Signal Strength & Reports


The term “full quieting” in ham radio usually signifies a good quality signal on a repeater or FM transmission – it means that your signal is clear, free of static, and easily readable by others.

The phrase Picket Fencing is used to describe the way an FM transmitter will cut in and out as it nears the capture threshold of a moving receiver or transmitter as it passes through fresnel zones, thus chopping the speech of the transmitting operator. It refers to the way portions of speech are stripped from the conversation, as if the listener was walking by a picket fence, and hearing a conversation on the other side that changes audibly depending on the position of the pickets relative to the listener.

This phrase is also used to describe the same audio phenomenon in digital voice modes which is caused by various methods including being on the fringe of a coverage range. In some digital modes this is caused by “packet loss”

Another term which isn’t as much about a signal report but rather why a signal could be bad is multipath. Multipath is the propagation phenomenon that results n radio signals reaching the receiving antenna by two or more paths. Causes of multipath include atmospheric ducting, ionospheric reflection and refraction, and reflection from water bodies and terrestrial objects such as mountains and buildings. Just as it sounds the signal is taking multiple paths and can result in the same signal being received at the receiver at multiple time delays. Digital modes tend to be more susceptible to multipath.



Amateur radio users in the U.S. and Canada have used the R-S-T system since 1934. This system was developed by amateur radio operator Arthur W. Braaten, W2BSR. It reports the readability on a scale of 1 to 5, the signal strength on a scale of 1 to 9, and the tone of the Morse code continuous wave signal on a scale of 1 to 9. During amateur radio contests, where the rate of new contacts is paramount, contest participants often give a perfect signal report of 599 even when the signal is lower quality, because always providing the same signal format enables them to send Morse code with less thought and thus increased speed.

Obviously in phone or “voice” modes only the first R and S are used and often stated in the “5 by 9” fashion.

Readability Signal Strength
R1 Unreadable S1 Faint signals, barely perceptible
R2 Barely readable S2 Very weak signals
R3 Readable with difficulty S3 Weak Signals
R4 Readable with no difficulty S4 Fair signals
R5 Perfectly readable S5 Fairly good signals
  S6 Good signals
  S7 Moderately good signals
  S8 Strong signals
  S9 Extremely strong signals
T1 Extremely rough hissing note
T2 Very rough AC note, no trace of musicality
T3 Rough, low pitched AC note, slightly musical
T4 Rough AC note, moderately musical
T5 Musically modulated note
T6 Modulated note, slight trace of whistle
T7 Near DC note, smooth ripple
T8 Good DC note, just a trace of ripple
T9 Purest DC note

Plain-language radio checks

The move to plain-language radio communications means that number-based formats are now considered obsolete, and are replaced by plain language radio checks. These avoid the ambiguity of which number stands for which type of report and whether a 1 is considered good or bad. This format originated with the U.S. military in World War II, and is currently defined by ACP 125 (G), published by the Combined Communications Electronics Board.

The prowords listed below are for use when initiating and answering queries concerning signal strength and readability.

Proword Meaning
RADIO CHECK What is my signal strength and readability; how do you hear me?
ROGER I have received your last transmission satisfactorily.
NOTHING HEARD To be used when no reply is received from a called station.
Proword Meaning   Proword Meaning
LOUD Your signal is very strong. AND or BUT, depending on which prowords are combined CLEAR The quality of your transmission is excellent.
GOOD Your signal strength is good.   READABLE The quality of your transmission is satisfactory.
WEAK Your signal strength is weak.   UNREADABLE The quality of your transmission is so bad that I cannot read you.
VERY WEAK Your signal strength is very weak.   DISTORTED Having trouble reading you due to interference.
FADING At times your signal strength fades to such an extent that continuous reception cannot be relied upon.   WITH INTERFERENCE Having trouble reading you due to interference.
INTERMITTENT Having trouble reading you because your signal is intermittent.  


In the digital realm signal strength is irrelevant as it isn’t something that can be distinguished via the human ear. What can be reported upon is audio level which can be adjusted in a radio by the mic gain. Another item which can be reported on in some digital systems with forward error correction is packet loss. Basically the error correction isn’t able to piece the message together at 100% accuracy and therefore it results in choppy transmissions. We have all experienced this phenomenon with cellular telephones. This can be caused by many things, including weak signal, intermittent signal, multi-path and interference.

Amateur Radio Repeater Use Procedures & Etiquette

This is mostly for new HAMs but it’s a good review for all of us.

XID, using your call sign every 10 minutes and at the end of your transmission.
XLISTEN, listen, LISTEN! It is important to get a feel for who traffic is flowing on a repeater and how the current users are handling their conversation. You will always learn a lot by simply listening.
XPause between transmissions. “Quick keying” gives the appearance that other hams are unwelcome in your conversation, not to mention it prevents emergency traffic from breaking in.
XRepeaters can be open or closed. If a repeater is closed it is private to club users only. If you want to use that specific repeater, join the sponsoring club.
X Repeater communications should be kept to a minimum in case someone needs to use it for an emergency; always use simplex mode if you can.
Some repeaters are specifically for “rag chew” or just conversation. In these instances just make sure you are leaving an opportunity for others to get in.
X If you feel compelled to interrupt an existing conversation, remember that it is no more polite to do so on the air than if you did it in person.  Would you barge into a roomful of people engaged in a discussion without saying anything of interest? …or even worse, saying something completely unrelated to the topic of conversation?
XDon’t cough, clear your throat, laugh, or make little noises like hmmm or randomly saying yeah. Always be brief and don’t try to fill dead air. If you have nothing to say or nothing more to contribute back out of a conversation.
XXDon’t act like some sort of Broadcast Radio station.  Your fellow Amateurs  will most likely not appreciate such a blatant display of personal ego.
XWhen you need to break into a conversation, simply give out your call and wait for someone to acknowledge you.
XXIf you have an emergency, you may break into any communication on any frequency by saying EMERGENCY. Don’t use BREAK or BREAK BREAK, these aren’t universally understood. The word EMERGENCY is.
XTo make a call on a repeater to a specific person, give their call and then yours and wait for a response. If you suspect they may have a radio which is scanning, key up for a second before speaking and give their call twice before giving yours. Saying CQ on a repeater is frowned upon and may make you appear like a “newbie”.
XWhen doing a radio check, give your call and then radio check and wait for someone to call back. If you are just testing and don’t want a response, Give your call, then say testing, and then your call again and clear.
XKnow your own signal quality before responding to a signal or radio check. If you aren’t getting into the repeater or hearing it well, you aren’t going to be giving accurate information about someone else’s signal.
XThe word clear means someone is leaving their radio or shutting it off. Do not try to talk to someone after they have said they are clear.
X If one station calls another, and there is no answer, don’t be insulted if the calling station doesn’t respond if you “drop your call”. They may have been looking for someone specific and really aren’t interested in a general chat, or they may have moved to another frequency.
XXIt is no longer required by Part 97 to add mobile or portable to your call, but you will still hear those who do. While adding “mobile”, “portable”, or even “marine” isn’t required, there is certainly nothing wrong with continuing the practice. Doing so allows other to be aware of your circumstance and that you could drop out of range easily.
X Do not monopolize the repeater.  If 90 % of the conversations for long periods of time, night after night, include you and one or two others, something is wrong.  If other hams turn off their radios for big blocks of time because they can hardly talk to someone other than you, something is wrong.  You do not own, nor single handedly finance the repeater.  It is suppose to be a shared resource. Always welcome others into your conversations, don’t drive other people off the air.  You know who you are!
X Ignore those who cause interference and others who try to disrupt the repeater’s normal operation.  Without any reaction from the repeater users, they will have no audience and probably go away in short order.
X If you are someone who is the subject of frequent interference, it may be a sign that you are aggravating people with your operating habits.  This may be a sign that it is time for you to adjust your attitude and use of the repeater.  This isn’t always the case, but history has shown that those who have the most trouble with jammers are the ones who have caused the most friction among the repeater users.
XWhen IDing you don’t need to say “for ID” or anything of that nature. When you give your call everyone knows the reason for it. It is a waste of air time and redundant.
XBe upbeat and courteous.  Don’t complain.  This especially includes complaining about other hams, the repeater, or some aspect of the hobby.  We all deal with unsafe and discourteous drivers, please don’t describe their actions to us on the air.
XDo not use phrases learned on 11 meters such as “handle“, “making the trip“, “got a good copy on me?“, “the personal here is…“, “what’s your 20?“, “you’re giving me 20-pounds“, and other strange phrases which should stay on CB.  Speak plain English; this is not a cult.  The less said about 11 meters on the air the better. Many HAMs are a bit stuck up when it comes to CBers so it’s a good idea to avoid that lingo.
XXUse plain language that everyone understands. 2m and 70cm are interoperability bands. Q Signals and Radio short codes aren’t appropriate. 10 Codes, 12 Codes etc are never appropriate in Amateur Radio. Also on a repeater unless you have a weak signal phonetics aren’t usually necessary and take up precious air time. If requested, use them, otherwise don’t.

Part 97 rules forbid the use of coded transmissions in order to “obscure their meaning”. Anything you say on HAM radio must be able to be understood by all HAMs.
X Following a round-table, or rotation format is the best way for 3 or more to participate.  Don’t ignore people by not passing it to them for several turns.
XXDon’t kerchunk the repeater without IDing. It’s incredibly rude and illegal.
XAs with all amateur radio, NO politics, religion or sex.
XIt is not necessary to give the other person’s call when ending a conversation. This is wasted air time. The other person will give their call when they sign off. You will always hear the old timers do it this way.
XDon’t give out your call on a repeater and then just leave. Others might try to call you and this is incredibly rude. At least say clear so others know you are leaving.
X JUST BECAUSE OTHERS VIOLATE THESE GUIDELINES DOESN’T MAKE IT RIGHT. BE THE EXAMPLE OTHERS WILL FOLLOW. On that same topic, remember not to be the radio police. If others are violating these, don’t confront them on the air. Just be the example. Also remember, much of this is just a set of guidelines to help you be the best HAM you can be. Others may do things a bit different and most cases that’s okay.