RTTY Contest Messages

There are very important considerations that need to be taken into account when programming your RTTY contest messages. Some operators refer to these messages as “buffers”. RTTY contest messages should be as short as possible yet long enough to make sure the other station receives the information correctly especially in the presence of interference, fading signals or atmospheric noise.

The length of the messages may be affected by whether you are running SO2R (single operator, 2 radios) or just one radio (SO1R). SO2R messages will tend to be slightly shorter than SO1R messages and may be on the edge of being too short. Single radio operators should also use short messages but they can be slightly longer than SO2R messages in order to insure the information gets across without the need for a repeat.

Primary Messages

You only really need seven (7) primary messages. They are:  1 – CQ Message, 2 – Call Message, 3 – Run Exchange Message, 4 – S&P Exchange Message, 5 – Run Confirmation Message, 6 – Repeat Request Message and 7 – Repeat Exchange Message. All Primary Messages should start with a CR/LF (carriage return/line feed) and end in a single space. Since all modern RTTY contest programs offer more than seven messages, other messages can and should be programmed for certain situations. Other messages, called Secondary Messages will be discussed after Primary Message. The seven primary messages are:

1 – CQ Message: This one is self explanatory. You send your CQ message when you are calling CQ. Calling CQ is also referred to as “Running”. A station that is calling CQ is referred to as the Run station. One example of the CQ Message might be:


CQ Message Details

2 – Call Message: The call message is used to call a station that has just sent CQ. Stations that call Run stations are referred to as S&P (Search & Pounce) stations. Here, AA5AU is calling P49X who just called CQ:




Call Message Details

3 – Run Exchange Message: This is the message that Run stations use to to send their exchange information to S&P stations. The exchange information is what is required by the contest rules and may include such things are RST, serial number, STATE, NAME, etc. Here, P49X sends his exchange, which requires RST and serial number, to AA5AU:

AA5AU 599 001 001


AA5AU 599 001 001 AA5AU

Run Exchange Message Details

4 – S&P Exchange Message: This is the message that S&P stations use to send their exchange information to Run stations. Why do you need separate Run and S&P Exchange messages? In theory you don’t. You could have just one Exchange Message but there are good reasons for having separate Run and S&P exchange messages. A Run Exchange Message must include the S&P station’s callsign so that the S&P station knows the exchange is for them. However, the S&P Exchange message does not need to include the Run station’s callsign since the Run station already knows the exchange the S&P station sends is for them. This means S&P Exchange messages can be shorter than Run Exchange messages. Or S&P Exchange messages can contain more of the exchange information such as sending a serial number three times instead of just two so that the Run station has a better chance of decoding it correctly. It is recommended that you have separate Run and S&P Exchange messages. Here, AA5AU is sending his exchange to P49X.

599 002 002 002


599 002 002 AA5AU

S&P Exchange Message Details

5 – Run Confirmation Message: This message is used by the Run station to confirm that the S&P station’s exchange information was received OK.


or simply


Run Confirmation Message Details

6 – Repeat Request Message: This message is used to ask for a repeat of the exchange but also has multiple uses. It can be used whether you are running or S&P. Also, it can be used to ask a station for this callsign. Suppose P49X calls CQ and is unable to copy a callsign correct. He would then use the Repeat Message. Suppose AA5AU or P49X did not receive the others exchange information, then either could send the Repeat Request Message.


Repeat Request Message Details

7 – Repeat Exchange Message: The Repeat Exchange Message is sent if someone sends a Repeat Request Message to you. If someone does not copy your exchange and requests a repeat, the Repeat Exchange Message is sent. The Repeat Exchange Message contains only the “meat” of the exchange sent several times. For example, if the exchange requirements are RST and serial number, the serial number is considered the “meat” of the exchange. A Repeat Exchange Message would then contain the serial number only, sent several times.

001 001 001

There is no need to send anything else. RST is assumed 599 so it does not need to be included in the Repeat Exchange Message.

Repeat Exchange Message Details

Secondary Messages

Secondary Messages are messages that can be appended to Primary Messages to create a longer message containing more information than the Primary Message by itself. Secondary messages are appended to Primary Messages by hitting an F-key associated with a Secondary Message immediately after hitting an F-key for a Primary key. Examples of Secondary Call Messages follow.

Secondary Call Message – The Secondary Call Message is appended to your Primary Call Message to lengthen the number of times your call is transmitted. Your Primary Call Message will normally be your callsign 2 or 3 times (preceeded by a CR/LF of course), such as:


Sometimes you may want to send your callsign more than what is contained in your Primary Call Message. If your Primary Call Message contains your call two times but you want to send it three times, you can create a Secondary Call Message that would contain your call only once. In WriteLog, your main Primary Call Message would look like this:


In WriteLog, %R in a RTTY message sends a CR/LF and %E ends the message and turns off the transmitter. In our example, let’s say we program the Primary Call Message as F5. In a different message slot, let’s say F7, we program our Secondary Call Message with our callsign only once and not preceded by a CR/LF. It would look like this in WriteLog:


In WriteLog, you are able to send both Primary and Secondary messages in succession by pressing F5, then F7 and this is what will be sent:


Pressing F5, and F7 twice sends:


Other Station’s Callsign Message – This secondary message only contains the other station’s callsign once. This message would normally not start with a CR/LF.


That’s it. The Other Station’s Callsign Message is intended to be appended to other messages, mainly your Run Exchange Message so that the message:

W1ABC 599 001 001

can become

W1ABC 599 001 001 W1ABC

It can also be inserted at the beginning of your Run Confirmation Message to confirm to the S&P station that you have their callsign OK, like this:




If your Run Confirmation Message already contains the other stations callsign like this:


Then inserting the Other Station’s Callsign Message would look like this:


Secondary Messages are a great way to improve your Primary Messages.

Message Rules

Rule #1 – Start all Primary Messages with a CR/LF.

Rule #2 – End all messages with a single space character.

Rule #3 – Don’t use outdated characters or character strings such as DE, K, BK or UR in any of your messages.

Rule #4 – Send RST always as 599 and send it only once if required. If not required, do not send RST at all.

Rule #5 – Always end your CQ Message with CQ. Always end your Run Confirmation message with either CQ or QRZ.

Rule Descriptions

Rule #1 – Nearly every message should start with a CR/LF (carriage return/line feed) or ENTER character. This is so the messages always start on a new line. It’s important a message start on a new line so the distant end station sees it clearly and not mixed in with noise characters. The only time a CR/LF is not used is when you create a message that will be appended to another message, such as a Secondary Message.

Rules #2 – ALWAYS end your messages with a space character. Why? Because if you don’t, noise characters will show up after your messages and it may look something like this on the other person’s screen:


Rules #3 – Do not use certainly characters or groups of characters that are no longer needed. The first one is the use of DE in your message. Do NOT use DE in your message such as:




In the early days of RTTY contesting programs, DE was used to determine that the next set of characters received was a callsign. So in the examples above, when the program saw “DE” it determined that the next set of characters should be a callsign. RTTY contest programs have come a long way and no longer require DE to determine callsigns. Instead they now use a Super Check Partial file to highlight callsigns. Another reason to not use DE is because DE is the abbreviation for the state of Delaware. In contests which require stations in the USA to send their state, seeing DE may cause others to think you are in Delaware instead of the state you are actually in. Of course, if you are in Delaware, you would send DE. Otherwise, never use it in your messages.

Other characters NOT to send are “BK” or “K” as shown in the previous example. They simply are no longer used and cause a message to be unnecessarily long. Another example of a character string not to use would be UR such as:

P49X UR 599 LA LA

Instead, send P49X 599 LA LA.

Do not use DE, BK, K, or UR.

Rule #4 – If RST is part of the required exchange, only send it ONCE and it should ALWAYS be 599. If RST is NOT required, do not send it.

Rules #5 – Always end your CQ message with CQ (followed by a space, of course). This is so that when S&P stations tune across your signal and only see your callsign, then see CQ at the end of your transmission, they are 100% sure you are calling CQ. If you do not end your CQ message with CQ (and then a space, of course), then someone tuning across the tail end of your message does not know if you are a Run station or S&P station. Always end your CQ message with CQ. In the same regard, always end your Run Confirmation Message with either CQ or QRZ. CQ is recommended because it’s shorter.

Primary Message Details

Messages need to adhere to your operational situation. This means that certain situations require different message lengths or the number of instances you send the “meat” of your exchange. If the exchange is RST and serial number, the serial number is the “meat” of the exchange.

If you are running low power with a marginal antenna, your messages in general may need to be longer to compensate for your signal being weaker than if you were running higher power with better antennas. With that in mind, adjust your messages accordingly. For instance, if the exchange requires a serial number, a low power station may feel it’s better to send the serial number three times, whereas a station running high power or SO2R would send it only twice. It’s something you must experiment with and only with experience will you know the right answer. Something else to consider about sending serial numbers. If you send the serial number 3 times, the station on the other end has a much higher probability of receiving it correction than if you sent it only twice.

CQ Message Details – As shown earlier, a simple CQ message would be:


This is pretty basic. Since P49X is SO2R and running high power, that may be all that is needed for his CQ message. Some stations like to put something other than CQ to start the message such as something to represent the contest they are operating. One example would be to replace the leading CQ with something like RU for ARRL RTTY Roundup or BARTG to show they are operating a BARTG contest. CQ messages could look like this:




Be careful what you put at the start of your CQ message. Using “BARTG” might be too long if you are running SO2R. And there may be a very good reason why “CQ P49X P49X CQ” is better than other CQ messages and that’s because it’s possible this type of message, beginning and ending with CQ, will more likely be picked up by a RTTY skimmer. What is a RTTY skimmer? A RTTY skimmer is a station that is monitoring RTTY signals and running software that enables it to identify stations calling CQ on RTTY. The RTTY skimmer station can then spot CQ stations to the Packetcluster system.

If you are a Run station, it’s advantageous to have your call spotted by a station running RTTY skimmer software because it could bring more stations to call you. The RTTY skimmer software uses different algorithms to determine if a station is a Run station or not. One of the algorithms is certainly the CQ placed at the end of the CQ message and it’s possible another algorithm that helps in its determination of a CQ station is to have the message start with CQ. Since you want to be spotted by any RTTY skimmer that decodes your signal, it’s recommended you start and end your CQ message with CQ.

Your main CQ message could be either:




If no one is coming back to your CQ, you could chain your main CQ messages together by sending it twice in succession or program a separate Secondary CQ Message that may be longer like:


Call Message Details – The call message will normally always be the same:




By using a Primary Call Message with an appended Secondary Call Message, you can send your call as many times as you need.

Never will you ever call a Run station and send your exchange information at the same time. Always send only your callsign and wait until the Run station acknowledges your call before sending any exchange information.

Run Exchange Message Details – The basic Run Exchange Message starts with the callsign of the S&P station, RST sent only once (if required), then the “meat” of the exchange sent at least twice. If W1ABC answered your CQ, the basic Run Exchange Message when RST and a serial number are required would be:

W1ABC 599 001 001

In some cases you may need to put the callsign of the S&P station at both the beginning and end of the message like this:

W1ABC 599 001 001 W1ABC

Putting the callsign of the S&P station at the end of the Run Exchange Message may be beneficial when there are many stations calling. Sometimes, other stations may still be calling after you have begun your Run Exchange Message transmission. Stations monitoring the frequency may not see who you came back to because of interference. By placing the S&P callsign at the end of the message, it makes it easier for others determine who the report is for.

Having said that, and particularly if you are SO2R, it is not beneficial to put the S&P callsign at the end of the message each and every time. One trick is to create another message, the Other Station’s Callsign Message, with the callsign of the station you are working and a “space” as the only thing in the message. This is another one of those rare messages that do not begin with a CR/LF. In WriteLog, it looks like this:

%C %E

This way, you can append this message to your Run Exchange Message to create:

W1ABC 599 001 001 W1ABC

For example, if your main Run Exchange Message is located at F3, and the message that contains only the callsign of the S&P station is located at SHIFT+F3, then you can create the above message when needed by pressing F3, then SHIFT+F3.

If you really want to shorten an exchange message that includes a serial number, instead of sending 001, you might be able to just send 1. So the exchange would be:

W1ABC 599 1 1

It’s best to read the rules on the contest. Some contests specifically state to send “a consecutive serial number starting with 001”. However, I’ve never heard of anyone being disqualified for starting by using one-digital serial numbers instead of three-digit serial numbers.

S&P Exchange Message Details – This message is the one that most people screw up. First off, the S&P Exchange Message does not need to include the callsign of the Run station. Think about it. Is the Run station’s callsign included on other modes like CW and SSB? No, it’s not and there’s no real reason to include it on RTTY either. If the required exchange is RST and serial number, the exchange should be very simple like:

599 001 001


599 001 001 001

By not including unnecessary information, like the Run station’s callsign, you can include extra “meat” in the exchange, like sending the serial number 3 times instead of 2.

There will be times when you should send your callsign at the end of the S&P Exchange Message like this:

599 001 001 AA5AU

You would send your callsign at the end of your S&P Exchange Message if you are unsure the Run station has copied your callsign correctly. If you are unsure if the Run station has your call correct, you should end your S&P Exchange Message with your callsign (followed by a space, of course). If you are absolutely sure the Run station has your call incorrect, then it may be better just to send your callsign three or four times with no exchange until you are sure the Run station has your call correct.

It is absolutely critical the Run station has your callsign correctly. If not, the contact may get thrown out in log checking.

If you clearly see your callsign in the Run station’s exchange message, you do not need to include it in your S&P Exchange Message.

Run Confirmation Message Details – The Run Confirmation Message example is:




When the Run station, in this example it’s P49X, sees the S&P Exchange Message from AA5AU, he sends his Run Confirmation Message which tells the S&P station, AA5AU, that the Run station received the exchange OK.

The Run Confirmation Message is two-fold. It confirms the S&P exchange information was received OK and by putting “CQ” at the end, it solicits the next contact and tells anyone else on the frequency that it is OK to call.

It is OK to include the S&P station’s callsign in the Run Confirmation Message. This is particularly useful to show the S&P station that you have his callsign correct.

The second example above is an abbreviated Run Confirmation Message employed mainly by SO2R operators. It does not include the callsign of the S&P station. Even if the Run station realizes he does not have the S&P station callsign correct and makes the correction in his entry window before sending the Run Confirmation Message, most contest programs will automatically send the S&P callsign automatically at the beginning of the message regardless of whether the message contains the S&P callsign.

Repeat Request Message Details – The simplest Repeat Request Message would be:


This message could be used to request a repeat of an exchange or can be used to request a station to send their callsign or anything else again. The only downside to using this as your Repeat Request Message is that the sending station may send his entire report again. This would take considerably more time that if you only needed the “meat” of the exchange. If a serial number is part of the exchange, the Repeat Request Message could be:


This way, the sending station would be clued to send only his number instead of his entire report. Some contests may have multiple “meat” in the exchange such as NAME and STATE or QTH. In these contests, it may be beneficial to have a Repeat Request Message for each piece of “meat” in the exchange:




There is no need to send anything else other than what you need from the other station.

Repeat Exchange Message Details – The Repeat Exchange Message is what you would send if someone sends you a Repeat Request Message. If someone asks you for a repeat of your number in their Repeat Request Message:


Your appropriate response would be to send a Repeat Exchange Message such as:

001 001

There is no need to send the entire report or any callsigns. You have already established the contact and each station already knows each other’s callsign. If conditions are not good, you can always send this message twice in succession. If there are several “meats” in the exchange, it’s appriopriate to have a message for each piece of “meat” such as:

DON DON (if asked to repeat my NAME)


LA LA (if asked to repeat my STATE or QTH)


Experimenting with different messages will show you what works best. Be sure the message is short yet long enough to get the message across. I can still remember my good friend, Eddie, G0AZT, who used to scream at the monitor “Don’t make a meal out of it Mate!”.

73, Don AA5AU