard, but learn to use the
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 until
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 punctuation
can be handled by the question mark and by the sign <BT> [dah-di-di-di-dah].
What do you need with a comma? Nothing! Don’t bother to use it.
Anyway, some of the old timers might not recognize it.
Most Novices are currently sending a comma between the name of their town
and the name of their state. This is a waste of time and effort.
No punctuation is needed there at all. Forget the lengthy, time-consuming
signal for period. Just use the long break sign <BT> between sentences
or thoughts. It is much easier to send and sounds smoother.
The only time in ham radio when formal punctuation signals are called for
is in such things as official bulletins, etc.
sign over to the other station make it quick and easy and use one of the
standard methods. I have heard novices say, “. . . NOW I AM TURNING
IT BACK TO YOU SO HERE IT COMES . . .” Long winded guff is okay in its place,
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 not
universally understood because “bk” means BREAK, not back. All you
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 to
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 out
into an absurdity. Haven’t you heard some fathead send, “WELL BILL
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 you
have to say after you’ve told Bill you must QRT is something like this:
TNX QSO OM 73 GN <VA>2 WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ. Note
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.
Now a word
or two about correct procedure when signing over to the other station or
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? <AR> WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ K. The <AR>
indicates that you are through for the time being. The K says, “go
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 procedure
signal <KN>. 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 <KN>.
This is obviously simple-minded . Translated to English it means,
“I am calling a CQ, a general call, inviting anyone to answer, but please
do not call me!”
a QSO use the signal, <VA>.
This is easy. <VA> is never the last signal sent. The last item
is either your call or the letter K. If you have made your last transmission
but will stand by for the other station’s closing remarks you send, “.
. . 73 ES CUL GN <VA> WN4YYY DE KN6ZZZ K.” The <VA> indicates
that you have made your last transmission. If you have completely
finished the QSO and wish to remain open for business you just naturally
don’t put anything at all after your call. If you intend to “close
station” and hit the sack you should indicate this fact by adding the “CL”
immediately after your call. Listening operators are thus informed
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 law.
The correct procedure is just as easy to learn and use as the Sloppy Joe
type. If you are just starting on your ham career you might just as well
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 with
standard forms and keep it on your operating desk. Refer to it when
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 Micellaneous
(or, The Bleatings of an Old Goat). First on the agenda is an ancient
complaint about birds who come back with “R” when they have copied only
part or perhaps nothing at all of your last transmission. This particular
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 thus.
Every day some fellow manages to come back to you with something like this:
“... 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, <BT>, after 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 OM!”
with this business of receipting, one other point might be mentioned.
If you have copied the other fellow’s transmission solid and have so indicated
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 this
rigamarole of “OK ON THIS, OK ON THAT, OK ON YOUR RIG, OK ON YOUR WX, OK
ON YOUR DOG HAVING JAUNDICE, ETC., ETC.” Just up and proceed with
your remarks and comments. If he asked a question, answer it.
If he made a statement that requires no answer, make no answer. It’s
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 <BT> . . .,”
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 along
with “RIG HR 807 WID 50 WATTS <BT> . . .,” 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 <BT> 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 lot
of clatter on the air except complete silence.
topping the list of the Ten Most Wanted Men in ham radio is the bird with
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 in
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 for
a key and sending in Japanese kana code. On top of all this he fouls
up his spelling and procedure continually and fills the air with strings
of dots to indicate errors. Some operators (?) go on for years blithely
unaware that their fists are bad. In fact, they may even fancy themselves
as artists on the key. They get huffy if anyone suggests that they
are not 100% readable. They suggest that the receiving operators
need a little practice. If you are one of those boys, you are probably
a hopeless case. However, if you know that your sending leaves something
to be desired and you are sincerely interested in developing a good readable
fist you can cease worrying – it’s simple. Just practice sending.
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 laugh!
It’s a skill that’s easy to acquire. Of course, to begin with, you
must know how good code sounds. The simplest way is to turn on your
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 listen.
You don’t have to be able to copy it solid. Maybe you can copy only
seven words a minute and the commercial is sending at 20 or 25. No
matter. Don’t worry about what he’s sending, just pay attention to
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 like
the tape-sent letters. Send from a newspaper or book and pay attention
to spacing between words and letters as well as to the shape of each individual
letter. At first it may seem an impossible task but you’ll be surprised
how rapidly your sending improves. Sure it’s a lot of work, but you
weren’t born with a telegraph key in your hand and you have to learn.
You don’t write a letter in such an illegible scrawl that it can’t be read
(or do you?), so why transmit a botched-up mess of dots and dashes to some
poor wretch on 40 meters who is trying to read it.
can be pleasant and easy. It is not, as often averred, a lost art.
You are welcome to dive right in and flail away at the old brass pump handle.
But, please, use genuine International Morse and standard procedure!
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.
|DE: ||“From,” meaning that this transmission
is coming from the station whose callsign follows.|
|R:||“Roger,” i.e., I received your last transmission
|OM: ||Old Man|
|ES:||And (from the old American Morse
|UR:||Your or You're|
|RST: ||Signal report in
the Readability, Strength, and
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
identifies as “<VA>” is now almost universally
shown in print as “<SK>.” 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