Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Signal Report

Specialist readers of my ‘Shack Nasties’ blog will understand the arcane jargon used in the piece of doggerel below. Others might wish to refer to the author’s notes which follow it.


This Winter I tuned in once again
to coded, rhythmic signals from GW-land,
whose poet-priests have haunting fists.
After long exchange of distress and comfort
I gave another signal report…

Your Readability has varied from clearest five,
easily copied by the greenest novice,
down to obscurity that would challenge operators
of higher class than me – and many they be.
I cannot give fuller score than three.

Your Strength isn’t fading – in fact overwhelming -
yet you’re no big shot wielding kiloWatts, 
rather wisdom, skill and grounding. 
Your signal’s a beacon to calibrate mine.
I’d say at least forty dB over nine.

Your Tone has moved from mood to mood -
at once resigned, at once downtrod -
but, in the mean, you’re a miserable sod. 
You’ve voiced the despair of being alive
so, for intoning that story, I’ll send you five.

                           © m0xpd, 2016, all rights reserved

author’s notes

During telegraphic exchanges, particularly in amateur radio, operators pass each other a signal report, often referred to by the initialism ‘RST’. The report takes the form of three digits, one referring to each of the three letters, R, S and T.

‘R’ is an abbreviation of Readability, which is scored subjectively on the scale 0 – 5. It is an indication of how readable or intelligible the received signal was. Readability scores below five indicate significantly degraded communication.

‘S’ is short for Strength, which is scored semi-objectively, based on the reading of a field-strength meter on the receiver. This meter is calibrated in ‘S-units’ from 0 to 9 and the signal strength read from the meter is sent as the middle digit of the report. Some meters can also read very strong signals above S9, where the meter is further calibrated in decibels, leading to reports of ‘forty decibels over 9’ etc.

A strong received signal is often generated by a powerful transmitter. A station with a powerful transmitter is sometimes disparagingly called a ‘big gun’, especially where the use of high power is considered vulgar or inappropriate. A thoughtful operator can achieve effective transmission from lower power transmitters through the use of well-designed antenna systems, especially where local geology or the proximity of salt water provides an effective ground-plane.

‘T’ stands for Tone, in which a subjective assessment (between 0 and 9) of the sound of the received signal is reported. A nice, musical tone gets a nine, which is the modal report today.

The poem gives an imagined signal report after an exchange with a station in Wales; ‘GW’ is a call-sign prefix for Wales.

There is no evidence that a Welsh poet, bearing the initials RST, had interest in anything as sublunary as amateur radio.

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