“Amateur call” or “Mixed group”?

ARRL NTS logoA fellow ham radio operator who is, like me, active in the National Traffic System (NTS) of the American Radio Relay League, sent me an email message yesterday with a question about the proper way to send an amateur radio call sign when transmitting an NTS radiogram on voice.

According to the NTS Methods and Practices Guidelines (MPG) 2.1.5.7, the proper way to send a call sign in a message is to first say the words, “amateur call,” and then send the call sign phonetically, for example, “amateur call, whiskey nine Lima whiskey.”

My correspondent wrote that he witnessed confusion on the part of a receiving operator when the sending station followed this procedure. Apparently, the receiving station incorrectly recorded the words “amateur call” as part of the message text, which caused the message word count to be incorrect.

My correspondent wondered if operators should introduce call signs with the words, “mixed group,” instead of “amateur call” as a way of preventing such receiving errors.

The MPG, however, indicates that “mixed group” should only be used to introduce a call sign that contains a slash. For example, W9LW/NCS would be sent as, “mixed group, whiskey nine Lima whiskey slash November Charlie Sierra.”

Further, the words “mixed group” could just as easily create the same error (i.e. a receiving operator adding “mixed group” to the text) if the receiving operator is not sufficiently familiar with NTS methods and practices.

I believe that casual message handlers often think that those of us who advocate strict adherence to procedures as described in the MPG are unnecessarily nit-picky. The situation described above, however, is a case in point for the position that in message handling, it is essential for all participants throughout the system to know and consistently use standardized procedures. In other words, had the receiving operator known that the MPG calls for introducing a call sign with the words, “amateur call,” he probably would not have written those words down when copying the message.

If everybody learns one way to do it and everybody always does it the same way, such errors can be reduced, if not eliminated. Error prevention, after all, is the whole point of having standardized procedures. Fortunately, we all have equal opportunity to learn the standardized way of sending NTS messages on voice; by simply reading the MPG.

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