Category Archives: Operating Practice & Procedure

The ARRL Radiogram, Part 2

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.

Preamble:

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.”

Address block:

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.

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The ARRL Radiogram, Part 1

Radiogram at the desk of N0IPWho knew the ARRL radiogram could be so easy to send and receive — and so enjoyable? All those old-time NTS operators, of course! The National Traffic System — the “Relay” in the American Radio Relay League — has been around since 1915, yet never have I had the courage to take part until now. I wish I’d done it sooner. My son, a ham for only a month, has already passed two radiograms of his own! How about you? Would you like to give it a try?

Click here to learn more about the NTSThe first step is to find a net that is part of the NTS. I found one by searching the ARRL database (click here) for a “Section Net” in Minnesota. Unfortunately the database is a bit cluttered, so it may require a bit of patience as you sift through the listings and tune around listening for a listed net. But that’s not a bad way to start, really. Patient listening will get you far in this hobby, especially when you’re trying to learn something new.

Once I found the MN Section Phone Net on 3860 kHz I listened to a few sessions before checking in. My biggest fear was that I might be asked to receive a radiogram without understanding the procedure. But I didn’t have anything to worry about — surprisingly, very little traffic is actually passed these days. The same is true of the SD NEO Net which immediately follows the MN Section net on that frequency.

We need more radiograms in the system. It doesn’t matter how trivial your message is, honestly. Know somebody who has a birthday coming up? Send him a radiogram! It is a novel way to send a greeting, and it helps keep the NTS running the way it’s supposed to. As the ARES EC for my county I have a vested interest in the proficiency of the NTS, which works closely with ARES during a disaster. But I digress.

The ARRL Operating Manual For Radio AmateursTo learn how to send and receive a radiogram I turned to The ARRL Operating Manual For Radio Amateurs. The chapter on traffic handling is very well written; read through it a couple of times and you’ll be ready to handle radiograms by a voice-mode. CW is a little tougher because it involves unique prosigns and Q-signals — the book is indispensable as a starting-point, but I’m still not ready to check into a CW traffic net quite yet. I’m listening when I can, though, and learning.

Before passing a radiogram in the NTS, I practiced sending and receiving a test-radiogram with my son on 2 meter simplex. Then I practiced sending a test-radiogram to the Yellow Medicine County ARES Training Net on our local 2 meter repeater. We were ready to do it for real. On the next Training Net my son sent me a bona fide radiogram bound for his friend in Virginia. No turning back now — I couldn’t let my son down! The next chance I had to put it into the NTS was with the SD NEO Phone Net, so I tuned in, gulped, and took the plunge. Pretty soon the radiogram was on its way and I was grinning. This is easy!

In my next post I’ll describe how to compose a radiogram. Obviously I’m new at this, but that also means some of these things are fresh in my mind. I hope it will help one of you get on the air and send a radiogram!

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YMC ARES Training Net Begins!

Last night at 8:00 P.M. I held our first Yellow Medicine County ARES Training Net. The plan is to do this every Monday night at 8:00 P.M. and to cover a specific learning objective each time. Dean Herzberg, NYØI, graciously agreed to let us use his 2 meter repeater in Milan for this.

Rather than trying to re-invent the wheel, I’m trying to mimic the Arizona Emergency Net. They have been doing some excellent work, and you can listen to recordings of their training nets online (click here for their archives).

Yesterday’s topic was “Tactical Call Signs.” After explaining the concept of tactical call signs, I assigned one to each operator, asking him to acknowledge it. Then I put the operators through a little exercise. I explained that I would call each one of them with his tactical call sign, and after he replied with his tactical call sign, I would ask him a question. When he answered the question, he was to conclude with his FCC call sign. This is standard format; signing with the FCC call sign tells net control that the operator considers the exchange complete. Here’s an example:

Net control: “EOC-1”
EOC-1: “EOC-1”
Net control: “EOC-1, what is your favorite mode?”
EOC-1: “My favorite mode is FM. NØJXI”

The stations who checked in did a great job. The whole net took only about 15 minutes; I tried to make it short, sweet, and to the point, and since we didn’t have many check-ins it didn’t last long.

All hams within range of the repeater are welcome to participate in this net, whether or not they are in Yellow Medicine County and whether or not they have registered with ARES. I do hope that this will draw some hams into ARES, though. Now that we have something like this going, it’s time to beat the bushes by sending out letters to local hams inviting them to take part.

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CW Abbreviations

If you’re just getting started with CW, you need to know that learning Morse Code is only part of the puzzle. You’ll also need to learn basic CW Operating Procedures, and you’ll need to know some commonly used abbreviations, too. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to print out something like this and keep it near your key until sending and receiving these are second-nature:

Abbreviation Meaning Example
ABT About ANT 3 EL BEAM UP ABT 40 FT
AGN Again PSE AGN UR NAME?
ANT Antenna ANT DIPOLE UP ABT 50 FT
BURO QSL Bureau PSE QSL VIA BURO
CPY Copy HW CPY?
CU See you CU AT SKYWARN TRAINING
CU AGN See you again 73 HPE CU AGN
CUL See you later 73 HPE CUL
CQ Calling anyone CQ CQ CQ DE NØIP
DE This is station NØBSY DE NØIP KN
DR Dear FB DR TODD (Often heard from DX stations.)
DX Long-distance CQ CQ CQ DX DE NØIP
EL Element ANT 3 EL BEAM UP ABT 40 FT
ES And 73 JOHN GN ES GB U ES URS
FB Fine business FB OM TNX FER RPT
FER For TNX FER NICE CHAT HPE CU AGN
FT Feet ANT DIPOLE UP 60 FT
GA Good afternoon GA OM UR RST 579
GB God bless 73 ES GB
GD Good day GD OM TNX FER CALL
GE Good evening GE OM ES GB
GL Good luck TNX FER QSO 73 GL
GM Good morning GM DIETER TNX FER RPT FROM BERLIN
GN Good night TIME TO HIT THE SACK GN ES TNX FER QSO
GUD Good UR ANT DOING GUD JOB
HI Laugh XYL NEEDS A NEW RIG HI HI
HPE I hope/I hope to HPE CU THIS FRI
HR Here RIG HR HEATHKIT DX-100 ES HAMMARLUND HQ-170A
HW How HW CPY?
NR Near QTH NR MINNEAPOLIS, MN
OB Old Boy TNX QSO OB
OM Old Man TNX FER CALL OM
OP Operator’s Name OP TODD
PSE Please PSE QSY UP 1
PWR Power RIG HR TS-440S PWR ABT 100 W
R Roger (Copy 100%) NØBSY DE NØIP R R FB TOM
RIG Radio equipment RIG HR HW-8
RPT Report (also RPRT) or Repeat TNX FER RPT/RPRT (Repeat: PSE RPT QTH)
SIG Signal UR SIG VY WEAK
SRI Sorry SRI OM MUST GO
TKS Thanks TKS FER QSO (Same as TNX)
TNX Thanks TNX FER QSO (Same as TKS)
TU Thank you NØIP TU 5NN (Typical rapid-fire DXpedition exchange.)
U You NICE TO MEET U
UR Your/You’re UR RST 599
URS Yours GB U ES URS
VERT Vertical ANT VERT UP 20 FT
VY Very UR SIG VY WEAK
W Watt(s) RIG HW-8 PWR ABT 2 W
WID With BEEN WID XYL 24 YRS
WX Weather WX HR COLD ABT 5 F
YL Young lady FB YL HPE CUL
YR Year CU NEXT YR AT DAYTON
YRS Years BEEN HAM 33 YRS
XYL Wife (Ex-young-lady) XYL CALLING MUST GO
72 Best regards (QRP) UR K2 DOING GUD 72 OM ES GB
73 Best regards TU 73 CUL

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Reflecting Upon a 33-year-old Written Logbook, Now Completed

A couple days ago I made my last entry in the logbook I’ve been using for 33 years. The log has grown up with me and is a bit battered, much like its owner. The first entry I made was on 9/10/78, back when I was a 10-year-old Novice with the call KAØCEM.

It’s a trip down memory lane to page through this logbook, not only to read the entries and the notes I made about changes in my equipment and QTH, but even to see how my handwriting changed over the years. But it’s full now, so it is time to start another logbook.

The first page of my logbook when I was KAØCEM.

I happen to have a nice, new logbook just waiting for the next hand-written entry. Somewhere along the line I acquired it and it’s been on my shelf waiting for the day my first logbook filled up. But now I’m not so sure I want to use it. Things are different now. Back in the day we relied exclusively on QSL cards to confirm our contacts, but now some folks rely on the Logbook of the World — as a courtesy to them I started entering my contacts there this year. But double-logging is as prone to error as it is time-consuming. And as much as I love the nostalgia of the hand-written log, I have to admit that logbook in Ham Radio Deluxe is mighty slick.

So I’ve ordered the chips to upgrade my Kenwood TS-440S, a CAT cable to hook it up to my computer, and from now on it’s a computerized logbook for me.

But one thing is nagging me. There are unanticipated consequences of “progress” like this. For instance, this computerized logbook has a window with constantly-updated DX spots. Nice, huh? But with this instantaneous feedback-loop that we’ve created, it has become harder and harder to have meaningful QSOs with DX stations — as soon as one is spotted there’s a massive pile-up that turns subsequent QSOs into rapid-fire exchanges that consist of nothing more than NØIP 599 TU.

I’m glad my ol’ logbook ended with a better QSO than that. I called CQ DX on 20m and LU1MA responded from Argentina. We didn’t exactly have a ragchew, but at least it lasted for six whole minutes. The second I signed off with him, though, a horde descended upon him like a swarm of thirsty mosquitoes.

I don’t remember that ever happening in the old days, even though there were more CW operators on the air back then. Back at the peak of the third-to-last sunspot cycle I had DX QSOs that routinely lasted 10-15 minutes, sometimes longer. That wasn’t because my CW was slow. Back then I was around 20 WPM; now I’m down to 15 WPM (it’s coming back, though!). It was simply different back then, and I would say it was better. I loved how the DX stations used to call me DR TODD; I’d hear it from more than one country, but never from the USA. We talked with each other back then, no matter how far away the DX station was.

So I’m not sure I’ll keep that DX spot window open in my new computerized logbook. I’m not even sure I’ll enter pile-ups all that much. I’ve learned how to do it, but it’s tedious and not nearly as rewarding as the contacts I used to have with these DX stations. Maybe I’ll call CQ DX more often and hope the fellow on the other end is willing to spend a few more minutes in QSO than he’s used to.

But when I do, he’ll go into my computer. Along with the old days, my written logbook is a thing of the past.

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Basic CW Operating Procedures

Back when I first got on the air in 1978, CW QSO’s had a pretty standard format. That format didn’t change much until the last few years. But today there’s quite a hodgepodge of operating procedures out there. Most of the time it works, but it’s not uncommon to hear a downright jumbled mess — even from a CW operator who has been on the air long enough to send and receive at 10 wpm or more.

It’s important to learn good operating procedure, not just because it sounds polished but because it serves a practical purpose. You can get away with sloppy operating procedure under perfect conditions, but not if your signal is weak or if there’s much QRM, QRN, and/or QSB. Even under perfect conditions, you’re making the person at the other end work harder if you’re constantly surprising him with your own odd way of operating. Under poor conditions, he may miss some of what you’re trying to say. And even if he succeeds at copying what you’re saying he may well be relieved when the ordeal is over.

I’m not going to get into all of the details of good operating procedure here, but I would like to discuss some basics.

General structure
There is a general structure to a CW QSO that most operators expect. After establishing contact, the first transmission should stick to the basics — RST, QTH, and name. You don’t know yet how well the other fellow is copying you; if you’re a 329, you’re going to torture him if you go on and on about your rig, your power, your antenna, the weather, etc. Furthermore, you might lose the opportunity to hear even the basics from the other fellow if band conditions deteriorate while you’re sending all this on the first transmission. So stick to the basics — and do send them. Here’s the way we all used to do it years ago:

NØART DE NØIP R TNX FER CALL OM BT UR RST RST 579 579 BT QTH QTH GRANITE FALLS, MN GRANITE FALLS, MN BT NAME NAME TODD TODD BT SO HW CPY? AR NØART DE NØIP KN

Note the use of BT. That seems to have fallen out of favor, but once upon a time it was the standard way of changing the subject. The most important thing I want to point out here is to preface each of the three major elements of this first transmission with their labels: RST, QTH, and NAME. It takes a few seconds longer than sending something like, “UR 579 IN GRANITE FALLS, MN OP TODD,” but it is worth it. As the FISTS club puts it, “Accuracy transcends speed.” Update: I have noticed that OP is often used instead of NAME, especially with DX stations. Since it is widely recognized it’s perfectly acceptable.

The operator replying to this first transmission sends the same three basics in the same way. If he’s inclined (and if he’s received a reasonably good RST) he will probably go on to talk about his station, the weather, etc. As it turns into a ragchewing session you can pretty much send whatever you want.

Procedure signals
Just as the use of BT has fallen out of favor, so have other procedure signals fallen on hard times. I often hear them sent incorrectly and used improperly. Remember what these are — they are procedure signals. Learn to send them well and to use them well, and your operating procedure will improve substantially. The ones most commonly used are AR, AS, BK, BT, K, KN and SK.

Notice the line that appears over each one of the two-letter procedure signals. That means you send the two letters as if they are one character. For instance, KN isn’t sent as dah-di-dah dah-dit (KN) but dah-di-dah-dah-dit (KN).

  • AR End of message: Send this after you are completely done sending everything — everything, that is, but call signs and KN. If it’s your last transmission, use SK instead.
  • AS Wait:You might hear this if you’re working an experienced operator. If you hear this, the next thing you hear will probably be silence — maybe he has to answer the phone or something. Or maybe you’ll hear him hold his key down while he fiddles with his antenna tuner. Don’t start sending — he’ll start sending when he’s ready. This is a handy procedure sign to know, if you ever need to take a break yourself.
  • BK Break: This might be used by a station who wants to enter an ongoing QSO — he’ll send BK between transmissions to see if they’ll let him in and turn their QSO into a “roundtable.” With the advent of full QSK keying, this also became popular among experienced CW operators who could interrupt one another right in the middle of a transmission (perhaps to answer a question or clarify something). But most commonly BK is used to rapidly turn the conversation over to the other station without sending any call signs. For instance, an operator might send something like “HOW CPY? BK” and then cease his transmission. If this happens to you, reply by simply sending BK and answer his question. You can go back and forth in this manner for as long as you want, but don’t forget to obey the law by identifying yourself with your call sign at least every 10 minutes.
  • BT Separator: Usually used to change the subject, even if it’s just to go from sending RST to sending QTH. (If you hear the other fellow sending BT several times, it’s because he’s trying to think of what he wants to say next!)
  • K Over: This invites anybody listening to reply. Send this after you’re done calling CQ. But if you’re in a QSO, you almost always want to use KN, not K.
  • KN Over (to specific station): Send this after signing over to the other station in a QSO, e.g. NØART DE NØIP KN. KN tells other listeners that they’re not welcome to call you yet — you just want the station you’ve named to reply. Don’t send this after calling CQ — send K instead.
  • SK End of contact: This lets the other operator know that you want to end this QSO, and this is your last transmission. Usually sent in place of AR right before signing over to the other station.

The Handshake
It has long been customary to send “dit dit” at the very end of a QSO, like a final handshake. On the very last transmisssion, the sending station sends “dit dit” and then the other station replies “dit dit,” and that’s the end. Or (like we did in the old days) you’ll hear the first station send “dit di-di-dit dit” and wait for the second station to send “dit dit” (“shave and a haircut, two bits!”).

But this is often fumbled. Here’s how it usually goes wrong. The first station to send his final farewell, e.g. TNX FER QSO HPE CU AGN 73 73 SK NØART DE NØIP KN, knowing full well that the other station still plans on bidding him farewell in the same manner, goes ahead and sends “dit dit” at the end of his transmission. Naturally, the other station ignores this faux pas, goes on to send his last transmission, and only when he is done does he finally offer “dit dit” for the other operator to send his own “dit dit” again.

Now, this is obviously not the most important point of operating procedure, but why not do it right? No need to be socially awkward at the end of a good QSO!

I’ve only covered a few basics here. For more on CW operating procedures, it’s worth checking out something like http://www.fists.org/basiccw.html. But the best way to learn good operating procedures is simply to pay attention to what proficient operators are doing — especially as you get into more advanced operation, like handling DX pileups. The more listening you do before you wade in, the better operator you will be.

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