About Signal Reports

Under normal circumstances signal reports are almost totally subjective. For example an experienced operator will be able to hear signals a ‘newbie’ just can’t hear. Also, there is no real standard for S-meters which is complicated by the good practice of reducing RF gain until the noise doesn’t quite move the meter (this lowers the noise level while still providing AGC control of loud signals).  So the best practice is to only use the following signal reports:

59-plus – this indicates an extremely loud and clear signal, and for long contacts the station receiving this report should reduce power as anything over 59 is excessive power to maintain reliable communications and therefore a violation of the FCC rules.

59 – Signal is loud and clear (AKA ‘maximum’)
57 – Signal is clearly understandable just not quite as loud as 59
55 – Signal is clearly understandable (AKA ‘speed limit’)
44 – Slight difficulty copying, missing some words (AKA ‘magnum’)
33 – Difficult to copy, missing more than 50% (AKA ‘triplets’)
22 – Barely audible, extremely difficult to copy (AKA ‘minimum’ and ‘rifle shots’)

Exceptions:

Stations that are having a problem… for example, if they are loud but splattering out past 2.5 kHz they are not 59 and you should report in plain English that they have a problem.  Try to be helpful but if you have no idea what the problem might be don’t guess, just try to describe what you are hearing in plain English.

Contests – all contacts made during a contest are 59 unless the rules specifically state that real reports must be used in which case the above reports apply.

Testing and comparing antennas and equipment – if asked to help an operator compare two antennas or settings etcetera one should try to give accurate relative meter readings such as “you came up 2 S units when you turned the antenna toward me.” A better way to get a comparison would be to send them an unmodulated carrier while they switch between the two antennas in question. If you send a carrier for ten seconds they can switch back and forth every two seconds while observing their meter and get a fairly accurate reading of which antenna is stronger for the current situation. They can then compare noise levels on each antenna with no signal to get a more complete performance comparison. However, no amount of testing is a substitute for experience on the air and using a station.

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