Amateur Radio Operating Techniques and Etiquette

Over the course of time numerous people have discussed, written books and articles concerning the operating techniques and etiquette of Amateur Radio. 

These bear repeating as many operators either don't know because they are new to Amateur Radio, 
have been taught wrong, or haven't got it out of their system coming from CB!

Ladies and Gents this is AMATEUR RADIO, like no other type of service or hobby in the world and should be treated as such, 
with all the proper operating techniques and mannerisms which were originally intended!

No these are not particularly my own opinions but rather observations from 
over the air conversations which should inspire much better operating techniques. Just tune around and you'll learn for yourself!

No, these are not intended as slams or insults but rather common sense reasoning and information on proper operating techniques. 

Remember, many money seeking interests would like to grab frequencies out of the Amateur spectrum and 
everything we do to show that it is not being wasted from non use to unprofessional conversational techniques, should be kept in mind at all times. It might just help us keep what we have! I don't know about you, but I have spent my share of time and money building up my station and don't want to lose privileges and spectrum because of bad operating habits! 

Do you???

Okay, on to the stuff!

One of the most common is the use of 73. 73 means best regards. Many say 73's, hmmm best regards's? Once you know the real meaning of 73, using 73's just doesn't sound right. We wouldn't say " hey best regards's to you my friend", so why use 73's when 73 already means the plural of regard?
73's is CB terminology, not HAM terminology.
Another abuse of 73 is, as said, "seventy thirds"! This reeks of CB terminology! Not at all suitable for Amateur Radio, gents!
And yet another abuse is 'three's to ya", not at all ham radio protocol, doesn't belong anywhere on ham radio...period!

Another unnecessary phrase is, "bring it on back". Bring what on back??? My car, your wallet, someone take something from you, what??? Very dumb, oh maybe you mean please answer me or your turn to transmit, in which case just say "over", that is proper ham radio terminology and precisely to the understood point!

Another is when explaining your name. No not, "the first personal here is"... Personal what? Personal address? Personal occupation? Personal ailment? 
Oh, name!!! Sorry gents, not at all proper amateur radio terminology.
What's wrong with speaking to another as you would face to face? "My name is Joe", works quite well! 
"First personal = CB garbage", "my name is or the name here is = authentic HAM RADIO language"!!!

When signing off but standing by, say "This is W1XYZ standing by" or QRX, not "This is W1XYZ on the side". Side? Side of what? Beef? Gravy? Side of the road? Get the idea? ;-)

"My radio doesn't have good ears"... hmmm, if your radio has "ears", you have a mutant radio! This is more carry over, out of place, CB babble. How about saying exactly what you mean, i.e., "My radio has low, weak or bad sensitivity or selectivity"! 

When identifying, what's wrong with, "this is W1XYZ", versus "this is W1XYZ for ID"! Hmmm, obviously it's for ID!!! That's what we have call signs for, identification! 

"We are leaving now to go to work", who's we? Oh, you mean "I am going to work"! Say it that way! Unless you have a mouse in your shirt pocket! ;-) or a rider with you!

"Can I have a radio check"?  Hmmm, I wish someone would give me a check, that way I could buy another radio! What, that's not what you meant? Oh you mean a signal report! Well just ask "Can I have a signal report"! Or "What's my signal report?" Be exact in what you ask for!!! Do you want to know how strong your signal is? Do you want to know the quality of your audio? You should be very specific in your request if you want a proper response. And ask a few guys not just one. The gent you ask might not have the best sounding speaker and not give you the most accurate answer. Along this line of thought...I heard a QSO once where a guy said, "I just put up a different antenna, how do I sound?" Well the antenna doesn't directly affect how a transmitter audio is performed. Changing antennas will either do one of three things: increase the signal strength (thereby allowing the existing audio to appear better), maintain the same signal strength, showing no change, or three, decreasing the gain, thus reducing perceived audio quality. 

Another qso heard was where a guy was tuning up, of course, without any audio. Another station responded saying "You have no audio, you better check your SWR's"!!! Well two mistakes here, first he should have said SWR, not it's plural because you only have one Standing Wave Ratio, not many ratios but much worse is the fact that the lack of audio has absolutely nothing to do with a good or bad SWR match! If you think it does, consider that a CW only transmitter can tune up just fine with out any audio section even designed into the rig! 

Whistling into the mic, ummm sounds stupid on the receiving end and inspires one to think that another CB intruder is on the band. Yes setting transmitter audio and ALC levels is a very wise thing to do, to prevent signal distortion. How about just using a long "Hellooooooo Test". Anyone tuning upon your signal knows exactly what you are doing. And don't forget to identify, makes your testing legal!

Another confusing item is what some people call the "Hesitation Method" of answering another station. Whereby they say their call letters then stop transmitting, supposedly to hear if they are doubling with another station, then continue to transmit their message. To me, In My Humble Opinion, this is dumb! I've heard this on VHF but NEVER on HF. On HF you learn to deal with doubling, especially if you cannot hear others that might also be calling. When hearing this, one might think that he's having some sort of transmitter trouble. Can you see how this would be a problem when using a repeater? 
Not the best operating technique, In My Humble Opinion!!! 

And what's up with, "Thanks for the flowers"??? Did your contact send you a bouquet of flowers through FTD? Oh you mean thanks for the good signal report! (I had to analyze this one a bit  when I heard it!) More misplaced CB babble, again not appropriate for amateur radio! Consider, you just made a DX contact and said that, he would have absolutely no idea what the heck you meant and either would ask you about it or just figure, "Dumb American". This brings up another point, when working DX use regular common phonetics instead of the "cute" ones you concocted for your call. You can get away with the cute ones working local guys because they most likely will understand the idea but the regular phonetic alphabet is designed to get the information of the letters of your call through with minimal misunderstanding. This is especially critical when propagation conditions are bad or you're working a big pile up on that "rare one"! You do want the DX station to get your call correct, don't you?

When tuning around for a clear spot in which to call CQ, please always ask twice, better three times, "Is this frequency in use". You might be transmitting over another station which you can't hear but another is in QSO with, who can hear you! Being the station that is trying to work that "rare one", is very aggravating when someone calls CQ, not first asking if the frequency is in use. It's tremendously courteous to ask first! A great ham radio practice to learn and use!

Listen, listen, listen, to how the DX station is running the contacts. He may be rip roaring fast and take the call as fast as you can say it or he may be taking the tail-enders. Knowing how HE is running the pile-up, will help make it easier to get that contact. Remember HE is the boss, answer the way he wants! He may also be taking a list of calls, he certainly will not appreciate you calling when going through his list. And he just might tell you about it! There are other techniques that the DX station may use to sort out calls but you get the idea.

Another thing, don't just keep saying your call, give the DX operator time to respond, don't try to be the last guy he hears! If everyone tried this, there would be no end to everyone calling! DUH, use your brain about this! I've heard how it infuriates the DX station to the point he quits and goes off the air. There are guys who just keep it up and will not  LISTEN. And also, say your full call! The FCC mandates that you identify with your full call! Yes I know it takes longer than saying the last one or two letters, but it won't cost you anything if I remind you, it just might if the FCC tells you, and they HAVE told a few!!! Also I've heard dx stations complaining about the use of the last two letters of calls. Some dx stations WILL NOT ANSWER those who don't use their full call! 

Another very hot item and a pet peeve of allot of people, yeah me too!!!

When working DX, it's very common place, actually more likely than not, for the DX station to operate split frequencies, (somewhat similar to how a repeater operates). 
The technique is as follows; the DX station is transmitting on say 14.250 and "listening up" 10. What this means is that he is listening above his transmit frequency at 14.260. He may also say the exact two frequencies that he is listening between or he may just say listening from 10 to 20 up, which means he's listening anywhere between 14.260 to 14.270. You'll need to learn how your radio operates with split VFO's in order to master this technique, and don't forget to put it in split mode! If you don't you will hear about it on the air when you transmit on the dx's transmit frequency! 

This goes back to a previous paragraph where I suggest to listen listen listen to how the dx station is operating! On a recent dx pile on K5D, Desecheo Island DXepedition. I heard so many stations trying to call the dx operator on his transmit frequency that I thought he was listening there! Not so, he was listening up! These guys were so excited to make the contact that they didn't realize he was not listening to them at all! Patients, will help you get that rare contact! 
It will also eliminate the interference which YOU cause by transmitting on his transmit frequency! We all make the occasional error of forgetting to hit the 'split' switch BUT, when the dx op says where he's listening and immediately after someone or a few call him on that same frequency, this is just pathetic because they WERE NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO WHAT HE WAS SAYING!!!! Too many times I heard the dx station say, "Please listen, please listen, station w3xxx only" or " Please only the Italy Kilowatt station". This shows that stations were not paying attention to what was happening and just keep on calling and calling...Just plain STUPID operating!!! 

Put yourself in the place of the dx operator, he can't move contacts along very well  when everyone keeps calling and won't stop to listen, thereby interfering with the guy he was trying to make contact with, hey- it just might have been you!

And another problem, the dx station was calling by the numbers, i.e., the different call districts with a particular number in the call. When the dx station says, "Calling 3's only" means he only wants calls from anyone with a 3 in their call. Why is this so hard to understand?  If you don't have that number in your call, DON'T TRANSMIT! This technique really makes it easier for everyone to get a chance to make a call, provided again that everyone pays attention to how he's operating!

Am I getting these points across? Have I said them too many times? Probably not because I still hear guys making these mistakes over and over and over. How much DX does a guy have to work before he gets it figured out, especially when the DX stations keep operating the SAME way!!! Can you see how frustrating this is? 
If everyone would follow these simple techniques, it would make working these DX stations allot more easier and fun! 

Ever hear of the DX Code of Conduct??? READ THIS CAREFULLY AND REMEMBER TO LIVE BY IT!!! I am a supporter of the:

 DX Code of Conduct:

I will listen, and listen, and then listen again before calling.

I will only call if I can copy the DX station properly.

I will not trust the DX cluster and will be sure of the DX station's call sign before calling.

I will not interfere with the DX station nor anyone calling and will never tune up on the DX frequency or in the QSX slot.

I will wait for the DX station to end a contact before I call.

I will always send my full call sign.

I will call and then listen for a reasonable interval. I will not call continuously.

I will not transmit when the DX operator calls another call sign, not mine.

I will not transmit when the DX operator queries a call sign not like mine.

I will not transmit when the DX station requests geographic areas other than mine.

When the DX operator calls me, I will not repeat my call sign unless I think he has copied it incorrectly.

I will be thankful if and when I do make a contact.

I will respect my fellow hams and conduct myself so as to earn their respect.

If you don't think this is really abided by, check out what Bob VP8LP, of the Falkland Islands, has to say on I like his attitude, I wish all DX stations would force this issue!

Another problem is propagation. We can't do anything about this but if everyone followed these techniques, more stations could make contacts before the propagation faded. How many times has the propagation died BEFORE you got a chance to make your call? Get the idea? And I know what you're thinking- 'propagation died before he got to my number'. Unfortunately this happens. I've been victim of this also. But here again, if WE make it easier for the DX station to make calls faster, we all have a better chance to make it before the propagation changes.

I know that you can't make all the DX contacts one right after another. If we did, it wouldn't be that much fun but using these techniques and being smart about operating will make things flow better, easier and faster. 

Ok, so why do I think I know so darn much about this? Because I have operated and listened allot to how the pile ups run- in addition- I have been on the pile-up end, having run a special events station! You do that one time and you'll learn real quick about these aggravating problems!

Yeah yeah, I know- you can't change people, but those of us that have common sense yet will understand and hopefully try to improve our operating habits. Consider the new guy that just upgraded and is getting into DX operating. Learning about these mistake and how to avoid them will make him a better operator from the beginning! This is called Elmering! :-)

Signal reports...What the heck is "9 over 12"??? I heard a station give this report. This make absolutely no sense, or maybe he was just nervous on the air and got it backwards. Please try to use the internationally accepted RST system, Readability Strength and Tone. I won't list all the meanings here, they are abundant all over the internet. In addition, it has unfortunately become common practice to tell every one they are 59. DX stations do this allot, I think to simply make logging the reports easier. I would prefer an honest signal report, and I give them! It's just stupid for a station to give a 59 report then ask again, what's your call or what's your name? If they are truly 59, (5 being 'perfectly readable' and 9 being 'very strong signals'), then you shouldn't have to ask again for the information!!! The only exception is that they could be a true 59 but with allot of QRM, (interference from other stations), which are just as strong. Otherwise please give accurate reports. 

Also along this thought, giving an "S" report is acceptable, such as "You're S7" or "S9 plus 10", or 10 over 9, which means you're S9 plus 10 decibels. The S meter scale does not equate number to number, to the RST numbering system. Once you understand the total meaning behind the RST system, you'll see this. Also bear in mind that the numbers on your S meter are only relative. These meters were added on the early radios as a tuning aid to help you tune in a signal, which did help allot for AM transmissions. They really don't help tuning anymore with the advent of single side band, which we tune in by ear. The typical receiver is adjusted to show an S9 meter reading when a 50 micro volt signal is applied to the antenna input terminals. BUT, not all radios used this 50uV standard. Some use a 100 micro volt signal! To know what your rig is adjusted to, check your owners manual or shop manual. If your rig is adjusted to 100uV, the meter will read stingy! And oh're not 7 pounds or 9 pounds or whatever, this is more CB babble, the S meter does not indicate weight! The S stands for strength... For another explanation of S meters, check here:

Another great page for S meter info is: This info helps put the rumor info about S meter readings to rest, good stuff!

For another hams thoughts on operating habits this check out this link on how to become a LID (poor operator)!

Let's talk about VHF/UHF FM operation. Specifically the audio gain of your signal. Repeaters are a cool item to use! When set up correctly they usually reproduce the input audio very well. A problem which occurs is when a guys transmit audio is not set correctly. Either it's way to high or to low. When it's too high, it can sound very distorted and if it's really to high, it will over deviate the FM signal, inducing further distortion which really sounds BAD! If you are ever told that your audio is too high, hot or what ever term, get out your owners manual and find the adjustment pot inside and FIX IT! You don't need high tech equipment to get it sounding ok. A few on the air tests will work fine, unless you're a purest, in which case you would have probably already fixed it! :) 

Your audio can change over time with the aging of parts. I had a radio in which this happened to. I could not get the audio through the repeater, it was so high, but on a simplex frequency I could be heard. The repeater was clipping the high audio right off! A simple adjustment of the gain control fixed the problem.


Ladies and Gents, I've tried to point out some of the unhealthy habits of operators here in the spirit of Elmering, that is, to help you become very good ham radio operators by eliminating the confusing misplaced slang and bad habits. 

Please leave the CB lingo and mannerisms on the CB band because honestly they have absolutely no place in ham radio!

Click here for another groups take on proper ham etiquette!

NEW!!! FT-8 digital mode gentlemen's operating techniques!


A very wise quote from Albert Einstein…

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Isn’t this like trying to use a handheld after being told that “you’re noisy and not making it into the repeater”? YES IT IS!!!

Why is it that some people WON'T give into the WISDOM of using a good antenna, or even a mediocre one, other than the stock hand held junk antenna, even if it is inside? 

And then get upset with an attitude when told their signal is noisy, bad or garbled low audio! Don't blame the repeater system, fix YOUR problem! 



More to come!

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