What Does 73 Mean In Ham Radio

Ever heard ham radio operators signing off with the number “73” and wondered why?

Today, 73 means “Best regards” and is used by ham operators as a sign-off at the end of their messages. It comes from the old 92 Code, a numeric system designed to save time when sending messages on the old land telegraph systems. Later, it was adopted as part of the Phillips Code which abbreviated over 1,700 words and phrases.

Why do ham radio operators use the phrase 73?

Amateur radio is filled with terms that seem impenetrable or are misunderstood by the uninitiated. One of the first terms we learn is “CQ”, meaning “Calling any station”, which we use to initiate a conversation over the airwaves.

We use three-letter Q-Codes for many abbreviated questions and answers, and we also use some specific numbers as a shortcut for common messages (Check radio lingo and codes here).

All of these conventions originated in the early days of commercial telegraphy when simple and brief communications saved time and money when using the old land telegraph systems

We use three-letter Q-Codes for many abbreviated questions and answers, and we also use some specific numbers as a shortcut for common messages (Check radio lingo and codes here). All of these conventions originated in the early days of commercial telegraphy when simple and brief communications saved time and money when using the old land telegraph systems

“73”, with its somewhat stuffy formal definition of “Best regards” is still used today in ham radio because it is a quick, friendly, and well-understood way to end a message, written or verbal.

You might hear “88’ used from time to time but be aware that it means “Love and kisses”. Use with caution, or even better, reserve it for your nearest and dearest, like the XYL*.

You may hear people using “73s” and “88s” when signing off. Making these numbers into a plural form this way doesn’t make sense. You’re effectively saying “Best regards” or “Love and kisses”. Just stick to 73 or 88, even when saying goodbye to a large group, because 73 and 88 are already in their plural version.

If you’re hearing some of these terms for the first time because you’re just starting out in ham radio it is worthwhile researching the best ham radios and getting familiar with the licensing and how amateur radio works.

Why is the number 73 still used in Morse Code?

Amateur radio operates across many frequencies and has several operating modes, including voice, data, and continuous wave (CW) using Morse code.

For this reason, some of you may be aware of the nuances and skills involved in tapping out a Morse code message.

Take “73” for instance. It comes with the symmetrical rhythm of:

dah dah dit dit ditdit dit dit dah dah

Whether by design or intention, numbers that form patterns are easier to identify in Morse code and are more likely to be recognized.

Abbreviated words, in the form of letters and numbers, including DE for “this is”, “73” and “88”, make it easier for amateur radio operators to communicate by continuous-wave in Morse code due to the brevity they achieve.

Using Morse code to communicate over amateur radio frequencies requires suitable ham radio equipment such as a base station to enable CW transmission.

Several ham codes terms originated from their use in Morse code. Looking at the Morse code version of an abbreviation can often hint at why the shorthand term developed.

Of course, in practical terms, the abbreviations also reduce the time it takes to transmit commonly used messages or important phrases, whether it is using Morse code, or via other modes of communication like the old land telegraph systems, or voice.

However, even with all the shortcuts and abbreviations available, your message might still go unheard or be misunderstood. Whether you are choosing your first handheld ham radio, or upgrading your mobile ham radio, you can gain the optimum range and sound quality by carefully researching the best model for your needs.

When was 73 first used to mean “Best regards”?

The use of “73” goes all the way back to when the old land telegraph systems operated. The first formal usage was found in the 1857 publication of The National Telegraph Review and Operators Guide. In those early days, it meant “My love to you”.

In 1859, the Western Union Company developed the 92 Code for use by telegraph operators as a form of shorthand when sending messages in commercial telegraphy. At this time, the meaning of “73” changed to a more formal “Accept my compliments”.

The meaning went through a few other tweaks and revisions. For instance, the Twentieth Century Manual of Railway and Commercial Telegraphy defines “73” as “My compliments to you” or just “Compliments”.

Finally, in 1908, the Dodge Manual recorded the meaning of 73 as “Best regards”. Today this definition is still used, but its true meaning has warmer and friendlier overtones than this rather formal phrase suggests.

What is the Phillips Code?

The Phillips Code was developed by Walter P Phillips in 1879. He was a journalist who worked for the Associated Press, and he created the code as means of abbreviating his press reports so he could send them faster, but still, be understood. Not only did this save time, but it also saved money.

The Phillips Code ended up containing over 1,760 words before it was superseded by the Evans Basic English Code used today. Most of the abbreviations of the Phillips Code are letter-based. POTUS (President of the United States) is one of the more outstanding abbreviations we are all likely to be familiar with today.

Telegraph operators who were already using the earlier 92 code adopted the abbreviations of the Phillip Code. Over time the use of numbers to abbreviate some key phrases intermingled with the use of letter abbreviations. For instance, “30” which means “The end” is sometimes still used today to signify you’ve reached the end of an article or press release.

Key takeaways

The formalities and etiquette that exists between ham radio operators and across amateur radio frequencies might appear at first to originate from quirky or outdated traditions. However, as with most guidelines or rules, they come from good reasons. In the case of “73” and its more intimate counterpart “88”, it is a way to clearly express warmth and friendship in the course of finishing a conversation.

So, I guess all I am left to do is wish you good night and 73!

* ”XYL” usually refers to the wife of a ham radio operator, or sometimes to an unlicensed woman. YF also means wife and note that YL refers to a licensed woman, originating from the abbreviation of a young lady. If this seems disparaging, it may well be, but remember that a male ham radio operator can be called “OM”, short for old man, no matter how old, or young, you may be.

Paul Dudley
 

Paul is the owner and founder of WhollyOutdoor.com . His passion for ham radios and fishing lead him to create this site. He loves playing with his radios and doing many other outdoor activities