The Value of Time

Last month, Ernest, AA1IK, wrote about a frustration that we’ve all experienced, an operator on the other end who needlessly sends unnecessary information.  In the particular QSO Ernest described, the other op totally botched a QSO in bad QSB (fading) conditions by repeating his callsign numerous times but sending their call only once or twice.  The barely-uttered callsign was consumed by QSB on each return, propagation closed, game over.

Most radio amateurs understand the value of getting the most signal out and being able to pick signals out of the mud on receive, going to great lengths to improve antenna systems and buying great rigs with good receivers and linear amplifiers to get more signal.  However, it seems many don’t understand basic information transmission and the value of time, or perhaps better stated, the value of airtime.

I see this quite a bit during Field Day.  Operators in search-and-pounce mode will say or send the callsign of the station they’re calling, despite there being only one station on frequency calling CQ.  Stations calling CQ when getting a weak caller will spend forty seconds telling the station they didn’t get their full callsign and list the several possibilities they thought it was.

The practice is even more annoying in emcomm.  Ever hear a station take 120 seconds to tell a SkyWarn net control that it’s raining at their house but otherwise there’s nothing reportable happening?

The amount of information that can be conveyed is a function of the rate of communication (baud rate/wpm), the noise on the channel (signal-to-noise ratio), and the time available to communicate.  Talk faster or send CW at a faster rate and you can send more information in a given amount of time.  If the signal to noise ratio is low, you may need to send or talk slower (perhaps using more phonetics) and you’ll need more time to communicate the same amount of information.  Sending redundant information not needed for “error correction” or information already known by the receiver is a waste of communication channel time.  Those familiar with digital communications will recognize the parallels between digital protocols and algorithms and what I’m describing above.

Phone operators and really any radio amateurs who want to understand efficient radio communication should listen to their local 911 dispatch frequencies.  Airtime is very valuable, and wasting it can result in lost property and lives.  You’ll hear exchanges like this after a page goes out and a unit is responding:

Fire company unit: “County 901.”

County Control: “County.”

Fire company unit: “901 responding.”

County Control: “901 responding, 123 Main Street, dwelling fire.”

Fire company unit: “In route”

County Control: “Nineteen twenty-three”

In this exchange the unit informed county they were responding, they got the information on the call, and county confirmed the whole exchange with the time at the end.  Granted, public safety communications are usually on clear channels with little noise, but can you imagine some of the exchanges we hear on amateur radio in a public safety environment?

CW operators tend to be more efficient by default as the CW mode naturally encourages a level of terseness that’s not intuitive in phone operation.  But some CW operators in weak signal and contest situations have room for improvement, needing to avoid needless callsign repeating, “URs” and “QSLs”.

This lack of understanding by many in amateur radio of the value of airtime and how to use it efficiently is one of my ongoing pet peeves.  To some extent I can understand in this day and age why a radio amateur may not be well versed in complex electronic theory, but communicating efficiently is basic and it doesn’t take much to learn how to do it, people just need to apply some logic, listen, and learn.

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2 responses to “The Value of Time

  1. This is something that gets on my nerves too. Repeats are good during QSB but too slow and too much info is a real pain during band closings. When the band is fading you need to get your information out and get it out fast!

  2. I think it is a eyeopener for some of us. I would understand if a station is new on frequency. With a just obtained license you need a lot of practical learning on air. I always try to make the QSO as short as possible if I know there are more that want to QSO. But it could be difficult when you got a lot of QSB/QRM like on 160m or 80m. When is the time you have to tell the other station that he better try later on as you cannot copy it? In contest situation it can be very short, some do not even repeat your callsign….so it is just a guess they copied you or someone else.I had that several times. It would be usefull to find a page on the internet that has some standard (macro) messages on it, so everyone uses the same format in contesting, bragging or at a DXpedition pile-up. 73, Bas

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