The Basics of Ham Radio Speak: A Guide to the Most Commonly Used Phrases and Abbreviations

Most of the time when amateur radio operators are on the air, the conversations are no different from those that we have on our telephones. However, at the same time, there is a lexicon which hams use that may sound quite foreign to the new or non-ham.

In this article, the most commonly used terms and phrases will be discussed, which should be sufficient to make sense of “ham speak.”

The Basics of “Ham Speak”

CQ: This term is used to let other hams know the person is looking for a contact. When used in voice, it is often repeated and then given with the ham’s call sign, such as “CQ, CQ, CQ. This is K3AAA calling CQ and standing by.”

DX: This is shorthand for “long distance,” and has been used by hams to indicate international communication. Some times it is combined with CQ to alert hams that the person is looking for a long-range contact (“CQ DX”), but its also found its way in to day-to-day communications. The term is also combined with the word expedition (DXpedition) to refer to a group of hams which travel to a rare location to “activate” it.

“73”: The term originated in morse code, and was sent as a shorthand way of saying “best wishes” or “best regards.” It commonly is found at the end of conversations before the two amateurs end the conversation. Another variation is “88,” short for “hugs and kisses.”

Rig: A common term to describe the amateur radio transceiver.

YL: “Young lady.” Again from morse code, often used to refer to women, regardless of age. XYL is used to refer to ones wife.

“Q” Signals

Q Signals are three letter shorthand that got its start in morse code to shorten the sending of common questions and responses used in transmissions. While the purest of hams frown on the use of the abbreviations in voice communications, they still have found their way into ham’s everyday speak.

Generally, it is suggested by most that the use of Q signals outside of text-based transmissions and morse code be kept to a minimum, but here’s a list of the most commonly used ones, and their meaning in voice transmissions. Actual meanings as intended for morse code use can be found on AC6V’s website.

QRM: Interference (man-made, such as another close by station, or malicious interference)

QRN: Interference (natural, such as times where the existing noise level is high)

QRP: low-power operating, i.e “He’s running QRP.”

QRT: Signing off. Not used often in voice but is heard from time to time.

QRZ: Who is calling me? Heard most often in contesting or by DX stations in place of “CQ.”

QSB: In voice, often use to describe times where signals are fading into the background noise

QSL: As a question, means “Do you confirm reciept?” As an answer, it is equilvalent to “roger.”

QSO: A conversation.

QSY: Changing frequency

QTH: A station’s location.

Commonly Heard Phrases

Running barefoot: The amateur is running without the assistance of an amplifier to boost his signal power.

Full quieting: Heard almost exclusively on VHF and UHF. Means the signal being receiving is free of static or other noise and is strong and clear.

A lid: Slang for a amateur radio operator with poor operating practices

Short skip: Propagation via the ionosphere over a distance of a few hundred miles or less.