Wednesday, March 13, 2019

73 - More important than ever!


The purpose, use, and importance of the exchange of a matching set of "73" codes as the final salutation of each party in a conversation (QSO) between Amateur Radio Operators (AROs aka HAMs) has been the subject of divergent opinion.  This is especially true of digital modes such as FT8 where great effort has been made to shortening the already diminutive 1.75 minute length of a QSO from its initial call or "CQ" to the final and mutual "73" codes.  This has led to oft-times contentious, if not heated, debates about the need for sending the last on both "73" by both parties.

Monitoring QSO habits suggests opinions fall in 3 main groups - those who:
  • seek a full and proper logging of a QSO to its respectful and full conclusion resulting in a mutually agreed to confirmation of transmission (QSL).  Call them "ProFormas".
  • are interested in contesting or DXing and seek the fastest way to QSL in contests with time limits or heavily sought-after "DXpeditons" to rare locations. Call them "Contesters".
  • treat QSLing as a casual activity and do not care about a full and proper exchange that assures the certitude of both parties of a QSL status. Call them "Casuals".
ProFormas: The 1st group are those who seek complete and diligent QSLs with each party doing their best to assure the other that the QSO was properly confirmed and logged. For them, a log is a careful record of activity and achievement than can entail 1,000s of hours and decades of effort.

Contesters: The 2nd group is more concerned with maximizing the QSLs made in a fixed time period (contesting) or to deal with DX operators being sought ("Fox") by 10's of AROs ("Hounds") every second.  In both cases, participants are willing to forgo certitude for increased QSL rates.

An important aspect of both ProFormas and Contesters/DXers is that they operate within a well-defined set of rules.  Although they may shorten or modify the message train, it is, nonetheless, a formalized ad hoc protocol that participants must abide by in order to be logged as a QSL.

Casuals: The 3rd group doesn't care about certitude, mutual assistance, or protocol. For them, QSLing is a casual pastime wherewith they prefer to do the minimum to enjoy sporadic contacts.   Much like dropping by a pub to share a few rounds with strangers who seem to share some interests but aren't inclined to devote any time to - unless chemistry intervenes.

To help understand the value of "73", let's start by looking at the minimum set of QSO message types for a digital QSL - from the initial (directed call) or "CQ" to the final "73".

For this example, let us use the popular FT8 mode which, by design, distills the essence of a complete QSL transmission to the least number of messages - 7 to be exact - each of which is transmitted within synchronized alternating 15 second time intervals, buckets, or packets. That's 7 x 15 which is 105 seconds or 1m 45s.  That assumes the digital software modem (e.g., WSJT.) is set to auto message sequencing, all messages are received, and all are responded to without errors.

Table 1a: Standard steps and formats for an FT8 transmission and QSL
#Message FormatExampleRemark
1CQ Oper1 GridCQ KT1TK FN42KT1TK/Grid FN42 calling anyone.
2Oper1 Oper2 GridKT1TK WD4HIP EL96Hi KT1TK. I am WH4HIP/Grid EL96.
3Oper2 Oper1 SigDBWD4HIP KT1TK -04Hi. Your signal's -4db, what's mine?
4Oper1 Oper2 SigDBKT1TK WD4HIP +02Yours is +2db. All good to close?
5Oper2 Oper1 RRRWD4HIP KT1TK RRRGot Report. Ready. Waiting your 73.
6Oper1 Oper2 73KT1TK WD4HIP 73All good. Best wishes. Waiting your 73.
7Oper2 Oper1 73WD4HIP KT1TK 73Got your 73. QSL. Best wishes. Out!

The essential and respectful aspect of this exchange is that both parties ensure the other has what they need with their matching 73's.  This is not only good telecom practice and social etiquette, it also fulfills the mandate of AROs to help others and spread goodwill - a fundamental tenet of their licensing. Remember your licensing studies and exam questions?

Table 1b: Steps reduced by 1 if initial message targets a specific call.
#Message FormatExampleRemark
1CQ Oper1 GridWD4HIP KT1TK FN42KT1TK/Grid FN42 calling WH4HIP.
2Oper1 Oper2 SigDBKT1TK WD4HIP -04Hi. Your signal's -4db, what's mine?
3Oper2 Oper1 SigDBWD4HIP KT1TK +02Yours is +2db. All good to close?
4Oper1 Oper2 RRRKT1TK WD4HIP RRRGot Report. Ready. Waiting your 73.
5Oper2 Oper1 73WD4HIP KT1TK 73All good. Best wishes. Waiting 73.
6Oper1 Oper2 73KT1TK WD4HIP 73Got your 73. QSL. Best wishes. Out!

Concatenated message code "RR73" eliminates one step.

Can the number of messaging steps be reduced even further whilst maintaining proper protocol, etiquette and respect?  Yes, but carefully. Later versions of the digital protocols allow the sending of a combined "RRR" and "73" in the form of a "RR73".  As shown below, this eliminates one cycle (a) without sacrificing etiquette or integrity of the QSL certification, (b) reduces the cycles to 6 and (c) incidentally changes who says the concluding "73".

Table 2a: Reducing 7-step CQ call to 6 by using concatenated response, "RR73"

#Message FormatExampleRemark
1CQ Oper1 GridCQ KT1TK FN42KT1TK from Grid FN42 calling anyone.
2Oper1 Oper2 GridKT1TK WD4HIP EL96Hi, this is WH4HIP from Grid EL96.
3Oper2 Oper1 SigDBWD4HIP KT1TK -04Hi. Your signal's -4db, what's mine?
4Oper1 Oper2 SigDBKT1TK WD4HIP +02Yours is +2db. All good to close?
5Oper2 Oper1 RRRWD4HIP KT1TK RR73Got Report. Ready to QSL. Waiting 73.
6Oper1 Oper2 73KT1TK WD4HIP 73Got your 73. QSL. Best wishes. Out!

Using "RR73" reduces even further the already shortened cycle of a "directed call" (one initiated to a specific call - not a CQ to "anyone"), dropping the cycles to 5.

Table 2b: Reducing 6-step directed call to 5 by using concatenated response, "RR73"
#Message FormatExampleRemark
1CQ Oper1 GridWD4HIP KT1TK FN42KT1TK from Grid FN42 calling WH4HIP.
2Oper1 Oper2 SigDBKT1TK WD4HIP -04Hi. Your signal's -4db, what's mine?
3Oper2 Oper1 SigDBWD4HIP KT1TK +02Yours is +2db. All good to close?
4Oper1 Oper2 RRRKT1TK WD4HIP RR73Got Report. Ready to QSL. Waiting 73.
5Oper2 Oper1 73WD4HIP KT1TK 73Got your 73. QSL. Best wishes. Out!

A point I hope the reader gleans from the preceding examples is that each QSO message, as in any respectful exchanges, is NOT about what it means to you but what it mean to the other party.

Example: If your "73" is first in a QSO, the QSO is not over till you receive acknowledgement of its receipt via your receiving their final "73".  If you don't get one, you don't know if they got yours. So, it is incumbent upon you to repeat your "73" a number of times until you do. If you still don't receive the final "73", then the band died, the other party is inexperienced, they had an emergency or they blew a fuse. In such cases, I often send a "NO QSO NO LOG". In many cases, that seems to strangely and immediately improve band conditions as the final "73" miraculously appears.

To log or not to log - what is a log?
Logging is a topic unto itself and deserving of a complete separate treatment.  However, in the case of this article on "73", the topic rears its head.  To wit: Should we log an incomplete digital QSO?  In so much as our mandate (albeit no longer the law) is to record *all* our uses of the airways, then should we not log all incomplete QSOs?  That gets a little hazy with the extreme brevity of digital modes whose sole purpose is to log a QSL - not carry on a prolonged conversation.  Conversely, with the advent of fast and painless logging options like QRZ.com or PC-based logs like ACLog, HRDLog, et al, logging every transmission could not be easier.

I admit, excluding incomplete QSOs enticed me as it makes my logbook tidier, more compact, and just prettier.  However, my desire to achieve the highest level of compliance steers me back to the fold. After all, the percentage of incomplete digital QSOs is well less than 5%.  So there is no contest. An incomplete entry's lack of a confirmed flag as well as my own comment in the log entry such as "Incomplete" makes the entry's status clear while adhering to proper logging practice.

Enjoy ... 73

No comments:

Post a Comment