21 Things to Do: Learn the Lingo

21 Things to Do After Getting Your Amateur Radio LicenseLike many subcultures, amateur radio has a lingo all its own. Tune into a conversation on 40m phone, and you might hear something like this:

W8ABC, this is K0XYZ. You’re 5 by 9 here, but there’s a lot of QR-Mary.

K0XYZ, this is W8ABC. QSL, Fred. Thanks for the report. I’ll say 73 on this one.

Fine business, Joe. Catch you later. K0XYZ clear.

The first thing you’ll notice are the Q-signals. Q-signals are three-letter codes that are used mostly when communicating with Morse Code, but their use has become common in voice operation as well. They were originally developed for use by maritime radio operators, but they were also adopted by airborne radio operators, and, of course, by amateur radio operators.

When operating Morse Code, a Q-code takes the place of an entire phrase. So, for example, if I send “QTH ANN ARBOR MI,” what I mean is, “My location is Ann Arbor, Michigan.” Appending a question mark, makes the Q-code a question. “QTH?” would mean, “What’s your location.”

A complete list of Q-signals used in amateur radio can be found at http://www.qsl.net/w5www/qcode.html. Many of these are not frequently used, though, even when operating Morse Code. In addition to QTH mentioned above, some of the most commonly used Q-signals are:

  • QRL – I am busy or the frequency is busy. One sends QRL? before calling CQ to determine if a particular frequency is in use.
  • QRM – You are being interfered with.
  • QRN – I am receiving a lot of atmospherice noise.
  • QRP – Lower power. QRP is often used as an adjective. A low-power transceiver, for example, might be called a “QRP rig.”
  • QRS – Send slower.
  • QRT – Stop sending. QRT is often used as a verb. “I am going to QRT” means that you plan to go off the air.
  • QRZ? – This Q-signal is almost always used with a question mark. It means who is calling me?
  • QSB – Your signal is fading in and out. QSB, QRN, and QRM are often used as nouns to mean fading, noise, and interference, respectively.
  • QSO – I can communicate directly with [a particular station]. This Q-signal is also often used as a noun. “I had a QSO with Joe on 40m last night” means that I contacted Joe on the 40m band last night.

Hams also use phonetic alphabets when operating voice communications. In the example above, K0XYZ notes that there is a lot of “QR-Mary,” Mary being the phonetic way to say the letter “M.” We use phonetics because many letters sound alike, especially over a noisy radio channel.

The ARRL recommends that amateurs use the NATO phonetic alphabet (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_phonetic_alphabet) as most amateurs around the world will recognize them. It was developed in the 1950s, and was designed to be intelligible and pronounceable by all the NATO allies.

Finally, a lot of the lingo we use in amateur radio is a holdover from the days when all amateur radio communication was in Morse Code. An interesting example of this is the use of the term “fine business,” or FB in Morse Code.

Fine business can mean “OK” as in, “FB, Joe. I copied all of that last transmission.” It can also mean “good” or “excellent.” In Morse Code, one might send “THE KX-1 IS A FB RIG JOE.”

Finally, when amateur radio operators end a contact, they often say “seventy three” or “seven three.” In this context, “seventy three” means “best regards.” The origin of this term is as old as amateur radio.

Before the Internet made long-distance communications so cheap, amateur radio was often used to send messages across the U.S. and around the world. Many common messages were codified to make sending them quicker. For example, if you wanted to wish your Aunt Harriet in Poughkeepsie a happy birthday, you’d get hold of an amateur radio operator. Instead of sending the text, “Greetings on your birthday and best wishes for many more to come,” he would simply send “FORTY SIX.”

SEVENTY THREE is short for “best regards.” So, when we sign off with that number, we’re wishing the ham on the other end of the QSO a fond farewell. If you’re particularly fond of the ham on the other end, you might say “EIGHTY EIGHT.” Be careful, though, “EIGHTY EIGHT” is short for “love and kisses.”


  1. Bob, KG6AF says:

    A corollary to this is: Unlearn that other lingo. If you show up on the local repeater and start off with, “My personal is…,” you’re going to have a harder-than-usual time making friends. I’m not saying this is fair or right, but it is the way things are.

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