The Case for CW Calling Frequencies and How to Use?

Is there a need for CW Calling Frequencies, rather than only “Centres of Activity”? And if so, will it increase or decrease on air activity? What would be the advantages? And how to use them? 

CW can be used on any frequency within the amateur radio band, the only mode which is allowed to do so. Traditionally however, almost all CW activity takes place in the “CW only” section, generally the lower part of the band.

Any clear frequency can be used for calling CQ, and there is much enjoyment from the surprise one gets of a call being answered, never knowing where it may be.

Centres of Activity such as TOP5, or those of various CW clubs, are also helpful for finding QTT type QSO. So, why would there be a need for a calling frequency or frequencies, and what would be their purposes?

Here are a few examples of why dedicated calling frequencies are useful:

  • You lost a QSO in QRM or after a QSY, where to re-establish contact?
  • You want to know and be able to take advantage of 10m openings
  • You want to be standby on a useful frequency while doing other things
  • You want to be able to establish a sked QSO easily at a certain time
  • You want to be able to be reached by, or reach other friends easily
  • You want to have a quick and easy idea of propagation
  • You have called CQ on a quiet band and given up, let’s try calling freq.

These are some examples of why true and dedicated calling frequencies are useful. Now, let us address some of the difficulties and concerns:

Q: Will the use of Calling Frequencies increase or decrease band occupancy?

A: Clearly it will increase band use. Many more QSO will take place that otherwise would not have, looking at the above list would make that clear.

Q: We can’t dedicate a calling frequency in amateur radio, as anyone can use any unoccupied frequency.

A: Correct. However, there have been successes in the past and there are workarounds, which we’ll address in more details further below.

Q: FISTS have tried this, and failed, amateurs are not experienced at moving off a frequency after establishing contact, how to make this work?

A: Indeed. The key is having a few very simple rules, and a few additional recommendations. The simple rules are established and propagated by setting routine example among regular calling frequency users.

What are past examples of successful CW Calling Frequencies?

The most famous one, was for world wide ship and shore stations, 500kHz. Those who have had the good fortune to have listened there before Morse Code was abandoned for ships at sea, will know just how wonderful it was.

Amateur radio examples included 144.050MHz on 2m, and also for a few years, 7050kHz in Australia. In China and Thailand 7023kHz is used.

What would the conditions for success be?

For calling frequencies to be a success and useful and to actually be established in practice as such, and NOT as yet another “CoA” frequency, a few simple rules are necessary.

The rules are adopted by all those who like the idea of calling frequencies, and should ensure that the many benefits mentioned earlier are not destroyed.

For example, if too many CQ calls from one station over and over are heard, or if QSO take place on the calling frequency after establishing contact, then those monitoring it while otherwise engaged, will not do so. Nor will those who wish to make use of it be able to do so.

What would the simple rules be?

  1. Calls no longer than format 3X3
  2. No more than 3 calls in any 5 minute period
  3. QSY after establishing contact

Let’s look at these 3 simple rules in more details as to how to use them!

If I want to call CQ, I can call CQ CQ CQ DE AB1CD AB1CD AB1CD PSE K (this is a maximum 3X3), or if I want to call a specific station, or on a sked: G1XYZ G1XYZ G1XYZ DE AB1CD AB1CD AB1CD KN

I can look at the clock, and repeat this up to 3 times in total within any five minute period on the clock face. This allows for sufficient calls from any one station, and helps to space them out with no more than 3 in succession, unless crossing into a new five minute block. Easy and simple to do.

But how to easily QSY after contact? 

There are a few good options here!

You could find a clear frequency first, QRL? to check it is clear, then go to the Calling Frequency and make your call. If someone answers, send their callsign DE your callsign QSY ____ giving the frequency, or, UP 2 etc.

Another good alternative is, when you get a reply, come back to that station and slowly drift your VFO up or down from the calling frequency by at least 200 or 300 Hz. They can and will easily follow you, and you are now clear of the frequency, can stop drifting, complete your over and you’re in QSO!

This second one is a good way to do it for those who are NOT used to the concept of moving off a Calling Frequency, which is essential for it to fulfill its purpose. Anyone can do it, be the leader drifting up or down, and anyone even a beginner, can and will follow a slowly drifting signal.

Needless to say, you can hear whether the frequency just 200-300Hz above or below the Calling Frequency is in use or not. If both directions are in use, then you have no other option but to say <AS><AS>, go find a clear frequency, then come back and reply again to the station and send the QSY information.

OK, so how would we decide on a calling frequency or frequencies?

This is the difficult part. Logical would seem to use the 050 on most bands, or on 30m, 025. But this has its problems, those frequencies are more often used and so this may be a concern about causing QRM.

Few radio amateurs these days however, use frequencies ending in 0.5kHz. Everyone likes to have a nice round .000 on their digital readout. So, finding calling frequencies that end with .5 may be more desirable.

Possible candidates include those that are in the centre of the TOP5 frequencies, such as

Or do you prefer the top most be used (danger of digital QRM) e.g. 14070 etc, or the bottom most edge of TOP 5 e.g. 7035, 10125, 14065, 18090, 21065, etc?

Which of those frequencies should I call or listen on?

So, let’s say there are all these frequencies agreed upon by a sufficient number of CW operators who like the idea of a calling frequency for the many potential benefits earlier mentioned above. Which one should I listen on?

One could simply choose your favorite band, or the band you want to stand by or call on, or, you could use the ALG Clock or the QTT Activity Clock to decide.

I love the idea, how can I make it a success?

Here are some ideas on how to spread the idea, and also how to use it with success, as well as how to establish it with a core group of stations that understand the 3 simple rules (Max 3X3, Max 3 in any 5 min clock period, QSY for QSO):

  • Print the QSX frequencies (QSX = I am listening on…) on your web pages, Email signatures, QSL cards, e.g. QSX 7037.5, 14067.5, 18067.5, 28067.5 etc.
  • Participate regularly in QSX. When you are not calling CQ or tuning around but doing other things, also set your RX to a QSX frequency, maybe even with narrow filter on and squelch up if you want no noise.
  • Make regular use of the QSX (Calling) frequencies, call CQ up to 3 times in any 5 minute period. Call on top of other callers (this is acceptable on a busy calling frequency! Just shift your TX by say 50-100Hz either side)
  • Educate others during an on air QSO or rag chew, explain the CW calling frequencies and the 3 simple rules (no more than 3X3 calling, no more than 3 calls in any 5 minute clock period, and QSY off after contact).

Again, this idea will not decrease use of the CW bands, it will increase it, for the obvious reasons given earlier. Nor will it stop people calling CQ on other frequencies or searching around for CQ calls. Only a minority will even get to hear about the Calling/QSX Frequencies, but they ADD VALUE to our hobby.

We propose a period of feedback on which calling frequencies would be appropriate if not the above mentioned ones at the centre of TOP5. We propose those because 1. it is a more quiet and underused part of the band, and 2. that part of the band needs much more activity to prevent being lost.

What would your thoughts be? Tell us in the comments. 

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