Contesting Is Great Communications Training

The essence of public service communications is in getting the message from point A to point B. This sounds simple enough when points A and B are in the same county and you have a local repeater that covers the whole county, but, what if point A is in the New Hampshire and point B is in Georgia? What if point A is in Maryland and Point B is in Idaho? You could use an IRLP repeater or DMR gateway – if the internet is still working. What if it isn’t? Maybe you could use 20 meters. What if it’s 4:00 am in the morning? What band do you use? What mode? Who do you contact?

All of these questions, and many more, need to be considered when setting up an emergency communications system. One thing that is very important in setting up high frequency (HF) emergency communications is in knowing what HF band or bands can provide reliable communications at any particular time for any particular route. This is an advanced communications skill that requires a lot of knowledge and skills that not everyone is familiar with.

This is also one area in which having contesting experience can provide a wealth of information and experience that may prove useful.  There are several main types of contests that are excellent at providing the knowledge and experience required to make intelligent selections of time, routes, and frequencies. The various state qso parties allow you to learn about what frequencies at what times are best to communicate between your home station (assuming that’s where you are operating from) and the other state. For example, I am located in Toledo, Ohio. If I work the Illinois QSO Party, I will have an opportunity discover what times and bands are the best for working a state that is only two states away. I can get the same type of information about the path from here to Florida by working the Florida QSO Party. By working all of the state qso parties, I can build up the practical knowledge on the best way to contact virtually anywhere in the US.

Another type of contest is the ARRL Sweepstakes. In this contest, you have two days to try and work as many parts of the US and Canada as possible. By keeping a log of your contacts, you have a record of how propagation was for that season throughout the two days on various bands.  If you continue to work this kind of contest, over the years you can come to understand the ranges of frequencies and times for many different paths.

The ARRL 160 meter contest is coming up this weekend (Dec 5 through Dec 7). I just became able to work this band for the first time about two months ago. I have a simple antenna and no power amplifier so I doubt I’ll score particularly high. The main thing I want to take away from this years contest is a better understanding of propagation on this, our only medium frequency band. I’ve read some things about the band but after the contest weekend, I’ll have some experience and some new practical knowledge of the operation of this band. I can then make changes to my station over the next year, and can compare the hopefully improved results after making the change.

The set of skills and knowledge required to set up communications over a given route at a given time, day, and season is not simple and not necessarily intuitive. It is, however, possible to improve your skills and knowledge by participating in contests and analysing your performance during those contests. As you acquire more experience, you gain a better, more complete understanding of propagation conditions. This actual, practical, experience greatly enhances what you read or what you’ve heard about a band’s propagation. Besides, you might just find you enjoy the competition aspect of contesting also. Give it a try.


CW Shorthand – Cut Numbers

Have you ever heard someone send a signal report of 5NN? Perhaps you knew it was the same as an RST of 599. Sending the letter ‘N’ for a figure ‘9’ is called sending a cut number. While the  N for 9 is the most common, there is a shortcut or “cut” number for each digit 0 through 9, except for 4 and 6. Another common use of cut numbers is sending a ‘T’ for a ‘0’ as in “am running 1TT watts” meaning 100 watts power.

Another place where cut numbers are common is in large cw contests such as the CQ WW DX contest. The contest exchange is RST and CQ zone number. A report of 599 in CQ zone 12 might be sent as “5NN AU”.

Here are the cut numbers:

Number         Normal Code           Cut Number         Result
  1        di dah dah dah dah      di dah                  A
  2        di di dah dah dah       di di dah               U
  3        di di di dah dah        di di di dah            V
  4        di di di di dah         di di di di dah         4
  5        di di di di dit         dit                     E
  6        dah di di di dit        dah di di di dit        6
  7        dah dah di di dit       dah dah dit             G
  8        dah dah dah di dit      dah di dit              D
  9        dah dah dah dah dit     dah dit                 N
  0        dah dah dah dah dah     dah                     T

ARRL Centennial QSO Party Coming To An End Soon

This is the 100th year since the founding of the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) by Hiram Percy Maxim and others. To celebrate the occasion, the ARRL has been running a Centennial QSO party all year. It started on January first and will end on December 31.

Amateurs can contact ARRL members and collect a certain number of points for the contact. At the end of the year, you’ll have some number of points and if you have enough, you may collect a certificate. The different roles of ARRL members are worth different numbers of points. Every member is worth 1 point. A life member is worth two points. Volunteer examiners are worth 5 points, and so on until you get to the ARRL President, Kay Craigie, N3KN, who is worth 300 points (I worked her 3 times so far – thanks for the 900 points, Kay).

Certificates will be available (for $15.00) for four levels of achievement. The lowest level certificate will be available for those with at least 1000 points. The second level certificate requires at least 3000 points. The third level award is for those with at least 7500 points and the highest level certificate requires at least 15000 points.

You must use the ARRL’s LogBook of The World (LoTW) to accumulate points and only ARRL members are worth points.

There is nearly a month left before the QSO Party ends so there is still time to get started and have some fun. The last day of the QSO Party, December 31, will be a “red badge day”. You can expect many of the the ARRL members who carry red badges, and therefore worth a bunch of points, to be on the air on that day and you can, with some work and some luck, qualify for a certificate by working only this day.

Full details are available at the ARRL web site at Jump in and have some fun!

CW Training Nets

For anyone interested in handling message traffic via cw, a slow speed cw training net is a very good place to start. These slow speed nets exist to help the new traffic handler to learn the ropes of message traffic handling at slower speeds than are typical for a section net or above. Most slow speed nets run at about ten to twelve words per minute but will slow down for you if you aren’t quite there yet.

I participate in the Ohio Slow Net – a slow speed cw traffic and training net that covers the state of Ohio. This is the slow speed net I’m most familiar with and will use it’s procedures as a model. Most slow speed training nets will be similar. In fact, the Ohio Slow Net (OSN) was modelled after the Maryland Slow Net and sounds quite similar.

So, what does a cw training net look like? Most nets in the National Traffic System run in a similar manner. First is the net callup followed by a net preamble that explains something about the net. This is followed by some instructions and the net control operator is identified. At this point, net members are invited to check into the net and list any traffic they have to pass. Traffic can be either for someone on this net or can be ‘through traffic’ destined for another net. The net control station then sees that the traffic is passed to the proper persons in an efficient manner. The net control may make announcements, stations may have words with each other, and all net business is taken care of. When the net’s business is complete, the net control thanks the net members and formally dismissed them from the net. The net control station may make one last call for checkins then closes the net. This is the general procedure for many traffic nets.

The following is an example of how a session of the slow net might run:



03        NCS:        QNA BN TX K

04        W8AA:    DE W8AA GE JOHN VOL BN TX QRU

05        NCS:        GE DAVE W8AA TU BN TX <AS>

06        NCS:        OSN OSN QNI K

07        K8BB:      B

08        NCS:        B

09        K8BB:      DE K8BB GE JOHN QTC K8DD 1 K

10        NCS:         K8BB GE BOB R <AS>

11        N8CC:      C

12        NCS:         C

13        N8CC:      DE N8CC GE JOHN QRU

14        NCS:         GE TOM N8CC <AS>

15        K8DD:       K

16         NCS:         K

17         K8DD:       DE K8DD GE JOHN QRU

18          NCS:         GE JIM K8DD QNU <AS>

19          NCS:         OSN OSN QNI K

20          NCS:         K8DD

21          K8DD:       HR

22           NCS:         ES K8BB

23           K8BB:       HR

24           NCS:         UP 3 UP 3 FOR QTC K8DD 1 THEN BOTH QNX WID TNX K

25           K8DD:       G 73 DE K8DD

26            K8BB:       G 73 DE K8BB

27            NCS:          OSN OSN QNI K

28            NCS:          W8AA

29            W8AA:       HR

30            NCS:           TU BN TX ES QNI NW QRU QNX 73 K

31            W8AA:        GE ES 73 DE W8AA

32            NCS:           N8CC

33            N8CC:        HR

34            NCS:           TNX QNI NW QRU QNX 73 K

35            N8CC:         GE JOHN 73 DE N8CC

36             NCS:          OSN OSN LAST CALL QNI K

37             NCS:          OSN OSN NW QNF DE W8NCS

Wow! If you are new to the world of cw and traffic nets, it may look awfully confusing. There is, however, a lot of business going on here. In line 01, the net control station (NCS) asks if the frequency is in use [QRL?]. Not hearing any reply, NCS continues with the net call up [CQ OSN CQ OSN]. NCS follows the callup with the net preamble [OHIO SLOW NET PART OF NTS OHIO SECTION  ALL ARE WELCOME].

NCS continues with line 02. After another net call up [OSN OSN], NCS sends the Q-Signal QND. This tells the net that it is a formal, directed net and all communications must go through the net control. This is followed by a request to zero-beat your signal with the net control’s signal so all net members are on the same frequency [PSE QNZ VVV VVV]. The QNN signal tells all the net members who the net contol station is [QNN W8NCS JOHN IN DAYTON]. Even though this is a formal net, we can all be friendly and on a first name basis.

In line 03, the NCS asks for the Buckeye Net (BN) transmit liaison station to check in. In the OSN, the Buckeye Net transmit liaison is a volunteer. In higher level nets, the liaison stations are assigned. The Q-Signal QNA asks stations to check in in a prearranged order. Since the OSN is a training net, most of the traffic goes either to the net manager or to the Buckeye Net for eventual distribution elsewhere.

In line 04, station W8AA identifies itself [DE W8AA], says good evening to the NCS [GE JOHN], volunteers to be the Buckeye Net transmit liaison [VOL BN TX], and finally says he has no message traffic [QRU]. You are probably getting the idea that abbreviations are important on a cw net – and you would be right!

In line 05, the NCS welcomes W8AA to the net, thanks him for volunteering, and asks him to stand by using the prosign <AS>. In line 06, the NCS continues and asks for any checkins [QNI].

In line 07, someone transmits the letter B. This is called a ‘sine’. A sine is just a shorthand way to get the NCS’s attention in a quick and easy way. The NCS sends the same sine back in line 08. This is the NCS’s way of letting the sender know he heard him and to go ahead and check in.

In line 08, the station K8BB identifies himself [DE K8BB] Note – the DE is the French word for ‘from’. Ham radio is a truly international hobby. He then says hello [GE JOHN]. The GE is short for good evening. Then he tells net control that he has one piece of formal message traffic for station K8DD [QTC K8DD 1]. He finishes by sending ‘K’ which is shorthand for “I’m done talking, it’s your turn to talk”. In line 10, the NCS acknowledges K8BB [K8BB GE BOB], acknowledges Bob’s traffic [R], and asks Bob to stand bu [<AS>].

In lines 11 – 14, N8CC checks in and tells the NCS that he does not have any formal message traffic [QRU], and is acknowledged by the NCS.

In lines 15 – 17, K8DD checks in and tells the NCS that he has no formal traffic. In line 18, the NCS checks him in and tells him that the net has traffic for him [QNU] and that he should stand by.

In line 19, NCS asks for more checkins [QNI].

Upon hearing no more checkins, the NCS , in line 20, calls K8DD, who has a message waiting for him and waits for K8DD to answer. In line 21, K8DD answers  “I’m here” [HR].

In line 22 the NCS checks that K8BB, who has a message for K8DD, is still here [ES K8BB]. Note – the ‘ES’ is French for “and”. K8BB is still here so in line 23 he tells the NCS that he’s here [HR].

Line 24 is a big one with lot’s of information. In this line, the NCS tells these two stations to move up 3 kilohertz [UP 3 UP 3] and that they should pass the one piece of traffic k8DD [FOR QTC K8DD 1] and when they are finished with the traffic, they should both check out of the net [THEN BOTH QNX] and to go with the thanks of the NCS [WID TNX].

In line 25, K8DD, the receiving station tells the NCS that he is going to the new frequency [G] then says a friendly goodbye to the NCS [73] then identifies his station because this is his last transmission on this net [DE K8DD]. In line 26, K8BB does the same as K8DD and they both move up 3KHz to pass the traffic, say thanks and goodbybe to each other , then go on about their business. When they finish the traffic, they are out of the net.

In line 27, the net control station asks if there are any more checkins [QNI].

In line 28, the NCS calls N8AA. N8AA answers in line 29.

In line 30, the NCS thanks N8AA for volunteering to be the Buckeye Net Transmit liaison [TU BN TX] and for checking in [ES QNI] and that now the net has nothing more for him [NW QRU], that he is checked out [QNX], and best wishes [73]. The NCS is done talking to N8AA [K].

In line 31, N8AA replies “good evening and best wishes” [GE ES 73], then identifies [DE W8AA], and is out of the net.

In lines 33-35, N8CC is checked out.

In line 36, the NCS makes a last call for check ins and in line 37, the NCS tells everyone that the net is no longer formal and directed but is now free for anyone to jump in and talk [QNF] and identifies his station since this was his last transmission.

Whew! Even a net without a lot of traffic has a lot going on. As the amount of traffic increases and the number of places the traffic is going to increases, the net can become somewhat more complicated. People can be sent up or down to several different frequencies, there can be liaisons to several nets, some members may go and be checked out while some may be sent off frequency, come back, and be sent to another frequency!.

At any rate, most slow speed cw training nets have little traffic and are not so complicated. Mistakes are made and corrected. Everyone learns something and gets to be better traffic handlers. Most of the participants on the Ohio Slow Net are Extra Class amateurs with many years of experience. Most of them are active on local FM voice nets, on the voice and CW section nets, and/or the Eighth Region Net and Eastern Area Net. Although most aren’t beginners, they hang around because they are interested in training newcomers and in encouraging them to continue improving their traffic handling skills. Besides, we all have fun and enjoy each other’s company.

If you have any interest in CW traffic handling, check out your Slow Speed CW training net. It should be a good experience.


Introduction To The International Morse Code

This article introduces the International Morse Code as used by radio amateurs. The formal document that describes the International Morse Code for use in radio telecommunication is ITU Recommendation ITU-R M.1677-1 (10/2009). While there are extensions to handle languages other than English, we will be concerned with the English language only in this article.

The International Morse Code is an aural language. It is important to keep this in mind, especially when trying to learn the code. Don’t try to memorize dots and dashes. That is guaranteed to slow you down. Instead, say the dits and dahs out loud. Better yet, listen to well formed code being sent. The object of learning the code is to visualize a particular character when you hear a particular sound sequence.

It is also important to realize that the code is made up of two sounds, dits and dahs. it is also made up of the absence of sound, that is, the spaces between dits and dahs. If you ignore the spacing between dits and dahs, you get a very run-on sounding code that is difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, this is all too common on the air.

The length of the dit and dah sounds and the various spacings are all based on the length of the dit. If the dit sound has a length of one, then the dah will have a length of three dits. Again, with the dit as length of one, the spacing between the dits and dahs within the same character is the same length of one. The space between characters in the same word/group is the length of three dits. The space between words or groups is seven dits.

The ITU Recommendation specifies letters, figures, punctuation, and special signals. This article shows only the first three items. The special signals will be explained in a separate article. There is more information about the sending and receiving of the code contained in the ITU Recommendation. You can find your own copy of the recommendation at .

   The International Morse Code

Char        Pronunciation

A           di-dah
B           dah-di-di-dit
C           dah-di-dah-dit
D           dah-di-dit
E           dit
F           di-di-dah-dit
G           dah-dah-dit
H           di-di-di-dit
I           di-dit
J           di-dah-dah-dah
K           dah-di-dah
L           di-dah-di-dit
M           dah-dah
N           dah-dit
O           dah-dah-dah
P           di-dah-dah-dit
Q           dah-dah-di-dah
R           di-dah-dit
S           di-di-dit
T           dah
U           di-di-dah
V           di-di-di-dah
W           di-dah-dah
X           dah-di-di-dah
Y           dah-di-dah-dah
Z           dah-dah-di-dit

1           di-dah-dah-dah-dah
2           di-di-dah-dah-dah
3           di-di-di-dah-dah
4           di-di-di-di-dah
5           di-di-di-di-dit
6           dah-di-di-di-dit
7           dah-dah-di-di-dit
8           dah-dah-dah-di-dit
9           dah-dah-dah-dah-dit
0           dah-dah-dah-dah-dah

.           di-dah-di-dah-di-dah       (period)
,           dah-dah-di-di-dah-dah      (comma)
:           dah-dah-dah-di-di-dit      (colon)
?           di-di-dah-dah-di-dit       (question mark)
'           di-dah-dah-dah-dah-dit     (apostrophe)
-           dah-di-di-di-di-dah        (hyphen)
/           dah-di-di-dah-dit          (slant bar)
(           dah-di-dah-dah-dit         (open paren)
)           dah-di-dah-dah-di-dah      (close paren)
"           di-dah-di-di-dah-dit       (quote)
=           dah-di-di-di-dah           (equal sign)
;           dah-di-dah-di-dah-dit      (semicolon)
!           dah-di-dah-di-dah-dah      (exclamation)
+           di-dah-di-dah-dit          (plus sign)
@           di-dah-dah-di-dah-dit      (at sign)

International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet

Sometimes it is difficult to get a message across the circuit correctly and you need to resort to spelling the words of the message. This is where the ‘International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet’ comes in. This alphabet was originally used by the International Civil Aeronautical Organization (ICAO) and called the ICAO Phonetic Alphabet. It used standard words and pronunciations of those words to allow airplane pilots and air traffic control operators from around the world to understand each other. The alphabet has since been adopted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) where it is called the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and by the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) as well as several other international organizations.

The alphabet covers the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet and the numbers from one to zero. Most of the letters and numbers are pronounced as in common English usage, however, some are distinctly different. It is important to pronounce all of the letters and numbers in the specified manner in order to insure maximum understanding.  The syllables in boldface type are emphasized in the pronunciation of the code word.

Letter         Code Word               Pronunciation

A                  Alfa                          AL-FAH

B                   Bravo                       BRAH-VOH

C                   Charlie                     CHAR-LEE

D                  Delta                         DELL-TAH

E                   Echo                         ECK-OH

F                   Foxtrot                     FOKS-TROT

G                   Golf                          GOLF

H                  Hotel                         HOH-TELL

I                    India                          IN-DEE-AH

J                    Juliett                        JEW-LEE-ETT

K                   Kilo                           KEY-LOH

L                    Lima                          LEE-MAH

M                   Mike                         MIKE

N                    November               NO-VEM-BER

O                    Oscar                        OS-CAH

P                     Papa                          PAH-PAH

Q                    Quebec                     KEH-BECK

R                    Romeo                       ROW-ME-OH

S                    Sierra                          SEE-AIR-RAH

T                   Tango                          TANG-GO

U                   Uniform                       YOU-NEE-FORM

V                   Victor                           VIK-TAH

W                 Whiskey                      WISS-KEY

X                  Xray                              ECKS-RAY

Y                   Yankee                         YANG-KEY

Z                   Zulu                              ZOO-LOO

1                    one                                WUN

2                    two                                TOO

3                    three                              TREE

4                    four                                 FOW-ER

5                    five                                  FIFE

6                    six                                    SIX

7                    seven                              SEV-EN

8                    eight                               AIT

9                    nine                                NINE-ER

0                    zero                                ZEE-RO



Hi. I’m Steve, WB8YLO. I’m an Extra Class amateur radio licensee.I am interested in communications. I am interested in radio communication in particular. I have a quite modest station so I’m not a top DXer, Super contester, or anything else that requires large amplifiers, huge antenna arrays, and the like.

My interests in radio communication are many and varied and are subject to change at any time. I consider this a big plus for amateur radio. There is always something new and interesting to do. There is always something to learn.

I do enjoy working the occasional contest. I generally prefer CW (Morse code) over voice and digital modes. My current big interest is in passing traffic via the National Traffic System. I am quite active in the Ohio Slow Speed CW Training Net where I am the net control station on Tuesdays. I also frequently check in to my local ARES traffic net and act as liaison to the Ohio Section CW net, the Buckeye Net. I occasionally do check in to the Ohio Single Sideband Net,  a state-wide voice net.

My intent is to post a lot of training and reference material on the blog. There is a ton of information out in net-land and elsewhere and sometimes it is difficult to find. I intend to gather a lot of useful information here and make it easy to find. I am also interested in training. I will be publishing a lot of training material here, also.

I’ll get started by posting what I think will be useful. How it goes will depend upon those of you who read this blog and contact me with corrections, questions, comments and requests. You, the reader, will determine the ultimate direction the blog takes. I’m excited about the prospects and am looking forward to getting started. Enjoy!