Traffic Handler Training
Training, Procedures, Resources, and Forms for the Traffic Handler
or: Traffic Handler, PDF Version, Formatted for Printing - 15 Pages.
Copyright © 2005 by Harold Melton, KV5R. All Rights Reserved.
The beginner should collect certain information and understand the basics of the traffic system and traffic handling. This document contains everything you need to get started in traffic handling. The first section contains a basic course. The next section contains forms, and the next section contains references like HX-codes and ARL-codes. The last section contains links to more resources on the web. See Contents.
Why is the ARRL called a "Relay League?"
The very first Amateur stations were called "Relay Stations," because their first recognized function was to relay message traffic. Back in 1915, when the first issue of QST was printed, they were using low-frequency spark-gap transmitters to send messages in Morse code.
Today, we send traffic using Morse code, voice, and digital modes, with an established message format, in a nationwide network called the National Traffic System (NTS). The NTS is a traffic system established by the ARRL. Many traffic nets are affiliated with NTS, while others are independent. Many independent nets are seamlessly integrated with the NTS, through liaison stations, so that virtually all traffic nets are points of entry and exit for messages, and also provide message relay services to efficiently move traffic from origin to destination.
There are two general types of traffic nets: routine and emergency. The routine nets operate on daily schedules, and handle traffic that is routine (non-emergency), providing a system for maintaining traffic net structure and operator proficiency. They are usually operated in a directed, controlled manner by a Net Control Station (NCS), and are semi-formal. The emergency nets are operated as needed, usually by ARES and/or RACES stations, to meet the communications needs of disaster and emergency response teams. Emergency nets are strictly formal, and only stations participating in the emergency are allowed to check in.
It is an enjoyable and valuable public service to acquire and maintain traffic handling proficiency. Traffic handlers and traffic nets are prepared to handle both routine and emergency traffic, whenever the need arises.
To prepare to handle traffic, we need to obtain some information and forms, do a bit of study, and get organized. Note: The forms mentioned are included in this book.
First, locate and print a net schedule for the nets in your area. For the South-central US, use my online net schedule, or locate or create a custom schedule for your area. Keep your schedule handy and begin listening to the nets. You'll learn a lot just by listening!
Next, study the Traffic System and Net Procedures. The ARRL Operating Manual, Chapter 7, covers this in detail. Also, the official book for NTS and ARES is called the Public Service Communications Manual, or PSCM, and is available online at ARRL. The official NTS Methods and Practices Guidelines (NTS-MPG), also available online, covers traffic nets and traffic handling in detail. The ARRL version of the MPG prints to over 450 pages - however, I have created a "reformatted" version that prints to less than 190 pages. Look online for the "KV5R Reformat of the NTS-MPG" if you wish to study a detailed course on traffic handling.
Next, obtain and print some message forms and reference information. These include:
These are included in this document.
The next step is to begin regularly checking in to traffic nets. The following applies only to routine nets - not emergency nets. Do not check in to an emergency net unless you have, or can handle, traffic that is relevant to the declared emergency.
Please note that these are general guidelines, not cast in stone. Every net is a little different. Listen to each net for a little while before checking in.
The Net Control Station establishes the exact frequency for the Net. Zero-beat Net Control (that is, tune until Net Control is perfectly clear), and don't worry if the net is a little high or low on your dial. No two radios are calibrated exactly alike.
When Net Control calls for check-ins, with or without traffic, listen carefully for a little break, then give your call sign only, slowly and clearly, using standard ITU phonetics. Then, wait to be recognized by Net Control.
When recognized, speak clearly and e-nun-ci-ate your words. Give your call sign, name, location, and if you have traffic to list, give the destination location - as in "I have one for Dallas, Texas" or if not, say "No Traffic." A brief greeting or comment is usually acceptable. End the check-in with your call sign.
Remember that Net Control is in charge of the net. If you have anything to say later in the net, wait until the Net Control calls for more check-ins, and say, "Recheck." When Net Control recognizes your recheck, present your information or question, but keep it brief and pertinent. Ending the exchange with your call sign signals Net Control that your recheck is complete.
Listen to the net to learn how and when other types of break-ins are used, such as "relay, " "contact," "comment," and "info."
When possible, monitor the net until it ends, in case someone checks in with traffic for your area. Some nets ask that you call Net Control and ask to be excused if you have to leave early. Just recheck, give your call sign, and say, "Please check me out." Do not leave the net if you have traffic listed, without informing Net Control.
If you hear a traffic listing destined for your local calling area, recheck and offer to take the traffic. Net Control will pair you up with the person holding the traffic, and may or may not move you to another frequency to receive the traffic. Use a radiogram form to copy the traffic, following the sender exactly, and requesting clarification (or, "fills") as needed, until all information is confirmed. If passed off-frequency, return to the net and recheck, informing Net Control that the traffic has been passed.
Messages you receive for your calling area are usually delivered by telephone, or may be mailed, or even emailed to the recipient, if that information is available. When delivering the message to the recipient, say only the message text and signature, not the preamble information. Then ask the recipient if he or she would like to send a message back, and if so, write the message on another message form, fill in the preamble, and then list it on the net. Pass the traffic following Net Control's instructions.
If not passed by direct voice contact (via answering machine, mail, or email), send a service message back to the sender, informing the method of delivery. If the message could not be passed, try another net. Routine radiograms that cannot be passed in two days may be cancelled, with a message back to the sender stating that the traffic could not be passed - but see HX codes "B" and "F" for specific time limits that may apply. Completed radiograms should be archived for a while. Emergency radiograms should be archived indefinitely, for liability purposes. Also, radiograms of possible historic value should be archived indefinitely.
The Radiogram Form is divided into four sections:
The preamble section contains eight fields:
Sender says, "Message number one, routine, Golf, kilo-victor-five-romeo, twenty-four, Athens Texas, January One, two-thousand-and-five." Do not say any extraneous words. Memorize the order of the preamble elements.
Receiver writes as shown above.
Number: This is the Originator's reference number. It can be anything the Originator likes. Some people use a 4 number date code, such as 1216. Others use a sequential number, indicating the number of messages they've handled this year. At the end of the message relay, the receiver will confirm the message using this number. The number stays with the message from origination to delivery.
Precedence: Routine, Welfare, Priority, or Emergency. For details, refer to FSD-3 (in this document). We'll cover these in a later lesson.
HX (Handling Instructions): The codes HXA through HXG determine how the message is to be handled. The last letter should be spoken phonetically, such as, "Hotel X-ray Golf." For meanings of the HX codes, refer to FSD-218 (in this document). We'll cover these in a later lesson. HX codes are optional, and not used if not needed.
Station of Origin: This the call sign of the first Amateur station who put the message into ARRL radiogram format. It may or may not be the actual originator of the message text.
Check: This is the count of the number of words and groups in the text of the message. The check provides a way to confirm that the message was copied exactly as written. If the text of the message contains an ARL code, the letters "ARL" will precede the check number. Note that ARL followed by the check number has no relation to the actual ARL number used in the text of the message. The check count includes closing salutations, but does not include the signature.
Place of Origin: Not necessarily the same as the Station of Origin, this is the location (the City and State) of the person indicated in the signature, i.e., the author of the message text.
Time Filed: This is the time that the Station of Origin created the radiogram. The use of the time field is optional, and many senders omit this for routine messages.
Date Filed: This is the date that the Station of Origin created the radiogram. The date should not be omitted, since traffic handling depend on it.
A plain reading of the preamble is similar to the following example:
"Number one-two-one-five, Routine, Hotel X-ray Golf, Kilo Victor Five Romeo, ARL two-three, Athens Texas, zero-nine-hundred Zulu, December One Five." - with each part paced slow enough to write.
The sender should speak slowly and clearly, using standard phonetics where it seems necessary, and pacing the words a little below writing speed. To learn to pace your message relay properly, write the words as you say them, on scratch paper, or spell them to yourself at writing speed. This will help keep you from out-pacing the writing speed of the receiver, and eliminate a lot of fills.
Say, "Going to," then name, amateur call, address, phone, then say, "Break for text."
The receiver either asks for "fills" (repeats), or says, "Go with text."
The Address Section contains the recipient's contact information, including:
The recipient's contact information must be spoken in a careful and consistent manner if it is to be received exactly as written.
Certain words ("Introducers") are used to "introduce" the data fields, so the receiver knows what to expect.
Introduce one or more initials with the word "initial" or "initials," followed by the letter or letters phonetically. One initial is frequently in the name.
Groups of initials are often called "letter groups," such as "MR," "MRS," "RT," "APT," and etc.
Introduce a call sign with the words "amateur call," followed by the call sign phonetically.
Introduce number groups with the word "figures." Groups of figures are voiced individually, as in "Figures 1-2-1-5" -- not "twelve fifteen." Omitting the word "figures" indicates that the number parts are spelled out as separate words.
Introduce groups of mixed letters and numbers with the words "mixed group."
There is no punctuation in the address section. Punctuation symbols, if actually in the name or address, are to be spelled out as words. Note that the US Postal Service does not require any punctuation in addresses.
Other words are called "operational words," and include words and phrases that precede the clarification of data, such as "I spell," "I repeat," and "correction."
In the Name line,
For example, the name Mr John Q Public, W5XYZ, is voiced as, "Initials Mike Romeo, John - I spell JOHN, initial Quebec, Public - I spell Papa Uniform Bravo Lima India Charlie, amateur call Whiskey Five X-ray Yankee Zulu.
In the address line,
In the City, State, Zip line,
For example, the address 123 South Louis St, St. Louis, MO, 98765-1234, would be voiced without confusion as, "figures 123, direction South, Louis - I spell L-O-U-I-S (and make it phonetic in marginal conditions), initials Sierra Tango, (then a pause), Saint Louis - I spell, initials Sierra Tango, next word L-O-U-I-S, Missouri initials Mike Oscar, (another pause), zip figures 98765, DASH, figures 1234."
In the phone line,
After the phone figures, and perhaps an optional operator's note, the sender says, "Break," signaling the receiver to ask for fills or move on to the text section. Fills for both the preamble and the address sections are covered at this point.
There are, of course, many possible variations. The goal is to reproduce the address section exactly. For detailed instructions, refer to the NTS Methods and Practices Guidelines manual. Listening to others pass traffic, and copying along with them, is another good way to become familiar with the procedures for sending and receiving spoken traffic.
Say, "Break and sign it" and then the signature.
The text section of the radiogram contains the actual text of the message, as recorded by the Station of Origin, and signed by the originator of the message text.
Note: There are only two "break" prowords in the message. The first "break" is located between the address and text sections, and is paused for fills before continuing. The second "break" is between the text and the signature, but request for fills, or "Roger" of the entire message, is after the signature and the closing proword "End." If the sending station is using fast VOX and listening between groups, the receiver may request fills at any time, as needed.
Radiograms are limited to 25 words, and contain five rows of five blanks, in a 5-by-5 table. This facilitates the easy counting of words by each station that handles the traffic, to ensure that no errors creep in to the message. Each word, figure group, or mixed group, containing no spaces, is called a "group," occupies one blank in the text section, and counts as one for the check.
The most common "check count" errors occur because groups were not separated properly, either by the sending or the receiving station. Beware of separating (or combining) groups like "call sign" (callsign), "ARL FIFTY SIX" (ARL56), "June 25 2005" (June25,2005), "in to" (into), etc.
Words in the text may be plain words, numeric figure, letter groups, and mixed groups, and salutations such as "73" or "Sincerely." Each group of letters, figures, mixed figures, initial X-ray, and spelled punctuation count at one "word" for the check count.
Proper names, and unusual place names, should be spelled phonetically. Non-word groups are introduced as figures, mixed group, letter group, and initials.
There are only three punctuation symbols allowed: The slash (within figure and mixed groups), the "X" (initial X-ray) sentence separator, and the "R" (initial Romeo), which is used in numeric and mixed groups in place of the decimal. All other punctuation symbols are spelled out as words, and count as one word for the check. These include the words QUERY, EXCLAMATION, DASH, ATSIGN, POUNDSIGN, AMPERSAND, and so forth, and are always spelled out in full.
The ARRL Numbered Radiograms, also called ARL codes, are standard messages used to shorten the length of the text. Some ARL codes contain one or more blanks. The information that applies to the blanks is placed after the ARL number in the text of the message. When the text is read to the recipient, the ARL code is read in plain text, with the blanks filled in appropriately. Also, messages that are mailed or emailed to the recipient should be re-written to include the actual text indicated by the ARL code, per FSD-3. ARL numbers are always spelled out as one or more words.
For example, the text "ARL FIFTY ONE OLD BOMBERS FLY IN BREAKFAST X 73" (a 10 word message) makes little sense until delivered in the context of the ARL code, which is: "Greetings by Amateur Radio. This message is sent as a free public service by ham radio operators at the Old Bombers fly-in breakfast. Best Wishes, from (and then the signature)."
Using the proper pauses between groups, and longer pauses between lines, helps the receiver to reproduce the groups properly. Proper grouping is confirmed by the check number. Never "Roger" a message until you have counted and confirmed the check count!
After sending the text, the sender will say, "break" and then send the signature. Fills will be after the text and signature.
The ARRL radiogram form does not contain a special field for the signature, but it is placed just below the block of blanks in the text section. The signature is exactly as the originator of the text stated when the message was created. It is usually just the name, and call sign (if any) of the person originating the text of the message. Titles may be placed after the signature name. It does not include salutations such as 73, or Love, or Sincerely, which are counted in the body of the text.
An optional operator's note, or OP NOTE, may be placed after the signature. The op note is used to help relay or deliver the message, and is not read to the recipient.
Finally, the sender ends with "End, no more" or, "End, one more," etc. The receiving station either asks for fills, or says something like, "I Roger number 123" and signs clear, or awaits the next message. If the message was relayed off-frequency, the sender or receiver returns to the net, rechecks, and informs Net Control that the message has been passed.
The receiver that accepts a message for delivery to the addressee accepts responsibility for the final disposition of the message, and is obligated to perform one of three possible actions: (1) deliver the message, or (2) relay the message, or (3) send a service message to the Station of Origin explaining why the message could not be delivered.
The most important thing for the sender to remember is to speak clearly, and pace the message groups no faster than the receiver can write. The most important thing for the receiver to remember is that it is okay to request whatever fills, clarifications, and instructions as may be needed. The goal of both is to reproduce the entire contents of the message form without error.
This is the end of the basic course.
* For use only by the Net Control Station.
* Since 1970, there has been an informal agreement between the United Kingdom and the US, permitting Pitcairn and US amateurs to exchange messages concerning medical emergencies, urgent need for equipment or supplies, and private or personal matters of island residents.
** Limited to special-event stations with callsign prefix GB (GB3 excluded).
Note: US licensed amateurs may operate in the following US territories under their FCC license: The Northern Marianas Islands, Guam, Johnston Island, Midway Island, Kure Island, American Samoa, Wake Island, Wilkes Island, Peale Island, The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
Temporary Third Party Traffic Agreements: During major disaster situations, administrations of countries may request temporary third party traffic agreements to facilitate the passage of emergency and health and welfare messages. W1AW bulletins carry announcements of temporary agreements.
Note: The form in the Traffic Handler PDF is properly formatted for printing.
Copyright © 2007 by Harold Melton, KV5R. All Rights Reserved. Feel free to link to this page.
The ARRL Diamond, ARES logo, and NTS logo are registered trademarks of the American Radio Relay League, Inc.