Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, has been around since the early days of communications, and it’s more common now than ever. According to the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL), there are 750,000 amateur radio users in the USA and 3 million worldwide. This number is growing by 1% on average per year.
As the trend picks up, more users are trying to make things easier and quicker by creating a Ham Lingo, also known as Ham Radio Slang. The number of words in the ham Radio jargon is growing by the day, but there are several main words that every ham radio enthusiast should master. It may seem like a daunting task, but it’s a piece of cake once you understand the basic terminology.
If you are new to this hobby and would like to better understand what is ham radio all about before getting into the ham radio lingo, feel free to check our other articles.
Q-Codes Used by Ham Radio Operators
Q-Codes or Q-Signals are a combination of three letters beginning with the letter “Q.” Hams use these instead of common sentences to make radio communications quick and efficient. There are dozens of Q codes, each with its meaning. A Q-code can take the form of a question when followed by a ‘question mark’ or a statement when it doesn’t have one.
We’ve compiled a list of the most common Q-codes you need to know to learn ham radio lingo basics and make things simple; here’s a quick rundown.
QRL is one of the most commonly used Q signals. You send a QRL before beginning a call to determine if a particular frequency is available for use. The amateur radio station wishing to use the frequency would send QRL, meaning “are you busy?” If the frequency is in use, the frequency station should send QRL, meaning “I am busy, please don’t interfere.”
Initially, a QSL was to acknowledge receipt of a formal message. Today, it denotes that you have received a transmission that can contain a formal or informal message. You can send a QSL in the form of a card, email, or even an audio recording. For example, QSL: I acknowledge receipt. QSL?: Can you acknowledge receipt?
If someone says, RIG HR IS QRP, they mean the transmitter’s power output is 5 W or less. Your transmitter output power must be 5 W or less to qualify for the QRP category. An example is: QRP (I will decrease power) or QRP? (Shall I reduce the transmitter power?).
This Q-signal was common among amateurs sending and receiving radiograms. They would use this Q-signal to notify the other operator that they had no messages or ask if they had any messages to pass. Today, you’ll sometimes hear stations say, I AM QRU, meaning that unless you have something further to say, they wish to end the radio communication. They probably also mean this if they send QRU. For instance, QRU: I have nothing for you, or QRU?: Do you have anything for me?
You can use this code to ask whether to send slower codes or as a statement to alert the other ham to send slower codes. When sending this code, it is only courteous to slow down.
Initially, this meant that a station was ready to copy a message. Nowadays, it shows that a station is ready to go on air or to ask if one is prepared to go on air. For example, QRV?: “Are you ready?” QRV: “I’m ready.
This code asks the other frequency whether it is okay to get off-air and states that you are about to get off the air. As a statement, it means “stop sending.” And as a question, “should I stop sending?”
QSO is used as a noun to mean a contact. For example, “I can communicate with QSO directly” or “can you communicate with QSO directly?”
QRZ is a Q code that a radio operator uses to ask “Who’s calling me?” or indicate that a particular person is calling. For instance, “QRZ [name]” means “You’re being called by [name].”
QTH stands for “My location is _____.” So, when you send QTH Florida, you tell the other operator that your location is in Florida. When followed by a question mark, the Q-signal turns into a question- QTH? Asks the question, “What is your location?”
Ham Radio Communication Terms
When checking into a repeater, amateur radio band, or listening to the ham radio band with a scanner, you will discover a lot of jargon. Here are some of them together with their meaning.
This term says “best regards” or “best wishes.” It’s a friendly way to end a conversation. You can use it when signing off or when you want to say goodbye.
This one is used to say “love and kisses.” It’s a bit more intimate than 73 and is common among close friends and family. While it’s not necessarily inappropriate to use it with strangers, it’s best to be cautious.
The “D” represents distance, and “X” means unknown. It means a far-away station that is hard to hear in a specific location and frequency. You can use it as a verb as DXing and say “I’m DX-ing today” or as an adjective and say, “that was a DX QSO.” A hobbyist who likes listening to far-away radio stations is called a DXer.
This Q-code is used to indicate that the communication is ending. Usually, one party will say “99,” and the other will respond with “73”. For example, you might say, “I have to go now, 99,” The other person would respond with “73”.
XYL is an abbreviation for ex-young lady, meaning a wife. For example, you can say, “I wanted to buy that new radio, but the XYL said it was too expensive.”
YL is an abbreviation for a young lady who is a licensed amateur radio operator. For instance, you can say, “The XL on 15 MHz was very kind and eloquent”.
Copy is a term that means “Understood.” It shows that one has understood the message sent to them. You can use it when you overhear and receive communications between two stations which is helpful for your station.
Ham Radio Operation Lingo For Beginners
Antenna impedance: This is the resistance in an electric current that flows off the alternating current of an antenna at its resonance. It fluctuates with the radiofrequency energy in operation, but most transceivers require it to be at 50 Ω.
Antenna matching: Ensuring that the antenna’s impedance at resonance is at optimum performance for your transmitter output circuit.
Bandwidth: It’s the width of an output frequency band; you obtain it by taking the highest frequency and subtracting the lowest frequency.
Autopatch: Also called a phone patch, it is a feature of an amateur radio repeater or base station that allows a ham to access an outgoing telephone connection.
Antenna tuner: A device used to match an antenna to the transmitter’s output impedance.
DC ground: This is a given connection that points directly to a chassis or battery ground to prevent the buildup of hazardous DC voltages.
Average power: This is the amount of energy measured on a standard power meter.
Radio bands: These are blocks of radio frequencies grouped as bands from the radio spectrum. You can refer to them by frequency, say 15 MHz, or wavelength, like a 25-meter band.
Backscatter: This is a form of ionosphere propagation of radio transmissions.
CQ: A CQ is a random call to no one in particular. It is the traditional way of seeking random contacts.
Data communications: This is transferring data between two or more locations.
Deviation: This is the measurement of FM signals for the maximum carrier frequency changes on either side of the carrier frequency.
Distress call: This is a call that signals a life-threatening situation.
Dummy load: A non-radiating 50-ohm load connected to the transmitter instead of an antenna for use in testing.
Fading: This is signal reduction due to atmospherics.
Distress frequency: A specific frequency or channel for use in distress calling.
Downlink: This is the frequency an amateur radio operator uses to hear people when they talk on a repeater.
Duplex: An operation mode in which the transmit and receive frequencies are different.
Morse Code: This was a standardized method of communication used by the military. Today, amateur radio operators use it to converse directly with someone over great distances, using as little bandwidth as possible.
Filter: A circuit that allows only the desired frequency(s) to pass.
Full‑quieting: This signifies a good quality signal on a repeater or FM transmission – it means that your signal is clear, free of static, and easily readable by others.
Modulation: This is a method of adding information to a radio frequency carrier. The most common are amplitude and frequency modulation waves.
Full-duplex: An operation mode that simultaneously transmits and receives information on different frequencies.
Notch filter: Sharp and narrow rejection filter to eliminate radio frequency interference signals.
Reflected power: A non-radiated power that is released in the form of heat when you mismatch the antenna to the transmitter.
Silent Key: This refers to a ham radio operator who has passed away.
Split: A mode in which the transmit and receive frequencies are different
Scan: Continually sweeping frequencies looking for signals.
Uplink: This is the frequency that a radio operator uses to talk to people listening to a given repeater.
Sensitivity: Indicates how weak a signal the receiver on a ham radio will pick up. A sensitivity of 2.0 microvolts is perfect for up to around 60 miles from the station.
SKYWARN: A program under the National Weather Service comprises trained weather spotter volunteers.
Call sign: A sign issued by FCC that identifies you as the operator or the station and what you will use to identify yourself during communications. An example of a call sign is KC9ANG.
Kust-Know Ham Radio Abbreviations
AFC (Automatic Frequency Control): This is a circuit to automatically keep a resonant circuit tuned to the frequency of an incoming radio signal. Radio receivers primarily use it to keep the receiver tuned to the desired station’s frequency.
UTC (Universal Time Coordinated): This is time-based on the Greenwich meridian; it’s usually zero degrees longitude, passing through Greenwich in England.
AFSK (Audio Frequency Shift Keying): This is a modulation technique by which changes in pitch or frequency of an audio tone produce a signal that can transmit via telephone or radio representing digital data.
AMTOR (AMateur Teleprinting Over Radio): A telecommunication system with more than two electromechanical teleprinters. These teleprinters are typically within separate locations and receive and send information to each other.
ARRL (American Radio Relay League): The national association for amateur radio in the United States.
ASCII (American National Standard Code for Information Interchange): A seven-unit digital mode code for the transmission of teleprinter data.
ATV (Amateur Television): This is a device that sends television signals over amateur radio frequencies
BPF (BandPass Filter): This filter allows only specific ranges of frequencies to be received or transmitted.
CW (Carrier wave): This is used in morse code communications to send messages to other frequencies.
DSP (Digital Signal Processor): This gadget is relatively new to ham radio; it improves the signal-to-noise ratio for more straightforward and legible communication.
DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (or touch-tone)): A frequency used to transmit and receive numeric information, such as phone numbers or remote radio control commands.
EME (Earth-Moon-Earth): This term communicates that radio signals have bounced off the moon and returned to earth.
FSTV (Fast Scan TV): Graphics (and audio) communication using TV broadcast signals.
HF (High Frequency): High-range frequencies ranging from 3 to 30 MHz-range signals. They are commonly known as “short radio waves.”
HT(Handheld Transceiver): Also known as a walkie-talkie, this is a handheld radio transmitter or receiver device used for two-way communication based on shortwave radio technology. It’s common among police officials, security officers, and medical staff.
Hz (Hertz): One cycle of an electromagnetic wave; a “KHz” is 1,000 cycles per second, and an “MHz” is 1 million cycles per second.
IF (Intermediate Frequency): This is a typical frequency that has undergone internal conversion for amplification purposes.
IF shift: A function that electronically shifts IF frequency from a center frequency.
IMD (Intermodulation Distortion): An interruption within RF circuits made with upper and lower adjacent channel signals.
LF (Low Frequency): An experimental radio communication among hobbyists on frequencies between 30 and 300 kHz.
MF (Medium Frequency): Radio communication between 300 kHz and 3 MHz-range signals within AM (i.e., amplitude modulation) radio stations.
NB (Noise Blanker): This is a function within a ham radio that helps in reducing pulse-type noises.
NR (Noise Reduction): A DSP(Digital Signal Processing) feature reduces unwanted incoming signal noise when using a ham radio.
PEP (Peak Envelope Power): This is the Root Mean Square (RMS) value of a single RF cycle at the crest of the modulation.
PTT (push-to-talk button): A button located on the side of the radio which you hold down to make the radio transmit and then release when you finish transmitting and wish to listen for messages from other radios.
RF ground (Radio Frequency ground): Refers to connecting amateur radio equipment to Earth ground to eliminate hazards from RF.
UHF (Ultra High Frequency): This is an amateur radio frequency between 300 MHz and 3 GHz-range signals.
SSTV (Slow Scan TV): Graphics and image or voice transmission using narrow bandwidth.
SWL (Short Wave Listener): This is a listener listening to international short wave bands for enjoyment.
SWR (Standing Wave Ratio): A measurement of forward versus reflected power output during a transmission.
VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator): This is the mode in which a ham radio operator can comfortably change frequencies.
VHF (Very High Frequency): This is a frequency on a ham radio between 30 and 300 MHz.
VLF (Very Low Frequency): Frequency under 30-kHz-range signals. It’s used for long military communications with submerged submarines and has long wavelengths.
What Equipment Do You Need for a Ham Radio?
A transceiver is one of the most critical pieces of equipment on a ham radio since you can’t communicate without it. It’s a combination of a radio transmitter and a receiver. The types vary based on power and price, but the more watts the transceiver has, the better and the more expensive it is.
An antenna is another crucial element of your ham radio setup because it enables you to connect with other ham radio enthusiasts. Before purchasing one, check if your radio supports a single or dual-band antenna that operates on two separate bands or frequencies.
If your original antenna is not powerful enough, you can replace it with a better one. Ideally, your antenna should be a ¼ inch of the wavelength you plan to use. For example, a UHF 70 cm broadcast band will require a 7-inch antenna.
It’s essential to have the right power source for your ham radio, such as generator, electricity, radio batteries, or solar panels. If you decide to use electricity, ensure that you have an alternative power source for emergencies.
An antenna tuner or antenna tuning unit (ATU) is a gadget installed between an amateur radio transmitter and the antenna. When adjusted, it improves power transfer by matching the impedance of the radio to that of the antenna.
Repeaters are essential for some ham radios, such as the handheld ones, which only extend to a maximum of 2 miles. You can place the repeaters on a hill or a tall building with powerful antennas and equipment. They receive a nearby single and “repeat it” by broadcasting it to a more extensive network so the signal can travel further. With just one repeater, your signal can reach another 50 miles, and it could cross the country with more repeaters.
What Are the Available Types of Ham Radio Licenses?
Before understanding how to get the ham radio license, you need to decide which license is right for you. Check the short description of license types available.
A technician license is an entry-level ham radio license and is the perfect option for beginners. To receive this license, you must pass a 35-question exam covering operating practices, regulations, and radio theory.
On passing the exam, you receive your license and gain access to amateur radio frequencies above 30 megahertz, which you can use to communicate locally and internationally on a small scale.
A general license is an advanced technician license. You must pass the technician exam and take another 35-question exam to receive your general license.
This license will provide you with the same access as a technician’s license but gives you additional worldwide communications.
Amateur Extra License
The Amateur Extra license gives you all US amateur radio privileges on all amateur radio bands and modes. The licensing requirements are much more rigorous compared to technicians and general permits. After acquiring your General license, you must successfully pass an extra 50-question exam to get this license.
Ham Radio Compared to Other Personal Radio Services
In addition to the Amateur Radio Service, there are three other personal radio services that you can use for private communications. They are:
The Citizens Band Radio Service (CB)
CB is a two-way, short-distance voice communications service for personal and business. It operates on 40 channels between 26.965 MHz and 27.405 MHz, but transmitter power is limited to 4 W. You don’t need a license for this radio service; even so, your transmitters must be certified by the FCC.
The General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS)
GMRS is a short-distance, two-way voice communication service that operates on 30 channels on 462 and 467 MHz. You need a license to use this radio, and the output power can be up to 50 W.
The Family Radio Service (FRS)
Family radio service is a personal radio voice communication service that operates on 22 channels ranging between 462 and 467 MHz. No license is required to use this radio, but it’s limited to 2W output power.
Ham radio offers you an excellent opportunity to connect with new people, serves you in disaster times, and grows your technical skills, so learning the lingo has both practical and fun aspects to it.
Operating a ham radio can be challenging, especially for beginners with numerous ham radio terms that you need to know. Go through the guide above if you consider getting an amateur radio (handheld or mobile) or if you already own one. It will equip you with amateur radio terms that you need to know and make your experience more enjoyable.