Calling CQ: Appropriate Methods

Let us take a look at the art of calling CQ and various styles and methods that would be appropriate to what you want to achieve, and how we can improve our results from CQ calls and get more replies and thus more Quality Telegraphy Time QSO!

Perhaps you have listened around the band and found nothing to reply to, or perhaps you are a “caller”. There are those who are primarily “callers” and those who are primarily “listeners”, and some that are half way between. Without both types, no contacts would take place!

Imagine if no one called CQ again and again, then everyone would be listening and nothing would happen. Or, imagine if everyone called CQ all the time, on different frequencies without anyone listening up and down the band, again no QSO would take place!

It is very educational to have a listen on the band, especially in more active locations such as Europe. Very often you will hear many stations on different frequencies calling CQ. And, you will often hear CQ calls without results, no one answers, as they are incorrectly ending only with <AR> (thanks to IARU “Ethics” misinformation!) or silence. You will also hear CQ calls several times without answer, the caller gives up or QSY and thens someone answers.

So, all of this will be addressed in this article, on how to improve our CQ results.

Choose an appropriate CQ Method for you!

What do you want to achieve? What is your conditions of noise level, power? These are things that will affect the many options available of different types of CQ methods, and you don’t have to use only one method, you can change them at will. So let’s look at some of the objectives, conditions and results.

Let’s say you want to achieve quantity over quality, and fill your log with callsigns and 5NN prefilled in your computer log. This is not QTT, but there are those who get more satisfaction with the quantity than the quality. Appropriate for such is that they do NOT want to receive a reply from a QTT who will want a real QSO.

If this is the objective, to fill the log with callsigns and avoid QTT, firstly, choose a frequency low in the band, NOT in the TOP9 or TOP5 where QTT is expected. Secondly, your CQ method can be brief and repetitive: CQ CALLSIGN BK CQ CALLSIGN BK or any variation thereof. You can even violate the principle of inviting an answer and just end with silence, end with <AR> or use any other incorrect procedure. Do not use DE in your CQ call no matter which method you use, to signal that you are in a hurry: just CQ followed directly by your CALLSIGN. You’ll stack your log with calls.

Conversely the QTT should be looking especially in the TOP5, and starting from the top of the band downwards, the opposite direction from the 5NN-TU. When the QTT hears CQ calls that are short, seem automated, or do not end with a K or a PSE K, these are best ignored to avoid disappointment.

In this way both groups are without friction and achieve the results they wish for.

So what other options and considerations are there, for Quality True Telegraphists who are looking for Quality Telegraphy Time?

If you have a high noise level, do NOT opt for very long CQ calls because those who can hear your signal weak and far away will respond, and you will not hear them, causing frustration and time wasting for your callers.

Instead use a 3X3 (meaning CQ three times followed by DE and then your callsign 3 times) and end with PSE K or K or <AR> K or <AR> PSE K or BK. No matter what, any QTT CQ must end with a K nor ifs or buts.

If you are QRP, and/or your noise level is low, and you are not running QRO but just barefoot with low noise level, then on  your first CQ,  you can use a 3X3 but if you don’t get a response increase it to a double 3X3, meaning 2X(3X3) in a row, and always end with PSE K, not just K, you’ll see why soon.

If you still don’t get an answer, continue with leisurely longer 3X3X3 calls ending PSE K, each call will take around one minute long. This gives more time for stations to tune in, more opportunity for DX to copy your callsign, and, it filters out the non-QTT responses that will disappoint you.

If you still do not get an answer either repeat and keep repeating, or have a tune around to see if  you can find others calling CQ, but you also might want to keep a check on, or return to your original frequency again if no results, or, at least close by it (within say 1kHz or less).

Sometimes stations are slow to respond, they need to go outside to change an antenna, arrange a cup of tea, or tune up, give fair warning to XYL or OM that they’re QRL. Especially QTT who wish to have a nice long relaxing QSO.

If you are QRO and not operating QSK, then you ideally don’t do more than a 3X3 each time before ending again with a PSE K if you are looking for QTT.

In all the above cases of QTT seeking QTT  you want to end with PSE K, and here is why, and it is not about being polite, it is about increasing your results, meaning, getting more replies, and also the quality of those replying who don’t want to have a 5NN-TU:

Ending your CQ with PSE K has multiple advantages:

  1. More quantity of replies: many are those who will tune in and hear the end of your CQ without the CQ they hear you callsign at the end. If you end with PSE K they absolutely know you were calling CQ and can answer, without waiting for you to call again to see if you were calling CQ or not, and without the risk of you having given up on your final CQ.
  2. More quality of replies: those who are looking to fill their log with callsigns and nothing else, and derive satisfaction from the quantity alone, are not going to reply to a long 3X3X3 CQ which ends with PSE K.

If you feel that a long 3X3X3 is inappropriate as you are nervous about keeping people waiting, relax: those looking for QTT love hearing CW including a long CQ provided it isn’t only “CQ” ten times in a row. If you are still nervous about it you can end the first and second 3X3 in the series with BK or QSK and end the final 3X3 in the series with PSE K.

If you are nervous about getting multiple replies due to a longer CQ, remember you should at first in any case start with a 3X3 as mentioned earlier, before a 2X3X3 and then if still no results 3X3X3 henceforth.

NOTE: this does not HAVE to be 3X3, you can vary that according to your conditions or your taste. It might be 2X2, 3X4 or even a series with 4X2+3X3+2X2 whatever your fancy, the important thing is end with PSE K at the very end for the reasons mentioned above.

What about Speed?

You can vary it, you might be ready for QRQ and so send at least a 25 WPM or more, if you go above that in the CQ however, you are likely to not get calls from slower operators. A good middle ground speed for the capable QTT who is happy for either QRQ or QRS is between 18 and 22 WPM.

This may also depend on your mood, you should be comfortable and relaxed. You may like to send CQ on a straight key at 12WPM, 15WPM whatever. When doing QRS below 18WPM you do not want to do a 3X3X3 however, as you make slower CQ calls, you should time the entire call to not be longer than about one minute.

What about QSK?

It is up to you. If you use QSK during a CQ you may want to mention that as covered earlier above, by including BK or QSK in the CQ.

What to do if more than one station answers?

The usual process is to choose one and answer one, trying to answer both at once, or asking one to <AS> rarely succeeds and will usually be more unfair to those who replied. Select one and ignore the other. If they are QRM and you did not copy either one, but got part of a callsign, send that part of the callsign and ? PSE AGN. If you heard one or more calling but did not get part of the callsign send QRZ? QRZ? QRZ? (three times if they are weak, or once if they are very strong) PSE AGN K – it may be best NOT to put DE YOURCALL here because this invites the possibility of others who just tuned in also calling!

Give the change to the person(s) who already called you and have your callsign. Don’t give chance for new comers to hijack (unintentionally) your call and get a QSO, wasting the effort of those who already are trying.

What to do if the station is at or below noise level?

If you get a reply to your CQ and the station is not comfortable to listen to, do NOT simply ignore it and continue calling CQ, that is rude, and will waste their time as they may wait and call you again.

Instead consider this: they might be QRP with mW and hearing you S9! They might have a lower noise level than you. They might be in the noise now but rise above it soon. So, you should acknowledge their call and at very least give them one, two or three attempts to call until you get their callsign.

Do this as above mentioned with QRZ? PSE AGN K (or BK) without resending of your callsign for reasons mentioned above. If you do get part of their call, include that with ? e.g. DL2B? DL2B? or JA? or BNQ? PSE AGN K

If you have tried several times and don’t wish to continue trying, you can send “SRI SRI WEAK” or “SRI QSB” or “SRI QRN 73 73” as they are hearing you but you aren’t hearing them, this politely tells them sorry, can’t do, try later.

On the other hand, if you enjoy copying weak signals in the noise and find it a challenge and are prepared to keep trying, just continue with the above method until you have the callsign complete. If they want to give up before you they can and you’ll either hear “73” or silence.

If you do get the callsign, make sure to send them an HONEST report, and especially the “R” — do NOT send 559 or 539 if you have had all this trouble copying their callsign, it would be R2 (readable at times) or R3 (readable with difficulty. It CANNOT be an R4, or R5, or R1 (not readable).

Send their report at least 3 times, maybe 5 times, and since they called you and are hearing you, you can also send your QTH and NAME, and now because you send e.g. RST 229 or 339, they are going to repeat your RST many times.

Can I automate my CQ?

Yes, but within reason. Don’t automate the CQ with autorepeat in beacon mode and leave the room, or not have the volume up high etc to hear any responses, you aren’t a beacon!

Programming the appropriate CQ into a macro and hitting the button, is acceptable. Using a decoder is not acceptable. Make sure you don’t sound like a no-code 5NN-TU DCW (Digital CW) user, but a CW Operator: make sure your automated CQ ends with PSE K.

Hopefully this post has shown that there aren’t only many different ways of calling CQ, but there are ways to greatly improve your chances not only of getting a reply, but, of getting a reply of the appropriate type of QSO you are looking for and separating the 5NN-TU from the QTT.

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