March 6, 2003


Presented on March 6, 2003 SARC E-Comm/ARES Net.

Good evening... This is Milan, K9HDX and I'd like to give you a very brief view into the ARRL NTS or NATIONAL TRAFFIC SYSTEM and more specifically, how a formal message would be processed and passed.

Just for background information, NTS has been in place for more than 50 years and is a well defined, smooth functioning system. NTS Nets are in place all over the country and are continuously passing traffic back and forth. Not too many years ago, this was one of the fastest ways to get a message across the country. Today, with high speed digital communication at our fingertips, it might seem like an obsolete method.

The big importance of NTS today is to keep our communicating skills tuned and ready to function properly and efficiently in the event of a local or national emergency. Remember that the possibility of failed phone systems, including cell systems, is a real possibility. It happened on September 11

The need to be able to pass emergency traffic quickly and without error is a very important function that can be provided by well trained hams. Please underline "WELL TRAINED".

When untrained hams try to help, their intentions are good, but sometimes the result is chaotic and even counter productive. So.... The key then is understanding what to do, being trained in proper procedures and getting plenty of practice. This is why SARC have an E-Comm group and why many of us have joined the ARRL-ARES program. Remember the Boy Scout motto... BE PREPARED!

This is my simulated scenario this evening...

My wife and I were visiting relatives in northern Wisconsin. On the drive home we heard many reports about bad storms in the Chicago area. When we arrived in Roselle, we found only minor wind damage in our neighborhood but, all phone systems were down. We knew Jack and Barbara would be worried so. I prepared the following message to send via the amateur radio National Traffic System to assure them that we were all OK.


To: Jack Johnson
       Route B
       Hayward WI 60006
Phone: 555-123-4567

We arrived safely at 4:30 PM. Only slight property damage here. Do not be concerned about disaster reports. Everyone is safe. Ruth will contact you as soon as possible. We enjoyed being with you and are looking forward to getting together again.

Signed:   Milan


This is a 42 word message not counting address, phone number and signature.

It needs to be reduced to it's shortest possible form without changing the content. It also has to be set up to follow the standardized preamble and format used by the NTS system.

You might say this sounds like a lot of trouble, why can't I just get on the air and send the message?

Think of it in this manner... When you mail a letter via the post office there is a standard preamble too.

The stamp goes in the right hand corner and the type of stamp designates priority. You know.. Regular mail, special delivery, certified or other options.

Your return address always goes in the upper left corner.

The addressee info goes in the center of the envelope with a particular format -- NAME, STREET ADDRESS, CITY, STATE and ZIP.

I believe that letters have been delivered by the post office with the stamp in the wrong place, the address mixed up and errors like that but it probably took a long time and possibly was never delivered. We want to make sure that any emergency communications gets through rapidly and accurately


Everyone using the US post office generally knows this addressing methodology. The location of the information defines it all.

The same thing is true with the NTS system, there is a location for each item in the message preamble or address and every traffic handler knows for example, that the first number you send is the "message number". You don't have to say (on phone) or send (on CW) This is my message number The traffic handler will know that when a message begins, and you send THREE ZERO ONE, that is the message number. I'll say a little more on this in a minute.

The ARRL National Traffic System has developed a published listing of common standard message phrases identified as ARL ONE thru ARL SIXTY NINE. These allow the message to be condensed and thereby speed up handling.


Tonight we won't go into the definitions of each ARL. Information can be found on the ARRL website. Look for and download document FSD-3. In addition, FSD-218 will also provide a lot of help.

Now, here is my original 42 word message condensed using ARL's in the body. This reduces the word content from 42 to 13. Fewer words mean fewer errors. Hams involved in the NTS have no problem understanding the message and when they deliver it to the addressee, they "decode" it so that the receiving party understands it.

My message then becomes....


Now back to the preamble.... I mentioned the standard format on a snail mail envelope. A similar format is understood and accepted by NTS traffic handlers

Each message contains a number of identifiers in specific locations on the radiogram form. These are:

1. Message number 301,

2. A priority or precedence designation   R would be a routine message. message)

3. A handling instruction. This is the alpha HX followed by a letter designation. I will use C which stands for "report the time and date of delivery back to the originating station"

4. Station of origin- My call

5. Check number which is the number of words in the message. If one or more ARL's are used it will say ARL 13. If no ARL was used, it would just be the number 13.

6 Place of origin- Roselle, IL

7. Time filed 2230 CST

8. Date filed March 6 The year is not required since emergency traffic is time sensitive and "process immediately" is assumed.

Since an official NTS message uses all of these standard terms and references, experienced traffic handlers reduce the message even further to the absolute bare minimum. All of the preamble item designations would always be sent in the same order so there is no need to say "message number" before Three Zero One , Precedence before R or Place of origin before "Roselle", etc. The preamble would simply be sent as   Three Zero One---Romeo--- HX Charlie---KILO NINE HOTEL DELTA X-RAY----ARL 13----ROSELLE IL----2230 CST --- Mar 6--. The receiving station would know what each means.


This may sound like a lot of effort and extra work but when hundreds of messages are being passed, brevity is important to both accuracy and speed of handling.

Now I'll repeat the message once again in the exact manner it would be placed on the air in a NTS traffic net.


When the NCS calls for check in, I would respond with my call, name, and location. I would advise that I have traffic for Wisconsin.

NCS might say K9HDX pass your traffic to W9ABC who he knows is on frequency and in Wisconsin

W9ABC would say K9HDX send your traffic

I would respond as follows...........

Three Zero One -- Romeo -- Charlie --    Kilo Nine Hotel Delta X-ray -- ARL ONE THREE -- Roselle I spell -- Romeo Oscar Sierra Echo Lima Lima Echo -- Illinois -- 2230 CST -- March 6
Figures... 555-123-4567

I would then say (Break)   The receiving station would reply "Roger" if copied the preamble and address 100% or would say "Say again" and identify which part he missed. Once he says "Rodger" I continue with the message body

Arrived home -- figure -- one-six three-zero ARL FOUR -- ARL ONE -- RUTH -- I spell Romeo Uncle Tango Hotel ARL SIX -- ARL FIFTY TWO
MILAN I spell Mike India Lima Alpha November (Break)             (Roger)

If this was my only (or my last) message I would then say -- "End -- No more" and just give my call "K9HDX"

The message was passed. Since I had left a handling instruction of "Charlie" which means "Report date and time of delivery to originating station" I will expect a return message, probably a phone call, advising that it was delivered.

Completed Radiogram Message Form

So, this was an example of an NTS traffic message. Some people will use the NTS system to send a birthday greeting or other well wishes just to exercise their traffic handling procedures. I plan on checking into several traffic nets each week to send those kind of greetings. This will test the traffic net, test my abilities and help to get me ready for real emergency traffic handling.

If you are interested in a copy of this drill, send me an e-mail @ and I'll send a file that includes this evenings entire program and also a copy of the radiogram.

73 and back to net control from K9HDX