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How time changes things - Checking if frequency is in use on CW

Discussion in 'On-Air Operations - Q&A' started by KG5NII, Jul 2, 2017.

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  1. KG5NII

    KG5NII Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'd like to begin by saying this is my first post to a forum on this web site and secondly, I am not questioning the general wisdom of those who have been in amateur radio for decades, instead I just wish to understand. So let me first give a little background before I pose my question.

    I was a 12 yr. old novice way way back in the early 1970's. After being off the air for a very long time, 14 months or so ago I got back on the air with a brand new General Class license. I operate CW exclusively but occasionally I might use the PTT on a microphone just to do something different.

    In the 'old days' back when I was a novice, I had numerous mentors who helped me with proper operating procedure. In those days being a kid, the FCC was this big huge governmental agency to fear and thus it was instilled into my young brain the utter importance of following FCC rules and regulations to the letter. In conjunction to this was learning proper operating procedure. It was drilled into my head these were the Holy Grail of Amateur Radio. I was taught while on CW, the proper way to check if the frequency was in use was to send two CW characters: "DIT-DIT, DIT" (I E). Or alternatively just " DIT-DIT" but the preferred way was "DIT-DIT, DIT ". I was made to understand this was how commercial professional CW operators did it. And so that was the procedure I followed. I was told this was the most efficient way to minimize any possible interference to stations that may already be on frequency.

    But now days I am absolutely astonished to hear that "QRL?" is the preferred way. In my opinion this method is just hopelessly flawed and abiding by it generates unnecessary potential interference. This happens to me quite frequently. My normal CW speed is about 25 WPM and when someone is on frequency at say 15 WPM or even 20 WPM and sends "QRL?", it creates a huge amount of unnecessary QRM. Think of how much QRM is generated if one comes on frequency at 10 WPM with "DAH-DAH-DIT-DAH, DIT-DAH-DIT, DIT-DAH-DIT-DIT, DIT-DIT-DAH-DAH-DIT-DIT"! If the response to a "QRL?" is accepted to be the single letter "C" for affirmative (after all why respond with QRL in return when just "C" will do?), this answer is abbreviated in order to keep from losing important information from the station you are trying to copy. Why then, would the question not be equally abbreviated such as in sending "DIT-DIT, DIT" as I was originally taught 40 something years ago? A lot of information is lost due to the "QRL?" method, it creates a huge amount of unnecessary interference and in my opinion is in direct conflict with good operating practice. Just because there is a Q-Signal for 'Is the Frequency in Use', doesn't mean that it is appropriate to use "QRL?" in a wan-ton manner to check if the frequency is in use. But who am I a relative new ham to make this judgement? So I ask many of you old-timers who have been in this great hobby for years and years, what happened?

    Now I am not trying to be a jerk here, but I can remember vividly the "DIT-DIT, DIT" method was used extensively and getting on frequency with a "QRL?" was considered to be bad operating practice. In fact, I can remember talking to local hams in my area who were around my age getting cards from hams kindly asking them to please stop using "QRL?". I presume these were OO's but my God, it was so long ago! There was a debate among us kids about the issue. One camp was square in the defense of "QRL?" giving the argument that it's usage couldn't possibly be wrong because there it was right there in the Q-Signals list in the ARRL logbook! The other camp to the issue didn't deny this, but the argument was the "DIT-DIT, DIT" method simply generated less interference, and thus was the preferred method. Now, I have posed this question to another ham a few days ago, and part of his response was the CW bands were a lot more crowded back then and that now days there is plenty of wiggle room, but I think that part of his response sort of misses the mark, crowded CW sub bands or not, QRM is QRM after all.

    So I find myself being just hopelessly annoyed to no end by this. I suppose there is some truth to the old adage about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. My question though still remains: If the "DIT-DIT, DIT" method was good enough 40 something years ago, why is it not now? And how (or should) does someone politely inform a ham that getting on the air with "QRL? [AR] K" is just not good operating practice? I myself just turn the big knob, but when I am in QSO with a chap on a small boat somewhere on Lake Victoria in Tanzania and miss his entire transmission due to someone thinking they are doing the right thing, I get very frustrated. Am I the one who needs to lighten up? Maybe I have just grown old and set in my ways, but honestly, I just don't get it.

    VA7WYA, AB2RA and W5BIB like this.
  2. WR2E

    WR2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    Hi Ron, welcome back!

    I'm gonna start by saying that I've never heard the di dit, dit, and I've been at it about 49 years. Makes me wonder if it was a 'regional' usage.

    Back in my novice days we would not use either. Common practice was to find a clear frequency and listen for long enough to be sure nobody was using the freq. On 80 or 40 one could almost always hear both sides of a qso, so if nothing was heard chances are the freq was clear. Also, our rigs were usually some elmers junk so not terribly sensitive anyway.

    What bugs me is that the guys calling qrl should almost certainly be able to hear at least one side of the qso so it's clear to me that they aren't even listening before they qrl! And then, more times than not when you send C or YES they ignore you and fire up a CQ anyway. Now THAT is annoying!

    QRL has its place I think, but it should be the SECOND thing one does before calling CQ, the first being to LISTEN! for long enough to be reasonably sure that the freq is not in fact in use.
    WA9SVD, KA0REN, WQ4G and 4 others like this.
  3. WG7X

    WG7X Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page


    I've only been at it for about 30 years, but like WR2E, I have always used the "QRL" or maybe just "?". As WR2E mentioned, on what was then the Novice bands, we could usually hear at least one side of the QSO in progress so either method using "Q" signals was questionable.

    Now, unlike you, I find myself not on the conversational CW bands much, preferring RTTY. On RTTY, using QRL is pretty much the accepted method there for checking frequency use, assuming we did not listen to the band first.

    Over time, methods change. Operators change. Last but not least, even the bands change from year to year. we have to live with what we have now. Getting upset and angry over some thing like this does you no good.

    Of course, we will wait and see what the majority opinion says, but nothing said here will change anything. That's the difference between real life and the internet.

    70 OM!
    AE7F, N7UJU, KA0REN and 5 others like this.
  4. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'm with Jeff WR2E and Gary WG7X. I don't recall hearing/using anything other than QRL, back to my Novice daze in 1970. And today, unless there's some serious concern, FCC has bigger fish to fry than ham radio.
    KA0REN, KA2CZU and WR2E like this.
  5. AA7EJ

    AA7EJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    Note to the operators who always come down on any deviations from established protocol - example using 10-4 or calling CQ on repeater frequency ( see another thread about that ), or 5 WPM "QRL?" - by quoting Part 97.

    The only protocol requirement is to identify yourself.

    How you start and proceed in your contact is not governed and never been governed by any kind of protocol, except courtesy.

    If 5 WPM "QRL?" bothers OP as QRM , he could ask for repeat.
    Yes, you loose a lot being interrupted in your 35 WPM QSO,
    but it should not take too long for repeat at that speed.

    73 Shirley ... going that away
    KA0REN likes this.
  6. WR2E

    WR2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    They probably did back in the day too, but we truly believed they were listening to every single dit and if we were bad boys there would be a knock on the door from a cigar chomping surly FCC minion coming to pull our license and confiscate our gear... And maybe even go out to the willow tree and cut a switch to whup our little butts!

    Pssssst.... I had a VFO! I LIVED IN FEAR! :eek:;)
    K6LPM, NN6D, KA0REN and 5 others like this.
  7. WR2E

    WR2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    Did you see 'them' here shoiley? What's your point?
  8. KA0HCP

    KA0HCP XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Licensed in 1980. I've never heard of the dit dit-dit. But then I wasn't taught to send QRL either. I was taught to listen carefully before sending and to relinquish the freq if anyone replied it was in use. shrug. More than a few send a question mark, ?

    Sending QRL is certainly a good practice, and I don't see how it can be objectionable.
    KA0REN, ZL1UZM and AG5DB like this.
  9. ZL1UZM

    ZL1UZM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Exactly! You took the words out of my mouth.
    N1NA, KW6LA and WD4IGX like this.
  10. K7GQ

    K7GQ Subscriber QRZ Page

    I've never heard of the "dit dit, dit" signal either. On the West Coast in the late 1950's, a single question mark repeated once , with C as the affirming response was in common use.
    K6LPM, N4BC, W2VW and 2 others like this.

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