Answering Your Questions VIII - Keynote # 2, 2003
In the next to last column last year I asked for your questions which I promised to answer in the first column of 2003. Well, I got enough questions to fill a couple of columns and that leaves me in a bind because I also promised to finish my tour of the bands and the QRP results to be expected from each one. This month and the month after next I'll try to answer the questions received, while next month will finish up the band tour.
This first question is excerpted from a letter from Dave, N1PT in Lancaster, NH. Dave asks, "I haven't been too sure about R-S-T. I want to get it right for QRP. The "R" seems straightforward and somewhat objective in its definition. However "S" seems a little ambiguous and with the K-1 I will have no meter to help me. Also it seems most of the rigs I hear give a pure "T". Could you give some "rules of thumb" to help me with the report I give."
Well Dave, I'll try. Let's first take a look at the T portion of the RST system. As you say, virtually every modern day rig emits a T9 signal. This wasn't always true and at one time you really did hear signals that fit all 9 categories. If you want to hear what that was like, tune in when the Antique Wireless Association has one of its 1929 parties where participants use rigs built as they were in 1929. I think if you do run across a signal that has a buzz, hum, etc. you should tell the station by giving him other than a T9, then if he inquires about it, explain what you are hearing in his signal. Otherwise in 99.9 percent of the cases, just give the standard T9.
As you say the R portion of the RST is pretty straightforward in its workings. If you have no trouble whatsoever copying the station that's an R5 and right down the line to an R1 when you can perhaps just hear the station but can't really copy anything. Just don't give an R5 to someone who answered your CQ and you had to ask him for several repeats before you got his call right. That's an R3 probably, at best.
It's hard to divide the strength of a signal into 9 distinct levels, so don't worry about the S portion of the RST all that much. Just don't give someone an S9 report when you can barely hear them, nor give someone an S3 report because you know he is running QRP, but he is really just as strong as most other signals on the band.
In my years of giving and receiving RST reports in some 58,000 QSO's, I find that the following is probably more realistic than the official definitions. S9 means one of two things - you're in a contest where everybody gives 599 reports to everyone even if you can barely copy a station - or - the station really does have a very strong signal comparable to the strongest signals you hear on a band. S7 describes an average signal - not overly strong nor too weak - kind of well, average. S5 is generally used universally for the weakest signals that can be reliably copied on a band. Then there are S8 and S6 for when you can't decide between S7 and S9 or S5 and S7. The S4, 3, 2 and 1 values are seldom used except when you are really having difficulty copying a signal because it is so weak. Just about universally when someone gives an R3 it will be coupled with an S3 for a 339 report which generally means you are very weak and I'm having a hard time copying you. You don't hear a lot of 549, 539, 529, 519 reports. Generally an R4 or lower reading accompanies an S4 or weaker signal.
The bottom line is don't fret about it all that much. There are more important things to worry about in life. Just don't always be giving 599 reports to stations you can barely copy (unless you're contesting) and don't be afraid to give 339 reports for fear of hurting someone's feelings. If you are having a lot of trouble copying someone weak, giving a 339 report may encourage them to QRS or QSZ to make copy easier for you.
I got a bit wound up on that one, so here's a short question and answer now. George, AC7AI writes "Just read your article in The Keynote and was intrigued by your question on the Aldis Lamp. I am guessing that this is the lamp used for marine applications but that's just a guess on my part. What was the final answer as to the fastest speed?"
That's a good guess because you are absolutely right. Of course there is no definitive answer to fastest speed, but I believe the answer I got at the time was around 18-20 WPM.
That was not really a QRP related question, but since I mentioned the Aldis Lamp, I thought I should answer it in the column. I wonder what a QRP Aldis Lamp is - using a 5 watt light bulb instead of a 100 watt bulb? HI.
George also asks some other very interesting questions dealing with CW, but not really with QRP.
One final question this month from Moe, VE1QJ, "Hello John. Could you provide info about this digital mode known as PSK31? I have been on this mode for about two weeks and find it very exciting."
Well that is definitely a QRP question since PSK31 is supposedly a low power mode. However FISTS is a Morse Club and I don't think it would be proper to answer it here. I couldn't anyway because I know nothing whatsoever about PSK31 nor do I have any desire to learn. Morse code is my means of communication on amateur radio, nothing else - period. Moe, I hope you don't think I'm rude with that answer, I'm just answering honestly. I'm sure a good search on the Internet would turn up web sites that specialize in other amateur radio modes just as mine specializes in Morse.
And that's it for this month. My, these lines fly by fast. More of your questions the month after next and maybe beyond. Till then drop by at home.windstream.net/johnshan/ or drop me a note via email or John Shannon, 478 E. High St., Kittanning, PA 16201. I love hearing from you one way or another, especially via Morse on the ham bands. 73 -30-