In this post I’ll describe how to compose a basic radiogram. I won’t wax on about everything involved here — if you want to learn more just click here. Here’s an example that I’d like to explain piece by piece. (Thank you to the Oregon ACES program for sharing a fillable PDF of the radiogram; I used it to create what you see here.)
The four main parts of the radiogram are the preamble (at the top), the address block (just below the preamble on the left), the text (the main body of the message), and the signature (just below the text). For now I’ll ignore the part at the bottom where it says “REC’D” and “SENT” as well as the box just below the preamble on the right where it says “THIS RADIO MESSAGE WAS RECEIVED AT,” since those are just for record-keeping.
Notice that a couple of the boxes are blank. I’ll still explain them, but because they’re optional and often not used I’ve left them blank. The preamble has eight boxes:
- NUMBER: This is whatever number the originating station chooses. (If you are the first station to send this radiogram, then you are considered the “originating station.”) Typically you start with “1” on the first radiogram of the year and number each subsequent radiogram sequentially. Just make sure that it’s a number with no letters and that it doesn’t start with a zero.
- PRECEDENCE: Either R, W, P, or EMERGENCY. The first three letters stand for Routine, Welfare, and Priority, but “EMERGENCY” is always spelled out. Unless you’re dealing with a disaster, your radiogram is probably Routine, so put “R” in this box.
- HX: This is for one or more of seven optional handling instructions: HXA, HXB, HXC, etc. You don’t have to put anything in this box unless you have some special need, like to authorize a collect call for delivery, hold delivery until a certain date, etc. To learn more, click here.
- STATION OF ORIGIN: Your call sign, if you’re the first station to send the radiogram.
- CHECK: The number of words in the text of your message. If there is an ARL code used in your message, then put “ARL” in front of the check number. Later I’ll say more about ARL codes — and a dangerous trap that some operators fall into with this box when delivering a radiogram.
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: The location of the person who actually authored the text of the message. If you as the originating station are the one and only person composing it, then this would be your location. But if you’re not, then it may be some other location. Say for instance that your non-ham friend wants you to send a message of his own by radiogram. The place of origin would be your friend’s location, not yours.
- TIME FILED: This is optional (unless you have entered special handling instructions in “HX” that require it) and is often left blank for routine messages. If you do enter a time, enter the time you (the originating station) created the message. Use 24 hour format followed by an indicator of the time zone, e.g. 1730Z (UTC), 1730L (Local time).
- DATE: The three-letter abbreviation for the month followed by a number for the day. This is assumed to be UTC unless you have indicated a different time zone in “TIME FILED.”
Enter the address of the person the radiogram is intended for. Don’t neglect the phone number (and remember to include the area code!) since usually radiograms are delivered by telephone once they make it to a ham who lives close enough to place a local call. I’ve put dashes in the phone number, which I should point out is technically incorrect but I’ll probably keep doing it.
Text and signature blocks:
Notice that there are five rows, each row containing five blanks? Each blank is for one word. The rows of five are to make it easier to count the words to compare with the “CHECK” box in the preamble. Instead of counting every word, you can just count by fives for every row that is full. This makes it easier for stations in the NTS to rapidly check for missing/extra words after they have copied a message. Here are a few notes on this part of the radiogram:
- Punctuation: Don’t use any punctuation marks. At the end of a sentence where a period would normally go, write “X” on a blank (it counts as a word and is pronounced “X-RAY” when read over the air). Don’t write “X” at the end of your last sentence, though. For a question mark, write “QUERY” on its own blank line (it also counts as a word).
- ARL Codes: ARL codes are a handy way to say a lot with only two or three words. For a listing of all the ARL codes, click here (it’s toward the end of the document). “ARL FIFTY” means, “Greetings by Amateur Radio,” and that’s what the recipient will hear when finally a ham calls him and reads the radiogram to him. Note that the number “FIFTY” is spelled out, and both “ARL” and “FIFTY” each count as a word. If you used, say, “ARL FIFTY ONE,” that would count as three words. Warning! Don’t confuse the “CHECK” in the preamble with the ARL code you are trying to send. In the example I’ve shown here, “ARL 15” is in the “CHECK” box, but all that means is that 1) there is an ARL code in your message 2) there are 15 words total in your message. Frankly I wish we didn’t have to put that “ARL” in the check box because it’s confusing and can be disastrous. Just read the story in the Operating Manual about the time a poor ham delivered a radiogram and mistakenly interpreted “ARL 13” in the “CHECK” box for “Medical emergency situation exists here” (the meaning of ARL THIRTEEN, if it were actually in the text of the message). After the family received this botched radiogram, they threatened to file a lawsuit!
- Wording: Be concise. The fewer words the better, as long as it still makes sense.
- Closing: Closing words like “sincerely,” “love,” etc. should be included in the text of the message, not the signature.
- Signature: The name of the person(s) writing the text. The signature goes just below the text as shown. At first this is a bit confusing when you’re staring at a blank radiogram form because it’s not obvious that the top border of the REC’D/SENT boxes doubles as the line for the signature. But that’s where it goes — above that top border, not below it. It has nothing to do with “REC’D/DATE/TIME” or “SENT/DATE/TIME,” which are for record keeping as the radiogram is sent and received. Note: the signature does not count toward the number in the “CHECK” box of the preamble.
I hope this is helpful! In my next post about the ARRL Radiogram I’ll discuss how to send it using a voice mode like SSB.