The final courtesy of a radio contact is acknowledgement of the QSO (radio contact).


QSL is an old brevity code meaning, “I acknowledge receipt”.  Back in the early 1900s when passing messages was a main function of amateur radio (whence the Amateur Radio Relay League or ARRL), the term QSL made a lot of sense.  Today you may hear a ham speak or write QSL to let you know they received something.

The term QSL now more commonly means to confirm a radio contact.  Early on this was done mainly with postcards.


Some hams still do send out QSL cards, or send them in reply or if requested.  Collecting cards is a fun aspect of ham radio.  Many cards are interesting or unique.

Besides tradition,  a sense of satisfaction, and general fun, QSO confirmation in the form of valid QSL is a basic requirement for most operating awards.  This may not matter to you but many other hams are eager for your QSL, particularly if they are requesting one.

All hams should provide some form of QSL for all contacts except for routine local ones.  Information in the QSL should include the station call signs, date and time (UTC), band/frequency, mode, signal report, and sender’s location details. Good logging is essential for this and a QSL function is often supported by computer logging utilities.

You can determine how to exchange QSLs with a particular station from their QRZ profile if they have one set up (most active hams do).

Details about QSL cards are given further below.  Mailing cards can get expensive.  While the cost of printing the cards is not so bad, postage adds up, particularly when sending internationally.  Bureau (BURO) services to send/receive cards internationally reduces cost somewhat but is still pricey and response time is generally slow (months to years).  Alternate methods of  providing a QSL have arisen out of the need for keeping costs down.

Non-card QSLs are all electronic in nature, exchanged via internet connection in some manner.  We will briefly mention three here.  You can search for others Continue reading


CQ is ham-speak for “calling any station”.  For all modes— voice, Morse, visual, or digital, it signifies a radio amateur looking to make a contact.

The basic, general CQ means looking for any station to respond.


It can be refined (a directed CQ) to be more specific, often a location.  Common examples are out-of-country long distance (CQ DX), a particular prefix, country or state (CQ VT), a contest or event (CQ SOTA), or perhaps a CW specialty such as using a straight key (CQ SKCC).


When you hear a station calling CQ, it’s your chance to work them.  Respond by sending their call sign and then your own, much like on a VHF/UHF repeater.


If a ham doesn’t hear any activity or anyone calling CQ it could mean the band is dead… or it could be a good opportunity to go fishing for a contact by calling CQ.  New hams should get some experience with every new mode before calling CQ themselves.

When calling CQ , make sure that you are permitted to operate on the frequency you have chosen (and keep away from band edges).  Also make sure that the frequency is not in use.  Do not assume that if you hear quiet at a valid frequency that it is free; it could be that another ham is listening to a station you can’t hear.


Always check if a frequency is in use before calling CQ.  The proper way to do this is to simply ask by voice with your ID (phone), or send the Morse prosign QRL? with your call (CW mode).


If someone else is working that frequency, they will let you know.  Move to another frequency (QSY) should you receive a response to QRL.


If nobody replies to your QRL, go ahead with your CQ.  There is no official CQ protocol but there are many suggestions out there.  Continue reading

Mic Fright and Your First Contact

Mic fright is a general term for anxiety leading to freezing, choking or hesitating when speaking into a microphone (mic).  The psychological response of worrying about saying the right thing to an audience large or small is very natural and expected.


Mic fright or shyness is a reality in public speaking, stage performance and similar situations.  Of course, it’s an important topic to new amateur radio operators so let’s provide some perspective and encouragement here.

Making that first voice contact over the radio can be an anxious moment for many new hams.  This can also carry over into the first several radio contacts where you worry about saying the right thing and following the rules.

First off, don’t let the “rules” make you nervous.  It mainly comes down to proper identification which means giving your call sign every 10 minutes during an exchange and at the end of your last transmission (USA rules, other countries vary).  That’s pretty easy to remember.

Second, every ham was a newbie once and remembers what it was like not knowing exactly what they were doing.  Most will be patient and helpful, giving coaching and gentle reminders along the way as needed.

For general phone (voice) contacts, there are no real procedures and formalities to worry about; it’s more conversational, much like a phone call.  While radio amateurs often use jargon, abbreviation and technical terms (see our Ham-Speak topic), this is not mandatory.  Hopefully that takes some of the pressure off to make you more relaxed for your first few contacts.

A starting point for getting on the air the first time is to listen in on the local (VHF/UHF) repeaters and HF SSB bands for a few hours to learn what people say and how they say it.  If you follow these examples you are almost certain to be successful when transmitting on your radio.

An excellent way to get past mic fright and performance anxiety is to ease into it with Continue reading