Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ham Speak: Terminology, Codes and Jargon Commonly Used in Amateur Radio

Ham radio operators often use thier own terminology, codes, acronyms and jargon while communicating.  It can be difficult to learn and remember all of the "ham speak" so I made a note of the terms I have heard most frequently on repeaters.  The etiquette for repeaters tends to involve the use of only plain English so that less experienced operators can understand.  Some of the more experienced operators sometimes to use jargon especially when communicating with other experienced operators.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some words and phrases have very specific legal definitions and careful study of the FCC regulations is necessary in order to remain compliant with FCC rules.  For the purposes of simplicity I will avoid most of the finer details of FCC regulations and focus on the basic definitions of the terminology.

Terminology Related to Radio Equipment:

  • Station - An installation designed to provide radio communications in the amateur service, including all necessary equipment.
  • Portable station - A station that is carried in your hand and transmits low power through an antenna that is close to your body.
  • Mobile station
     - A station that is mounted in a vehicle and transmits high power through an antenna mounted on the roof or frame of the vehicle.
  • Fixed ground stationA station that is in a fixed location and typically cannot be easily moved to another location.
  • Temporary field stationA station that is in a fixed location during operation but can be moved to another location with some assembly and disassembly required.
  • Space station - A station at an altitude higher than 50 kilometers, usually a satellite in low earth orbit or at a higher geosynchronous orbit.
  • Auxiliary station - A station, such as a repeater, that is remotely controlled over a radio link.
  • Repeater station - A station that typically receives on one frequency and transmits on another frequency through a tall tower in order to extend the range of portable and mobile stations.
  • Rig - A generic term for a station that may be portable, mobile or fixed.
  • Transceiver - A radio device that can transmit and receive.
  • Parasitic element - Part of a directive antenna that derives energy from mutual coupling with the driven element. Parasitic elements are not connected directly to the feed line.
  • Monopole antenna - A straight rod-shaped conductor often mounted perpendicular to a conductive surface called a ground plane such as the roof of an automobile.
  • Dipole antenna - Two identical conductive elements such as metal wires or rods, which are usually bilaterally symmetrical.
  • Half-wave Dipole antenna - A dipole antenna with elements that are ½ the length of the wavelength at the desired operating frequency.
  •  J-pole antenna -  An end-fed dipole antenna that is matched to the feedline by a quarter wave transmission line stub.
  • Beam antenna - A directional antenna that must be rotated toward the direction of the receiving station or repeater.
  • Yagi antenna - The most popular type of beam antenna that has one driven element and one or more additional parasitic elements.
  • Base loading coil - A coil at the bottom of an antenna to achieve a lower resonant frequency.  Some mobile antennas have a stepping motor to adjust the length of the loading coil for use on many bands.

Terminology Related to Station Configuration and Operation:
  • Call sign - Series of unique letters and numbers assigned to a person who has earned an Amateur Radio license and his or her station.
  • Control operator -- An amateur operator designated by the licensee of a station to be responsible for the transmissions of an amateur station.
  • Band - A range of frequencies that share a similar wavelength.
  • Simplex operation - Receiving and transmitting on the same frequency.
  • Duplex operation - Receiving on one frequency and transmitting on another frequency.
  • Squelch - A circuit that mutes the receiver when no signal is present, thereby eliminating band noise.
  • Offset - The difference between transmit and receive frequencies.
  • Continuous Tone Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) - A method of using low frequency subaudible tones to share a single radio channel among multiple users.  Each user group would use a different low frequency tone.  CTSS is commonly used in repeater systems to prevent opening the squelch unless a radio is configured with the correct tone frequency.
  • Private Line (PL) - A term trademarked by Motorola to describe their implementation of CTSS.  PL seems to be the most commonly used generic term for CTSS.
  • Channel Guard (CG) - General Electric used this term to describe their implementation of CTSS.
  • Courtesy tone - A tone or beep transmitted by a repeater to indicate that it is okay for the next station to begin transmitting. The courtesy tone is designed to allow a pause between transmissions on a repeater, so other stations can call. It also indicates that the time-out timer has been reset.
  • Sideband - The sum or difference frequencies generated when an RF carrier is mixed with an audio signal.
  • Single-sideband (SSB) - SSB transceivers allow operation on either USB or LSB
  • Upper sideband (USB) -- Upper sideband is the part of the signal above the carrier and is the SSB operating mode used on on the 20, 17, 15, 12 and 10-meter HF amateur bands, and all the VHF and UHF bands
  • Lower sideband (LSB) -- Lower sideband is the part of the signal below the carrier.
  • Peak envelope power (PEP) - The average power of a signal at its largest amplitude peak.
  • Effective Radiated Power (ERP) - A standardized theoretical measurement of radio frequency  energy determined by subtracting system losses and adding system gains.
  • Duty cycle - A measure of the amount of time a transmitter is operating at full output power during a single transmission.

Abbreviations and Codes: 

  • 73 - best regards. 
  • 88 - Love and kisses.
  • APRS - Automatic Packet Position Reporting System is used to send your GPS coordinates, elevation, along with an optional brief text message and other information such as weather conditions.
  • ARES - Amateur Radio Emergency Service is a group organized by the ARRL including volunteers who are prepared to relay emergency traffic and cooperate with FEMA and other government agencies.
  • ARRL - American Radio Relay League is the national amateur radio organization in the USA.
  • CC&R's - Covenents, Conditions, and Restrictions are rules drawn up by homeowner's associations that often prohibit certain types and sizes of antennas.
  • CQ - "Calling any station": the general call when requesting a conversation with anyone. 
  • CW - Continuous wave mode transmitted by on/off keying of a radio-frequency signal. Another name for international Morse code.
  • DE - The Morse code abbreviation for "from" or "this is."
  • DX - A distant station (noun) or to contact a distant station (verb)
  • HF - High Frequency from 3 MHz to 30 MHz
  • HT - Handie-talkie more properly known as a portable station.
  • LF - Low Frequency from 30 kHz to 300 kHz
  • OSCAR - Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio.
  • PSK31 - A digital transmission mode using Phase Shift keying with a 31.25 baud rate.
  • PTT - Push to Talk is a button that activates the transmitter.
  • Q signals - Three-letter symbols used on CW to save time and to improve communication.
  • QTH - location
  • QSO - conversation
  • QSL - acknowledgment of receipt
  • QSL card -- A postcard that serves as a confirmation of communication between two hams.
  • QRL - "Is this frequency in use?" or "This frequency is in use."
  • QRP - Low power operation, usually 5 watts output or 10 watts input power.
  • QSO - A conversation between two radio amateurs.
  • RACES - Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service is a group of volunteers who are prepared to relay emergency traffic and cooperate with FEMA and other government agencies.
  • SQL - Squelch is a circuit that mutes the receiver when no signal is present, thereby eliminating band noise.
  • UHF - Ultra High Frequency from 300 MHz to 3000 MHz
  • VE - Volunteer Examiner, a person authorized to administer examinations for amateur radio licenses.
  • VFO - Variable Frequency Oscillator more commonly known as the tuning nob.
  • VHF - Very High Frequency from 30 MHz to 300 MHz
  • VLF - Very Low Frequency from 3 KHz to 30 KHz
Jargon and Slang:
  • Bacon frying - Slang for static heard in a transmission.
  • Clear - Used to indicate a station is done transmitting and the repeater is free for use by other operators.
  • Copy - Indication of how well communications are received such as"how do you you copy?" and "copy all."
  • Destinated - Slang for "I have reached my destination" commonly used by mobile operators to indicate that they need to end the conversation.
  • Echolink - Use of Voice over IP (VoIP) to connect repeaters over the internet.
  • Eyeball QSO - Conversations that occur in person rather than over the radio.
  • Farm - Many antennas mounted in close proximity.
  • Fox hunt - A method of locating the source of a transmission often used in a contest to locate a hidden transmitter or a station that is causing interference or operating in violation of FCC rules.
  • Full quieting - A phenomenon on FM transmissions where the incoming signal is sufficient to engage the receiver limiters - thus eliminating the noise due to amplitude fluctuations.
  • Green stamp - One to two US dollar bills sent along with a QSL card to cover postage costs of a return card.  This is a common courtesy especially for contacts with operators in the third-world.
  • Key - A switch or button (noun) usually refers to the PTT or Morse code key or to press (verb) a key or button.  Also when you "key up" a repeater you have pressed your PTT and sent the correct PL tone to the receiving frequency of the repeater.
  • Machine - A station, usually a repeater.
  • Net - A gathering of operators organized for a particular purpose on a regular schedule and frequency.  Nets encourage operators to join in conversation with operators with whom they are not familiar and also helps ensure the proper functionality of equipment such as repeaters and stations.
  • Over - Used to turn over communications under difficult copy. Note, repeater etiquette discourages the use of "over" as repeaters usually have a courtesy tone that service this purpose.
  • Picket fencing - A condition experienced on VHF and above where a signal rapidly fluctuates in amplitude causing a fluttering sound akin to rubbing a stick on a picket fence.
  • Rag Chew - An extended and informal conversation between two operators.  This is likely derived from a variation of the common idioms "chewing the fat" and "chewing the rag".
  • Rubber duck - A shortened flexible antenna used with hand-held scanners and transceivers.
  • Shack - Slang for the room where an operator keeps his or her station equipment.
  • Time-out - Excessively long transmission on a repeater causing the repeater’s timer circuit to stop further transmissions.
  • Wallpaper - QSL cards, awards and special event certificates mounted on the shack wall.
  • Work - To communicate with another radio station, repeater and/or satellite.
Terminology Related to Prioritization of Emergency Radio Communications:

  • National Traffic System (NTS) - A network of amateur radio operators organized by areas that approximate time zones, regions and sections that correspond to states or metropolitan areas.  The purpose of the NTS is to relay messages throughout the US and Canada.
  • Traffic - Messages and communications that are transmitted over the amateur service.
  • Emergency traffic - Messages involving threat to life or property.  Emergency traffic is sent by any means necessary and most FCC rules provide exceptions for emergency traffic.
  • Priority traffic - Emergency-related messages that do not involve threat to life or property and are not as important as Emergency traffic.
  • Welfare traffic - Messages related to the heath and well being of individuals in a disaster area. Such messages must wait for Emergency and Priority traffic to clear, and results in advisories to those outside the disaster area awaiting news from family and friends.
  • Routine traffic - Most messages will bear the lowest priority designation of routine traffic. In disaster situations, routine traffic should be handled last. Routine traffic should never be relayed when circuits are busy with higher-precedence traffic.  The NTS practices the relay of routine traffic several times per day in order to build the competence and confidence of volunteer operators.

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