Ambiguous "?"

I have posted about the problem of "?" message to CQ at a group for CW operators in Facebook. As soon as finishing calling CQ, I often hear someone sending only "?" on the same frequency. In my view, it should never be responded since it is ambiguous and not understandable what the sender means. Some people have approved my opinion while the others tell me it is obviously meaning to send my call sign again.

The ambiguity of that "?" could be as follows;

1)The sender most likelily want me to repeat my call sign since he could not copy it completely.

2)He might wonder if I am calling CQ or not since he has just heard the very last part of CQ.

3)He could just kid me with "?".

4)He is just seeking a rare one. Recognizing me as a JA, he would quit there without saying anything to me. This is related with the situation 1). Too often I encounter this situation.

5)He would call the other station close to my spot.

2) to 5) are not pleasant cases. I would ask him to listen carefully or to quit from me.

In the case of 1), he should send me the part of my call sign as he incompletely copied.

I could smell a kind of autistic tendency, or monologous attitude in this "?" sending. That may be the main reason why I hate this kind of behaviour. CW is for communication. Why not communicating on this mode? It is not an inhuman game but a real communication between human beings. You should express your intention to give me a call in this setting.

 To this "?", I would not reply anything. There is a decent and courteous manner for such a situation, which has been established by the forerunners.


  1. Shin San,

    ? was used instead of QRL way back when! To me it is odd that you would seldom hear a QRL back in the 50's but"?" was used often, most often and usally meant is this channel avialble for use, but I read your possibilities for and one that often happens when tuning you catch only the last part of the call sign of the person on the channel. Example I would hear "ut" and if I could not hear anyone replying to them,
    I could reply QRL, or I could continue to listen for awhile, or I could say "?" just to see if someone. In this example I would know your fist and probably know if it was you or someone else. But as I tune the bands, I often catch a part of a call sign and since people now on use a "k" to turn it over to the other guy, you have no idea if they were calling CQ, or answering someone, or in a QSO with someone I can hear. When I first got into cw hamming, often a call would be put out with CQ CQ CQ de W7AYN ar K But you seldom hear the AR anymore, I am finding a whole lot of guys who will call you and respond with a greeting, signal report, QTH, Name and then BK. In my book that is a poor operating practice! Using BK is great if your asking a question or confirmation. But I am afraid my old school thinking is way behind the modern way!

    1. Bob,

      I heard a guy sending "QRZ?K" a while after I had called CQ on the freq. He has repeated it a few times in several sec interval. Maybe, he wanted to know of my call sign. But it is still out of the normal practice in operation. I won't respond to him.

      As you exemplified in your comment, there are a lot of strange operation nowadays. Some may be changed as time goes on. But Q signals or other manners should be preserved in right way.

      Sending "?" without identification of own call sign is really out of etiquette, I believe.


    2. Shin

      I think ? is used mainly by operators with a Pan-Adaptor or spectrum display. They see a peak and tune to that and send ?.. It is impolite when they remain silent after you repeat your call, they have already worked you, so they move on to the next peak on the display. It is a symptom of the obsessive-compulsive disorder that is apparent in society as a whole.