RST Reporting System


Hello everybody and welcome back to Everything Hamradio! Have you ever talked to someone especially on an HF frequency and they say that “you are 59 here in where ever”? If you are new to the hobby, you might not know what they mean by saying “59”.  They are using the RST Reporting System.

History of the RST Reporting System

Many years ago, right around 1934 to be specific, an amateur radio operator by the name of Arthur W Braaten, W2BSR, made up the current reporting system that we use today. At the time there wasn’t a standardize system in place that amateurs could use to tell the transmitting station what their side of things sounded like. Of course, they could’ve just used the S-meters that was on their radio’s, if they had them that is. But that really doesn’t tell you a whole lot about how you sound.

There has been times in my limited conversations on the HF bands, where I could hear the other station just fine. They were clear and very understandable, but they barely moved the S meter on my radio. If I had told the other station that they were an S1-S3, they might take it that I was having a hard time hearing them. This is the way that it normally is on FM modes. If you have a low S meter reading on the receiving side, then you will probably be very noisy and hard to make out. However, Single Side Band(SSB) and High Frequency(HF) is an entirely different beast.

How Does it Work?

RST stands for Readability, Strength and Tone. Each part of the RST components go towards a different aspect of your transmission. In the example above, you may notice that we were only given a 59 report, what about the missing part of the system? In voice communications, you only us the first two parts, Readability and Strength. The last part, Tone, is only when you are using CW. It describes the Tone of the CW characters that you hear.

Let’s break it down a little further, shall we?


The “official” definition of Readability according to Wikipedia is:

A qualitative assessment of how easy or difficult it is to correctly copy the information being sent during the transmission.

When you are talking with CW, it refers to how easy or difficult it is to distinguish the characters of the message being received. In voice, it refers to how easy or difficult it is to understand what the transmitting station is saying.

The Readability is measured on a scale of 1 to 5:

RST Reporting System - Readability


The S in the RST Reporting System stands for Strength. Strength is the power of the signal coming in. This can be done simply by looking at the S meter on your radio and can be given by what the reading is. I have even heard people say “You are 59 plus 20 dB”. This comes from the signal being so strong that the S meter on the radio goes past S9. Quality receivers as calibrated in such a way that S9 is set to a signal of 50 microvolts with a change of 6dB per S unit. On VHF and above, receivers quality receivers are calibrates to that a S9 signal is 5 microvolts at the antenna connection. Both of these measurements require a 50 ohm antenna connection for best results

The Strength part of this system is measured on a scale of 1 to 9:

RST Reporting System - Strength


The T in the RST Reporting System stands for Tone. This part of the reporting system is only used when you are talking on CW or digital modes as it refers to the sounds of the tone itself.

Tone is measured on a scale of 1 to 9:

RST Reporting System - Tone

I have read a few articles that state there some people are trying to get the Tone part of the RST system changed to Q for Quality. There reasoning is that the Tone part is a limited feature being that it is only used in CW or Digital modes, whereas if it was changed to Quality, it could be used on voice as well to tell about the quality of your signal. My question is, isn’t that basically the same as the Readability part? What do yall think? Leave your comments below

QSL Reporting

If you have ever sent or received a QSL card, you probably know that there is a RST box that needs to be filled out on it. This box is a must to fill out, and really important that you fill it out correctly. In online log books, like Logbook of the World, I think that this is a mandatory field as well. I have heard of some people who just put down a 599 in the box and move on, especially during contests. I understand that if you are the one running the event or contest and you have a few thousand QSL cards to send out that you might get lazy and just put a 599 report on the card to save you some hassle. Or maybe when you log the QSO you don’t put it in right then, so later on your just have to guess.

Either way, as ham radio operators, our job is to pass information with the utmost accuracy during emergencies, so why should we be any different when there isn’t an emergency? One of the things that I have learned while being a 911 telecommunicator, is that if you don’t use it, you can, not have it when you need it. When I first started in this field over ten years ago(wow, has it been that long), I learned a lot and generally used all that I learned on a regular basis. About four years after I started, I changed to a different dispatch and it was slower and was only fire, so some of my police things faded into the abyss of my mind. Now five years after that, I am back at a Sheriff’s Office and back to using those skill and am having to relearn some of them

What all this boils down to is this, and this applies to everything in life not just in amateur radio: Learn how to do something the correct way and always do it that way. If you do it in your everyday life the correct way, then when you are in a time of heightened emotions, such as an emergency, your body and mind will take over and your training will take over.

My dad, KC5PWQ, always told me that “If something aint worth doing right, it aint worth doing at all”! So do like I did and take these words to heart and always do things the right way the first time. At the very least it will save you have from having to do it over again because you did it wrong the first time.


Well, I guess that is about all for this topic. I hope that everyone enjoyed learning about the RTS Reporting System! I hope that you have learned at least a little bit in this post. To summarize what all we talked about in this post:

  • Readability – How well you can understand
  • Strength – How strong is the signal
  • Tone – How clear is the sound of the CW/Digital
  • Accurate Reporting – Do it the right way the first time

And lastly,

  • Your thoughts on changing Tone to Quality

Thanks for stopping by today and reading this post and I hope that you will come back again real soon. If you have not done so already, please subscribe to my site to receive an email when I publish a new post. Also, please Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Links to all my social media pages can be found on the menu above under Social.

Until Next Time…

73 de Curtis, K5CLM

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