Amateur Radio (Ham) Glossary

Compiled by Dick Oakes


I'm really new to amateur radio. In fact, I don't have an amateur radio Technician Class License yet and am just listening to repeaters on a Realistic PRO-39 scanner.

I became very frustrated at having to go to so many sources to find the terms for which I was looking that I started putting together my own list. So, here is an amateur radio glossary collected, collated, and expanded from many sources.

NOTE that abbreviations, acronyms, contractions, initialisms, symbols, and synonyms (such as ARRL meaning "American Radio Relay League") follow the meaning instead of preceding it.

ANOTHER NOTE: If, while looking for an initialism, for instance ARRL, and you find there are too many references, you may want to click and jump to the SUPPLEMENT version to find the translation!

Here are a few suggestions for site searches:

Should you find a term or a definition that is a bit screwy or mispelled, contact me and let me know the correction so I can fix it!


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To the top! = "Top of page"

To the top!   #

To the top!   A

To the top!   B

To the top!   C

To the top!   D

To the top!   E

To the top!   F

To the top!   G

To the top!   H

To the top!   I

To the top!   J

To the top!   K

To the top!   L

To the top!   M

To the top!   N

AAlfa (AL-fah)
BBravo (BRAH-voh)
CCharlie (CHAR-lee — SHAR-lee)
DDelta (DELL-tah)
EEcho (ECK-oh)
FFoxtrot (FAHKS-traht)
GGolf (GOLF)
HHotel (hoh-TELL)
IIndia (IN-dee-ah)
JJuliet (JEW-lee-et)
KKilo (KEE-loh)
LLima (LEE-mah)
MMike (MIKE)
NNovember (noh-VEM-ber
OOscar (OSS-kah)*
PPapa (pah PAH)
QQuebec (keh-BEHCK)
RRomeo (ROW-mee-oh)
SSierra (see-AIR-ah)
TTango (TANG-goh)
UUniform (YOU-nee-form — OO-nee-form)
VVictor (VIK-tah)*
WWhiskey (WISS-kee)
XX-ray (EKS-ray)
YYankee (YANG-key)
ZZulu (ZOO-loo)
* NOTE: The pronunciations for Oscar and Victor weredesigned for speakers from all international languages.

To the top!   O

To the top!   P

To the top!   Q

To the top!   R
Readability (Voice and CW)
2Barely readable, occasional words distiguishable
3Readable with considerable difficulty
4Readable with practically no difficulty
5Perfectly readable
Signal Strength (Voice and CW)
1Faint signals, barely perceptible
2Very weak signals
3Weak signals
4Fair signals
5Fairly good signals
6Good signals
7Moderately strong signals
8Strong signals
9Extremely strong signals
Tone (CW only)
1Sixty cycle AC or less; very rough and broad.
2Very rough AC; very harsh and broad
3Rough AC tone; rectified but not filtered
4Rough tone; some trace of filtering
5Filtered rectified AC; strongly ripple-modulated
6Filtered tone; definite trace of ripple modulation
7Near pure tone; trace of ripple modulation
8Near perfect tone; slight trace of ripple modulation
9Perfect tone; no trace of ripple modulation
If the signal has the characteristic steadiness of crystal control, add the letter X to the RST report.
If there is a chirp, add the letter C to the RST report.
If there is a click, add the letter K to the RST report.


  • Begin by listening. You will learn just listening to the folks who have been around for a while. Get the feel for how the locals do it on a particular repeater.
  • Start a contact by saying "<your call sign> listening (or monitoring or mobile or portable)."
  • When you stop transmitting, you'll hear the unmodulated repeater carrier (the squelch tail) for a second or two that lets you know that the repeater is working.
  • To join a conversation in progress, transmit your call sign during a break between transmissions.
  • You can summon another call sign when the repeater is not in use. For example, say "<another call sign>, this is <your call sign>." If the other call sign is listening, s/he should then respond.
  • If you need to make a quick call and the repeater is in use, ask to make the quick call. After you are acknowledged, summon your friend but keep it short. Try to meet on another repeater or on a simplex frequency.
  • Pause before each transmission to allow others to break in.
  • Acknowledge a new arrival and permit her to make a call or join the conversation. It would be rude not to acknowledge her or not to let her speak.
  • Transmit your call sign at least every ten (10) minutes during a communication and at the end of a contact, per Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulation.
  • If you do not want to converse but simply want to check whether you are able to access a particular repeater, say "<your call sign> testing."
  • From time to time, you may want to demonstrate the capabilities of amateur radio to a non-amateur. The typical way to do this is to ask for a demo saying "<your call sign> for a demonstration." Anyone who is listening to the repeater can answer.
  • When you are looking for a signal report, the right way to do it is to say "<your call sign> looking for a signal report." Unless you have actually made some changes to your station, you may find that folks will tire of responding to you if you ask for a report day after day (or more often). If you're responding to a signal report request, make sure you're giving accurate information.
  • The commuting hours (drive times) should be left to the many mobile stations who have limited time to converse. Home-based stations should refrain from frequent or prolonged use of the repeater during these hours. The repeater is there to help extend the range of mobiles and portables, so be courteous and give them priority during commuting hours.
  • Following a roundtable, or rotation format is the best way for three or more to participate. Don't ignore people by not passing it to them for several turns.
  • Not all repeaters have courtesy tones. Sometimes we rely on courteous operators rather than courtesy tones.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits the transmission or retransmission of music. If you have a radio turned on, make sure that it's turned down before you transmit.
  • When you use phonetics for your call sign, be sure to use standard phonetics, such as NATO phonetic spelling, which are easily understood.
  • Do NOT use the word "break" to join a conversation. It is not considered good operating practice and is never used unless there is an emergency. If you want to join in, just transmit your call sign. If you hear an emergency call during your conversation with another station, stop transmitting, listen, and then acknowledge the station calling the emergency and let them have the frequency immediately! Say "break break," however, if it IS an emergency.
  • Do NOT complain.Be upbeat and courteous. This especially includes complaining about other hams, the repeater, or some aspect of the hobby.
  • Do NOT cough, clear your throat, or sneeze on the air — unkey your microphone first.
  • Do NOT call "CQ." Efficient communication is the goal.
  • Do NOT monopolize the repeater. If 90 percent of the conversations for long periods of time, night after night, include you and one or two others, something is wrong. If other hams turn off their radios for big blocks of time because they can hardly talk to someone other than you, something is wrong. You do not own, nor single handedly finance the repeater. It is suppose to be a shared resource. Don't drive other people off the air.
  • Do NOT use phrases learned on 11 meters (Citizen's Band) such as "good buddy," "come back," "got a good copy on me?," "handle" "making the trip," "the personal here is...," "what's your 20?," "you're giving me 20-pounds," and other strange phrases that should stay on CB. Speak plain English.
  • Do NOT use Q-signals. Speak plain English.
  • Do NOT use swear words. Even mild obscenities are not good operating practice. This includes suggestive phrases and suggestive phonetics.
  • Do NOT describe the actions of unsafe and discourteous drivers to us on the air. We all deal with them.
  • Do NOT discuss politics religion.
  • Do NOT argue.
  • Do NOT "kerchunk" by keying your microphone to check for a return carrier from the repeater. Observe the rules and identify yourself when you transmit. It can be as short and simple as "This is <your call sign>, testing, no response necessary."
  • If you make a mistake on the repeater, admit your mistake and apologize. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. Mistakes do happen and by admitting your mistake and trying to correct it in the future, you gain respect and show others that you are a responsible operator.
  • Ignore jammers and others who try to disrupt the repeater's normal operation. Without any reaction from the repeater users, they will have no audience and probably go away.
  • If you are someone who is the subject of frequent interference, it may be a sign that you are aggravating people with your operating habits. This may be a sign that it is time for you to adjust your attitude and use of the repeater. This isn't always the case, but history has shown that those who have the most trouble with jammers are the ones who have caused the most friction among the repeater users.

To the top!   S

To the top!   T

To the top!   U

To the top!   V

To the top!   W

To the top!   X

To the top!   Y

To the top!   Z


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