Posts Tagged ‘Operating Practice & Procedure’

One Aspect of Amateur Radio: Good Will Ambassadors to the World

This article is part two of the series taking a look at band plans and gentlemen agreements.
See part one, here: Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab.  See part three, here: In Response — Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Displaced and Marginalized

There are some unhappy amateur radio operators in the world of shortwave operations. Users of Morse code, and digital modes other than the highly-popular modes engineered by Joe Taylor, K1JT, feel displaced on the many amateur radio bands where Joe’s wildly-popular mode FT8 has erupted.

Joe (born March 29, 1941), is a friend of hams everywhere, and is an American astrophysicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate ( for his discovery with Russell Alan Hulse of a “new type of pulsar, a discovery that has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation.”

Many have asked questions like, “Did Joe Taylor K1JT Destroy Amateur Radio? Did Joe Taylor K1JT, Nobel Laureate and noted friend of hams everywhere, accidentally destroy amateur radio?” This question remains relevant, even as more and more FT8 operators take to the HF bands to chase wallpaper and awards.

FT8 Has Validity and Usefulness

Full disclosure: I administer a Facebook group for FT8 and FT8-related modes, because I believe that the mode has a valid place in our amateur radio technology portfolio.  Here is the Facebook group URL, if you would like to join the fun: Understand, I have used and will continue to use FT8.

Because it has a place, it stands to reason that everyone should become more aware of the impact of using FT8 on the bands. It also stands to reason that it should be used ethically, and in the best spirit of amateur radio.

Many amateur operators use the FT8 digital mode as a novelty when there isn’t much else happening on amateur radio shortwave bands. One of the great things about it is that you can tell when a band is open–even though you don’t hear any other signals of other modes on the band in question, you very well may hear the roar of FT8 on the band where propagation actually exists to somewhere else than your QTH.

Others use it to finally get their DXCC, or WAS, or other award and wallpaper. This is especially popular during this season of the sunspot cycle where there are no sunspots–propagation is limited to lower-HF amateur bands because there’s just not enough solar activity to energize the ionosphere enough to open up the higher segment of shortwave.

FT8 Has Limitations

Can FT8 be used for two-way conversations? No. However, the JS8CALL digital mode is designed from the FT8 mode, by changing the protocol in a way that allows free text. It is designed for ragchewing and the new version 2.0 offers three modes of chat with 50 Hz and 16 wpm, 80 Hz and 24 wpm, and the turbo mode at 160hz and 40wpm with turbo only having a 6-second turn around time. The designated frequency is 7.078, which many find much nicer to use.

However, many find JS8CALL combersome, and non-intuitive.  How fast and how reliably can it handle critical messages, say, during an emergency?  I’m sure the software will improve, but how good is the protocol?

A mode such as Olivia has been field proven, and time tested.  It can reliably handle traffic.

The Rant

During the early days of widespread FT8 operation that came with the first public non-Beta release of FT8-equipped WSJT-X software, I tried to reason with the FT8 development leadership team. I made a polite attempt at explaining how incredibly rude they were in purposefully programming into the software the default operating frequencies such as 7.075, 14.075, and so on.

One of the main leaders of that team slammed me and stated that “we only suggested those frequencies; the operator is free to change them.” Additionally, he stated that the team used a common QSO/Mode spotting website to see what digital modes or other operations (like CW) were sparser. They perceived that the frequencies they proposed where no longer active because they saw few if any spots. They thought that no one would care.

I explained that a single website-spotting strategy was illogical and very lazy. This is true for several reasons, at least.

I guess you have to have a Ph.D. to know better than any average ham who went by gentleman’s agreements. I have an extremely dim view of JT and his disciples. CW is not the only operating group he’s engineered out of traditional slices of spectrum. Olivia, and other modes, now have been pushed down into PSK subbands, and everyone is feeling the crowding. As far as my thinking of FT8, well, it is radio, but it doesn’t foster goodwill and building serious communications skill. IMHO.

Play Nice, Be Positive and Polite. Smile.

I’ve received wise counsel from a number of fellow amateur radio operators.  They implore us to not promote hostility between “us and them.”  That even though the WSJT team is playing the playground bully, we should not be vengeful, but polite and willing to negotiate in good faith.

If we don’t play nice with the bully then the bully won’t play with us.  And, the general public will side with the bully because the bully has the nice toys…

Good negotiations, though, take a willingness by both sides, so that conversation evolves,  resulting in positive, cooperative actions embraced by both parties. There are other amateur radio operators who have made attempts to open up talks with Joe and crew.  What are the results, so far?

We can hope that Joe Taylor and his group of developers and leadership take a proactive role and join a conversation that is with a wider group of amateurs than just the WSJT enthusiasts.  We hope that they will play fairly, and cooperatively, with the rest of the amateur radio community.



Tomas, NW7US

Tomas Hood, NW7US, is a regular contributor to and writes from Nebraska, USA. Tomas is the Space Weather and Radio Propagation Contributing Editor to ‘CQ Amateur Radio Magazine’, and ‘The Spectrum Monitor’ magazine.

Ham Radio Operating Ethics and Operating Procedures

In 2008, John Devoldere, ON4UN, and, Mark Demeuleneere, ON4WW, wrote a comprehensive document entitled “Ethics and Operating Procedures for the Radio Amateur.” The purpose of this document was for it to become a universal guide on operating ethics and procedures.

This document was accepted by the IARU (International Amateur Radio Union) Administrative Council as representing their view on the subject. During subsequent Regional IARU meetings it was emphasized that the document be made available to the Amateur Radio Community via all available means, at no cost, and in as many languages as possible.

The document has since been translated into more than 25 languages. In some countries, the document is also offered in printed format and many Amateur Radio websites have a link to the document. Our most sincere thanks go to all our friends who spent hundreds of hours to take care of these translations.

To achieve easier access to all of the existing versions and languages of the document, the authors have set up the Ham Radio Ethics and Operating Procedures web site at:

It contains a listing of all versions/languages, sorted by country, where you can download the translations in any of the following forms:

*PDF or Word documents from various countries
*Directly from the different Radio Societies’ web sites
*A downloadable PowerPoint Slideshow Presentation (available in one of three languages–English, French and Dutch)

John, ON4UN, and Mark, ON4WW

The ARRL Radiogram, Part 2

In this post I’ll describe how to compose a basic radiogram. I won’t wax on about everything involved here — if you want to learn more just click here. Here’s an example that I’d like to explain piece by piece. (Thank you to the Oregon ACES program for sharing a fillable PDF of the radiogram; I used it to create what you see here.)

The four main parts of the radiogram are the preamble (at the top), the address block (just below the preamble on the left), the text (the main body of the message), and the signature (just below the text). For now I’ll ignore the part at the bottom where it says “REC’D” and “SENT” as well as the box just below the preamble on the right where it says “THIS RADIO MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED AT,” since those are just for record-keeping.


Notice that a couple of the boxes are blank. I’ll still explain them, but because they’re optional and often not used I’ve left them blank. The preamble has eight boxes:

  • NUMBER: This is whatever number the originating station chooses. (If you are the first station to send this radiogram, then you are considered the “originating station.”) Typically you start with “1″ on the first radiogram of the year and number each subsequent radiogram sequentially. Just make sure that it’s a number with no letters and that it doesn’t start with a zero.
  • PRECEDENCE: Either R, W, P, or EMERGENCY. The first three letters stand for Routine, Welfare, and Priority, but “EMERGENCY” is always spelled out. Unless you’re dealing with a disaster, your radiogram is probably Routine, so put “R” in this box.
  • HX: This is for one or more of seven optional handling instructions: HXA, HXB, HXC, etc. You don’t have to put anything in this box unless you have some special need, like to authorize a collect call for delivery, hold delivery until a certain date, etc. To learn more, click here.
  • STATION OF ORIGIN: Your call sign, if you’re the first station to send the radiogram.
  • CHECK: The number of words in the text of your message. If there is an ARL code used in your message, then put “ARL” in front of the check number. Later I’ll say more about ARL codes — and a dangerous trap that some operators fall into with this box when delivering a radiogram.
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: The location of the person who actually authored the text of the message. If you as the originating station are the one and only person composing it, then this would be your location. But if you’re not, then it may be some other location. Say for instance that your non-ham friend wants you to send a message of his own by radiogram. The place of origin would be your friend’s location, not yours.
  • TIME FILED: This is optional (unless you have entered special handling instructions in “HX” that require it) and is often left blank for routine messages. If you do enter a time, enter the time you (the originating station) created the message. Use 24 hour format followed by an indicator of the time zone, e.g. 1730Z (UTC), 1730L (Local time).
  • DATE: The three-letter abbreviation for the month followed by a number for the day. This is assumed to be UTC unless you have indicated a different time zone in “TIME FILED.”

Address block:

Enter the address of the person the radiogram is intended for. Don’t neglect the phone number (and remember to include the area code!) since usually radiograms are delivered by telephone once they make it to a ham who lives close enough to place a local call. I’ve put dashes in the phone number, which I should point out is technically incorrect but I’ll probably keep doing it.

Text and signature blocks:

Notice that there are five rows, each row containing five blanks? Each blank is for one word. The rows of five are to make it easier to count the words to compare with the “CHECK” box in the preamble. Instead of counting every word, you can just count by fives for every row that is full. This makes it easier for stations in the NTS to rapidly check for missing/extra words after they have copied a message. Here are a few notes on this part of the radiogram:

  • Punctuation: Don’t use any punctuation marks. At the end of a sentence where a period would normally go, write “X” on a blank (it counts as a word and is pronounced “X-RAY” when read over the air). Don’t write “X” at the end of your last sentence, though. For a question mark, write “QUERY” on its own blank line (it also counts as a word).
  • ARL Codes: ARL codes are a handy way to say a lot with only two or three words. For a listing of all the ARL codes, click here (it’s toward the end of the document). “ARL FIFTY” means, “Greetings by Amateur Radio,” and that’s what the recipient will hear when finally a ham calls him and reads the radiogram to him. Note that the number “FIFTY” is spelled out, and both “ARL” and “FIFTY” each count as a word. If you used, say, “ARL FIFTY ONE,” that would count as three words. Warning! Don’t confuse the “CHECK” in the preamble with the ARL code you are trying to send. In the example I’ve shown here, “ARL 15″ is in the “CHECK” box, but all that means is that 1) there is an ARL code in your message 2) there are 15 words total in your message. Frankly I wish we didn’t have to put that “ARL” in the check box because it’s confusing and can be disastrous. Just read the story in the Operating Manual about the time a poor ham delivered a radiogram and mistakenly interpreted “ARL 13″ in the “CHECK” box for “Medical emergency situation exists here” (the meaning of ARL THIRTEEN, if it were actually in the text of the message). After the family received this botched radiogram, they threatened to file a lawsuit!
  • Wording: Be concise. The fewer words the better, as long as it still makes sense.
  • Closing: Closing words like “sincerely,” “love,” etc. should be included in the text of the message, not the signature.
  • Signature: The name of the person(s) writing the text. The signature goes just below the text as shown. At first this is a bit confusing when you’re staring at a blank radiogram form because it’s not obvious that the top border of the REC’D/SENT boxes doubles as the line for the signature. But that’s where it goes — above that top border, not below it. It has nothing to do with “REC’D/DATE/TIME” or “SENT/DATE/TIME,” which are for record keeping as the radiogram is sent and received. Note: the signature does not count toward the number in the “CHECK” box of the preamble.

I hope this is helpful! In my next post about the ARRL Radiogram I’ll discuss how to send it using a voice mode like SSB.

The ARRL Radiogram, Part 1

Radiogram at the desk of N0IPWho knew the ARRL radiogram could be so easy to send and receive — and so enjoyable? All those old-time NTS operators, of course! The National Traffic System — the “Relay” in the American Radio Relay League — has been around since 1915, yet never have I had the courage to take part until now. I wish I’d done it sooner. My son, a ham for only a month, has already passed two radiograms of his own! How about you? Would you like to give it a try?

Click here to learn more about the NTSThe first step is to find a net that is part of the NTS. I found one by searching the ARRL database (click here) for a “Section Net” in Minnesota. Unfortunately the database is a bit cluttered, so it may require a bit of patience as you sift through the listings and tune around listening for a listed net. But that’s not a bad way to start, really. Patient listening will get you far in this hobby, especially when you’re trying to learn something new.

Once I found the MN Section Phone Net on 3860 kHz I listened to a few sessions before checking in. My biggest fear was that I might be asked to receive a radiogram without understanding the procedure. But I didn’t have anything to worry about — surprisingly, very little traffic is actually passed these days. The same is true of the SD NEO Net which immediately follows the MN Section net on that frequency.

We need more radiograms in the system. It doesn’t matter how trivial your message is, honestly. Know somebody who has a birthday coming up? Send him a radiogram! It is a novel way to send a greeting, and it helps keep the NTS running the way it’s supposed to. As the ARES EC for my county I have a vested interest in the proficiency of the NTS, which works closely with ARES during a disaster. But I digress.

The ARRL Operating Manual For Radio AmateursTo learn how to send and receive a radiogram I turned to The ARRL Operating Manual For Radio Amateurs. The chapter on traffic handling is very well written; read through it a couple of times and you’ll be ready to handle radiograms by a voice-mode. CW is a little tougher because it involves unique prosigns and Q-signals — the book is indispensable as a starting-point, but I’m still not ready to check into a CW traffic net quite yet. I’m listening when I can, though, and learning.

Before passing a radiogram in the NTS, I practiced sending and receiving a test-radiogram with my son on 2 meter simplex. Then I practiced sending a test-radiogram to the Yellow Medicine County ARES Training Net on our local 2 meter repeater. We were ready to do it for real. On the next Training Net my son sent me a bona fide radiogram bound for his friend in Virginia. No turning back now — I couldn’t let my son down! The next chance I had to put it into the NTS was with the SD NEO Phone Net, so I tuned in, gulped, and took the plunge. Pretty soon the radiogram was on its way and I was grinning. This is easy!

In my next post I’ll describe how to compose a radiogram. Obviously I’m new at this, but that also means some of these things are fresh in my mind. I hope it will help one of you get on the air and send a radiogram!

YMC ARES Training Net Begins!

Last night at 8:00 P.M. I held our first Yellow Medicine County ARES Training Net. The plan is to do this every Monday night at 8:00 P.M. and to cover a specific learning objective each time. Dean Herzberg, NYØI, graciously agreed to let us use his 2 meter repeater in Milan for this.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I’m trying to mimic the Arizona Emergency Net. They have been doing some excellent work, and you can listen to recordings of their training nets online (click here for their archives).

Yesterday’s topic was “Tactical Call Signs.” After explaining the concept of tactical call signs, I assigned one to each operator, asking him to acknowledge it. Then I put the operators through a little exercise. I explained that I would call each one of them with his tactical call sign, and after he replied with his tactical call sign, I would ask him a question. When he answered the question, he was to conclude with his FCC call sign. This is standard format; signing with the FCC call sign tells net control that the operator considers the exchange complete. Here’s an example:

Net control: “EOC-1″
EOC-1: “EOC-1″
Net control: “EOC-1, what is your favorite mode?”
EOC-1: “My favorite mode is FM. NØJXI”

The stations who checked in did a great job. The whole net took only about 15 minutes; I tried to make it short, sweet, and to the point, and since we didn’t have many check-ins it didn’t last long.

All hams within range of the repeater are welcome to participate in this net, whether or not they are in Yellow Medicine County and whether or not they have registered with ARES. I do hope that this will draw some hams into ARES, though. Now that we have something like this going, it’s time to beat the bushes by sending out letters to local hams inviting them to take part.

CW Abbreviations

If you’re just getting started with CW, you need to know that learning Morse Code is only part of the puzzle. You’ll also need to learn basic CW Operating Procedures, and you’ll need to know some commonly used abbreviations, too. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to print out something like this and keep it near your key until sending and receiving these are second-nature:

CU AGNSee you again73 HPE CU AGN
CULSee you later73 HPE CUL
CQCalling anyoneCQ CQ CQ DE NØIP
DEThis is stationNØBSY DE NØIP KN
DRDearFB DR TODD (Often heard from DX stations.)
DXLong-distanceCQ CQ CQ DX DE NØIP
FBFine businessFB OM TNX FER RPT
GAGood afternoonGA OM UR RST 579
GBGod bless73 ES GB
GEGood eveningGE OM ES GB
GLGood luckTNX FER QSO 73 GL
HPEI hope/I hope toHPE CU THIS FRI
OPOperator’s NameOP TODD
RRoger (Copy 100%)NØBSY DE NØIP R R FB TOM
RIGRadio equipmentRIG HR HW-8
RPTReport (also RPRT) or RepeatTNX FER RPT/RPRT (Repeat: PSE RPT QTH)
TKSThanksTKS FER QSO (Same as TNX)
TNXThanksTNX FER QSO (Same as TKS)
TUThank youNØIP TU 5NN (Typical rapid-fire DXpedition exchange.)
URYour/You’reUR RST 599
WWatt(s)RIG HW-8 PWR ABT 2 W
XYLWife (Ex-young-lady)XYL CALLING MUST GO
72Best regards (QRP)UR K2 DOING GUD 72 OM ES GB
73Best regardsTU 73 CUL

Reflecting Upon a 33-year-old Written Logbook, Now Completed

A couple days ago I made my last entry in the logbook I’ve been using for 33 years. The log has grown up with me and is a bit battered, much like its owner. The first entry I made was on 9/10/78, back when I was a 10-year-old Novice with the call KAØCEM.

It’s a trip down memory lane to page through this logbook, not only to read the entries and the notes I made about changes in my equipment and QTH, but even to see how my handwriting changed over the years. But it’s full now, so it is time to start another logbook.

The first page of my logbook when I was KAØCEM.

I happen to have a nice, new logbook just waiting for the next hand-written entry. Somewhere along the line I acquired it and it’s been on my shelf waiting for the day my first logbook filled up. But now I’m not so sure I want to use it. Things are different now. Back in the day we relied exclusively on QSL cards to confirm our contacts, but now some folks rely on the Logbook of the World — as a courtesy to them I started entering my contacts there this year. But double-logging is as prone to error as it is time-consuming. And as much as I love the nostalgia of the hand-written log, I have to admit that logbook in Ham Radio Deluxe is mighty slick.

So I’ve ordered the chips to upgrade my Kenwood TS-440S, a CAT cable to hook it up to my computer, and from now on it’s a computerized logbook for me.

But one thing is nagging me. There are unanticipated consequences of “progress” like this. For instance, this computerized logbook has a window with constantly-updated DX spots. Nice, huh? But with this instantaneous feedback-loop that we’ve created, it has become harder and harder to have meaningful QSOs with DX stations — as soon as one is spotted there’s a massive pile-up that turns subsequent QSOs into rapid-fire exchanges that consist of nothing more than NØIP 599 TU.

I’m glad my ol’ logbook ended with a better QSO than that. I called CQ DX on 20m and LU1MA responded from Argentina. We didn’t exactly have a ragchew, but at least it lasted for six whole minutes. The second I signed off with him, though, a horde descended upon him like a swarm of thirsty mosquitoes.

I don’t remember that ever happening in the old days, even though there were more CW operators on the air back then. Back at the peak of the third-to-last sunspot cycle I had DX QSOs that routinely lasted 10-15 minutes, sometimes longer. That wasn’t because my CW was slow. Back then I was around 20 WPM; now I’m down to 15 WPM (it’s coming back, though!). It was simply different back then, and I would say it was better. I loved how the DX stations used to call me DR TODD; I’d hear it from more than one country, but never from the USA. We talked with each other back then, no matter how far away the DX station was.

So I’m not sure I’ll keep that DX spot window open in my new computerized logbook. I’m not even sure I’ll enter pile-ups all that much. I’ve learned how to do it, but it’s tedious and not nearly as rewarding as the contacts I used to have with these DX stations. Maybe I’ll call CQ DX more often and hope the fellow on the other end is willing to spend a few more minutes in QSO than he’s used to.

But when I do, he’ll go into my computer. Along with the old days, my written logbook is a thing of the past.

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