Typical HF ham radio contact or QSO format

An overview or summary of the format of typical contacts or QSOs made by ham radio operators on the amateur radio HF bands and allocations.

QSO / contact formats includes:
HF QSO / contact format     Morse code QSO    

Amateur radio contacts can take a variety of forms on the HF ham radio bands. As a result, when starting out on the HF bands it helps to have an idea of the format for a contact and the procedures involved. In this way it is possible to converse with other ham radio operators in the most efficient and effect manner. In fact these procedures are particularly useful when conditions are poor and signal strengths are low or there are high levels of interference.

Often a ham radio contact will utilise several abbreviations and codes. These can be found on other pages in this section of the website. Indeed contacts themselves are often referred to as a QSO.

Many of the contacts that take place on the HF ham radio bands are what are termed" rubber stamp" contacts. These QSOs consist of a set format and do not normally involve long conversations. There are a number of reasons for this: they enable ham radio operators on the bands to make a good number of contacts within a certain time, and also for those ham radio operators who do not speak English as their first language it is relatively easy to have a contact using a minimum vocabulary. This saves one radio ham speaking for ages while the other cannot understand. However, many ham radio operators like to talk about far more than is contained within the basic contact. Often technical discussions may be heard, or ham stations may be describing the part of the world where they live. Whilst some will want to have long contacts and QSOs, it is important to know the basic elements or format of a contact first.

Ham radio QSO format

Contacts / QSOs on the HF amateur radio bands can be split down into a number of transmissions or "overs". While some contacts may be longer than others and contain more information, the general plan below will cater for most contacts and give an idea of what a QSO may contain.

  1. Before making any transmission it is necessary to listen on what may appear to be a clear frequency to ensure that nobody else is using it. It may be that a ham radio station is in contact, and he is listening to someone who you cannot hear. Only when it is certain that the frequency is clear should any transmission be made.
  2. A ham radio contact or QSO will often start off with a CQ or general call. A formula known as three times three is a good starting point, although it may be a little long for some people. The letters 'CQ', meaning that you want to have a contact, are repeated three times, and then the callsign (usually in phonetics) is repeated three times. This whole procedure is repeated three times. In this way the call is kept to a reasonable length and anyone listening is able to gain the callsign and the fact that a contact is wanted.
  3. Any ham radio station listening to the CQ call who wants a contact can then respond when invited to do so. He will normally give his call sign a couple of times using phonetics and then invite the other station to transmit.
  4. If the first station hears the caller and responds, he will announce the call signs and then normally wish him good day and then give a signal report. This is very useful. Not only does it tell the other ham radio station how he is being received and can give information about his station's performance but, if conditions are difficult, the contact can be tailored to meet the conditions. Once the report is given it is normal to give one's name and location. Then the call signs will be given and transmission handed over.
  5. The second station will follow a similar format, giving a report, his name and location. On the next transmission information about equipment in the station - the transmitter, receiver or transceiver and the antenna are often given. Details of the weather are also often mentioned. Again ham radio call signs are given at the beginning and end of each transmission.
  6. On the third transmission details about exchanging QSL cards may be given, especially if there are special instructions for this such as one station using a QSL manager. Then they may "sign off".
  7. Once a contact has finished it is perfectly permissible to call one of the stations. Normally the frequency 'belongs' to the person who called CQ on the frequency but, if the other ham radio station is called, he may ask to keep the frequency or move off to another one.

Giving call signs at the beginning and end of each transmission in the QSO may seem somewhat formal, especially for amateur radio contacts. However this fulfils legal requirements to identify the ham radio station (exact requirements are in the ham radio licence and will vary according to the country), but also serves to let the other station know exactly what is happening during the contact and when he is expected to transmit. Using good operating technique is very important and helps contact to be maintained with the minimum possibility of confusion, especially when conditions are poor or interference levels are high. In essence one of the keys to becoming a good operator is to let the other ham radio station know exactly what you are doing and not leave him guessing.

Typical HF band amateur radio contact:

Hello CQ CQ CQ, this is G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, CQ CQ CQ, this is G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, CQ CQ CQ, this is G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, and G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray is standing by for a call.

G3YWX, Golf three Yankee Whisky Xray, this is G3QAB, Golf three Quebec Alpha Bravo, Golf three Quebec Alpha Bravo

G3QAB, this is G3YWX. Good morning old man and thank you for the call. Your report is 5 and 9, 5 and 9. My name is Ian, India Alpha November, Ian, and the location is Staines, Sierra Tango Alpha India November Echo Sierra. So how do you copy. G3QAB this is G3YWX listening.

G3YWX here is G3QAB. Good morning Ian and thank you for the report. Your report is 5 and 9 as well. My name is Mike, Mexico India Kilo Echo, and I am located to the north of London, Lima Oscar November Delta Oscar November. So I'll pass it back to you and see how you copy. G3YWX this is G3QAB passing transmission back to you.

G3QAB this is G3YWX. Thank you very much for the report Mike, and it is good to talk to you for the first time. The equipment here is a small transceiver running about 50 watts and the antenna is a vertical. The weather here today is warm and sunny, about 23 degrees Celsius, although we did have a little rain earlier. So I wonder how you are copying. G3QAB here is G3YWX.

G3YWX this is G3QAB. Fine business Ian and your transmitter is doing a good job for you. I am running about 100 watts to a dipole at about ten metres. The weather here is wet and about ten degrees Celsius. So back to you, G3YWX here is G3QAB

G3QAB here is G3YWX. Fine there Mike, and your equipment is also doing a good job for you. I would like to exchange QSL cards. I will send mine via the bureau and I look forward to receiving yours. I don't have a lot more to say so I will wish you 73s to you and yours, and look forward to the next QSO. G3QAB here is G3YWX listening for your final.

G3YWX this is G3QAB. Yes OK there Ian. Thank you for the QSO. I'll certainly send a card via the bureau and look forward to receiving yours. Best 73 and I hope to have another contact with you further down the log. All the best. G3YWX this is G3QAB signing.

73s Mike, G3YWX clear.

Contest and DX contacts or QSOs

When a ham radio station in a very rare location is on the band or during contests, contacts or QSOs are usually kept much shorter to enable as many contacts as possible to be made. Usually the contact will consist of just the call signs of the stations and then a report. Speedy operating is of the essence under these conditions to ensure that others are not kept waiting and as many contacts as possible are made.

Before making a contact with a DX station in a pile-up, it is worth taking some time to listen to find out exactly what is going on. Sometimes the ham radio station may operate what is termed split frequency where he transmits on one frequency and listens on another to facilitate more orderly management of the pile-up, especially when stations may call in out of turn.

Once sure, then it is possible to call, making sure it is at exactly the right time to give the best chance of making contact and gaining a QSO.


Making QSOs or contacts on the HF ham radio or amateur radio bands, or any other ham radio bands and frequency allocations is a skill that is gained as one become more familiar with operating and transmitting. However a start has to be made, and having a basic formula for a contact can help to provide a structure to know what to say during the QSO and also maintain the right procedures.

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