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I tried making a CQ on 20 m, 14.060 MHz (the QRP CQ frequency) and parallel to that I had a WebSDR on my computer just to keep an eye on the band. I saw someone responding on the WebSDR, which is rather close to my hometown; however, I couldn't hear him on my receiver and the signal on the WebSDR was too vague to copy.

What should I do in such a situation (apart from improving my receiver)? Should I just send my CQ sequence again and hope the other side understands that I can't hear him, and stops trying or increases power? Or should I send another sequence to say that I know there is someone, but I can't copy him?

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Sending simply "?" is sufficient to request the station send his call again. If you want to be a little more verbose, "QRZ?" means "who is calling me?". If you can copy part of the call you can also respond with the unknown parts replaced with question marks: "AC8? DE MYCALL".

If you are working the QRP calling frequency you should expect most of your contacts to be difficult, and making repeated attempts isn't unusual. HF conditions can change rapidly, and sometimes all you need to do is wait a minute. It's not uncommon to send key information (names, calls, locations, RST signal reports) 3 or 5 times if conditions are poor.

If you just can't make it work, you can try to communicate that. "QRN" (I'm troubled by natural noise), "QRM" (I'm troubled by man-made interference) and "QSB" (I'm troubled by fading) can help you communicate your specific problem, though if conditions are poor it may be futile. In the case of another interfering station, you might "QSY" (change frequency) to some clear frequency.

Or, you can just keep calling CQ. It's not unusual on HF to be unable to make a contact. No one will be offended. The other station will infer that you can't copy their transmissions and either giver up or increase power, aim a directional antenna, or otherwise attempt to improve conditions.

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Well I'd say that there is definitely nothing wrong with just continuing to call CQ. After all, if you didn't have the SDR hearing the other station, you wouldn't know that the other guy is there calling you, so there must not be any had feelings for your lack of response.

My practical experience here is mostly related to SSB contests, but I think it could apply in your case as well. Normally, when I'm calling CQ and think that I hear another station answering, but I'm not sure, I'd reply with QRZ or partial callsign, if available.

Usually it would be something like QRZ? de MYCALL or Question mark Question Mark One Alpha Question mark, this is MYCALL, depending on how well I copied the sign. This way, you may indicate that you did hear something and ask the other station to fill in the blanks. One problem with the QRZ part is that some users may use QRZ instead of CQ and this way the hint may be misunderstood, so do try to send partial callsign if available.

If you do reply, and using SDR determine that the other station copied your reply, but is still too weak for you to copy, you may want to make it known to other station that the signal is too weak to be workable. I can't think of a widely-used Q-code to indicate very weak signal, but some things you could try would be sending QRK 1 and then QRS PSE. QRK is the code for signal readability, with 1 being the lowest grade and QRS is invitation to increase output power. Another alternative that comes to mind would be to send QSA 1 and QRO.

The procedure usually lasts until one of the sides of this potential QSO runs out of nerves or if the required contact data are successfully transferred.

If you do determine that reading the other station is too difficult, do try to make it known to other stations. Send something like sorry, too weak and continue calling CQ in hope that someone else may respond.

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    $\begingroup$ For CW it should probably be "QRZ?", with a question mark. With the question mark it asks, "who is calling me?" Without it, you are telling someone that they are being called. I don't think QRZ should be used instead of CQ, although you do hear it at the end of DX contacts when there's a pileup where it means "who is the next person calling me?" $\endgroup$ – Phil Frost - W8II Jan 17 '15 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Phil Frost You are of course 100% correct for the question mark! $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Jan 17 '15 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer; sorry for the unaccept. Phil's answer was more geared toward CW. I will make sure to state that more clearly in my question next time. $\endgroup$ – Keelan Jan 18 '15 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Camil PD7LOL No problem at all! $\endgroup$ – AndrejaKo Jan 18 '15 at 12:10
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That is an interesting questions.

The only thing I would suggest is ask them to increase power if possible. However if you are not hearing them on your receiver odds are they will not be able to add enough power to copy.

You could also send a message of no copy.

If you didn't have the WebSDR, then you won't even know someone is calling you. This is the case 100s of times a day.

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Consider how much power you are sending. Assuming you are sending QRP as well, you may be at the limit of effective range and he may be only barely able to copy your signal — a clue of propagation conditions. I think I would assume a miss as no signal on receiver and try again.

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