Is RST obsolete, and did it ever make sense?

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by W4ZD, Nov 1, 2018.

ad: L-HROutlet
ad: l-rl
ad: Subscribe
ad: Left-3
ad: MessiPaoloni-1
ad: Left-2
ad: L-MFJ
  1. W4ZD

    W4ZD XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    One of my pet peeves, which dates back to when I first started in amateur radio as a kid, is the signal report, the RST or R/S system. Just about every receiver made since 1950 (or earlier) includes an S-meter. What does it measure? Nothing of significance or usefulness that I can discern. It's a doodad, a cute and meaningless feature. They persist to the present day, they just seem to not go away. Kinda like the human appendix. It's there, but what it's good for is unknown.

    And yet, we faithfully make up RST reports and use them. Indeed, working a DXpedition, that is the only thing typically exchanged, a made up number that has no meaning. Have any of you ever sent or received anything other than 599 (or 5NN) when working a DX pileup?

    Consider a really fine receiver, and two antennas: a couple feet of wire strung out behind it versus a coaxial connection to a tuned dipole at, say, 100 feet. If you make a QSO in either setting, you would probably give two different signal reports for any given station, say "349" versus "599." Why bother? "You are 599." No, my setup here can copy you 599, it means nothing about the other person's signal.

    It is now just a formality. That it is useless is irrelevant. Just something we do, because we presumably have to do something. But, I wonder if it ever served any useful purpose, and I wonder if some other convention might have been more useful. Nine levels of tone quality, judged only by ear? I think not.

    Time to remove the appendix, IMHO. "But, but, I love my appendix." :D
    KC2SIZ, K4AGO and KA2RRK like this.
  2. W8IXI

    W8IXI XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I like to be the final decision maker when it comes to evaluating a signal, not some computer program or dodgy meter.

    And I use "RSQ" which is a more up-to-date descriptor :)
    W4RAV, KA2RRK and N2EY like this.
  3. N2EY

    N2EY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    S-meter? What is that?

    The RST system serves many good purposes. The main one is that it tells the other op how they sound, from loud and easy to copy to down-in-the-mud-have-to-dig-your-signal-out. Lets the other op know if something is wrong with their signal.

    And it's a conversation-starter.


    73 de Jim, N2EY
    K1TGX, K4AGO, KE4OH and 4 others like this.
  4. WA7PRC

    WA7PRC Ham Member QRZ Page

    My favorite reply to the question, "how does this sound" is...
    The rig sounds fine. YOU, on the other hand... :p
    K4PIH, N2EY, NL7W and 2 others like this.
  5. KK5JY

    KK5JY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Given the number of variables that exist in the receive antenna system path of any amateur station, even the S-meter is meaningless. The idea of a "signal report" is the radio equivalent of "hey, nice tie there, Marvin!" As @N2EY said, it's a conversation-starter. People have to have something to talk about.

    I'm also not aware of any software packages that compute SNR properly, either. In order to get anywhere near an accurate SNR, the specific noise bandwidth has to be considered, and there can't be any other signals in the noise bandwidth except for the one being measured. All the software packages that I'm aware of make a lot of assumptions that tend not to be true in real life.

    So yes, a "signal report," regardless of whether you generate it or the computer does, is rather meaningless.

    I had one guy mention to me once, "wow you have a 599 signal... no really, that's a real 599, not a contest 599." ;)

    On the bright side, now that we have panadapters, a human operator could use the panadapter to give a report of how many dB above the noise floor the received signal is peaking during transmission. I don't know how many people would go to the trouble to do it, but it's as close to accurate as a "signal report" can get using the current technology.
    N2EY, KA2RRK and W4ZD like this.
  6. VA3VF

    VA3VF Ham Member QRZ Page

    Agree, and false/wrong most of the time. It's basically a macro these days, and I'm not including contest exchanges.

    Its only purpose was/is to make hams look impressive. One more code used by the 'experts', to leave the 'unwashed' in awe.

    Just tell me my audio is bad, I'm splattering, etc. Technology oriented people should be able to use words to describe things.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2018
    KA2RRK likes this.
  7. K7TRF

    K7TRF Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I find honest RST reporting very useful during CW QSOs but no, I don't use the meter to determine 'S', I use my ears and perceived S/N to determine whether the signal is Readable and Strong and of course Tone is subjective but things like harsh buzz or chirp do stand out.

    If someone tells me I'm 599 I'll tend not to repeat things like name and QTH and just go into conversational mode. If they tell me I'm 559 or something like that I'll tend to repeat pertinent information as I know they're having a bit of trouble with the copy. But I don't assume this is calibrated to any standard and sure don't stare at my S meter to determine how to give my report to them.

    But yeah, during contests or most DX exchanges it's pretty useless to hear 5NN for every caller as it tells you nothing.
    N2EY, K1TGX, K7GQ and 2 others like this.
  8. KK5JY

    KK5JY Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Here are some alternatives to RST, RSQ, SNR, etc.:
    1. "You have a nice strong signal here in Oklahoma"
    2. "Your signal is very clean in the panadapter."
    3. "Your signal has no fade, very steady and strong."
    4. "Armchair copy OM, like you are here in the room."
    Those kinds of things avoid using meaningless numbers that falsely pretend to quantify something, but they still give positive feedback for signals that deserve positive feedback.

    There are obviously the negative feedback equivalents of those kinds of reports. E.g., "Wow, that PSK signal is rather broad..." or "Strong signal, but Lots of key-clicks, maybe you could back down on the drive to your amplifier?" or "your signal is strong on the peaks, but below the noise with deep fade."
    NL7W and KA2RRK like this.
  9. KA2RRK

    KA2RRK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    This is fictional and totally invented by me as a creative writing. So there. (Isn't that always the case?)
    Well, here is my take.

    The middle of the RST IS S, so if you take the R which stood for readability and T which stood for Tone.
    These R's and T's were discrimination against the signal. Either the tone was some such. Angry, sad ect. Or the R was likewise, usually R reports, less than perfect means you didn't graduate.... Ect.

    Now getting back to S. S-meters were supposed to be used to judge strength. And S was to stand for
    signal strength.

    Rumor has it Collins radio and RCA among many others tried to calibrate S-meters but stopped when
    an engineer and marketing team found the efforts were detrimental to profits.

    So we were left with a broken signal reporting system. No one would stand for this.
    Even Collins and RCA folks. So now started the marketing ploy, our S-meters are better...
    No two became unique in calibration. Nor read the same. Then it was your antenna wasn't
    big enough. And the bad news you need better coax, and a bigger amplifier.

    The Duey decibel system came along afterwards to further dampen and cover up the S-METER, and other
    flaws, and keep everyone unknowing. And to this day millions don't have any clue.

    tenor (5).gif

    NL7W, KA4DPO and W4ZD like this.
  10. W7UUU

    W7UUU QRZ Lifetime Member #133 Volunteer Moderator Life Member Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    For those of us who enjoy restoring and using on the air the "old rigs" I can say the RST system is very much alive and well. I'm never surprised to get a report like 588 or 599C and it helps me to know when a transmitter needs some bench time :)

    K4PIH, N2EY, K1TGX and 7 others like this.

Share This Page