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Blog - Plain Language Signal Reports

I love the phrase that I picked up from KF5WJB – the airwaves are part science, part Voodoo Black Magic. One thing I’ve learned about ham radio. It is *not* an exact science. There are so, so many things that can affect your signal it’s downright scary. What works one day may or may not work the next.

The thing is, how would you ever know if there was something wrong with your signal if nobody ever told you? I mean it’s physically impossible to hear yourself on the radio since, you know, you would have to transmit and receive at the same time.

Well, have no fear!

Your friends, enemies and frenemies are here to help you out! That’s right. When your signal is even *slightly* less than loud and clear, someone will let you know. It’s a ham thing. It’s what we do. The flip side of that is… you should return the favor.

So, how, exactly does one give a signal report? Personally, I’ve heard everything from, “You sound like you’re frying bacon over there.” To “Wow, you’re blowing my doors off.” While both of those phrases do bring an image to the mind, they’re not exactly precise.
Enter “Prowords”.

See, the first time I heard someone use the term “Prowords” I thought it meant “professional words” or maybe even "positive" -- as in, Pro equals positive, ergo “good.” Nope. Pro is an abbreviation for Procedure.

Basically, Prowords are what I always refer to ask Ham Radio Geek Speak, though they are not limited to ham radio, it can also be maritime. Technically the definition of Procedure Words is, “words or phrases used to facilitate communication by conveying information in a condensed standard format. “

Let's hope they are more condensed than the definition.

ANYWAY…. Remember a few weeks about we talked about avoiding terminology that smacks of CB Lingo? Well, be careful with some of these. “Radio check” is one of those phrases. I know of several people who will not answer a “radio check” and while I originally though *perhaps* it was one person being knit picky, it turns out, that’s not the case. The general consensus is that there is no reason to say the words radio check. You throw your callsign out, if someone hears you, they’ll answer and bingo! Radio check accomplished.

But if you happen to be the one on the other end of that QSO giving the signal report, be aware that signal reports are broken down into two categories: signal strength and readability.

Signal strength prowords are, in descending order:

• Loud -- your signal is very strong
• Good – your signal is good
• Weak – your signal is weak
• Very Weak – your signal strength is very weak
• Fading – your signal fades to such an extent that continuous reception cannot be relied upon

Readability prowords are, in descending order:

• Clear – the quality of your transmission is excellent
• Readable – the quality of your transmission is satisfactory
• Unreadable – the quality of your transmission is so bad that I cannot read you
• Distorted – having trouble reading you due to interference
• With Interference – having trouble reading you due to interference
• Intermittent – having trouble reading you because your signal is intermittent

Hang on, things are about to get fun -- combining signal strength and readability. Bet you’ve heard this combination. Loud and Clear. (Yep, me, too.)

Here are some possible combinations:

• Loud and Clear – excellent copy with no noise
• Good Readable – good copy with slight noise
• Fair Readable – fair copy, occasional fills are needed
• Weak Readable – weak copy, frequent fills are needed
• Weak Unreadable – unable to copy, a relay is required

Also, remember giving a report regarding signal strength really only applies to simplex or high frequency. If you look down at your s-meter to read an incoming signal from a repeater, you’re not seeing the signal strength of the other station, you’re seeing the signal strength of the repeater. In such a case, the better choice of words would be “You’re into the repeater” or “You’re not into the repeater”, followed by the combination of signal strength and readability. An example would be “You’re into the repeater loud and clear” or “You’re not into the repeater.
It’s weak and unreadable.”

For local repeater work, use the KISS methodology – Keep it Simple. When you get into HF, some hams will give numeric scales for signal strength and readability. CW has another category altogether called tone. Both of these are beyond the scope of this topic.

In the end, it comes down to memory!

Signal strength – Loud, good, fair, weak, very weak, fading.

Readability – Clear, readable, unreadable, distorted, with interference, intermittent

As for me, I’m probably just going to print it out and hang it in my ham shack.