When sending communications over the NTS, having a standardized method of communicating can help greatly. Without standards like this, an already hectic environment can be made even worse, which is why it is important for amateur radio operators to learn about traffic handling before a disaster or emergency occurs. These skills can also assist you when moving other message formats, such as the ICS-213 General Message form.
The National Traffic System moves traffic using a standardized format called a radiogram. Here is what a radiogram looks like:
Once a radiogram is written, the end goal when moving it through the NTS is to have it arrive at its destination with the exact same content it started with, word for word and letter for letter.
While the template has the majority of the items you can complete on a radiogram, there are a few items that are not specifically called out. However, generally speaking the radiogram format covers the majority of radiograms you would encounter, and it consists of four basic elements:
Click on an element to jump to its section below.
There are also areas for recording the receiving station’s information (to the right of the address part), as well as tracking fields to show where the message came from and/or where the message was relayed to (this is below the signature).
Here are the components of a radiogram header.
The address part indicates the addressee, the person that should receive the message. While many radiograms are sent to other amateur radio operators, the recipient of the message does not need to be an amateur radio operator.
Here is its location on an ARRL radiogram.
The basic format for the address part is:
FIRST LAST CALLSIGN
CITY STATE ZIP
PHONE NUMBER ### ### ####
Notice that there are no punctuation marks in the city, state, and zip line, nor in the phone number. Also, if the recipient isn’t an amateur radio operator, we simply do not include a callsign.
Here is an example address part:
JANE DOE AR1T
123 AMATEUR WAY
SOMETOWN WI 00121
PHONE NUMBER 330 555 4424
E-MAIL JANE DOT DOE ATSIGN EXAMPLE DOT COM
See how the email address is broken out? Instead of email@example.com it is listed into its components. This helps with efficiency when providing this information over the air.
You do not need to include an email address on the radiogram, and quite often it is not included as phone delivery is often the method of choice. Along this line, while providing a phone number isn’t a requirement, it is a good practice as most radiograms are delivered by phone once they reach a delivering station in the addressee’s area.
This section contains the message, and is limited to 25 words. In the radiogram template there are 25 spaces, writing one word per space.
Here is its location on an ARRL radiogram.
Let’s use this as an example message we want to send:
Great seeing you yesterday. Hope to get together again soon. 73
In a radiogram, periods are written as either the letter X (“initial x-ray”), or the word XRAY. Either way, this indicates an end of a sentence. Similarly, if your message was, “How are you?” the question mark would be written as QUERY to indicate a question.
Using this method, we will write the text of the message like this:
GREAT SEEING YOU YESTERDAY X
HOPE TO GET TOGETHER AGAIN
Notice how we did not place X between SOON and 73? When wishing someone 73 at the end of a message, we generally do not include an X as it’s automatically implied. The only exception would be to include it for clarity. For example, if the end of your message was “ON AUGUST 10 73” it could be confusing this way, so we would instead say “ON AUGUST 10 X 73” to help better separate the date from wishing someone 73.
Items like X and QUERY count as a word when filling in the check, so counting what we have above, there are 12 words, and we would write 12 in the check.
Below the text area is the signature area.
Here is the signature location on an ARRL radiogram.
Here you would write the signature of the person or people that wrote the message. If you wrote it, then it would be your name and callsign, such as:
If you originated the message for someone without an amateur radio license, simply place their name. And, you can place more than one name here, such as:
JOHN TA4ES AND JANE EX4MPL
Using what we have in the above explanations, and assuming it is our 7th message and the current date and time are OCT 4 23:56 UTC, here is how our radiogram would look.