PRIMER ON CONTACTS

The following dissertation is intended to provide an outline for making phone contacts on the HF amateur bands. The exchange of information used on other modes in most cases will be similar. However, when using Morse Code (CW) many words or phrases will be expressed with Q signals for the sake of brevity. These are listed in the ARRL Radio Amateur's Handbook and many other locations. The use of Q signals has unfortunately spread into phone operation. The issue is that usually the plain English word is more descriptive, faster and less error prone, for example saying QRN instead of "static". My example of a casual contact will reflect this approach.

A valid contact in amateur radio is established when two or more stations verify they have communicated with each other. In general this is accomplished by each station logging the contact with the other stations call, date and time, frequency and mode. When using a computer logging application all but the call of the contacted station can be mechanically derived making logging programs a more convenient and accurate method of recording contacts.

From this we should understand that information such as signal report, name or location has nothing to do with making a valid contact. However, this information may be primary in a casual chat type contact and is usually of interest to the contacted operator. I'd like to point out that signal reports are based on a relative signal strength meter, probably from equipment with an inaccurate measuring system and in an environment which is unstable meaning they are of little real value. In fact, reporting S-5 for hearing a station and copying most of the information, S-9 for hearing the station well and S-9+ when they are so loud you can hear them breathing is adequate. If a contacted station should mention they are testing a new antenna or comparing their station to another, then you will observe and report the actual S-meter readings.

With these understandings we can discuss various types of contacts. Start with the most simple, working a DX-pedition. The goal of these folks is to contact as many other operators as possible in the time they have allotted. To that end they really care only about getting your call, date and time, mode and frequency logged correctly. As mentioned before, all of that information can be mechanically derived except your call so your call is all they are interested in. However, convention has led us to report signal strength, albeit useless. A typical DX-pedition type contact may be like this;

DX: XZ0ZX up 5 (their call is XZ0ZX and they are listening for stations 5kH, or more, above where they are transmitting, i.e. "split"))

You: NZ7ZZ (Maybe twice, maybe repeat calling. It depends on how quickly the DX station is picking out calls)

DX: NZ7ZZ you're 5-9

You: 5-9 thanks NZ7ZZ

Log it, it's done!

There are at least three issues to consider. When you call on a frequency above theirs (split), you are responsible to make sure you are not interfering with an existing conversation. Listen where you will be transmitting before calling. The second is that often adrenaline is flowing if the DX-pedition is in a much desired location. As a result you may hear some poor operating practices including nasty language or deliberate interference. DO NOT BECOME PART OF IT! This sort of activity usually settles down after a while so if you find it irritating do something else for the time being. The third is ending your contact with your call. That is an FCC requirement. If the DX station is confident they have your call correctly, by the time you unkey the mike they may already be calling another station. But, if they aren't sure they got your call correctly, they will verify it with your sign off.

Contest contacts are similar to DX-pedition contacts in regard to a limited time frame and limited information exchange. Most contests organizers publish their rules and exchange format on line and most major contests are listed in the Contest Corral section of QST. Even if you are not interested in competing in a contest, often you can find and work new states or countries in these events. A contest type contact for ARRL-DX Phone may go as follows:

DL1ZZZ: CQ contest DL1ZZZ

You: NZ7ZZZ

DL1ZZ: NZ7ZZZ 59 500 (Called you, signal report 59, they are running 500 watts)

You: 59 Arizona good luck NZ7ZZZ (signal report, ARRL section)

DL1ZZZ: Thanks DL1ZZZ QRZ (or maybe CQ again)

It's done, log it.

As you can see, the required information for the ARRL DX contest was exchanged very efficiently. Note too that in both the described contacts we did not use their call. They know who they are and it wastes time transmitting it. Of course, if two stations are calling on the same frequency you may have to specify which one you are calling.

The casual contact is much more a chit chat session and sometimes involves three or more stations. Certain basic information is passed in the early stages that set the tone for the rest of it. One should give the other a signal report to the extent of informing the other station of how well information is being received, your name and location. Usually there is no reason to force a contact on for a long time if one of you is having difficulty understanding or copying the other. A typical casual contact begins with one calling CQ.

Other: C Q C Q C Q from N M 9 C Z November mike nine Charlie Zulu listening for a call (note the call is given in letters and numbers the first time as the FCC requires identification and phonetics the second time to clarify characters)

You: NM9CZ AJ7DT alpha juliet 7 delta tango calling

Other: AD7DT, thanks for the call. You are 5 and 9 in Someplace Wi. Name here is Jan. How copy?

You: Thanks for the report Jan. You are 5 9+ here in Sparkgap Arizona. My name is Bob.

(Often each bit of information is repeated, sometimes using phonetics. In reality it serves to give the receiving station time to make note of the location or name.)

(The basic information has now been exchanged. Some standard discussions following this may be brief comments on the weather, your station or something special about you such as an electronics project you are working on. To promote further discussion you can end this transmission with a one liner about some topic. The other station may pick up on your comments, go on to a subject that interests them or want to end the contact.)

Other: OK Bob, signals are still strong. Gee, 100 degrees there etc.

Back and Forth: (Give your call at least every ten minutes)(Keep your transmissions relatively short and to the point(s) being discussed)

(How do I end it?)

You: Jan, it’s been great talking to you, good luck. 73 NM9CZ from AJ7DT

Don't forget to log it.

There are a couple of special cases to discuss. First is emergency communications. The most important thing is not to interfere. The communications may follow a specific format on which participating stations have been trained. However, you may be of assistance in some cases by relaying information. If so, interject a short transmission at the appropriate time such as “NZ9ZZZ, I can relay”. If they want the help they will acknowledge you.

Second is special event station operations which come in several varieties. Operations of this type more or less fall into a casual contest variety. They are time limited, specific information is disseminated and hopefully large numbers of hams wish to make contact. When first calling CQ (on a clear frequency) the operator should mention the call as normal and a comment about the operation. In the first contact all other pertinent information can be transmitted.

You: CQ CQ CQ this is WZ7Z wiskey zulu seven zulu at the cactus eating festival special event station WZ7Z listening for a call

Answer: W0ABC wiskey zero alpha bravo Charlie

You: W0ABC, thanks for the call. You are 5 9 here at the cactus eating festival in Red Ridge Utah. My name is Zelda zulu echo lima delta alpha. My name is Zelda zulu echo lima delta alpha. We’re celebrating the 100 year of the festival. You can get a QSL card via WW0WWW or visit our website at "http://pricklytoungue.com/". Etc.

Calling stations will not likely engage in a long conversation and you can move on to the next caller quickly. More than likely callers will have heard your previous transmissions. As you work more stations you do not need to give the full spiel to each one. However, you should always start with their call and signal report. You can give your name, location or purpose or other information randomly in subsequent contacts.

While you will hear discussions of politics and religion, they should be avoided. Amateur radio was not intended to be anyone’s soapbox, but it does happen. Try not to get involved. Your use of words can also be important. In this age, practically no verbiage is legally obscene. To that end, if a "hell” or “damn” slips out, don’t panic. But, don’t make a habit of it. Remember you are displaying your intelligence to the world.

Speaking of choice and use of words, try not to get lulled into some common misuses.

73’s 73 is a plural form denoted as “best wishes”, same with 88, don’t make it redundant.

I gotta good copy on ya Does that even make sense? Use the proper signal report or make an appropriate comment about how well you are receiving the other station.

My operating conditions are Again, it makes no sense. Something like “I’m running a Kenwood TS-999 and Alpha 9999 amp into a HyGain vertical” will provide the other station with what they want to know. If they are interested in some specific part of the station they will ask.

Operator is Some things aren’t wrong, just awkward. In this case “My name (handle) is Bobbie" is more simple and better understood.

Break On occasion you may wish to join into another conversation. Simply say “break” at an appropriate pause in their transmissions. Saying “break break” has come to mean that someone has emergency or very important information to pass. Recently the term “comment” has come into use instead of “break”. This often is more appropriate as it means the third party has been listening to your conversation and wishes to add pertinent (hopefully) information.

Most of the previous discussion applies to UHF/VHF and digital contacts, including CW. The primary difference on UHF/VHF is that operation is generally on channelized frequencies, including repeaters, and more local in nature. When seeking a contact, CQ is not used, one just transmits their call and stations monitoring that channel will respond. In the digital world, many abbreviations and shortcuts have been developed, most commonly the Q signals.

Every contact has its rewards whether it is the satisfaction of breaking a pileup to a rare location, trying some new equipment or sharing interests with a new friend. With experience you will become confident and relaxed.

EST 3/3/14