Evolving CW Procedures: Example of the [CT] Prosign

As explained well in “Zen and the Art of Radiotelegraphy”, CW today is continually evolving. As Quality True Telegraphists this is an important subject for us, so we must understand this correctly.

This post will address the general subject of the evolving CW protocols or procedures, and give an example with the <CT> character (-.-.-) while showing that some evolution of CW procedures is negative and to be resisted, while other changes are either harmless or positive.

It may be necessary to also point out that some standards which were agreed upon perhaps a hundred years ago are just as important to keep today, while others were abandoned, and some are undergoing change.

We want to avoid the confusions that some publications, promoted by IARU and containing serious errors, have brought to the world of CW operators. This series of articles in the Operating category of this blog will address good operating practice and procedures.

Today we are going to take a look at the <CT> Prosign. A Prosign for us means a CW character which is not a letter, number or other character, nor a  question mark, apostrophe, forward slash etc. A Prosign, signals an important abbreviation for a required action in a single Morse Code unit.

Examples of prosigns include:

<AS> – Please wait
<AR> – End of Message
<SK> – End of All Transmissions
<BT> – Separation character (sometimes written down as “=” )

We will write Prosigns which are send as a single Morse character, in the form of the two letters which are joined together, for example: <AR> is not AR as two letters, it is di-dah-di-dah-dit (.-.-.) send as a single letter, which sounds like an A joined with an R. Note that <AR> could equally be <EC> or <RN> but the convention for the Prosign .-.-. is to write it in literature such as this blog post as <AR> or with a line above the AR.

And yet, Prosigns are not written down on paper in that form, they either have a meaning which is not generally written down, for example if you hear <AS> you know you just have to wait as the other operator is asking you to wait, maybe you send “R” to confirm you are waiting, or maybe you are silent, but you should not send anything more than an R so as not to disturb the other operator. Yet, you don’t write <AS> on a paper, you just perform the action.

While you might write <AR> as “+” on the paper if you needed to signal the official end of the message, as some do, but again in general you just know that when you hear <AR> this means “End of Message”, so if you were writing, for example a formal message, it is now time to stop writing on the form or paper.

So what about today’s subject and how it is related to the evolution of CW operation practices, procedures and general usage within Amateur Radio?

Well, not all that long ago, perhaps a few decades ago now, it was common to hear <CT> at either the very start of a transmission by a radio amateur, or even at the start of each over. Some may have sent it before sending the callsigns right at the start of the transmission, others after sending the callsigns and signaling the start of the transmission of information.

Let us first understand the meaning of and how it was applied to other radiotelegraphy services: in services which exchange formal messages such as telegrams it means simply the start of a formal message. It did not mean start of transmission, but rather, <CT> was a signal to the receiving operator that from this point onwards it is a message and it should be recorded.

So when an operator hears <CT> he or she must grab a pen, or typewriter, and start writing down everything that follows, all the way up until they hear an <AR> which signals the end of the formal message and thus to stop recording.

Amateur radio is much less formal, so <CT> just became loosely used as a starting signal, a suggestion perhaps to now grab your pen because I’m going to send you your report, my QTH and my name. However, until this day, those radio amateurs who exercise formal messaging in case of emergencies, still use <CT> and in that correct manner to signal the start of the formal message.

Thus, if today you ever hear <CT> it might be a good idea to grab that pen and start writing, because maybe you are going to receive an important message. There is no harm in doing so, and a Qualified True Telegraphist would know that he or she should start writing.

However, we are using this as an example of the evolution of CW within amateur radio and how the <CT> character or Prosign is no longer in popular usage at the start of overs or of series of transmissions, other than within formal message practice networks, also known as “Traffic Nets” (QTC).

The dropping of the use of <CT> gradually over time, was a harmless development, as <CT> did not serve an essential purpose within general amateur radio QSO, and so dropping its use in standard CW QSO protocol is not a negative development. On the other hand, if QTT (Quality True Telegraphists) wish to use it during their QSO it is also not harmful in any way. It is purely optional.

This is a good example of an evolution of CW to more efficiency without any negative effects and without causing any harmful confusion or irritation.

There are other recent trends however which are harmful as they cause confusion, or loss of contacts, or irritation, none of which are good.

We will address those in some other blog posts.

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