delara news Delaware Amateur Radio Association, Delaware OH   VOL 36 NUMBER 10

Joe Fischer


Your Signal Report Is: Who Cares?

Start up a conversation on the HF bands and one of the first pieces of information exchanged is the signal report.  Just about the most useless piece of information to me.  The other op is hearing me, right?  Signal must be good enough. This was, and still is, one of the more mysterious and arcane aspects of ham radio when I got back into it.  What is the difference between a 349 report and a 469 report?  Is the other op’s self-esteem in danger of taking a serious hit if I give him the former? Back in my voice days, I participated in a worked all states net.  People would check in then take turns calling other check-ins in order to get a confirmation with whatever state the other person was in.  It was common for somebody to call somebody else and spend several minutes (so it seemed) yelling “you’re 2 by 2, buckshot, deuces, snake eyes, bang-bang…”  Would have been a lot quicker to say “I can barely hear you.”  Signal reports seemed to be a big deal with them. It got to kind of stressful for me.  Sure, I have an S-meter on my radio, but I’ve read that those are not calibrated all that accurately.  What is the signal strength of somebody who is fading up and down a lot? In PSK contacts, I never knew how to rate the other op so I just randomly made something up (especially since I felt rushed).  If the QSO ended quickly, I thought it was because he picked up on my signal reporting ignorance and, regardless of anything else, that torpedoed the contact. This is one reason I think signal reports do not mean much.  Let’s say that I hook up with somebody in Germany on 40 meters and give him a 359.  He might think “I’m getting into Ohio but not super well.”  Then we sign and immediately he contacts another Ohio ham who happens to live 10 miles from me and has a full-size dipole at 60 feet.  My 10-mile-away neighbor tells the German that he is 599.  What is Helmut to make of that?  Maybe the other Ohio op is lazy and does not want to figure what the report is.  Maybe the first guy (me) doesn’t like Germans (not true – I’m from 100% German heritage).  Maybe, and nobody would believe this, the Deutscher really is a 599. Near the end of my voice efforts I started to tell people that their signal was poor, good or strong.  Likewise, their copy was poor, good or strong.  If they were fading a lot, I would say so.  Otherwise I would not mention it. Since going to CW, the above method doesn’t work so well since it can take a long time to send.  So, I’m back to my PSK days and just make up something that might be kind-of close.  I would not even bother at all, and sometimes forget to, but my logging program has fields for the signal report so I feel obligated to use them.  Sort of like people feel obligated to drink green beer on St. Patrick’s Day (beer should not be green – that’s gross). Contesting is where it starts to get ridiculous.  Many contests include the signal report as part of the required exchange.  And what does everybody get (not just from lazy me)?  Either 59 on voice or 5NN (short for 599) on CW or digital.  That works for me, but why bother at all?  I once was trying to work a New Zealand op in a contest and had to send my exchange to him half a dozen times but he was 5NN just as I was from him. I have heard from a couple of hams that they do not and will not operate a contest because everybody lies about their signal reports.  Now, really!  People lie about their age, weight, height, IQ, tax deductions, their looks, their athletic ability – and a signal report is going to keep them out of a contest?  Must be a lot of hams confessing to their religious leaders about how they fudged a bit on giving other hams an accurate signal report. Here is another twist.  I used to be a shortwave radio listener.  We used something called SINPO: signal, interference, noise, propagation, and overall.  I read an opinion piece in QST or CQ (I think it was in one of those) by a ham who suggested that hams should adopt this.  I guess he got blistered a bit for this line of thinking.  I thought he made a pretty good argument and I thought about telling him so even though I had no intention of using it.  Each piece of the SINPO report is graded from 1 to 5; imagine a contest where you would say “55555.”  CW ops would probably send “eeeee” since that’s a lot shorter than sending five 5’s. I’m not necessarily against including signal reports in contests and some do not use them.  When they are there they kind of act as a buffer between certain parts of the exchange.  But for the contests that don’t use them, I quickly adapt to that and find it a little annoying when the other op sends one anyway, which many loggers seem to want to do. So, was this intelligible?  Would you give it a 2 or an 8?  Careful, my opinion of you depends solely on your report.
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