Signal strength and readability report

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A signal strength and readability report is a standardized format for reporting the strength radio signal and the readability (quality) of the radiotelephone (voice) or radiotelegraph (Morse code) signal transmitted by another station as received at the reporting station's location and by their radio station equipment. These report formats are usually designed for only one communications mode or the other, although a few are used for both telegraph and voice communications. All but one of these signal report formats involve the transmission of numbers.


As the earliest radio communication used Morse code, all radio signal reporting formats until about the 1920s were for radiotelegraph, and the early voice radio signal report formats were based on the telegraph report formats.

Timeline of signal report formats[edit]

  • The first signal report format code may have been QJS.
  • The U.S. Navy used R and K signals starting in 1929.
  • The QSK code was one of the twelve Q Codes listed in the 1912 International Radiotelegraph Convention Regulations, but may have been in use earlier.
  • The QSA code was included in the Madrid Convention (Appendix 10, General Regulations) sometime prior to 1936.
  • The Amateur radio R-S-T system signal report format currently in use was first developed in 1934.
  • As early as 1943, the U.S and UK military published the first guidance that included the modern "Weak but readable", "Strong but distorted", and "Loud and clear" phrases.
  • By 1951, the CCEB had published ACP 125(A) (a.k.a. SGM-1O82-51), which formalized the 1943 "Loud and clear" format.

Radiotelegraph report formats[edit]

Q-Code signal report formats[edit]

The QSA code and QRK code are interrelated and complimentary signal reporting codes for use in wireless telegraphy (Morse code). They replaced the earlier QSJ code.

The currently the QSA and QRK codes are officially defined in the ITU Radio Regulations 1990, Appendix 13: Miscellaneous Abbreviations and Signals to Be Used in Radiotelegraphy Communications Except in the Maritime Mobile Service. They are also described identically in ACP131(F),:[1]

ITU-R Radiotelegraph Signal Reporting Formats
Signal Question Answer, Advice, or Order
QSA What is the strength of my signals (or those of...)? The strength of your signals (or those of...) is...
  1. scarcely perceptible
  2. weak
  3. fairly good
  4. good
  5. very good
QRK What is the intelligibility of my signals (or those of...)? The intelligibility of your signals (or those of...) is...
  1. bad
  2. poor
  3. fair
  4. good
  5. excellent

R-S-T system[edit]

Amateur radio users in the U.S. and Canada have used the R-S-T system since 1934. This system was developed by amateur radio operator Arthur W. Braaten, W2BSR.[2][3][4][5] It reports the readability on a scale of 1 to 5, the signal strength on a scale of 1 to 9, and the tone of the Morse code continuous wave signal on a scale of 1 to 9.[6][7] During amateur radio contests, where the rate of new contacts is paramount, contest participants often give a perfect signal report of 599 even when the signal is lower quality, because always providing the same signal format enables them to send Morse code with less thought and thus increased speed.

ARRL R-S-T System
No. Meaning
9 Extremely strong signals Perfect tone, no trace of ripple or modulation of any kind
8 Strong signals Near perfect tone, slight trace of modulation
7 Moderately strong signals Near pure tone, trace of ripple modulation
6 Good signals Filtered tone, definite trace of ripple modulation
5 Perfectly readable Fairly good signals Filtered rectified a.c. but strongly ripple-modulated
4 Readable with practically no difficulty Fair signals Rough note, some trace of filtering
3 Readable with considerable difficulty Weak signals Rough a.c. tone, rectified but not filtered
2 Barely readable, oaccasional word distinguishable Very weak signals Very rough a.c., very harsh and broad
1 Unreadable Faint—signals barely perceptible Sixty cycle a.c or less, very rough and broad

SINPO code[edit]

SINPO is an acronym for Signal, Interference, Noise, Propagation, and Overall, which was developed by the CCIR in 1951 (as C.C.I.R. Recommendation No. 251) for use in radiotelegraphy, and the standard is contained in Recommendation ITU-R Sm.1135, SINPO and SINPFEMO codes.[8] This format is most notably used by the BBC for receiving signal reports on postcards mailed from listeners, even though that same standard specifies that the SINPFEMO code should be used for radiotelephony transmissions. SINPO is the official radiotelegraph signal reporting codes for international civil aviation [9] and ITU-R.[10]

Rating scale S I N P O
Degrading effect of
Signal strengthInterference








4 Good Slight Slight Slight Good
3 Fair Moderate Moderate Moderate Fair
2 Poor Severe Severe Severe Poor
1 Barely audible Extreme Extreme Extreme Unusable

Radiotelephony report formats[edit]

R-S-T system[edit]

Amateur radio operators use the R-S-T system to describe voice transmissions, dropping the last digit (Tone report) because there is no continuous wave tone to report on.

ARRL R-S-T System, as used for voice communications
No. Meaning
9 Extremely strong signals
8 Strong signals
7 Moderately strong signals
6 Good signals
5 Perfectly readable Fairly good signals
4 Readable with practically no difficulty Fair signals
3 Readable with considerable difficulty Weak signals
2 Barely readable, oaccasional word distinguishable Very weak signals
1 Unreadable Faint—signals barely perceptible

SINPEMFO code[edit]

An extension of SINPO code, for use in radiotelephony (voice over radio) communications, SINPFEMO is an acronym for Signal, Interference, Noise, Propagation, frequency of Fading, dEpth, Modulation, and Overall.

Rating scale S I N P F E M O
Degrading effect of Frequency of fading Modulation
Signal strengthInterference




Propagation disturbanceQualityDepthOverall rating
4 Good Slight Slight Slight Slow Good Good Good
3 Fair Moderate Moderate Moderate Moderate Fair Fair Fair
2 Poor Severe Severe Severe Fast Poor Poor or Nil Poor
1 Barely audible Extreme Extreme Extreme Very fast Very Poor Continuously over-modulated Unusable

Plain-language radio checks[edit]

The move to plain-language radio communications means that number-based formats are now considered obsolete, and are replaced by plain language radio checks. These avoid the ambiguity of which number stands for which type of report and whether a 1 is considered good or bad. This format originated with the U.S. military in World War II, and is currently defined by ACP 125 (G).,[11] published by the Combined Communications Electronics Board

The prowords listed below are for use when initiating and answering queries concerning signal strength and readability.

ACP 125 (G) procedures for initiating and responding to a Radio Check
Proword Meaning
RADIO CHECK What is my signal strength and readability; how do you hear me?
ROGER I have received your last transmission satisfactorily.
NOTHING HEARD To be used when no reply is received from a called station.
ACP 125 (G) Plain-Language Radio Check Procedure Words
Proword Meaning Conjunction Proword Meaning
LOUD Your signal is very strong. AND or BUT, depending on which prowords are combined CLEAR The quality of your transmission is excellent.
GOOD Your signal strength is good. READABLE The quality of your transmission is satisfactory.
WEAK Your signal strength is weak. UNREADABLE The quality of your transmission is so bad that I cannot read you.
VERY WEAK Your signal strength is very weak. DISTORTED Having trouble reading you due to interference.
FADING At times your signal strength fades to such an extent that continuous reception cannot be relied upon. WITH INTERFERENCE Having trouble reading you due to interference.
INTERMITTENT Having trouble reading you because your signal is intermittent.

Use in analog vs. digital radio transmission modes[edit]

In analog radio systems, as receiving stations move away from a radio transmitting site, the signal strength decreases gradually, causing the relative noise level to increase. The signal becomes increasingly difficult to understand until it can no longer be heard as anything other than static.[12]:38

These reporting systems are usable for, but perhaps not completely appropriate for, rating digital signal quality.[citation needed] This is because digital signals have fairly consistent quality as the receiver moves away from the transmitter until reaching a threshold distance. At this threshold point, sometimes called the "digital cliff,"the signal quality takes a severe drop and is lost".[12]:38 This difference in reception reduces attempts to ascertain subjective signal quality to simply asking, "Can you hear me now?" or similar. The only possible response is "yes"; otherwise, there is just dead air. This sudden signal drop was also one of the primary arguments of analog proponents against moving to digital systems. However, the "five bars" displayed on many cell phones does directly correlate to the signal strength rating.

Slang report formats[edit]

A report format commonly referred to as five by five is often used in media. The report format ostensibly consists of two digits, each ranging from 1 to 5, resulting in 25 possible combinations, with five by five being the best signal possible out of 25 combinations. As no reliable source has been found documenting this format, it may simply be Cold War-era slang, inappropriately mapping the radiotelegraph signal report numbers to radiotelephony signals.

Some radio users have inappropriately started using the Circuit Merit telephone line quality measurement. This format is unsuitable for radiotelegraph or radiotelephony use because it focuses on voice-to-noise ratios, for judging whether a particular telephone line is suitable for commercial (paying customer) use, and does not include separate reports for signal strength and voice quality.

Popular media[edit]

A number of works of entertainment media have used "five by five" to mean "I understand" or even "I'm fine" or "all is well". An early example is the film Blackboard Jungle in 1954: "Five by five, Mr. Holloran.". A later example is in the mainstream 1986 film Aliens where Cpl Ferro says, "We're in the pipe, five by five." This may have been influential on later works. "Five by five" was rather a catch phrase for Faith in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the video game Starcraft features a Medivac unit whose pilot sometimes says "in the pipe, five by five".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ACP 131(F) - Communications Instructions Operating Signals, April 2009" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 6, 2012.
  2. ^ "The Radio Amateur's Handbook" (PDF). p. 363. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  3. ^ "The RST Standard of Reporting". Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  4. ^ Andrea, Steve. "Can You Read Me Now?" (PDF). ARRL. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  5. ^ Arthur M. Braaten, W2BSR. "A New Standard System of Reporting Signals" (PDF). ARRL. p. 18. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Quick Reference Operating Aids (The RST System)".
  7. ^ "Ham Radio "RST" Signal Reporting System for CW/Phone Operation". University of Buffalo. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  8. ^ "ITU-R Sm.1135, SINPO and SINPFEMO codes" (PDF).
  9. ^ "Procedures for Air Navigation Services: ICAO Abbreviations and Codes" (PDF). Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  10. ^ "ITU-R Sm.1135, SINPO and SINPFEMO codes" (PDF).
  11. ^ "ACP 125 (G): Communications Instructions: Radiotelephone Procedures" (PDF). 28 November 2016.
  12. ^ a b Imel, Kathy J.; Hart, James W. (January 2003). "Understanding Wireless Communications in Public Safety" (PDF). The National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center–Rocky Mountain. Retrieved September 19, 2015.

External links[edit]