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Amateur Radio Info & Exams - Operations 2 - CW (Morse), Q-codes, and HF Operations

CW & Q-codes

Morse consists of short and long elements, called dits and dahs. A dit is a single element, a dah 3 times as long. There is a dit period between each element, and a dah between the characters these elements form. A gap of 7 dits is used between words.

An E is a single dit, a T a single dah. An S is three dits, an O three dahs, and M two dahs. The di-di-dit dah-dah di-di-dit SMS notification on Nokia 'phones said, well you can work it out...

Even if you do not wish to operate using Morse, you still need to understand several of the related procedures. These include the Q-codes.

Sending QSK indicates that your station has the ability listen for the station you are conversing with to break into the transmission. Older radio set-ups required that the receiver be switched off, and the transmitter on, before Morse could be sent, on modern radios the transition in almost instant, in response to the key only.

QRS is a request for the other station to send more slowly. "QRQ" is a suggestion to increase speed (send more quickly).

QRP is a request to reduce power, or, as "QRP?" a question asking if your station can reduce power. It also relates to operation typically at 5 watts, or below. "QRO" means "increase power", and informally means operation using a linear or other amplifier. Unless you have a pack-animal (yes, some people do do this; or use a pack-teenager), QRP is a good idea for things like Summits on the Air, as the weight of equipment and batteries is lower.

The informal terms "QRSs" and "QRPp" relate to very low speed operations, such as a dit lasting 5 seconds; and very low power, such as 10 mW, often combined, in small beacons, which are then received using special software.

QRL means "I am busy", or that the frequency is in use; and thus "QRL?" asks "Are you busy?", or informally, "Is this frequency in use?".

QSL is one which has been misused, originally meaning "Acknowledgement" or "Confirmation". If you sent a message "Ambulance required 200 metres north of Checkpoint Alpha. Patient is male, aged 47, and is tachycardic." The other station would read back, ending in "QSL?". If the details are correct you reply "QSL". It also means that you acknowledge receipt. The secondary meaning relates to a card, confirming, or acknowledging the contact.

QRN is static, or natural interference, with QRN meaning "I am troubled by static". QRM refers to man-made interference.

QRV indicates that a station is ready for traffic. Email messages, tweets, and the like using the term indicates that a DX-pedition or special event station is listening for contacts on a certain band, frequency, mode, etc.

Zero Beat

Many variable audio oscillators used in school and college classrooms have additional ranges which goes to about 1 MHz, in the AM broadcast band. If you tune an AM radio to an unused frequency, you will hear the go from hash to silence, not much good for sending Morse across the room, by keying it on and off. However, tune the radio to a station, then tune the oscillator to around 700 Hz from the station, and you will hear a tone. This is a "beat" between the oscillator and the broadcast station. If you adjust the oscillator you would reduce the frequency to below one which you can hear. Thus the oscillator would be set very close to the stations carrier frequency.

Remembering back to the old-style station* I mentioned in the Technician notes, I expect it was possible to adjust the variable frequency oscillator (VFO) for the transmitter so that there was no beat, also called "zero beat", with the received signal. Thus your signal with match that of the other station. This can also be termed "netting", to match the other stations on a net.

* This description went through the process a Ham many years ago may have gone through, of building a tune-able receiver, initially a separate crystal controlled transmitter, but upgraded to include a VFO, a separate power amplifier, and a number of relays to save manually switching from receive to transmit before keying up. We also added a transverter to try the new-fangled VHF bands. Link.

Note that with modern transmitters once you tune your transceiver to another station's frequency your transmission will be on their frequency. Usually you will find a station is on, a whole, or maybe 0.5 kHz, say 7106 kHz or 3608.5 kHz, but some can be tuned to a fairly random frequency, like 7107.58 kHz, perhaps because they are using a mechanically tuned radio.


Prosigns, or Procedural Signals are used to aid the flow of messages. Some consist of the two or three characters run together as one symbol, and where the typesetting system allows, they are written with a bar over them, or an "overline", such as AR, sent as "di-dah-di-dah-dit", meaning the end of a message, and that possibly a new message is following. It can be written is RN, and is the same as +.

K is an invitation for the other station to transmit, similar to "OVER" for voice, in Morse, dah-di-dah. This is even sometimes whistled after transmissions on VHF SSB when the path is fading, ti indicate the end of the transmission. Some repeaters also send a K instead of a simple beep, or nothing. In a pile-up, KN, "dah-di-dah-dah-dit" also "(" is an invitation for only the named station to reply, something like "KN VK2", calling in the VK2 station.

The most famous is SOS, the signal commencing a distress call or distress message, written as di-di-di-dah-dah-dah-di-di-dit. Listen

If there is ground, or air below you, "Roger" is also used to answer a question in the affirmative, if it is the deep blue sea, use "Romeo", or in either case "R" in Morse, di-dah-dit.

You can see many more at: Wikipedia - Prosigns for Morse code, and Wikipedia - Morse code abbreviations. There are of course dozens of pages on Morse operation.

Signal Reports - RST

There is a standardised system for reporting Amateur signals, RST. R, scaled 1 to 5 is for readability, 5 being best. Signal is strength, ideally read from a calibrated S-meter, reading 1 to 9, then in dB over this. For a voice signal you might give 44, 5 by 9, or 5 and 20 over 9. For Morse, a third character, for the cleanness of the Tone, is added. 1 is very raspy, something like 6 has some mains hum, and 9 is a perfectly clean signal. Several characters can be added, C meaning chirpy. In contests 59 or 599 is often sent, even for a poor signal, abbreviated to 9NN in Morse.

Chirpy signals result from using a directly keyed oscillator (meaning it has to start at each key press) above something like 10 MHz.

This is an example of the signal generated by a simple single transistor "power oscillator" transmitter on or near 10 metres. The audio maybe be loud, and is very annoying.

Direct link to the audio.

Off the exam, except as a distractor, key-clicks outside the normal bandwidth of the signal are the result of an incorrectly set up transmitter, specifically one which has too square a envelope, the signal going to and from full power too quickly.

HF Operations

Short path and long path

Signals between two usually fairly distant locations can travel one of two paths, the shorter or the longer path around the globe, just as aircraft could fly either; in fact, Air India's flight from Delhi to San Francisco does this, flying the longer route eastwards over the Pacific, but returning over the US and the Atlantic, always benefiting from the prevailing winds.

Suppose you were in the Central Tablelands of NSW, and wanted to communicate with a station in Grass Valley in California. You would point your beam 55.6 degrees, and the distance would be 12226.4 km; or you could turn it 180 degrees, to point 235.6 and the distance would be 27776.8 km. Likewise, in the morning (before work) in Australia, communications with the UK (their evening) is via the long path.

Note that the bearing the other station uses may well be different, unless the stations are close. In this example, the US station points at 242 degrees, similar, but not the exact complimentary angle. If we were to point beams between two repeaters to link them, maybe 80 km apart, then the angles would be very close to 180 degrees different.

From Bathurst to the Australian base south of Madagascar is 200 degrees, a little west of south, but their bearing is 100 degrees, a little south of east. Between Bathurst and the Chilean base's airport (Teniente Rodolfo Marsh Airport), both stations point roughly south. Click for map!

Azimuthal projection maps

These "great circle" maps are typically available from national associations, or others, printed for major population centres in that country. They can also be generated online, and printed. Each one shows the world centred around a particular city, and are used to determine the bearing from that location to others around the world. Locations the greatest distance from the centre are often highly distorted. It is also possible to determine the distant from the centre to the desired station. Determining directions and distances between stations any distance from the centre of the map is, at best, difficult.


Once a legal requirement, many operators still keep a log, for various reasons.

It is useful to answer questions from the FCC, such as during interference investigations.

It is also handy if you later want to claim an award for working all states (WAS), worked all zones (WAZ), or 100 nations or entities (places like Alaska and Lord Howe Island count, in addition to the mainland of the related country).

The UTC date, time, band / frequency, callsign, report sent and received, often power and/or which radio (if you have several), and which antenna used, the name of the other operator, and any comments. Tick-boxes for sending and receiving QSL cards can also be included. Data for awards, such as state, county / shire, DXCC entity, maidenhead locator (gridsquare), summit, IOTA (Islands On The Air) number such as "OC-001", National Park name, ITU and/or CQ zones, etc, can also be recorded.

If you upgrade the coax you can also record this, and other changes. Calculations regarding EMR can also be placed in the log.

Logbooks can be bought from national associations, some clubs, and some radio manufacturers. There are even small format ones made using waterproof paper. You can also print one for your needs. In Australia club or school station logs must be on a bound book.

There are also a range of programs which will perform logging, some even loading the details from the radio via a CAT or USB link.

As with all ITU distractors, remember that it is countries which are required to comply with ITU regulations, and it is the telecommunications administration which is supposed to implement these, but if a government does not implement a certain aspect of the ITU regulations, the Amateur who follows administration's laws which are outside the ITU's the Amateur does not act illegally. An Australian example was permitting operation on 6 metres, then the upper portion of 10 metres, without Morse Code, before this requirement was abolished.

Volunteer Monitoring Program

This is a voluntary service using Amateurs to monitor operating standards, and to assist in locating operators jamming, or badly behaving stations, including using radio direction finding. DFing can be practised during "transmitter hunt" contests, also called "fox hunting" in some locations. It replaces the Amateur Auxiliary

I saw a comment that most notifications relate to Technicians using FT-8 on 40 and 15 metres, where they are only permitted to use Morse. FT-8 is permitted on 10 metres, from 28 to 28.3 MHz, for all, including Techs and Novices.

Relevant Questions

These are actual questions from the General exam pool.

Which of the following describes full break-in telegraphy (QSK)?
A. Breaking stations send the Morse code prosign BK
B. Automatic keyers are used to send Morse code instead of hand keys
C. An operator must activate a manual send/receive switch before and after every transmission
D. Transmitting stations can receive between code characters and elements

When a station can hear between the elements of the Morse signals it is sending, this is called full break-in, answer D.

What should you do if a CW station sends "QRS"?
A. Send slower
B. Change frequency
C. Increase your power
D. Repeat everything twice

It is A, send more slowly. You might remember "Reduce Speed" or "Slow", from the letters.

What does it mean when a CW operator sends "KN" at the end of a transmission?
A. Listening for novice stations
B. Operating full break-in
C. Listening only for a specific station or stations
D. Closing station now

The station is listening for only a nominated station, or group of stations, answer C.

What does the Q signal "QRL?" mean?
A. "Will you keep the frequency clear?"
B. "Are you operating full break-in?" or "Can you operate full break-in?"
C. "Are you listening only for a specific station?"
D. "Are you busy?", or "Is this frequency in use?"

This has the formal meaning "Are you busy?", but is also used to ask if a frequency is in use, answer D.

In the era of the Titanic, ships' radio officers would handle vast amounts of traffic by Morse, be in messages to and from the shipping company offices, weather, and even news for the ship's daily nwespaper, but the priority was making money from messages to and from wealthy passengers.

What is the best speed to use when answering a CQ in Morse code?
A. The fastest speed at which you are comfortable copying, but no slower than the CQ
B. The fastest speed at which you are comfortable copying, but no faster than the CQ
C. At the standard calling speed of 10 wpm
D. At the standard calling speed of 5 wpm

If you can comfortably do so, you should answer at the speed at which the CQ (or other call) was sent, answer B.

What does the term "zero beat" mean in CW operation?
A. Matching the speed of the transmitting station
B. Operating split to avoid interference on frequency
C. Sending without error
D. Matching your transmit frequency to the frequency of a received signal

This means adjusting the transmitter so that there is no difference between it, and the received signal, answer D.

When sending CW, what does a "C" mean when added to the RST report?
A. Chirpy or unstable signal
B. Report was read from an S meter rather than estimated
C. 100 percent copy
D. Key clicks

This means that a signal is "chirpy", answer A.

What prosign is sent to indicate the end of a formal message when using CW?

This is AR, di-dah-di-dah-dit, consisting of the elements of A and R strung together, answer C.

What does the Q signal "QSL" mean?
A. Send slower
B. We have already confirmed by card
C. I acknowledge receipt
D. We have worked before

This means that you acknowledge receipt of the message.

What does the Q signal "QRN" mean?
A. Send more slowly
B. Stop sending
C. Zero beat my signal D. I am troubled by static

This is natural interference, or static, and is an indication that the station is suffering this interference, answer D.

What does the Q signal "QRV" mean?
A. You are sending too fast
B. There is interference on the frequency
C. I am quitting for the day
D. I am ready to receive messages

This means that I am ready to receive messages, answer D.

What is the Volunteer Monitoring Program?
A. Amateur volunteers who are formally enlisted to monitor the airwaves for rules violations
B. Amateur volunteers who conduct amateur licensing examinations
C. Amateur volunteers who conduct frequency coordination for amateur VHF repeaters
D. Amateur volunteers who use their station equipment to help civil defense organizations in times of emergency

This monitors for violations of the rules, answer A.

Which of the following are objectives of the Volunteer Monitoring Program?
A. To conduct efficient and orderly amateur licensing examinations
B. To encourage amateur radio operators to self-regulate and comply with the rules
C. To coordinate repeaters for efficient and orderly spectrum usage
D. To provide emergency and public safety communications

It is to encourage compliance with the regulations, answer B.

What skills learned during hidden transmitter hunts are of help to the Volunteer Monitoring Program?
A. Identification of out of band operation
B. Direction finding used to locate stations violating FCC Rules
C. Identification of different call signs
D. Hunters have an opportunity to transmit on non-amateur frequencies

T-hunts are good practice for locating recalcitrant operators (answer B), and things like radios with the microphone jammed on, or distress beacons, deliberately or accidentally activated.

Which of the following describes an azimuthal projection map?
A. A map that shows accurate land masses
B. A map that shows true bearings and distances from a particular location
C. A map that shows the angle at which an amateur satellite crosses the equator
D. A map that shows the number of degrees longitude that an amateur satellite appears to move westward at the equator with each orbit

Also called Great Circle maps, these help you point your antenna towards the country or area you wish to contact, answer B.

Which of the following is a good way to indicate on a clear frequency in the HF phone bands that you are looking for a contact with any station?
A. Sign your call sign once, followed by the words “listening for a call” -- if no answer, change frequency and repeat
B. Say "QTC" followed by “this is” and your call sign -- if no answer, change frequency and repeat
C. Repeat "CQ" a few times, followed by "this is," then your call sign a few times, then pause to listen, repeat as necessary
D. Transmit an unmodulated carried for approximately 10 seconds, followed by "this is" and your call sign, and pause to listen -- repeat as necessary

Say "CQ CQ, this is N5XYZ, N5XYZ", repeating periodically, answer C.

How is a directional antenna pointed when making a "long-path" contact with another station?
A. Toward the rising Sun
B. Along the grayline
C. 180 degrees from its short-path heading
D. Toward the north

It is at 180 degrees to the heading for the short path, answer C.

Which of the following are examples of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet?
A. Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog
B. Adam, Boy, Charles, David
C. America, Boston, Canada, Denmark
D. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta

Official phonetics include Greek character names, Alpha and Delta, so it is answer D.

There is a small risk of confusion with the airline name Delta, who also refused to use the use the recognisable name for a previous COVID variant, Delta. They used B.1.617.2...

What is a reason why many amateurs keep a station log?
A. The ITU requires a log of all international contacts
B. The ITU requires a log of all international third party traffic
C. The log provides evidence of operation needed to renew a license without retest
D. To help with a reply if the FCC requests information

Most regulatory questions related to the FCC, not ITU, so those two can be discarded in this case. It is useful to answer questions from the FCC, such as during interference investigations, answer D.

It is also handy if you later want to claim an award for working all states, or 100 nations or entities (places like Alaska and Lord Howe Island count in addition to the mainland of the related country). QSL cards are necessary for many awards.

Which of the following is required when participating in a contest on HF frequencies?
A. Submit a log to the contest sponsor
B. Send a QSL card to the stations worked, or QSL via Logbook of The World
C. Identify your station per normal FCC regulations
D. All these choices are correct

You must identify, as with any other operations, answer C.

What is QRP operation?
A. Remote piloted model control
B. Low power transmit operation
C. Transmission using Quick Response Protocol
D. Traffic relay procedure net operation

QRP is a request to reduce power, so informally, it means low power operation, answer B.

Perhaps remember "Reduce Power", from the letters.

Which of the following is typical of the lower HF frequencies during the summer?
A. Poor propagation at any time of day
B. World-wide propagation during the daylight hours
C. Heavy distortion on signals due to photon absorption
D. High levels of atmospheric noise or "static"

Summer heat tends to cause strong evaporation of moisture, which can generate electrical storms, which cause noise and lightning crashes, which can be heard over many hundreds of kilometres on these bands, answer D.

On to: Operations 3 - Digital

You can find links to lots more on the Learning Material page.

Written by Julian Sortland, VK2YJS & AG6LE, March 2022.

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