RST and Speed Matters

In a previous blog post entitled RST Matters, I ranted opined on the merits of sending an accurate RST aka signal-report.  A fair amount of HF QSOs attract a 59/599 report and that’s fine if the signal is clear/srong and the conditions are stable…  But a lousy signal-report seems to carry a stigma – Why are people afraid of giving (or taking the time to give) an accurate report?

When I’m calling CQ on CW and I take a few attempts at getting the Callsign (assuming that the caller has matched my speed) and the report is less than, say, 459 – it should alert them that I’m not hearing them too well.  A Readability 4 report should really make it known that information needs to be brief, but repeated – Certainly no ANT/RIG/WX waffle!  Mirroring is very important – If the other station is having rubber-stamp QSOs and you want a long chat to improve your copy-rate, he may not be the best person to engage with :)

Post Blog Note: After some chatter on Twitter about this, and a slight typo above (439 was correct and the Readability statement has been modified slightly as it should have said “4”) – My belief is that anything less than a 5 indicates some difficulty at that time.  It may be that, as the QSO progresses, the report can be revised.

Here’s an example of a bad CW QSO:

  • CQ CQ CQ de M0PZT M0PZT M0PZT K
  • M0PZT de G9ABC G9ABC
  • G9 G9?
  • G9ABC G9ABC
  • G9ABC G9ABC RST 419 419 419 QSB QSB BK
  • M0PZT de G9ABC GA OM ES TNX FER RPT = UR RST 5NN 5NN = OP BOB BOB = QTH NR LONDON LONDON = WX SUNNY ABT 22C = SO HW? M0PZT de G9ABC KN

Let’s assume that I struggled to get any of that:

  • G9ABC PSE RST RST? KK
  • M0PZT de G9ABC UR 5NN 5NN BK
  • RRR VY QSB TNX QSO ES 73 G9ABC de M0PZT SK EE

That “419” report should have alerted Bob that I was having a tough time hearing him – Ideally, he should have sent his RST a few times and ended with BK or KK.  As he gave me 599 I assume that he’s hearing me without any issue – so I sign-off with a standard “final”.  Later on, I look at Bob’s QRZ.com page and find that he runs homebrew QRP with no more than 5-watts!  He really should know better with a consistently poor signal like that :)

The speed of sending is important – there are times when it may be necessary to reduce your normal rate and send a little slower for the station who has given you 439 439 QSB QSB BK and I’m sure they’d be all the more happy if you did.  Lousy reports are very useful – and it may be more efficient to send slower and repeat the exchange to ensure that it was copied – rather than get somebody’s life-story which cannot be copied as QSB got the better of it.

Also, if you’re starting out with Morse – or are of the QRS (slow) persuasion – don’t be afraid to tell a caller to slow down, eg: PSE QRS 15 or whatever you are comfortable with.  I know of a local who calls people a bit faster to push them to improve their speed – I find this quite odd: Whatever speed you call at, that’s your comfort zone – if you want to go faster, establish the QSO and ask to speed up a little… But don’t allow anyone to force you up to their speed.  Self-learning/improvement is great – but do it on your terms, not somebody elses.  Whatever the mode you are operating: The station doing the CQ’ing is in charge – They set the rules regarding pace, speed, QSO type etc.

Being called at a slower speed is fine – I’m happy to QRS if need be, although I typically call at 16-18wpm because that’s my “natter” speed.  I’ll attack anything up to 25wpm but I certainly don’t enjoy trying to QSO at such a fast speed.  Putting out a CQ at a leisurely 17wpm only to be called at 22wpm+ only serves to show how inconsiderate the caller is.  If he can’t/won’t adjust his keying-speed he should find somebody who’s calling at his speed.

One final gripe is something I’ve experienced a few times on PSK/RTTY modes, and it’s a rule that should also be applied to CW+SSB: Never give a signal-report until you’ve heard your callsign read/sent back to you.  Only today, I was calling CQ on 20m PSK63 to have, on 3 occasions, an immediate reply by a station in Greenland who kept sending M0PZT de OX0ZZZ 599 599 BK.  Now, working that on any band is always nice but the operator was simply being dumb by doing this.  Live-typing at PSK63 speeds is always fun and I couldn’t resist a few choice words to put him in his place

Should I have just sent him an RST and carried-on?  No…for 2 reasons: 1) I’ve already worked him on RTTY (!) , and 2) his dumb/poor operating needed highlighting.

The golden-rule is to ensure that the other station has your callsign correct before offering an exchange.  Even on bands such as 40m voice where you may be working similar callsigns, eg: “who was the M6 station portable?” – if there happened to be 2 of them calling you, such a vague invitation to transmit often leads to both stations giving you a report, working-conditions and name of their sister.  In that situation, it’s your fault for not giving clear directions: “the M6 portable give me just the callsign a few times” would be a better approach.

Some more tips on operating are on my Special Event Operating blog post…

Other considerations:

  • Language Barrier – A common problem, and more evident on SSB. This requires a change to how you give your information, like the accuracy of your QTH (near London rather than Chelmsford), and less of the “err, umm” and perhaps a slower delivery.  Q-Codes are great, so use them where appropriate.
  • Pile-Up – If you manage to work a popular station then “mirroring” is important.  Consider the 50 other stations waiting in the wings.  If they only give a signal-report, chances are they don’t want to know how high up your aerial is or the local temperature.
  • Propagation – QSB can often occur when you’d least like (or expect) it – The band in use can also have an effect on what you exchange, eg: on 50MHz and above, during lift conditions you may only exchange a signal-report and locator square.

Whatever mode you use, however long you’ve been operating – Ask yourself: “What can I do to make this QSO more enjoyable for both of us?”