Thursday, January 02, 2014

Forty-Five Q-Codes

Q codes pre-date much of radio history. They are a good example of a brevity code. These are not typical telegraphic codes which which encoded for privacy, and to reduce the number of characters with the end goal of reducing cost. Brevity codes function just to reduce length and increase speed usually for safety reasons. A S.O.S. message would be a perfect example of a brevity code.

The original Q codes began with a proposal at a 1906 conference in Berlin. They were created in1909, by the British government. It began with a handbook, the  Handbook for Wireless Telegraph Operators Working Installations licensed by His Majesty's Postmaster-General. It included the single paragraph of instruction which clearly predates their use internationally:
"The following list of abbreviations has been prepared for the use of British ships and coast stations licensed by the Postmaster-General on the lines of proposals made at the International Conference at Berlin in 1906. They may be used in communication between British coast stations and British ships or between British coast stations and foreign ships equipped with Marconi apparatus, but not at present between British coast stations and other foreign ships, or between British ships and foreign coast stations.  In the use of these abbreviations, the signal employed should be repeated three times. "

Because the Q codes eased communication between radio operators speaking different languages they were quickly adopted internationally. Informal use probably began earlier but international use was somewhat codified by 1912. A total of forty-five Q codes were codified by the Service Regulations that came with the third International Radiotelegraph Convention. It was held in London in 1912 and enacted in 1913. Each phrase can be a statement or a question and I include both below. The addition of the code ..--.. changed the code into a question. Those first codes are as follows:

QRAHere the _______What ship or coast station is that?
QRBMy distance is _______What is your distance?
QRCMy bearing is ______What is your bearing?
QRDI am bound for ______Where are you bound for?
QRFI am bound from ______Where are you bound from?
QRGI belong to the ______ lineWhat line do you belong to?
QRHMy wave length is _____ metresWhat is your wave length in meters?
QRJI have _____words to transmitHow many words have you to transmit?
QRKSignals are satisfactoryHow are signals ?
QRLI am receiving badlyAre you receiving badly?
QRMI am being interfered withAre you being interfered with?
QRNAtmospherics are very strongAre atmospherics strong?
QROIncrease your powerShall I increase power?
QRQTransmit fasterShall I transmit faster?
QRSTransmit slowerShall I transmit slower?
QRTStop transmittingShall I stop transmitting?
QRUI have nothing for youHave you anything for me?
QRVAll right now, everything is in orderIs everything in order?
QRWEngaged.  Please do not interfereAre you busy?
QRXStand by. I will call you when requiredShall I stand by?
QRYYour turn will be number _____When will be my turn?
QRZYour signals are weakAre my signals weak?
QSAYour signals are strong Are my signals strong?
QSBYour spark is badIs my spark bad?
QSCYour spacing is bad Is my spacing bad?
QSDMy time is ______What is your time?
QSFTransmission will be in alternate orderN/A
QSGTransmission will be in seriesof 5 messagesN/A
QSHTransmission will be in series of 10 messagesN/A
QSJPlease give me your rate to ________Do you want my rate to _______?

Although Q codes were created when radio was only capable of transmitting Morse Code, they continued to be used in the era of voice-transmission. It is interesting to note that to prevent confusion call signs are restricted in ways to avoid Q-code confusion.