In Qβ RNA, sequestering the coat gene ribosome binding site in a putatively strong hairpin stem structure eliminated synthesis of coat protein and activated protein synthesis from the much weaker maturation gene initiation site, located 1300 nucleotides upstream. As the stability of a hairpin stem comprising the coat gene Shine–Dalgarno site was incrementally increased, there was a corresponding increase in translation of maturation protein. The effect of the downstream coat gene ribosome binding sequence on maturation gene expression appeared to have occurred only in cis and did not require an AUG start codon or initiation of coat protein synthesis. In all cases, no structural reorganization was predicted to occur within Qβ RNA. Our results suggest that protein synthesis from a relatively weak translational initiation site is greatly influenced by the presence or absence of a stronger ribosome binding site located elsewhere on the same RNA molecule. The data are consistent with a mechanism in which multiple ribosome binding sites compete in cis for translational initiations as a means of regulating protein synthesis on a polycistronic messenger RNA.