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Making a CW QSO
by John Shannon, K3WWP

(From his web site here)

Once you've called CQ and gotten an answer, now the real meat of CW communication comes into play. There are certain procedures to follow and certain pieces of information to be shared with the one who answered your CQ. I'll give you a list of things to consider, then give an exact example of the first couple rounds of a CW QSO. What I am saying has been gleaned from 43 years of CW operation and established accepted practices.

Obviously you must let the station know that you are responding to his answer so the very first thing you send is his call (once only) then DE followed by your call (once only)

Next some sort of polite greeting like good morning, thanks for the call.

It is very important to tell the station how you are copying him so you then send an RST report.

Now the most important item is out of the way and we send two more important items - your location and your name.

Ask the other station how he is copying, send a procedure signal that says "that's all I have to say this transmission, it's your turn", followed by his call, DE, your call, and 'K' or 'KN' which is the signal for him to transmit now.


OK, now to the specific example followed by further explanations and a description of subsequent rounds of the QSO.

I'll use a fictional QSO between myself and the NAQCC club station operated by a fictional ham in Albany, NY as the example. N3AQC has answered my (K3WWP) CQ. Here's what I send:

N3AQC DE K3WWP GM TNX CALL UR 599 599 IN KITTANNING PA KITTANNING PA NAME IS JOHN JOHN HW? AR N3AQC DE K3WWP K

That's 111 characters including spaces that have conveyed 3 important pieces of information. Let's analyze it a bit more in conjunction with my comments before the QSO example.

N3AQC DE K3WWP let's the other station know you're answering him. The DE means 'from' so you're saying N3AQC from K3WWP or it can also be taken to mean N3AQC this is K3WWP. It should always be used when sending both calls.

GM TNX CALL means Good Morning, thanks for answering my CQ with your call. Obviously this could also be GA - Good Afternoon or GE - Good Evening depending on the time of day.

UR 599 599 means your signal is being received 599. That's the RST report which is or will be described in another tutorial. You can also use the term RST as in UR RST IS 599 599, but I think that is superficial as it is really understood that you are giving an RST report when you say UR 599 or 559, 349, whatever.

IN KITTANNING PA KITTANNING PA of course is giving your location. A pause between the town and state is sufficient to separate them. You don't need a comma. Alternately you can say QTH KITTANNING PA KITTANNING PA which means my location is Kittanning, PA. The Q signal QTH means 'my location is' so it is incorrect to say my QTH is as then you are really stuttering and saying my location IS IS Kittanning, PA.

Obviously NAME IS JOHN JOHN is just what it seems to be. Some folks, especially in DX QSO's for whatever reason like to use OP IS JOHN JOHN meaning the operator's name is John.

I like to send RST, QTH, and NAME twice each which gives the other ham a chance to be sure he copied right and to write the info in his log.

HW? means how did you copy or how are you copying. Again it's common knowledge what you are asking and you don't really need to send HW CPY?

AR is the letters AR run together and is a procedure signal meaning that's all I have to say for this round or 'end of transmission'.

N3AQC DE K3WWP is turning things over to N3AQC to transmit now and...

K means go ahead and transmit now. You can also use KN to indicate that only N3AQC may transmit. No one is welcome to break in. A plain K is technically an invitation to N3AQC or any other station to transmit and anyone is welcome to break in.


Now it's N3AQC's turn to transmit and it goes:

K3WWP DE N3AQC GM JOHN UR 589 589 IN ALBANY NY ALBANY NY NAME IS PETE PETE HW? AR K3WWP DE N3AQC KN

Virtually the same format except Pete knows my name and says GM JOHN instead of GM TNX CALL.


On my second transmission, it becomes much more free-form and virtually anything can be talked about now that the formalities of the first round are over. However the procedure part of the rounds stays the same:

N3AQC DE K3WWP R FB PETE NICE TO MEET YOU BT THE RIG HR IS A KNWD TS-570D AT QRP 5W TO AN ATTIC RANDOM WIRE BT THE WX LITE SNOW ES 33 DEGREES HW? AR N3AQC DE K3WWP KN

Notice a couple of things. The beginning and end of the round is identical to the first round, and every round should be the same way. Although not necessary nor even required, sending both calls at beginning and end is a courtesy to others listening in on the QSO to know who they are listening to. Perhaps one is an old friend, and they will break in (if we use K instead of KN) or wait till the QSO is over to call one of us (if we are using KN between rounds).

R at the very beginning means "I copied you solidly". Never send R if you didn't. It is contradictory to send R BUT I MISSED YOUR NAME. That means I copied everything you sent perfectly but I didn't copy your name. Huh?

FB means fine business and is a ham catch all expression meaning great, wonderful, that's interesting, etc. Don't get into the habit of repeating everything the other ham said though like FB on your TS-570D and FB on your QRP and attic antenna. I know what I'm running, you don't have to tell me. It's fine to say something like 'I used to have a 570 here also and liked it very much' or other such indirect comments on what I said, but don't just repeat what I said verbatim.

BT or B and T run together means a Break in Text and is used as a catch all punctuation mark between thoughts. Or if your mind goes blank temporarily a good filler repeated several times - BT BT BT.

ES is shorthand (shortfist?) for AND. It comes from the American Morse where ES is the ampersand (&) symbol.


This is getting wordy, but I have had questions about every item so I've gone the extra step to explain everything completely here. Let's get to the close of a QSO now. Some folks take forever to say good-bye while others say it so fast you don't know it's over. I prefer something like the following last two rounds as a good middle ground.

K3WWP DE N3AQC R FB ON ALL JOHN BT THE XYL SAYS SUPPER IS READY SO I MUST GO BT TNX QSO HPE CUL 73 GE SK K3WWP DE N3AQC K

N3AQC DE K3WWP OK PETE WONT HOLD YOU TNX QSO HPE CUAGN VY 73 GE SK N3AQC DE K3WWP (dit dit)

Pretty much self-explanatory.

TNX QSO - thanks for the QSO
HPE CUL (CUAGN) - hope to see you later (again)
73 - NEVER NEVER 73s - 73 means 'best wishes' - 73s means 'best wisheses' which is plain silly. I've never heard anyone say 'best wisheses' in regular speech, yet it is done all the time with the misuse of 73. If you want to emphasize a 73 say VY 73 which means 'very best wishes' and is perfectly correct procedurally and grammatically.
GE (GA, GM) - good evening (afternoon, morning)

The SK at the very end of the last transmission means 'I have no further transmissions from here'. It may be used by both stations for their final transmission in place of AR which means as I said 'end of transmission' or end of this transmission, but I have more coming.

Then there is the traditional 'cute' ending. Two dits, "shave and a haircut" "two bits", the rooster crowing, etc. I prefer the simple two dits answered by a single dit. This is nothing official or mandatory, just something carried over from the early days of land line telegraphy.


If in the course of your QSO, someone else happens to come on frequency while you are transmitting and you can hear them because you are using break-in or QSK, here is a little trick. It's possible the interfering station can't hear you, but may be able to hear the station you are working. So turn it over to the other station as quickly as you can. Perhaps the interfering station will hear him and move on. This works especially well if you are working a higher power station.


This tutorial needs some reviews by hams who ARE very new to CW and making QSO's. If that describes you, please let us know if this can be made any clearer at any points.


REVIEWS & COMMENTS

pix_blueball (1K) AE5BH - I of course am guilty of a few of the "wrong things to do" examples... especially the RRRR, ....... did not copy most. I naturally perceived the RRR as a handoff of I recieved you... but not necessarily understood you. What should you send back instead?

K3WWP's ANSWER - K4UK and I hashed this over some time back. Since there is no procedure signal that covers less than perfect copy, just use plain english to say you didn't copy perfectly. For example: "OK, I copied most but missed your ...........". Or "sri, but I missed all due to heavy QRM", etc. Don't use an R in those cases.

pix_blueball (1K) AE5BH - As a new CW op, I would like to add some bit of feedback you asked for on that page. The comma between the city and state is a good idea as is sending "RST" and here is why I think that. When copying sometimes you get in a rut and need to reset. The comma is a natural reset. You know at least the state is following that and the op may repeat the prior information. New ops need a reset point otherwise frustration rises. I've missed quite a few city names... but rarely the state which when WAS hunting is very important. The RST is the same kind of "marker" as it were in a QSO... sometimes ops send to quickly for my comprehension, but I can usually pick out RST and know that numbers are about to follow. If no RST... then I find out numbers are coming too late and I am bad at numbers. I was in a QSO today where a comma was not sent between state and city and I got horribly lost. After QRZ.com, I was able to go back and check and "see" it then, but while operating, I was totally lost

K3WWP's ANSWER - That is probably true, but please treat that RST and comma, etc. as training wheels on a bike. If you want to become a good bike rider someday you are going to have to learn to do without those training wheels. If you don't discard them, you are going to fall hopelessly behind your contemporaries and will never be able to keep up with them. If someone sends that first exchange in a QSO according to the universally accepted format of RST, QTH, Name, AND uses proper letter and word spacing in doing so, you know that at the start of the exchange you are going to get a group of three numbers and that is your RST. Then you'll get a city name followed by a longer space then the state. After that it will be something like Name John or OP John. The vast majority of good veteran CW ops do things that way so you should get used to it as soon as possible and remove those training wheels.

Morse code is a conversational language, and as with English, everyone uses it in a slightly different way. You've got to learn to adapt in both cases to fully understand what the other person is trying to convey. Both languages evolve over time, and what I say in this tutorial applies to the current most common usage of Morse code procedure. It would be so much simpler if everyone used 'proper' English according to a set of grammar rules, but that is never going to happen. The same with Morse code.

pix_blueball (1K) AE5BH - John, You make very good points, thank you for the honest responses. I did keep a que card in for the standard QSO in my station bag based on the good ole fashion QSO from handbooks, etc. But after working some 30 QSOs, I've noticed such a wide variation and it can be kind of confusing. I guess the reality is there should be a standard. What I failed to actually take away from that page was that you were telling me the standard and that it isn't what we learned on our Gordo tapes or using ARRL practice files. That is the key really, knowing what the exchange really looks like the majority of the time. So many of us are self taught to some degree and can't comprehend the 15wpm + speeds so we don't really know what the exchange feels like until we are there.