HAM Radio Abbreviations

A list of the commonly used amateur radio abbreviations and terms that are heard on the air.


Codes & abbreviations includes:
Summary     Abbreviations     RST code     Q code     Phonetic alphabet    


Within amateur radio, or ham radio as it is often called, a variety of abbreviations are used. These have developed over the years, partly as a result of the need to convey a particular word of meaning quickly and concisely. Many abbreviations were devised as a result of the widespread use of Morse code, where it is necessary to send as few letters as possible.

A variety of the more commonly used ham radio abbreviations can be seen below:

  • 73   - Best regards, a greeting sent by radio amateurs over the air. Although this amateur radio abbreviation was reputed to have started when Morse telegraph operators sued to send two dashed, six dots and two dashes as a greeting, it has been widely adopted by radio amateurs using both Morse and also within 'fone' transmissions.
  • 88   - Love and kisses, a greeting sent by radio amateurs over the air (to a YL or XYL).
  • Active antenna   - A receiving antenna which uses an amplifier as part of the design. By doing this the receiving element can be made much smaller.
  • Aerial   - An antenna.
  • AF   - Audio frequency. A term which denotes the signal only consists of frequencies which have audio frequencies, i.e. below about 20 kHz.
  • AM   - Amplitude modulation. A form of modulation which varies the amplitude or intensity of the signal to enable it to carry the audio or other information.
  • Antenna   - The wire or other items which picks up or radiates the radio signals.
  • Antenna tuning unit   - A unit placed between the antenna and receiver/transmitter. Its purpose is to provide a good impedance match between the two items and ensure the maximum amount of the signal is transferred from the transmitter to the antenna or from the antenna to the receiver.
  • ATU   - Antenna tuning unit.
  • Bandwidth   - The amount frequency spectrum or width that a signal requires.
  • Beam   - An antenna which is direction and beams the power in a given direction. The most common form of beam is a Yagi. Most television antennas are Yagis.
  • BFO   - A beat frequency oscillator. An oscillator used in a receiver to enable Morse and single sideband transmissions to be resolved and copied.
  • Burner   - A power amplifier used to increase the output of a transmitter. This abbreviation is used particular by CB enthusiasts.
  • Capacitor   - A component used in radios and other electronic circuits. It enables AC signals to be passed through but blocks DC. They are also used in power supplies to smooth the voltage.
  • CIO   - Carrier insertion oscillator. This abbreviation is used mainly in North America and it is the same as a BFO.
  • Communications receiver   - A term normally used to describe a high quality radio receiver. Often one used for the short wave bands.
  • CQ   - A general call from a station wanting a contact.
  • CW   - Carrier wave. A continuous radio frequency signal. Often used to denote a Morse transmission because it carries no audio modulation.
  • D layer   - A layer of ionisation in the ionosphere that reflects absorbs signals, especially low frequency signals.
  • Dead zone   - When a signal is reflected form the ionosphere there is an area beyond the ground wave before the reflected signal can be heard. This is known as the dead zone.
  • Discone   - A wide band antenna that is popular with scanner enthusiasts. Its name is derived from the fact one set of elements are in the shape of a disc, and the others in the shape of a cone.
  • DX   - A long distance signal.
  • E layer   - A layer of ionisation in the ionosphere which reflects radio signals.
  • ES:   'And'. This abbreviation is widely used in Morse / CW transmissions
  • FB:   Fine Business. This abbreviation really means OK and it is widely used for ham radio Morse transmissions.
  • F layer   - A layer of ionisation in the ionosphere which reflects radio signals.
  • Feeder   - The cable (normally coaxial) for carrying radio frequency signals. It is the cable used to connect a receiver, transmitter or transceiver to the antenna.
  • FM   - Frequency modulation. A form of modulation where the frequency of the signal is varied in line with the instantaneous voltage of the audio signal.
  • Fone:   This abbreviation is short for phone and it refers to audio rather than data transmissions like Morse, packet data, and the many other digital transmissions available that do not use audio.
  • Frequency synthesizer   - see synthesizer.
  • GA   - Good afternoon. (An abbreviation used on Morse)
  • GE   - Good evening. (An abbreviation used on Morse)
  • GM   - Good morning. (An abbreviation used on Morse)
  • Ground plane   - A ground plane antenna is a vertical antenna which is mounted above the ground. It has wire or rod radial horizontal elements from the base connected to the outer of the coaxial feeder. The radials are normally a quarter wavelength long.
  • Inductor   - A component used in radio and other electronic circuits.
  • Keyer   - An electronic Morse key. These items normally have a paddle. When moved to the left it generates dashes and to the right it generates dots. This enables Morse to be sent much faster than by hand.
  • Linear   - An amplifier used to increase the output power from a transmitter. It used for AM or SSB transmitters and must be linear to avoid distortion of the signal.
  • OB:   Old boy - see OM.
  • OM:   Old man - an abbreviation really meaning friend
  • Packet radio   - A form of data transmission used widely by radio amateurs which sends data in short bursts or packets.
  • PLL Phase locked loop   - A circuit used as the basis of a frequency synthesizer used in most CB rigs and many other forms of radio.
  • QSL card   - A postcard sized card used to confirm a contact or a report of a station that has been heard. These cards are often exchanged between radio hams or CB enthusiasts. They are also frequently sent out by short wave broadcast stations to confirm a reception report.
  • Quartz crystal   - A component used in radio and other electronic circuits. It has a very high degree of selectivity, and is as the resonant element in oscillators and filters where it gives high levels of performance.
  • R:   Roger - OK
  • Resistor   - A component used in radios and other electronic circuits. It resists the flow of current in a circuit.
  • RTTY   - Radio teletype. A form of transmission which uses teleprinters to print out the data which is sent.
  • S Meter   - A meter on a receiver or transceiver which indicates the signal strength of incoming signals. It is normally marked in "S" units from 1 to 9.
  • Scanner   - A radio receiver often used primarily for VHF and UHF bands which can automatically scan pre-programmed channels and stop on a channel where a signal is present.
  • Selectivity   - The ability of a receiver to accept signals on the wanted frequency and reject off channel signals which are not wanted.
  • Sensitivity   - The ability for a receiver to pick up weak signals.
  • Shack   - A radio room originally a ship's radio room, but now often used to describe a radio ham's station.
  • Single sideband   - A mode of transmission derived from AM that removes the carrier and one sideband. It is far more effective than AM and is used for long distance communications.
  • SINPO   - A form of signal report normally used for broadcast stations which defines the Signal, Interference, Noise, Propagation and Overall reception.
  • Skip distance   - For signals that are reflected by the ionosphere it is the distance from the transmitter to where the signal is heard.
  • Sky-wave   - A signal which travels to be reflected by the ionosphere or has been reflected by it.
  • Sporadic E   - A layer of intense ionisation which occurs occasionally in the ionosphere. It enables signals to be heard from other countries when other forms of propagation are not available.
  • Squelch   - A control on a receiver or transceiver which is used to mute or turn off the audio when no signal is present. This prevents large levels of noise being present on the output when there is nothing to be heard.
  • SSB   - see single sideband.
  • Synthesizer   - A circuit usually based around a phase locked loop for generating a stable signal. Synthesizers are used in virtually all CB rigs, scanners and communications receivers today.
  • TKS:   Thanks - this ham radio abbreviation is widely used for Morse / CW transmissions.
  • TNX:   Thanks - this ham radio abbreviation is widely used for Morse / CW transmissions.
  • Tube   - A valve.
  • UTC   - Universal Time Co-ordinated. It is the same as GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).
  • Vertical   - A vertical antenna.
  • VFO   - Variable frequency oscillator used in the frequency conversion process. Often separate oscillators are used in transceivers to enable split frequency operation, i.e. transmitting on one frequency and receiving on another.
  • VOX   - A voice operated transmit receive switch. When the operator speaks the transmitter detects the audio and changes from receive to transmit electronically.
  • VSWR   - Voltage standing wave ratio. A measure of the power returned from the antenna when the antenna and feeder are not properly matched.
  • Wavelength   - The length of a radio wave normally expressed in metres.
  • XYL   - Wife.
  • Yagi   - A type of beam antenna. Most television antennas are Yagis.
  • YL   - Young lady.


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