[The origin of CQ] [Origin Of 73] [Origin Of Q and Z Codes]

(By Jeff, KH2PZ)

"CQ" originated, as does much of the "ham" terminology from the days in which telegraphy was the only mode. I (Jeff, KH2PZ) would imagine it was a shortened form of the words "Seek You", as in looking for someone to talk to.

CQ was the pre-SOS. CQ was translated as "seek you" by Hashifisti Scratchi's column in CQ magazine in the 1950's, which may account for the "seek you" legend. The premise of the column would almost preclude there being any historical accuracy behind it.

There was a distress version of CQ used by Marconi Company shipboard and coastal operators which was CQD and which was used before SOS. CQD was sent in letters, unlike SOS which is a single procedural signal. But none of this helps advance the archeology of CQ except to confirm that it was already in use in the very earliest days of spark radio.

"I" was used by Ships in distress, before SOS was used. It meant "Come Quick".

Let's turn to page 4 of Baarslag's Famous Sea Rescues (formerly titled: SOS To The Rescue): "By 1904 a number of ships in the trans-Atlantic trade were equipped with wireless telegraphy. The British operators were nearly all landline telegraphers who had left railroad or post-office keys to go to sea in the newly opened field. They brought along with them not only their Morse code but also many of their telegraphic abbreviations and signals. One was the general call - CQ, which had been used to attract attention of all operators along a wire. It preceeded the time signal in the morning at 10 o'clock and also all notices of general importance. CQ went to sea and became a general call to all ships."

A couple paragraphs later, "Early in 1904 the Marconi Company, realizing the desirability of some universal distress signal, filled the need by issuing the following general order: ``It has been brought to our notice that the call `CQ' (All Stations) while being satisfactory for general purposes, does not sufficiently express the urgency required in a signal of distress. Therefore, on and after the 1st of February, 1904, the call to be given by ships in distess, or in any way requiring assistance, shall be `CQD.' '' "

This seems to imply that prior to February 1st 1904, some ship did use CQ as a distress call, and possibly her calls for help didn't draw the needed attention (this was before the twice-per-hour silent periods were created - 600m was pure bedlam, and a CQ would have gone unheeded).

For more radio history, visit your local research library. But please don't make up "facts" (am I the only one who believes that questions concerning radio history should be included in the amateur exams?)

73, Jeff KH2PZ / KH6

(Via Louise Ramsey Moreau, W3WRE, & Charles A. Wimer, KC8EHA)

The following is from Louise Ramsey Moreau, W3WRE:

The traditional expression "73" goes right back to the beginning of the landline telegraph days. It is found in some of the earliest editions of the numerical codes, each with a different definition, but each with the same idea in mind - it indicated that the end, or signature, was coming up. But there are no data to prove that any of these were used.

The first authentic use of 73 is in the publication "The National Telegraphic Review and Operators' Guide", first published in April 1857. At that time, 73 meant "My love to you"! Succeeding issues of this publication continued to use this definition of the term. Curiously enough, some of the other numerals used then had the same definition as they have now, but within a short time, the use of 73 began to change.

In the National Telegraph Convention, the numeral was changed from the Valentine-type sentiment to a vague sign of fraternalism. Here, 73 was a greeting, a friendly "word" between operators and it was so used on all wires.

In 1859, the Western Union Company set up the standard "92 Code." A list of numerals from one to 92 was compiled to indicate a series of prepared phrases for use by the operators on the wires. Here, in the 92 Code, 73 changes from a fraternal sign to a very flowery "accept my compliments", which was in keeping with the florid language of that era.

Over the years from 1859 to 1900, the many manuals of telegraphy show variations of this meaning. Dodge's "The Telegraph Instructor" shows it merely as "compliments." The Twentieth Century Manual of Railways and Commercial Telegraphy defines it two ways, one listing as "my compliments to you"; but in the glossary of abbreviations it is merely "compliments". Theodore A. Edison's Telegraphy Self-Taught shows a return of "accept my compliments". By 1908, however, a later edition of the Dodge Manual gives us today's definition of "best regards" with a backward look at the older meaning in another part of the work where it also lists it as "compliments".

"Best regards" has remained ever since as the "put-it-down-in-black-and-white" meaning of 73 but it has acquired overtones of much warmer meaning. Today, amateurs use it more in the manner that James Reid had intended that it be used - a "friendly word between operators".

I hope that this helps you in some way....


Charles A. Wimer
Amateur Radio Call: KC8EHA
Assistant Emergency Coordinator, Trumbull County (OH)
ARRL Official Emergency Station (OH)

W4SCO wrote:

Actually "73" was a term the old telegraph operators would use back in the old west days. It meant that they owned a Winchester 1873 rifle (their most prized possession) and that when they died they would give it to the other operator. Hense '73' meant I will will you my 73 rifle. "73s" meant you had more than one rifles that you would give to them (they were a really good friend).

Jim, N2EY wrote:

Hello--It's a nice story, but it has no basis in fact. The actual source of "73" and "88" was the list of numerical abbreviations used by wire telegraphers. These abbreviations were used in a manner similar to Q signals today. Here's a partial list of number abbreviations:

  • 1 - Wait
  • 2 - Important business
  • 3 - What is the time?
  • 6 - I am ready
  • 7 - Are you ready?
  • 12 - Do you understand?
  • 13 - I understand
  • 14 - What is the weather?
  • 17 - Lightning here
  • 19 - Form 19 train order (used by RR)
  • 21 - Stop to eat
  • 23 - All copy
  • 24 - Repeat this back
  • 30 - No more, end
  • 31 - Form 31 train order (used by RR)
  • 44 - Answer promptly by wire
  • 73 - Best regards
  • 88 - Love and kisses
  • 92 - Deliver promptly
  • 134 - Who is at the key?

    Note that American Morse was used by landline telegraphers. The signal "30" in American Morse is "..._. ____" (zero is an extra long dash). This was corrupted into a single character, "..._._" which is usually thought of today as SK or VA, with the space between letters removed.

    73 (never plural!) de Jim, N2EY


    Subject: Z codes (By Andy, G8PTH)

    This article was submitted to the Telecomms Heritage Group's journal, which is edited by Andy, G8PTH.


    The first line telegraph message is thought to have been sent from Washington to Baltimore in May 1844 by Samuel Finley Breeze Morse (1791-1872). He is said to have tapped out the message, "What hath God wrought?" using a code of interrupted signals which he and his associate Alfred Louis Vail (1807-1859), had developed some years earlier. After this momentous achievement and following the founding of Western Union in 1856, coast to coast telegraph lines were quickly installed and it then became commercially possible to send and receive telegraphic traffic by line.

    Since then and with an eye on faster speeds of transmissions and higher accuracy, newspapers, railways and post offices made great use of the telegraph to provide their customers with speedy, economic, personal and commercial communication. This also paved the way for transmitting traffic by radio from the late 1890s following successful experiments by Marconi.

    One way of speeding the flow of traffic was to operate an agreed set of short codes to replace well-known sentences or phrases but at that time there was no common national or international standard. The first of many conferences to discuss and try to resolve this issue was held in the US in April 1857, culminating with the release of the National Telegraphic Review and Operators' Guide. This Guide makes the first authentic reference to the well-known greeting 73 (at that time meaning love and kisses). Later editions kept this definition, but as time went by, the meaning of 73 changed from a Valentine type of greeting to a vague sign of operators' fraternalism.

    Western Union set up the Standard 92 Code in 1859. Replacing common sentences and phrases with selected numbers between 1 and 92, the message was telegraphed to a distant station. At the distant end the numbers were decoded and a plain language version delivered to the recipient. The definition of 73 changed yet again to a very flowery "accept my compliments". From 1859 to 1900 the many telegraphic manuals show variations of this meaning. Each major telegraph and railway company had its own distinctive telegraphic codes. Since there was no agreed standard, all were different, and as a consequence, there was much confusion in communicating with different networks. During this time there were even two alphabetical Morse codes; the American and the Continental (European) versions. Although there were basic similarities, there were also some major differences. This, combined with the multiplicity of telegraphic codes, caused confusion and made communication with and between U.S. establishments particularly difficult.

    The U.S. 1908 Dodge's Manual gives today's definition of 73 as "best regards". Other Dodge numbers were 88 (love and kisses), 55 (lots of success), and 99 (get lost, which was probably unofficial).

    Also, in 1908, the British Post Office, despairing of action to agree an international code of abbreviations, issued its own list of two letter abbreviations intended for use between British coast stations and ships. The list, published in the PMG's Instructions to Wireless Telegraphists, included abbreviations RA to RZ and SA to SF. The next International Radiotelegraphic Convention, held in London in July 1912, adopted and extended the GPO abbreviations. "Q" was added as the first letter and so the "Q" code was born. The new code now ran from QRA to QRZ and QSA to QSX. On July 1st, 1913, the Q code finally became an official international information code, updated as changing circumstances demanded to include new codes relating to such matters as aviation and maritime.

    Some time later came the Z code, running in parallel with the Q code. This originated as a company code of cable and wireless with application limited, in the main, to high speeds machine Morse operating at speeds of typically 120 wpm. Widely used by many countries, including Germany, the Q code and Z code continued in use throughout the war. After the war, high-speed Morse became less widely used and was replaced by other forms of traffic communication such as RTTY and facsimile. The Z code, therefore, gradually went out of fashion and slowly disappeared. Examples of the Z code include ZAA (you are not observing circuit discipline), ZAN (we can receive absolutely nothing), ZST (send slips twice), ZAP (acknowledge please), and several others.

    Operating during the 1930s and early 1940s, at the same time as the Z and Q codes, was the X code, then in use by European military services as a wireless telegraphy code. This consisted of the letter X followed by a number. For example; X34 meant "your Morse is bad", X50 meant "your Morse is good", X100 meant "affirmative", X112 meant "interrogative", X279 meant "what is the strength of my signal?" and X496/257 meant "I am winding in my aerial prior to landing/I have nothing further for you".

    The X code continued in use with the forces until 1942 when, at the insistence of the U.S. military, it was replaced by the Q code.

    So the Q code became the standard international military and civil telegraphic letter code used in CW communication (sometimes, incorrectly, even in R/T). Published as an operators' manual, there are separate sections available to deal with various areas of communication. Some less well known examples of the Q code used by base stations of the British army included QAU followed by QHU, meaning "I am waterlogged" and "I am about to jettison fuel" (AS5 generally followed). Even less well known is QGG, meaning "send the pony by the next train".

    Widely used by radio amateurs operating CW, today's Q code has slightly different meanings but is still very similar to the 1912 version. One of the great benefits of using the Q code is the pleasure in being able to communicate with overseas operators who may not be fluent in the English language.

    In conclusion, it is a sad fact there will be no successor to the Q code as Morse code is no longer taught to budding telegraphists (except to the favoured few specialist Aldis lamp operators in the Royal Navy). Data stream transmissions have displaced Morse and taken over everyday communication. Such is the march of time.


    Grateful thanks to Pat Hawker G3VA and Peter Broom G5DQ, for their help and advice.

    E-mail Me At: [email protected]