Skip to main content

Ham Radio Terminology

Ham radio is a way of life for many operators

Ham radio is a way of life for many operators

Ham Radio Terminology

Ham radio terminology is different than the fancy, quick-witted sayings in CB radio. Ham radio operators speak clearly and use some basic codes that help keep the communication going in a clear manner.

These codes are also different depending on the type of communication they are engaged in. Passing traffic will have a rigid set of codes while contesting will have just a few that expedite the exchanges.

Ragchews will use the most basic ones and CW will use some codes and more abbreviations.

If you are working other countries, there will be a few that help with language barriers, and can also speed up the contact when needed.

License Grades

Before getting into the ham radio terminology, I just want to briefly explain the license grades. There are three different levels of licenses that each require a test.

These tests have to be done in order and get progressively harder. You will earn more frequencies to use with each passing grade.

  1. The Technician license gives you VHF and UHF, plus a small portion of the 10 meter band.
  2. The General license gives the largest portions of all the HF bands.
  3. The Extra license adds some frequencies on many of the bands. This provides all frequencies that are allotted to ham radio.

The Q Codes

There are a set of well over 100 Q codes that are used in other areas of communications. Amateur radio operators have adopted some of them as their ham radio terminology for clear and faster exchanges.

Some of these are:

QTH—Your home or present location

QRM—Man-made noise

QRN—Natural noise

QSB—Signal fading

QSL—Yes, affirmative, copy, understood, confirmed

QRT—End of operation, shut down

QSY—Switching frequency

Morse Code Terminology

Morse code has its own set of codes used to shorten and speed the contacts with less sending. These consist of cut numbers that shorten the number characters.

In cut numbers, short letters are sent in place of the longer number characters.

Abbreviations are used to shorten words, while prosigns are two letter groups that have a specific meaning.

Then there is a RST reporting system for all of ham radio. It consists of two numbers for most modes and three character for Morse code.

There are also words that explain certain conditions that are experienced during CW.

Cut Numbers

1 = A

5 = E

9 = N

2 = U

6 = 6

0 = T

3 = V

7 = G


4 = 4

8 = D



For = fer

TNX = Thanks

OM = Old Man

CU = see you

Gud = Good

XYL = Wife

73 = Regards

TU = Thank You

YL = Young Lady

88's = Love and hugs/kisses

BN = Been

WUD = Would

GA = Good Afternoon

HPE = Hope

CUD = Could

GM = Good morning

WX = Weather

OP = Operator

GE = Good evening

TX = Transmit

PSE = Please

GL = Good luck

CLDY = Cloudy

XCVR = Transceiver

RCVR = Receiver

HV = Have

XMTR = Transmitter

ABT = About

CLR = Clear

ES = And

GB = God Bless

HW = How

FB = Fine Business

SIG = Signal

COPY = Cpy

BTU = Back to you

ANT = Antenna

UR = Your

R = Are

SN = Soon

CONDX = Conditions

VE = Volunteer examiner

B4 = Before

NR = Number

ANT = Antenna

SRI = Sorry

VY = Very

GND = Ground


BK = Break, turn over

SK = End of communications, silent key

BT = Pause

AR = End Transmission, turn over

K = Go Ahead

KN = Only you go ahead

CW Dual Paddle

CW Dual Paddle

RST Reporting System

The RST system was invented in 1934 by amateur radio operator Arthur W. Braten. It was first used for Morse code and later on for SSB and now for most of the modes.

For Morse code there are three grades that consist of readability, signal/strength, and tone. The single side bands only use two: readability and signal/strength.


  1. Unreadable
  2. Barely readable, some words distinguishable
  3. Readable with difficulties
  4. Readable with little to no difficulty
  5. Perfectly readable


  1. Faint signals are barely understandable
  2. Very weak signals
  3. Weak signals, some words readable
  4. Fair signals, communications are possible
  5. Fairly good signals
  6. Good signals
  7. Moderately stronger signals
  8. Strong signals, good communications
  9. Extremely strong signals, arm chair copy


  1. Extreme hissing or Sixty cycle A.C. tone
  2. Rough A.C. noise, Very rough a.c.,
  3. Rough, low-pitched A.C. Rough A.C. tone, rectified, not filtered
  4. Somewhat rough A.C. noise, some trace of filtering
  5. Musically modulated Tone, Filtered and rectified A.C., strongly ripple-modulation
  6. Modulated tone, slight trace of whistle, Filtered tone
  7. Near D.C. note, smooth ripple sound, Near pure tone,
  8. Good D.C. note, Near perfect tone, trace of modulation
  9. Purest D.C. note, Perfect tone, no trace of ripple


Suffixes were added the the RST system to deliver more data and report conditions of the signal. These are no longer used on a regular basis.

They consist of:

A = Signal distorted by auroral propagation

C = "Chirp" (FSK and CW)

K = Key clicks in CW

M = Distorted by multipath propagation

S = Signal distorted by scatter propagation

X = Stable frequency (Old crystal controlled radios)

Ham Radio Terminology

There are many things to learn in Ham radio that make it such a wonderful hobby. Many Hams also see it as a way of life, or even earn their living from selling or repairing the equipment.

Whichever one you choose, get involved and have fun with it. Always respect it, and be the best operator you can be.

Handheld transceiver

Handheld transceiver

Ham Radio Participation

The hobby of ham radio can be as simple as operation with just a handheld transceiver. With a handheld and a hotspot, you can work the world with the use of the internet.

It can also be as elaborate as setting up a tower or multiple towers with thousands of dollars of equipment. You can work the world in this manner by talking directly from your radio to theirs.

You can also fall in between with a high-frequency radio and a wire antenna and still work to hundreds of countries.

Whichever route you take, you are guaranteed to have fun and learn along your path.

Tower with beam antenna

Tower with beam antenna

Ham Radio License

Get your Ham radio license and join the community!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Vince Alvino