A radiogram’s number is the first thing we send. If a receiving station has indicated, “ready to copy,” the next word out of our mouths should be “number.” Not “please copy,” not “message follows,” just “number.” It’s what experienced traffic handlers expect to hear.
Next, we say the number itself, one digit at a time. So, if the message number is 12, say “number one two,” not “number twelve.” If the number is 131, we say “number one three one,” not “number one thirty-one” and not “number one hundred and thirty-one.” Finally, we say “zero,” not “oh” in numbers like 101.
(This is the second in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)
They want you to send everything in just the right order and just the right way. Why? Adhering to standard message transmission procedures helps ensure message accuracy, because the receiving station always knows what to expect, when and how. That’s why the NTS has very specific directions about exactly what you should say when you transmit a radiogram. That includes things like when to say “break” (and when not to), how to transmit an acronym, etc.
This is the first of a series of short columns on traffic handling that I’ve submitted to the weekly Kosciusko County, Ind. ARES newsletter. Kosciusko County Emergency Coordinator AB9ZA invited me to provide the information and I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and post the same article here!
I’ve been handling traffic since the 1970s but I still learn new things about this aspect of ham radio. While listening to other traffic handlers on a net, I often ask myself, “Is that the right way to do that?” Then I go online to the NTS Methods and Practices Guidelines (MPG). That document provides information about nearly every aspect of traffic handling, in excruciating detail!
Just the other day, I heard one of our fellow traffic handlers check in with “book” traffic for three disparate locations in the section. In my experience, we “book” messages when multiple messages that share common parts (e.g. the same text) will be sent to a single station. It turns out my experience was incorrect.
I went to the MPG and learned something! Chapter Two (section 220.127.116.11) provides a procedure for sending a book of three messages to three different stations on voice. It goes something like this, where W3XZ is sending a book to W3XA, W3XB and W3XC:
W3XZ: “W3XA, ready to copy?”
W3XZ: “Book of three, routine, hotel x-ray golf, whiskey bravo five november kilo delta, two one, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, February 29. Break.” (Pauses for any fill requests and if receiving stations are silent, continues.)
(Note that I’ve written this as you’d say it on the radio, not as it would be written on a radiogram form. Also note that we say, “Book of (number of messages in the book)” where we’d normally say a message number. The receiving stations don’t write that part down. They start writing with the “R” for “routine.”)
W3XZ: “Message relay stations are needed, initial x-ray. Hope you are able to, I spell, tango oscar, help, initial x-ray. Find a local net to, I spell, tango oscar, learn how. Figures seven three. Break. Pat, amateur call whiskey bravo five november kilo delta. Break” (Pauses again for fills, continues if receiving stations are silent.)
(Note that the word “break” does not mean “over,” as it sometimes does in QSOs. In message sending, “break” simply means that one part of a message is finished and the next is about to begin. We pause after some “breaks” (but not all) to allow receiving stations to ask for fills. If receiving stations need no fills, their silence tells the sending station to continue. Note that there is no pause after the “break” before the signature. We assume receiving stations can wait a few more seconds to request fills. Also, note that after the signature, we do not say “end” as we would during a single radiogram. This is just one part of a book, so we say “break” instead. Also note that “to” is spelled phonetically to distinguish it from “two” and “too.”)
W3XZ: “W3XA, number fifty five, Jim Smith,” (continues address block for message number two)
W3XZ: “Break. W3XA?”
(This “break” indicates the end of the address block and therefore the end of the stuff that W3XA must copy. W3XZ gives W3XA’s call sign, inflecting the question mark, to inquire whether W3XA copied the message.)
W3XA: “Roger, W3XA.”
Now, W3XA is finished and has legally signed off with his call sign. If this message was being passed on a frequency other than the net frequency, W3XA then returns to the net frequency. Next, W3XZ continues as above, sending the unique parts of message number 56 (the second message) to W3XB and message number 57 (the third and final message) to W3XC. The only difference is in what W3XZ says at the end of the third message’s address block. Instead of, “Break. W3XC?” W3XZ would say, “End book, no more.” He says “end book” instead of “break” because there’s nothing more to send to anyone. He doesn’t need to say “W3XC?” because W3XC is the only station remaining and knows that after he hears “End book no more” it’s his turn to say “Roger, W3XC.” After W3XZ hears that final “roger,” he signs off with his call sign.
This procedure looks pretty complicated but if you look through it and try it a couple of times, you’ll get the hang of it. And it can save a lot of time on a voice net!
Have you ever been to a county fair or similar event and saw an area with guys sitting around running very old “hit-and-miss” engines? Today, those engines are anachronisms. But many people get enjoyment out of restoring them, running them and displaying them. Sometimes, I feel how those guys must feel when I’m handing traffic on ham radio, especially using Morse code.