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

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.

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