Thank you for my signal report

Discussion in 'Straight Keys - CW Enthusiasts' started by AA4OO, Nov 15, 2017.

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  1. AA4OO

    AA4OO XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    QRP operators strive to make the most out of a little. So when we receive a signal report it means a lot to us. But the common signal report, given using the R-S-T System, seems often to be misunderstood by some amateur radio operators.

    RST has 3 elements:
    • R stands for Readability. How easy or difficult is it to copy the characters or words being sent on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 meaning unreadable ranging up to 5 meaning perfectly copy-able.
    • S stands for Signal Strength. How strong is the signal on a scale from 1 to 9, with 1 being barely perceptible up to 9, being extremely strong.
    • T stands for Tone. This is only used to describe a CW signal's tone. Given modern transceivers there are few cases where you'd send anything other than a 9 meaning perfect tone, devoid of ripple or modulation. You'll rarely hear a report with a Tone report other than 9, but if you hear ripple or modulation artifacts you may send lower numbers but it will likely just confuse the other operator. If you hear chirp (a rising or falling tone) you may wish to append a 'C' to the RST to indicate that.
    I want to concentrate on Readability and Signal strength.

    I believe most of us are guilty of focusing on the signal strength portion of the report rather than readability. But readability can convey a lot to the operator receiving the report.

    For instance if you have a lot of local noise or if the band is noisy due to magnetic disturbance or there's QRM or QRN readability may be difficult. Similarly, if the operator is using poor technique and running letters or words together that affects readability.

    It's possible that signal strength may be good or even moderately strong (6 or 7) but for some reason copy is difficult. It would be worthwhile to send a 2 (Barely readable, occasional words distinguishable) or a 3 (Readable with considerable difficulty) for the 'R' portion of the signal report as in 359. Then follow up with WITH QRM or WITH POOR SPACING, to make the other operator aware that you're having trouble copying.

    I will occasionally have an operator send me a 3 for R but it seems to always be related to low signal strength. If someone sends you a 3 or a 4 and it's not followed by an equally low signal strength number inquire as to the difficulty in readability. It may be something you can correct on your end.

    Signal seems obvious but it's not.

    I believe that many operators use the reading on their S-meter to report the Signal strength but different manufacturers calibrate their S-meters quite differently. The difference between S-units is supposed to be 6 dB but that's often not the case. On many rigs the use of the preamp or the attenuator also effects the displayed S-meter reading. So the S-meter is not an accurate reflection of what Signal strength is supposed to convey.

    My old Ten-Tec Century/21 doesn't even have an S-meter. Neither do my homebuilt QRP radios.

    So, what should we be using? Well how about the actual meaning of the system:
    1. Faint—signals barely perceptible
    2. Very weak signals
    3. Weak signals
    4. Fair signals
    5. Fairly good signals
    6. Good signals
    7. Moderately strong signals
    8. Strong signals
    9. Extremely strong signals
    Obviously this is a subjective report, but on my KX3 my S-meter may read 2 when the signal actually sounds Good (6), so I send a 6 even though the meter reads 2. If I were to send the other station the S-meter reading of 2 they'd assume I'm barely copying them, because I sent them a 529.

    I think you can start to see the point. Use the system as it was designed, before radios had S-meters and the Signal report will have more meaning to the station receiving the report.

    My Ten-Tec C21 doesn't have an S-meter but it does have AF and RF gain controls. I will commonly run my AF gain at a high level and use the RF gain to control the volume of the received signal. This increases the SNR (signal to noise) and gives me a relative gauge of how strong the sender is. If I have my RF gain turned all the way down and still clearly hear the other station they have an extremely strong signal (9). If I have to turn my RF gain all the way up just to copy then the signal is very weak, or faint (2 or 1). In between those extremes I offer a relative report based on the signal strength I am hearing.

    So, use the system as it was intended
    So, reconsider how you give a signal report. Think about the original intent of the R-S-T System and you'll be conveying far more information in your report that may help the other station know for certain how they are being heard.

    I start most QSOs at QRP levels. If the other station sends me a report that is below a 5 in readability or a signal strength 5 or below I change antennas or raise power, if I'm able, to make their copy of my station more pleasurable, but if they send me a 599 when they are barely copying me or losing me in QSB then how can I know to make a change?

    Maybe this is a radical idea but for my own operation I will strive to start sending more accurate reports and help the other station truly know how they are being copied.

    That's all for now...

    So lower your power and raise your expectations
    Richard, AA4OO
    KB3FEI and WA7PRC like this.
  2. KC1FNM

    KC1FNM Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm a new CW operator who is trying to develop a sense of accurate sense of RST, not 599 for everything!
    Thanks for the helpful post!
  3. N3HEE

    N3HEE Ham Member QRZ Page

    I rarely look at or pay attention to the S meter. I find it to be a useless meter for general QSO's. You can either copy a signal or you cant. With RF gain rolled back and attenuator engaged the S meter is not able to read properly. I use my ears for signal reports. If I can copy you well enough you get a 559-599. If you are a little weak you get 449. If you are super weak you get 339. If you are ultra weak you get 229. Of course QSB, QRN and QRM can be a factor in readability no matter what your signal strength is. If I work you in a contest you are getting a 599 regardless. I'm just too lazy to enter hundreds of different reports into the log! Signal reports should be eliminated from contest exchanges and replaced with something more challenging such as serial numbers, zip codes, house numbers, social security numbers, visa card numbers or such :)
    M6GYU likes this.
  4. KA9JLM

    KA9JLM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Why do people always get upset over RST ?
    KO4LZ, M6GYU and N2SUB like this.
  5. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Aretha Franklin sang a hit song about it.

    Many thought she was saying "R E S P E C T" but it was actually "R S T" and she just stretched it out.

  6. N2SUB

    N2SUB XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    If you call CQ and a station answers, you would typically send the RST in your first transmission. At that point, since all you have heard from the other station is a callsign, and that's the thing he/she has practiced sending over and over from the day they got their first key, how can you accurately report that they have poor spacing? In a such a short transmission, it's really hard to give any kind of accurate report regarding CONDX. That aside, if you told someone they had poor spacing, I would guess that it would be a short QSO. ;)
  7. KE4OH

    KE4OH Ham Member QRZ Page


    I'm sorry, but I think you are over-thinking this.

    Contest OPs and DX pileup OPs are just going to give you 599, no matter what. So that leaves all the rest of the QSOs.

    I don't need to hear two minutes of copy to give you what I believe is a realistic RST. I really just need to hear my call DE your call. Been doing it enough to make up my mind real fast. Anyway, conditions often change fast, so the RST is only really good for a moment or two.

    I'm going to give you R=5 if I can get your call the first time or could have gotten it if I were paying attention. If I have to ask you to repeat your call whether due to QRM, QRN, QSB, generally weak signal, or lousy fist, then I'm going to give you R=3 or 4, depending on how bad it is. If I still can't copy you, I'm going ask again. And again if I need to. If I finally get your call, I'm going to give you R=2. If it's still no good, (R=1) by this point, I'm giving you "SRI NO CPY 73 DE KE4OH SK dit dit".

    I run a bunch of different gear. Some of the rigs have a very generous S-meter. Some have a very Scotch S-meter. Some of them have S-meters that don't work. Some of them have S-meters that act crazy. And some have no S-meter at all. So, I'm giving you S=? depending on what my highly-trained ear can determine using it's interpretation of the standard 1-9 scale. ;) A lot of what my ear is doing is comparing your signal strength against the other signals I'm hearing on the band.

    Well, we at least agree on Tone. Most modern rigs will be T=9 all the time. The rigs I run, who knows? So I do appreciate knowing if I'm less than T-9 so that I can warm up the soldering iron. Chirps should get a "C" after RST and clicks should get a "K". Some rigs I use deserve a "D" for drift, even though that's not convention! :rolleyes:

    73 de Steve KE4OH
    WB5YUZ, KO4LZ and WR2E like this.
  8. M6GYU

    M6GYU Ham Member QRZ Page

    The only problem with that is if someone copies me 1st time, and gives me a low (R) readability without asking for repeats and gives me a a very high signal (S) I'll assume they are an experienced operator quite capable of dealing with qrm/qrn etc., and be able copy signals. Or of course, someone who simply guesses everything!

    The readability bit is really only meant for conditions related to reception and not the operator's ability on a key.
    N2SUB likes this.
  9. AA4OO

    AA4OO XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    There have been more than a few times where an operator answers my call by sending their call as a prosign, repeatedly. I'm certain a salty-CW veteran candeciphersuchafist but I'd prefer to let them know I'm having difficulty in readability as early as I can.

    I was suggesting 'R' might be used for informing the other station I'm having trouble copying them beyond signal strength, but I will certainly amend my opinion if more experienced hams tell me it's absolutely not intended to be used that way.

    I appreciate the input.
    N2SUB likes this.
  10. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Sometimes the other station isn't copying anything you sent and just answers "R R R" anyway.

    Old QST article from 1963...

    Attached Files:

    NK8S, WB5YUZ and K4YWZ like this.

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