Tag Archives: NTS

“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), 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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Signing off

After we’ve sent the last word of the radiogram text, we signal the receiving operator that the text is finished and the signature is coming. If you originated the message, remember that any salutation, like “73” or “sincerely,” is part of the text, not part of the signature. We signal the end of the text by saying “break,” but without a pause. We immediately begin sending the signature, which is usually one or more names and sometimes a title or call sign. As in the address, we spell all but the most common names. Remember, whenever we spell anything, we first say, “I spell,” and then spell phonetically. And just like elsewhere in the message, we say “amateur call” before a call sign and then transmit the call sign phonetically. After the signature, we say “end, more” if we have another message to send to the same station. Otherwise, we say, “end, no more.” So the end of a message would sound like, “73. Break. Jon, I spell Juliet, Oscar, November, amateur call whiskey nine x-ray alpha bravo, end, no more.”

(This is the 15th in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

The meat of the message

We send a radiogram text without introduction, except for the word, “break,” as explained in the previous article. For example, we do not say, “Break for text” or “text follows.” We spell any word that is unfamiliar or sounds like another word (e.g. “to” and “two”). In that case, we say the word, then say “I spell” and then spell the word phonetically. We introduce a single initial with the word, “initial” and then send the initial phonetically (e.g. “initial foxtrot”). An exception is when an “X” appears between sentences. In that case, we just say, “x-ray,” without saying “initial.” We transmit an acronym like “NTS” as “initials November, tango, Sierra.” When the text includes numbers like 1, 12, 123, etc., we transmit them like this: “Figure one,” or “figures one, two” or “figures one, two, three” (always saying each digit individually). Before an amateur call sign, we say “amateur call.” Then we transmit the call sign phonetically. We introduce other combinations of letters and numbers with “mixed group.” For example, we send “11th” as “Mixed group one, one tango hotel.” After the last word of the text, we say, “break.” Next week, signing off.

(This is the 14th in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Taking a break

“Break” is a special word in traffic handling. Unless it appears in the text of a radiogram (e.g. “Having fun on spring break”), we say “break” at two and only two times during radiogram transmission (well, there is an exception for booked messages but that’s beyond the scope of this article). The first time we say “break” is at the end of the address block and before the text. At this point, we say “break” and then listen for a response from the receiving operator. That operator will either ask for clarification on some part of the preamble or address block, or, if he copied everything fine so far, he says nothing. So after we say, “break,” we listen for a second or two and if all we hear is silence or static, we assume it’s OK to send the text. You will sometimes hear operators say “break for text,” but that’s redundant and improper procedure. All you need is “break,” and a pause. Next week, the meat of the message.

(This is the 13th in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Give me a ring

Sending the telephone number from a radiogram’s address block is pretty straightforward, with a catch. How you introduce the phone number varies, depending on whether the radiogram has a ZIP code. If we just sent a ZIP code, we introduce the telephone number with the word, “figures” alone. If there is no ZIP code, we introduce the telephone number with two words: “telephone figures.” This tips off the receiving operator that there’s no ZIP code and that he should move to the telephone line. In either case, we say “figures” only once per telephone number, like this: “Figures five seven four, five five five, one two three four.” Note that we don’t transmit the dashes in the telephone number, we just pause where the dashes are. Up next: Take a break.

(This is the 12th in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Going to town

We transmit city names without introduction. Unless the city is well known, we then say, “I spell,” followed by the city phonetically. We say the state name in full, even if it is abbreviated in the radiogram (as it usually is). We introduce ZIP codes with the word, “figures” (not, “ZIP figures”) and then transmit them one digit at a time. There’s a special rule for nine-digit ZIP codes and I admit it’s a bit weird. A ZIP code of 21200-1234 would sound like this: “Figures two one two zero zero, dash, I spell delta alpha Sierra hotel one two three four.” Why do we spell out the dash? Beats me, but that’s what it says in the official NTS guidelines. Fortunately, radiograms rarely have nine-digit ZIP codes! A typical city line would sound like, “Burket, I spell, bravo uniform Romeo kilo echo tango, Indiana, figures four six five zero eight.” Next week: telephone numbers.

(This is the 11th in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Hitting the street

Before we transmit the numerical part of a street address, we say, “figures.” Then we transmit the house number one digit at a time. Next, we say the street name. Unless the street name is a very common word, we then say, “I spell” and then spell the street name phonetically. In the street address, we do not expand abbreviations or compress words to abbreviations. If the radiogram reads, “Ave,” we say “Initials alpha Victor echo.” If the Radiogram reads “Avenue,” we say, “Avenue,” not “Ave.” So, an address like this: 1234 Woodlan Rd, would sound like “Figures one two three four, Woodlan, I spell, whiskey Oscar Oscar delta Lima alpha November, initials Romeo delta.” PO Box 1234 would sound like “initials papa Oscar, box, figures one two three four.” 313 4th St would sound like “figures three one three, mixed group four tango hotel, initials Sierra tango.” Next week, going to town.

(This is the 10th in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Addressing the addressee

The pause we take after sending a radiogram preamble is the only introduction the address needs. We don’t say, “Going to,” we just say the first name of the addressee. If the first name is unusual or could be spelled in more than one way (e.g. Jon and John or Chris and Kris), we follow the name with the words, “I spell,” and then spell it phonetically. If there’s a middle initial, we say, “initial,” and then the initial phonetically. Then we say the last name. It is best practice to always spell the last name, even common last names, so we again say, “I spell” and the spell the name phonetically. If there is a call sign after the name, we say, “amateur call” and then the call sign phonetically. Here’s how “Chris B. Johnson W9XAB” should sound: “Chris, I spell, Charlie hotel, Romeo, India, Sierra, initial bravo, Johnson, I spell, Juliet, Oscar, hotel, November, Sierra, Oscar, November, amateur call whiskey nine x-ray alpha bravo.” Next week: Addresses.

(This is the ninth in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

When did it start?

Radiogram preambles end with an optional time filed and mandatory date filed. We transmit both without introduction. We say all four digits of the time filed (if present), one digit at a time. If a letter is present to indicate the time zone, we say that letter phonetically. We transmit the date by saying the month name in full (even if it is abbreviated in the radiogram), then the day, one digit at a time. For example, we say “Indiana, zero nine one three Zulu, April one five.” After we say the last digit of the date, we pause and take a breath. That pause signals that the preamble is finished. We do not say “break” here. Next week: Addressing the addressee.

(This is the eighth in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)

Where ya’ from?

After a radiogram’s check, we transmit the place of origin, without introduction. This is almost always a city or town name, followed by a state or province. Immediately after the check we say the city name, and then say “I spell,” and then spell the city name phonetically (spelling can be omitted only if the city is well known and understood). Then we say the state name in full, even if it appears in the message as a two-letter abbreviation. For example, we say, “one five, Claypool, I spell, Charlie, Lima, alpha, Yankee, papa, Oscar, Oscar, Lima, Indiana.” We don’t say, “Place of origin, Claypool, I-N.” Next week: Time and date.

(This is the seventh in a series of short traffic-handling columns I submitted to the Kosciusko County ARES newsletter.)