Topics and Resources for the New Amateur Radio Operator

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This guide is intended as a reference resource for newly-licensed Technician-class Amateur Radio operators ("hams") in California's San Francisco Bay Area, but most of it applies to hams everywhere in the United States.



The ARRL (American Radio Relay League) is the national association for Amateur Radio™.

Operating Basics

Equipment sources





Simplex: transmit and receive on the same frequency



VFO mode vs. memory mode


Accessories and settings




Spelling and phonetic alphabets



Ham radio uses more jargon than it should. The effect can be to make those who don't understand it feel excluded. Keep jargon to a minimum, but you should know some of it so you understand what other hams are saying.

Q Signals

Q signals are intended for CW (Morse code) use only, but some have crept into voice use.

QSLI understood what you just said
QSL?Do you understand what I just said?
QSYChange frequency
QRMOperator-caused interference (intentional or not)
QRTStop transmitting, or, I am stopping
QSOA contact or conversation between two operators
QTHLocation. Sometimes used to mean location of one's residence.
QRPReduce your power, or, at very low power

Other common ham radio terms

73best regards (to you, another radio operator)
CWMorse code (from "continuous wave")
riga transmitter, receiver, or both (transceiver)
to workto complete a loggable contact with (e.g., "Today I worked a station in Gilroy on two meters simplex"
traffica message or exchange of messages
up, down, above, belowIn the context of tuning a transceiver, these terms refer to frequency, not to wavelength. Moving from 2 meters to 6 meters is going down, not up! Exception: 160m is sometimes called the "top band".

See also the ARRL's Ham Radio Glossary.

Signal reports

One ham may ask another how well he or she is being received. A reply like "loud and clear" or "I understand you but your signal is weak" is always acceptable. Otherwise there are, sad to say, two numerical systems in use for this purpose, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area, and they are easily confused. (Many hams don't even realize that there are two distinct such systems!)


Plain-text report RS(T) system S-by-R system
Perfectly readable and extremely strong ("loud and clear") 59 5-by-5
Readable with practically no difficulty but weak in strength 43 2-by-4
Barely readable but fairly good in strength 25 3-by-2

If you are in doubt about which system the other party is using, or if you suspect that the other party is confusing the two systems or using one of them incorrectly (which is quite possible), do not hesitate to ask the other party to explain using "plain text".

Transmissions in an Emergency or Disaster

Regulations governing Amateur Radio are in effect at all times, including at times of emergency or disaster. Nothing in any regulation or law governing Amateur Radio says "In an emergency, anything goes." Part 97 provides the following instruction about what constitutes an emergency and how Part 97 itself is to be interpreted when an emergency exists:

97.403 Safety of life and protection of property.
No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station of any means of radiocommunication at its disposal to provide essential communication needs in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available.

97.405 Station in distress.
(a) No provision of these rules prevents the use by an amateur station in distress of any means at its disposal to attract attention, make known its condition and location, and obtain assistance.
(b) No provision of these rules prevents the use by a station, in the exceptional circumstances described in paragraph (a) of this section, of any means of radiocommunications at its disposal to assist a station in distress.

It has been pointed out that the language of 97.403 contains three clear conditions, each of which must be met before that paragraph might be effective:

  1. ... to provide essential communication needs ...
  2. ... in connection with the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property ...
  3. ... when normal communication systems are not available.

Meanwhile, others in the Amateur Radio community may be handling urgent radio traffic for government and non-government agencies who are responding to a critical incident to assist and protect the public, respecting the provisions of Part 97. Those Amateurs are relying upon the discipline of all other Amateurs to keep frequencies clear of unnecessary or interfering radio traffic.

Things To Do in Amateur Radio


Participating in nets provides basic operating practice.

Disaster Response / Emergency Communications

Part 97 provides explicit recognition of Amateur Radio's role in supporting disaster relief operations in the United States:

97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications. ...

Disaster Response Training

Amateur Radio disaster communications

Traffic handling

Public Service Events: in-the-field communications practice



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John Rabold KS6M
December 2019