What are the rules for calling CQ on a repeater?
When you finally get to the point of pushing the talk button on your microphone, after passing the test, receiving your license, getting your radio, building an antenna, digesting the manual, identifying a repeater, untangling its offset, programming those frequencies and keying up, you might be surprised to realise that you're lost for words. Something which I've talked about before.
Even if you do have something to say, finding a person to say it to will be the next big challenge. Truth be told, the more frequencies you have to choose from, the harder it seems to discover a fellow amateur and with Internet connected repeater networks, your choice appears infinite.
So, how do you initiate communication on a repeater? Do you call CQ, ask for a signal check, or just kerplunk the repeater to prove that your signal is getting in?
The very first thing to remember is that you have the exact same rights as every other amateur. No amateur is above any other, though hearing some conversations or responses might give you a different impression.
Before you embark on a long speech, what you need to remember is that your ability to receive is not usually the same as your ability to transmit. If you're using a low-powered hand held radio that's tuned to a local repeater, you might be comparing your little stubby antenna, inside your home, held at an angle, with that of a high power repeater, with a high-gain antenna bolted to a tower installed on the top of a hill. In other words, you can hear the repeater much better than it can hear you.
You'll quickly observe that there are amateurs about who have their radio on all day long and they'll often hear every single transmission that hits the local repeater and even random frequencies. Sometimes this means that you'll have a great friend to talk to, other times it means that you'll have a local troll who in their not so humble opinion determines what is permitted and what's not.
So, to get things rolling, you should follow the KISS principle, an aim championed by the lead engineer of the Lockheed Skunk Works in 1960, Kelly Johnson, "Keep it simple stupid.".
With keeping things simple, there is a fierce and ongoing debate around the use of the phonetic alphabet on a repeater. With the benefit of experience, having run a weekly radio net for over a decade I'm going to be blunt. When you're identifying yourself to the rest of the community, always use phonetics. Only if you've been acknowledged and you're part of the conversation should you even consider dropping your phonetic callsign.
The reason is that your first transmissions will be regularly interrupted by others since they're having a conversation and you'll be butting in. Even if a net controller asks for check-ins, you should use phonetics, since you might not be the only one who keys up at the same time. If you and the controller have known each other for years and they recognise your voice, you could consider dropping the phonetics, but don't expect everyone to know who you are from a single letter getting through. Some people are better at this than others.
Whatever you do, don't barge in with a whole story until you've been acknowledged and the microphone has been handed to you. After all, this is a public shared space.
The next thing to consider is the audience you're talking to. If the repeater is just local, then the people within range are likely to expect your prefix and know who you are, so just your call might suffice, but if you connect to a network, that's not likely to be true. If you want to actually talk to anyone, you can call CQ, but if you just want to let people know you're there, you can say your callsign followed by the word "listening".
If you want to speak with a specific individual on the other hand, you can call them using their phonetic callsign, either with or without the CQ. Also consider they might be on the other side of their shack working hard at attempts to avoid sniffing solder fumes and take a moment to get to the microphone.
In other words, what you say on your repeater depends on what result you want and who else is there. Sometimes there will be a mismatch between the two, just saying your callsign might initiate an hour long conversation, and calling CQ might give you the local troll telling you to go away.
Don't let that dissuade you. Even with years of practice, sometimes the results are unexpected.
Talking on a repeater is like being invited to a party. There are going to be people you know, people you want to know and people you never want to meet again.
So, be considerate, listen more than you talk and be deliberate in your intentions and you'll be fine.
Thanks to Sandip EI7IJB for the question, "What are the rules for calling CQ on a repeater?" If you have other burning questions, get in touch and ask. I'll try to give you a coherent answer.
I'm Onno VK6FLAB
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