By Jonathan Imberi
There's definitely a difference between SSB and FM voice operation. This page applies to voice operation on the "weak-signal" SSB frequencies on the VHF/UHF bands and on 10 meter SSB.
What is single sideband? You can begin with a steady radio frequency (RF) signal and combine this signal with a voice signal from a microphone. This process of combining such an RF signal with any information signal is called modulation. If we use amplitude modulation, the resulting signal would have two sidebands, one higher in frequency than the carrier frequency and one lower in frequency. These are called the upper and lower sidebands, respectively. For a single sideband voice transmissions, the carrier and one of the sidebands is removed, and only one sideband is transmitted. The RF carrier is the single that is modulated to produce a radiotelephone signal.
The HF band's most common voice mode is SSB. You can use either the lower or the upper sideband to transmit an SSB signal. It is normal to use the upper sideband for voice operation on frequencies higher than 14 MHz. This includes the VHF and UHF bands.
Operating techniques and procedures vary from band to band for different modes. Just spending time listening is the best way to familiarize yourself with new techniques. Always take time to understand the techniques used by proficient operators, the ones who are the most understandable and sound the best. Don't just mimic everything you hear. This is the best advice for new hams going on the air for the first time.
There are always three fundamental things to remember for any band or voice mode you use. The first is that courtesy is often rewarded by bringing out the best in others. Second, your goal in each radio contact should be 100% effective communication. A good Amateur Radio operator is never satisfied with anything less. Third, your "private" conversation with another station can be heard by the public. Never give information on the air that you don't want everyone to hear.
Proper voice procedure is very important, but it does not require the use of any codes or special abbreviations. Voice operators say what they want to be heard. CW operators, on the other hand, abbreviate so they don't have to spell it out. One benefit of voice operation is speed: a typical voice QSO takes place between 150 and 200 words per minute. Always speak slowly and clearly, this way you will have fewer requests to repeat information.
You should avoid using CW abbreviations and prosigns such as "RX" and "K" for voice communications. Q signals are for CW operation, although you may hear operators using Q signals such as QSL, QSO, and QRZ on voice, you should generally avoid using them on voice modes. Abbreviations are used on CW to enable you to say more in less time and to improve the efficiency of your communications, but on voice you have plenty of time to say what you mean.
If an other operator is having difficulty receiving your signals you should use the NATO phonetic alphabet. Use the words in the phonetic alphabet to spell out the letters in your call sign, your name, or any other piece of information that might be confused if the letters are not received correctly. This phonetic alphabet is generally understood by hams in all countries.
Hams establish contact when one station calls CQ and another replies. CQ literally means "seek you; calling any station". You can usually tell a good ham by the length of the CQ call. A good operator sends short calls separated by concentrated listening periods because long CQs drive away more contacts than they attract.
It is important to find a frequency that appears unoccupied, before calling CQ. This may not be easy, particularly during crowded band conditions. Remember to listen carefully, there may be a weak DX station on the frequency. If using a beam antenna, you must rotate it to make sure the frequency is clear. If the frequency seems clear, ask if the frequency is in use, and then follow with your call sign. If no one responds, you are ready to make your call.
Keep your CQ calls short, as long calls are considered poor operating technique. You may be interfering with stations already on frequency who you didn't hear on your initial frequency check. Stations intending to reply to your call may become impatient and move to another frequency if the call is to lengthy. If two or three calls produce no answer, it may be that there is too much noise or interference, or that atmospheric conditions are not favorable. At that point change frequency and try again. If you still get no answer, try looking around and answer someone else's CQ.
You must say both call signs clearly when replying to a CQ, but it is not necessary to say the other station's call phonetically. You should, however, always say your call sign with the standard phonetics. Say the call sign of the station you are calling only once. Follow with your call sign, repeated three times at least once phonetically. Depending on the conditions, you may need to give your call sign phonetically several times. Repeat this procedure until you receive a reply or until the station you are calling has come back to someone else.
Listening is very important, and if you are using PTT (push-to-talk), be sure to let up on the transmit button between calls so you can hear what is going on. VOX (voice operation switch) operation is helpful because, when properly adjusted, it enables you to listen between words. When starting, though, out PTT is the best way to go.
Having established contact, it is no longer necessary to use the phonetic alphabet for your call sign or to give the other station's call sign. FCC regulations say that you need to give your call only every ten minutes and at the conclusion of the contact. [The exception is when handling international third-party traffic. Then, you must say both call signs.] This allows you to enjoy a normal two way conversation. Remember to use "over" or go ahead" at the end of your transmission to indicate that it is the other station's turn to transmit.
Aside from signal strength, most hams exchange name, location, and equipment information (especially antennas). Once these routine details are out of the way, you can talk about your families, the weather, your occupation, or any appropriate subject.
There are excellent band openings for SSB and CW DX contacts, on the 6 and 2 meter bands. DX means a contact with any distant station. Many operators only understand DX to mean a contact with a station in another country, no matter how near or far that may be. But, on the VHF/UHF bands talking with a station 100 miles away might become DX.
10 meter worldwide communication on a daily basis is very common, during the years of maximum sunspot activity. When the conditions are right 10 meters is an outstanding DX band. A particular advantage of 10 meters for DX work is that effective beam type antennas tend to be small and light. This makes them relatively easy to install.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you contact amateurs outside your country. Because of the language differences, some DX stations are more comfortable with the "bare bones" type contact, and you should be sensitive to their preferences.
During unsettled band conditions, it may seem necessary to keep the contact short in case fading or interference occurs. These factors need to be taken into account when expanding on a basic contact. During a band opening on 10 meters or on VHF, it is crucial to keep contacts brief. This allows many stations to work whatever DX is coming through.
When the time comes to end the contact, thank the other operator for the pleasure of the contact and say goodbye with your call sign. Nothing more is required.