Signal Reports On Repeaters Vs Simplex

When listening to repeater QSOs in our area, you may have noticed that many operators will say “You are 5 by 9” when providing a signal report. Unfortunately, it seems that many operators are just repeating what they hear from other operators without really knowing what it means when they describe a received signal as being 5 9 on a repeater. A deeper dive into the meaning of the 5 and of the 9 will highlight why this type of signal report is not very useful when communicating through a repeater.

What is a signal report?

When communicating simplex between two transceivers, there are two rating categories for voice transmissions (readability and strength) and three rating categories for CW transmissions (readability, strength, and tone). The first number is rated as being from 1 to 5 depending on the readability of the signal. A strong signal might be 5, while a signal barely audible because it is weak and lost in background static might be 1.

The second number is for signal strength. Most operators will look at their signal strength meter (S-Meter) on the transceiver. The second number corresponds to S units on the meter. A voice signal that is very clear, readable, and shows a signal level of S-9 on the meter would warrant a signal report of 5 9. If the signal is very strong, such as being 10 db over S-9, the signal report might be 5 9+10db. For reference, the third number in a signal report for a CW signal refers to the quality of the tone of the received signal.

Most Amateur Radio operators know that a repeater is a radio system usually installed at an elevated geographic location for the purpose of extending the range of radio communications. When using a repeater for radio communications, the signal you hear is not the signal from the other station you are communicating with. The signal you hear is from the repeater. If you want to give the repeater a signal report, you could look at your signal meter, consider how strong the repeater’s signal is at your location, and perhaps give the repeater a report of 5 and 9. However, the only way to provide a useful signal report to another station, who is using the same repeater, is to describe the quality of their signal as it is being received by the repeater. Unless you are able to access telemetry from a repeater, there is no way for you to know the signal strength of the other station.

What is a best practice for giving a signal report when communicating using a repeater?

Without knowing the actual strength of a signal being received by a repeater, the only reportable metric is from the first category, which refers to readability (also referred to as Quality). A signal report on a repeater is completely subjective from the point of view of the receiving station. If you are hearing another station through a repeater very clearly, you might say to the station “You are Q-5,” meaning on a scale from 1 to 5, you are a 5. If the other station is weak and some of their transmission is not being relayed through the repeater, their signal report might be “Q-2” if you can understand most of what is being said.

Another metric that can be added to a signal report through a repeater is know as Quieting. Quieting refers to the level of background static or hiss that can be heard in the audio of the signal being received by a repeater. For a signal that is very strong at the repeater, the only audio you might hear is the voice of the transmitting station. When the transmitting operator is not talking, there is nothing but quiet. As a received signal becomes progressively weaker at the repeater, the hiss sound when the transmitting operator is not talking becomes more noticeable. Static sound will eventually become louder than the voice and, ultimately, there will not be enough signal to activate the repeater.

When giving a signal report to another station on a repeater, in addition to giving a quality rating, you can estimate how quiet the background of the audio is by assigning a percentage of quieting. A strong signal with no hiss would be properly reported as being Full Quieting. So, for a strong repeater signal report, “You are Q-5, full quieting” gives the other station a clear understanding of how well their transmission is being relayed through the repeater. If a station is obviously not very strong into the repeater, with static being at about the same level as the operator’s voice, a corresponding report to that station might be, “You are Q-4, 50% quieting.” Again, signal reports are subjective from the receiving station’s point of view. Don’t dwell on trying to make your report 100% accurate.

In Amateur Radio, there is no rule that says you cannot tell another station using a repeater that they are 5 9 when you give them a signal report. You get to decide what you will say when giving a signal report to another station. I hope that the best practice I have describe here will make more sense to you during your next repeater QSO.


Chris Davis KB7CX