Ham-speak: Learning the Lingo
Like many specialty endeavors and hobbies, ham radio has developed something of its own language over the decades. While clear, plain language is preferred for most operations, terminology from Morse Code, common equipment references, and efficient shortcuts will often be heard on the air between ham station operators. To the new operator some of this language may be a little confusing and require some spin-up.
The following is a conversation you could hear on your local repeater. Maybe. Or not. It's a little over-the-top for illustrative purposes, OK? Work with me.
1. Ziggy: NA4LRY, KD8ZIG.
2. Elroy: Hey Zig, what’s up buddy?
3. Ziggy: Hey old man, where are you today?
4. Elroy: I’m at the QTH right now, but I’ll be mobile in a few minutes. I’m going to pick up that new 6-meter beam I bought. Can you give me a hand putting that up, along with my homebrew 2-meter Yagi?
5. Ziggy: Yea, sure, if you are going to do it this afternoon. The XYL has got plans for me later, some new restaurant to try out. Say, did you get any DX this morning?
6. Elroy: Oh yea! 10 and 15 were wide open into Europe. I got real good skip into Scotland and a couple of stations in Italy on my very first CQ, mostly on 10. I worked a little CW QRP on 15 into England, just 5 watts! All good QSOs! Lotta fun, old man!
7. Ziggy: Awesome. Hey, settle down old man, you’re flat topping a little there, getting so excited, hi hi.
8. Elroy: OK, sorry about that. I was just happy to finally get Scotland. Now if I can get a QSL card from that fellow I’ll have my DXCC.
9. Ziggy: Very good! I didn’t know you were that close. Congrats! We should do a DXpedition from over there sometime. That would be fun.
10. Elroy: Yea, I hear they got good 807 over there, too. Well, I’ll see you about 2:00 pm if that’s OK for you, and we’ll get this antenna farm tweaked up. I’d better go get that beam. So 73, KD8ZIG from NA4LRY. I’m clear on your final Zig.
11. Ziggy: OK, thanks for the QSO and I’ll see you later today. 88 to Margie from me. KD8ZIG, QSY to the 345 machine.
Did you follow all of that? If you’re somewhat new to ham radio you probably picked up on the meaning of a few new terms, but much of Ziggy and Elroy’s conversation may have sailed overhead. Few on-the-air conversations will be as chock-filled with ham jargon as this invented example, but like many other endeavors that have a technical element ham radio has a language all its own. You will pick it up quickly, however. Let’s decompose Ziggy and Elroy’s chat and interpret it into simple, common language we can all understand. Here we go, line by line.
Line 1: Ziggy’s call sign is KD8ZIG, and he is calling specifically for Elroy, NA4LRY. He simply says Elroy’s call sign followed by his own.
Line 4: Elroy is really full of jargon in this transmission! QTH is a Q-signal (shorthand signal derived from Morse Code) that refers to one’s current position, and commonly used to mean “home” or the “home radio station.” Elroy means he is at home. When Elroy says he will be mobile, it means he will be away from home and probably transmitting with a moving radio station in his car. A 6-meter beam is an antenna for the 6-meter radio band, and a beam antenna is one that provides improved transmission and reception in one direction – also called a directional antenna. Many hams love to homebrew, and I don’t mean beer. Homebrew equipment, such as antennas or circuits, are home built items, usually a ham’s pride and joy! Finally, Elroy refers to a specific kind of beam antenna, the Yagi, named for a Japanese inventor. In this case, the Yagi directional antenna is for the 2-meter band. So, Elroy has a little antenna project going today, installing two new directional antennas.
Line 5: Ziggy has an evening date with his XYL, or “ex-young lady,” meaning his wife. Although less common, I have heard the reference XYM, implying ex-young man, or husband. But Ziggy quickly gets off social topics and back to serious radio matters, inquiring about Elroy’s DX: distance contacts, meaning radio contacts out of country.
Line 6: Elroy, again loaded with jargon, enthusiastically relates his morning DX contacts with two European nations on10 and 15, meaning the 10-meter and 15-meter radio bands. A radio band is said to be open when it is reflecting from the ionosphere and allowing long distance contacts by ionosphere skip, or repeated reflections between ionosphere and ground of the radio signals. Particularly with the higher frequency HF bands like 10-meters and 15-meters, the band may not be open unless solar conditions are very active and the ionosphere is densely charged. That is, the transmissions will pass through the ionosphere and travel into space rather than returning to earth to be received by a DX station. CQ is a call that means calling any station, frequently used on the HF bands where you are trying to make contact with anyone anywhere. CW stands for continuous wave, the transmission mode used with International Morse Code to tap out letters and numbers. It is a very power-efficient mode of transmission that is commonly used QRP, a Q-signal referring to low power or reduced power transmission. QSO is the Q-signal for an on-the-air conversation, like Ziggy and Elroy are having, or like the contacts Elroy is describing with the European stations. What a mouthful, huh?
Line 7: Ziggy refers to Elroy again as old man that in ham lingo is a term of endearment or friendship, a pal or a buddy. However, if your pal or buddy is an XYL, or simply a YL (young lady), you should probably avoid use of this jargon! Ziggy notes Elroy’s flat topping, otherwise called over-modulating or (on FM) over-deviating. In other words, Ziggy is telling Elroy that he was too loud or too close to his microphone and causing a distorted audio signal. (You can learn more about over-modulation and over-deviation in the HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course book, Chapter 6.) And just to indicate to Elroy that he is amused by his excitement about the DX contacts, Ziggy ends with "hi hi," sort of an artificial laughter that some hams like to use. Be aware, genuine, actual, cackling laughter on the air is also allowed and highly encouraged!
Line 8: The Q-signal QSL means acknowledge receipt, or message understood. A QSL card is a physical card, much like a postcard, acknowledging a radio contact between stations. QSL cards are used to confirm contacts for various awards, such as the ARRL’s DXCC award, awarded for contacting stations in 100 different countries around the world.
Line 9: A DXpedition is a fun trip for hams to a different country or a remote area from which radio operations are conducted. Ziggy wants to travel to Scotland for such a radio expedition!
Line 10: The 807 to which Elroy refers is a less popular on-air discreet term for ale or beer. This is not to be confused with the popular 807 amplifier tube. If a ham has a number of antennas in the air at his station, it is commonly referred to as an antenna farm, as Elroy notes. Elroy issues 73 (often distinct “seven, three” or “seventy-three,” but not the
plural form “seventy-threes”), meaning best regards. You’ll hear the 73 term frequently as a salutation. Elroy indicates he is clear on Ziggy’s final: Elroy is done using the frequency or repeater (clear) following Ziggy’s final transmission in this QSO (your final).
Line 11: Ziggy bids Elroy’s XYL Margie 88, meaning hugs and kisses – not always well received if the level of familiarity does not fit, but Margie happens to be Ziggy’s sister. Finally, Ziggy informs of his QSY, another Q-signal meaning he is changing frequency. The 345 machine (or any similar reference by name or frequency) is another repeater with a
frequency ending in 345. Ziggy is switching over to that other repeater.
Not CB: Note a couple of things that are not voiced in this ham radio QSO. In line 3 Ziggy did not ask for Elroy’s “10-20” as in CB radio lingo. In fact, there were no “good buddies” or “10-4s” or “smokies” or any of that other CB stuff. Ham lingo and CB lingo do not typically mix in the same on-air circles. Leave the “Chew ‘n Choke” and your “Ears” on the channels of the citizen’s 11-meter band, where they belong. Many hams do not appreciate hearing CB lingo on the amateur bands.
More Ham-speak References: Hopefully the QSO makes more sense to you now, and you have a little better idea of typical ham conduct on the air. You will find a list of common Q-signals and a list of common ham terms linked on the Technician Learning page, in Section 1.2, Ham Operating Basics.
Don’t overuse jargon! Just speak with plain, clear language and normal terminology in most cases on the air. Clear unambiguous language is almost always better than jargon for the sake of jargon. But if you want to throw in a Q-signal or well-used ham term once in a while for efficiency or just to sound cool, go for it! Most hams won’t blink an eye. Have fun learning and using ham-speak.
-- Stu WØSTU