Archive for Did you know…

Mind your Ps and Qs. Well, your Qs at least.

Feb 25 2011

Building on our look at CQ and 73 a few posts ago, let’s continue with the those weird three letter abbreviations that all start with the letter Q.  For a new ham, it might take a while to get used to, as quite a few of them are used in ham speak: “Q are what?” or “Q is what?”

The Q code, as it’s called, also came from telegraphy.  It’s not surprising that a lot of ham radio speak comes from telegraphy, as radio was once known as the “wireless telegraph,” and the first radio experimenters transmitted by using Morse code on spark-gap transmitters.  Even today, they are used extensively on CW and digital modes, but they do also work their way into voice transmissions as well. It’s worth knowing what they mean.

Q codes can be used in three ways.  By themselves, they can be used as statements, or when followed by a question mark or said with a rising intonation, as questions.  They can also be used as an expression, in place of certain words or phrases.

Here are some of the most common codes you’ll hear on the air:


As a question: “Do you have interference?”
As a statement: “I have interference.”
As a expression: Interference
Voice example: “I hear you clearly, but there’s some QRM from a nearby station.”


As a question: “Shall I decrease power?”
As a statement: “Decrease power.”
As an expression: Operation at low power, in particular operation at 5 watts or below.
Voice example: “You’re sending a great signal for a QRP station.”


As a question: “Shall I stop sending?”
As a statement: “Stop sending.”
As an expression: Used when you intend to “shut down” your station.
Voice example: “Well, I have to go someplace else, so I’m going to go QRT.”


As a question: “Who is calling me?”
As a statement: “You are being called by _______.”
Note: Often pronounced in Commonwealth fashion as Q-R-Zed, even by American operators.
Voice example: “This is WH7GG.  QRZ?”


As a question: “Are my signals fading?”
As a statement: “Your signals are fading.”
As an expression:  Signal fading
Voice example: “I copy you 5 by 9, with some QSB from time to time.”


As a question: “Can you communicate with _______ direct or by relay?”
As a statement: “I can communicate with ______ direct or by relay.”
As an expression: Any two-way contact between amateurs.
Voice example: “Thanks for the QSO. Good talking with you.”


As a statement: “Here is a broadcast message to all amateurs.”
Voice example: “QST QST. This is net control calling the EARC Net.”


As a question: “What is your position in latitude and longitude?”
As a statement: “My position is ____ latitude, _____ longitude.”
As an expression:  An amateur’s present location, or location of his/her base station.
Voice example: “My QTH is Honolulu.”

Interestingly, one thing you may notice on the air when you work international stations is that no radio call sign in the world starts with the letter Q, in order to avoid confusion with the Q code.

CQ, 73, and other related abbreviations

Feb 18 2011

It’s not surprising that most communities have their own brand of slang. But then, ham radio has its own brand of English that one needs to get used to when you get into the hobby. And some of it is abbreviated – hams have been doing that before text messaging and Twitter was even conceived.

Take, for instance: if I were to initiate a contact on the HF band, or on two-meter sideband, or even on FM simplex (but not on a repeater), I would say, “CQ CQ CQ…” One would think, “Why those two letters, C and Q? Why not something more understandable, like ‘NE1, NE1, NE1…’”

It turns out that CQ, like much of ham lingo, has its roots in good old fashioned wired telegraphy. English telegraph operators used the CQ signal to call attention to all operators along a wire (much as the current Q-code QST does today…more on that in another article). The letters CQ come from the first two syllables of the French word sécurité, meaning security, safety, or in this case, “pay attention.” When British operators, many of whom were former landline telegraphers, went to sea, their codes went with them, and CQ became a general call to all ships. It, however, lacked the sound of urgency needed of a distress call (back in those days, in the crowded bands of the early 20th century, a CQ would have gotten lost in the noise), and it was eventually replaced with SOS for distress calls, with CQ remaining a general purpose call.

Today, on the air, CQ still retains its original meaning of “attention,” but according to the ARRL, quoting Thomas Raddell, its meaning has evolved into something like “yelling ‘Hey Mac!’ down a drain pipe.”

Getting back to the contact, I call CQ, you answer, we have a nice ragchew, and when you sign off, you say to me, “Well, it’s been great talking with you, Keith. 73.” Why 73? Why not some other number? Why not 43 or 103?

(If hams were fans of Douglas Adams’ novels, maybe they might be partial to 42. But I digress…)

Again, we’re back to the days of landline telegraphs. In 1859, Western Union standardized what came to be known as the 92 code, in which the numbers from 1 to 92 were assigned meanings. Most of them fell into disuse, although we occasionally see a few remnants. Code 30, for instance, was the standard code for “no more;” this code is still used occasionally at the end of press releases.

Code 73 itself was first used in 1857, with the meaning “My love to you!” But within a short time its meaning evolved from the romantic to strictly platonic – “from a Valentine-type sentiment to a vague sign of fraternalism.” It was used as a “friendly word between operators.” In early versions of the 92 code, 73 became “accept my compliments.” To make a long story short, the meaning of 73 further evolved until by 1908 it acquired its current meaning of “best regards,” and came nearly full circle in its use as a friendly word between operators.

Two sidenotes: 73’s original meaning of “My love to you” is preserved in the current code 88, meaning “Hugs and kisses.” Incidentally, because their meanings are plural, 73 and 88 are always used in the singular. Saying “73s” is like saying “best regardses.”

For more information, check out the history page on the ARRL website.

(edit 2/28/12: I’ve been learning French on the side, and I found that I totally forgot to include the acute accents on sécurité. C’est corrigé. Désolé.)

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