Why I send “72” instead of “73”

If you’ve been watching my field activation videos for long you’ve no doubt noticed that, at the end of an exchange, I’ll often send “72 de K4SWL” instead of “73 de K4SWL.”

“73” much like “CQ” has a very distinct sound and cadence in CW. Even during one’s earliest days of learning CW, the sound of “73” is sort of burned into the brain and instantly recognized.

I’m sure that’s why when I send “72” some believe I’m sending it by mistake–it’s very conspicuous even to new CW operators.

Perhaps this is why one of the most common questions I receive from new YouTube channel subscribers is:

“Thomas, why are you sending 72 instead of 73?”

The answer is actually very simple…

72 is the QRP version of 73

“72” isn’t a new ham radio abbreviation but according to my light research, it doesn’t date back to the earliest days of wireless either (please correct me if I’m wrong).

The late and great George Dobbs (G3RJV) notes in his book “QRP Basics” that 72 has been in use since the late 1980s as a way some operators identify that they’re running QRP or low power (generally 5 watts or less).

You’ll find it referenced in numerous abbreviation guides like the CW Ops CW guide and in QRP communities like QRP-L and the QRPARCI. In the past, I’ve heard 72 used in QRP contest exchanges too. I suppose it’s also a bit of a “handshake” among QRP operators.

That said, 72 isn’t as commonly used to convey “Best Regards” as the more standard 73. Not by a long shot. I’ve gotten messages from passionate radio purists who’ve told me to stop using it, in fact, since it’s not as standard as 73. I get where they’re coming from because keeping our abbreviations standard makes communication that much clearer.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit this way with the international phonetic alphabet: I like sticking to the script for reasons of clarity and simplicity.

I almost unconsciously go back to using “73” if I suspect the op on the other end is new to CW.

Then again…

72 is simple and clear

The main reason I choose to use 72 during many of my POTA/SOTA activations is because I believe it conveys a message in the most concise and clear way possible.

Sending “72” allows me to communicate my power level without having to send any extra elements/words like “3 WATTS” or “/QRP” after my callsign–especially since communicating power output isn’t typically a part of a SOTA/POTA exchange.

Sending “72” might also help to explain why my signal strength might be a bit lower, or surprise a DX contact if I’m being received 599.

While it’s true some on the other end might scratch their heads and have to look up the meaning of “72,” once they know it, they know it.

And if sending “72” isn’t your thing or you don’t agree with its use, that’s perfectly okay too! You’ll hear me using it most of the time I’m running QRP in the field, but I don’t expect anyone else to.

To each their own, I say!

When I do hear another op use 72? I know the contact was QRP on both ends and that’s kind of cool in my book!


Thomas (K4SWL)

23 thoughts on “Why I send “72” instead of “73””

  1. Thanks for the quick lesson, I’ve attempted to start using 72 more often these days, though I will admit I still use 73 until I remember again…….

    So 72

  2. I use 72 when I’m 5w or less for sure. I don’t see a problem with it at all. I view language as an evolving phenomena which evolves with the times.

  3. I sometimes think some get to serious with procedure, too many Ham police although those quoting the FCC rules is a must for us Hams. I like 72 as Thomas says, “Sending “72” allows me to communicate my power level” and we on CW have always tried to find ways of conveying a message in a short form, ie Q-signals. We as QRP ops like to brag about our operations and 72 is a good way to do it.

    73, ron, n9ee

  4. “73 is sort of burned into the brain and instantly recognized”…how true this is…and if I could only instantly recognize the other grouping/characters, at speed, then I’ll know I have finally arrived!

  5. I’ve never heard of it. If you want to convey something,people at the other end need to understand the meaning. It fails.

  6. I like to use 72 as well. Really for the same reasons you mention. I’ve had people reapot me on POTA letting people know kw I’m running qrp and the only reason they’d know that is from the 72.

  7. I am a dedicated QRP er. I only use 72 if the other station is also QRP. It makes no sense to send 72 (what literally means good luck in QRP) to a QRO station. Peter OO7Z

  8. Interesting, I have never heard of the ’72’ instead of ’73’.
    We need a sign off code for ‘My battery is almost dead and I have no beer left’ which is the equivalent of SOS in Ham radio terms 🙂

  9. From when I was first licensed in 1983 to around 2001 when I pretty much gave up (temporarily as it turned out), I never heard any mention of 72 even though I was a G-QRP-Club member for most of that time. I became aware of it shortly after reactivating my licence in 2017. A little research came up with the page below, which I think is as definitive a source of its origin as you’re going to find: “Club 72” http://club72.qrp.su
    73/72 Thomas,
    Simon G0CIQ

  10. If you seek more info on the early days of QRP activities in the USA, I highly recommend this free PDF file


    Adrian Weiss, K8EEG/Ø was a prime mover in the QRp movement in the 1980’s.

    I was the first QSO W1CER Doug DeMaw made with the TunaTin 2 on 40 meters, with my former call K4DAS, now N4OW . I was not QRP . However, I ordered a Heath HW7 shortly after that contact.

    My call is mentioned in the QST TunaTin 2 article.

    I am active in NAQCC and SKCC using QRp

    72 de AL, N4ow ex-K4DAS –

  11. Ham Radio is a medium based on rules as well as innovation. Using 72 is innovation AND just like rock and roll, not everybody will accept it, and some vehemently so. For me, it is simplistic brilliance and those perfectly clever ideas are the very best.

  12. If 72 conveys QRP then why not use the 100 year old “QRP”. It’s only one more character and everyone knows what it means.

  13. I think sticking with standards is an important part of establishing reliable communications. It drives me buggy when I hear people use non-standard phonetics on voice. While they think it is cool to use novel words for their call sign, it doesn’t necessarily help with speech understanding during poor comms conditions. The standard phonetics were created for good reason – to enhance clarity of comms.

    I feel the same way about the well established CW abbreviations. Every ham knows what 73 means. For a very long time I was confused by the use of 72. I too thought it was a mis-sent 3. Only after hearing over and over by the same people did I realize it was on purpose – but I didn’t understand the point… other than it is quicker and easier to send a 2 instead of a 3.

    I think there are plenty of hams out there that do not recognize the intention of indicating QRP instead of QRO by sending 72.

    I checked the POTA web site to see what they have to say about proper procedure for “POTA CW QSO’s”.

    Here is a quote from that page:
    “POTA QSOs usually end with brief but proper 73s.”

    It’s not my intension to criticize Thomas. I very much enjoy your YouTube videos.
    I just think there are still plenty of other hams out there who are/were confused as I have been when people send 72 vs 73.

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