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Traffic Training – NTS Format

[Note:  The NTS traffic format is not part of the NIMS/ICS (National Incident Manangent System/Incident Command System) and is not used by Wake County ARES.   Wake County ARES, and all other participating agencies and NGOs, is required to be "NIMS Compliant". This information is preserved here as a mechanism of continuity. ]

Content prepared by:
Bob Conder K4RLC
Wake ARES Assistant EC

last updated November 2001


Every message originated and handled should contain the following component parts in the following order: (This is explained further in the following text)

I. PREAMBLE – Information about the origin of the message

a. Number – The sequential number of the message b. Precedence – The level or importance or urgency of the message c. Handling Instructions (not normally used in declared emergencies) – specific handling orders d. Station of Origin – Callsign of the originating station e. Check – Total number of words, or letter or number groups in the text of the message f. Place of Origin – Place message originated g. Time Filed – Time filed with the originating amateur station h. Date – Date the message was received at the originating amateur station

II. ADDRESS – Address of the recipient(s) of the message, and phone number (if given)

III. TEXT – Actual information to be transmitted

IV. SIGNATURE – Signature of the originator of the message, not the amateur station


download a printer-friendly message form (pdf file)
  • All of the instructions outlined in this brochure are based on ARRL procedures. However, these instructions have been optimized for application during an emergency in Wake County, North Carolina. These procedures may not necessarily conform to National Traffic System (NTS) standards. If there is a conflict between NTS standard procedures and the instructions outlined in this material, these instructions will be followed.



These eight features are similar to the return address in a postal letter, and are necessary for accurate and proper transmission of each message:

A) NUMBER – The sequential number of the message

  1. Begin with the number 1 for your station of origin on January 1st of each year. Some stations with heavy traffic may begin with number 1 at the beginning of each month or quarter. You may also restart the number for each event, drill, or actual activation.
  2. During Tests, messages may be labeled as a “Test Message” and the number of the message. For example, a station may say “Test Message 1″ or “Test Message 9″ etc.
B) PRECEDENCES- This indicates the relative importance of each message. There are four categories of importance. Most often, messages will be R for Routine.

  1. a) EMERGENCY. Any message having life and death urgency to any person or group of persons, which is transmitted by Amateur Radio in the absence of regular commercial facilities. This includes official messages of welfare agencies during emergencies requesting supplies, materials or instructions vital to relief of stricken populace in emergency areas. On CW, RTTY and other digital modes this designation (EMERGENCY) will always be spelled out, and not abbreviated. When in doubt, do not use it. This tends to be a rare precedence.
  1. b) “Test” Emergency. When messages are originated in “test” or simulation scenarios, they may be labeled as “test” emergency. This helps differentiate them from “real” emergency scenarios. They may be labled as “test emergency” or “test priority” or routine test precedence’s. The “test” prefix will help with overall tests of the traffic handling system.
  2. PRIORITY. These are important messages having a specific time limit. They also include: official messages not covered in the Emergency category; Press dispatches and other emergency-related traffic not of the utmost urgency; and Notification of death or injury in a disaster area, personal or official. Use the abbreviation P on CW.
  3. WELFARE. A message that is either a) an inquiry as to the health and welfare of an individual in the disaster area, or b) an advisory or reply from the disaster area that indicates all is well should this precedence, which is abbreviated W on CW. These messages are handled after Emergency and Priority traffic but before Routine.
  4. ROUTINE. In disaster situations, traffic labeled Routine (R on CW) should be handled last, or not at all when circuits are busy with Emergency, Priority or Welfare traffic. Routine messages do not have an urgency, but are messages of information or greetings.

  1. The ARRL Radiogram used includes a field titled HX. This stands for the seven different types of handling instructions. This is covered in the ARRL manual, and is not generally used in our situation. If there are no handling instructions, the field is left blank, and you just skip it when reading or sending the Preamble.

    The callsign of the first amateur station to transmit this emergency traffic. Do NOT change to your callsign if you are NOT the originator of the traffic.
E) CHECK – The total number of words, and letter or number groups in the text of the message.

  1. The check is the word count of only the text portion of the message. This includes the total number of words, letter and number groups in the text. The following rules should be utilized:
      1. Example: 123-4567 counts as two words, while 919-123-4567 counts as three words.
        Example: “ARL Twenty Two” counts as three words. The check would be written as “ARL 3″ if the text contained only the message “ARL Twenty Two.”
    1. a. Punctuation (X’s) count separately as a word (see section III below).
      b. Numbers and initials (letter groups that don’t spell words) have a large potential for confusion on phone nets, since they can be said and written and counted several different ways. CW nets don’t have this problem. See SECTION III – TEXT, below, for details on speaking, writing and counting numbers and letter groups.
      c. The signature does not count as part of the text.
      d. Telephone numbers count as three words if the area code is included or two words without an area code. e. Zip codes count as one unit , or two units for the zip plus 4 codes.
      f. If ARRL Radiogram numbers are used in the text, then the check contains the letters “ARL” and the number of words used contained in the message.

  2. Although it is improper to change the text of a message, you may change the check. Always do this by following the original check with a slash bar, then the corrected check. On phone, use the words “corrected to.”

    The hospital, shelter, emergency operation center, or other location authoring the message, but not necessarily the location of the station of origin. Sometimes just given as the City and State of the originating station.

  1. For Wake ARES, and all messages going to and from locations within North Carolina, use local time in 24-hour format.
  2. Time filed is the time the message was received by the originating amateur handler from the signatory. Must be in 24-hour military time. Do NOT use AM or PM. The time must be followed by EDT or EST (Eastern Daylight Time in the summer or Eastern Standard Time in the winter.) EDT or EST will indicate the exact time to a reader outside of our time zone. For example: 1642EDT would be utilized for 4:42PM in the summer.
      Example: The Governor writes a message at 0645 but does not give it to NC4EO until 0915. 0915 would be the Time Filed.

  1. The date the message was received by the originating amateur handler from the signatory. Use three letter monthly abbreviations and the two-digit day of the month. Do NOT use the year, as it is a given fact during an emergency. For example: OCT 05, which would be transmitted on phone as “October zero five”.
      Example: The Governor writes the message at 2356 on June 6, but does not give it to NC4EO until 0002 on June 7. Jun 07 would be the correct date.



A) Recipient(s) of the emergency traffic. Include any and all multiple recipients in a single message. Use Book Traffic form for multiple recipients of the same message. Do not send the same message over and over to different destinations. This minimizes critically short airtime during an emergency. Be sure to include phone number if the message can be delivered to the recipient via telephone. Zip codes are important for packet use.
B) Use sure to observe any third party agreements with persons in foreign countries who are message recipients.

III. TEXT- The actual text and body of the message, eg, what you want to say.

A) Each word or number or letter group goes on one blank space on the RadioGram (see above).
B) X should be used in place of periods in the text, and each X counts as a word. Commas and other punctuation are never used. Never end a text with an X, as it just wastes space and makes the word count longer. X is transmitted on phone by saying “Initial X-ray.” Try to limit text to 25 words, as this is the space available on the Radiogram.
C) Remember that ARL numbers are spelled as text (not numerals). EX: ARL Twenty three (and counts as three words in the text).
D) Numbers and initials (letter groups that don’t spell words) have a large potential for confusion on phone nets, since they can be said and written several different ways. That can be particularly confusing when trying to count words for the check. CW nets don’t have this problem.

  • If a number is to be written out as text, just say the number. If you say “seventy three” the number should be copied as the two words SEVENTY THREE, and they count as two words in the check. For example, text spoken as “The shelter needs seventy three cots” would be written on the message form as:
    and would count as six words. It may help the receiving operator if you spell the “words” quickly – “The shelter needs seventy three (I spell s-e-v-e-n-t-y t-h-r-e-e) cots.”

  • If a number is to be written numerically, preceed the number with the word “figure” or “figures”. The word “figures” is not written as part of the text, and is not counted in the check – it’s just for operator clarification. For example, text spoken as “The shelter needs figures seventy three cots” would be written on the message form as:
    and would count as five words. Same message, different count, because the numbers were treated differently.

  • Any letter or group of letters that do not spell words should be preceeded by the word “initial’ or “initial group.” Like “figures,” the word “initial” is not written as part of the text, and is not counted in the check – it’s just for operator clarification. Most of the time the initials should then be read in phonetics. For example, text spoken as “Please notify the initial group Echo Oscar Charlie immediately initial X-ray” would be written on the message form as:
    and would count as six words.

  • A group of letters and numbers together should be preceeded by the phrase “mixed group.” Again, the phrase “mixed group” is not written as part of the text, and is not counted in the check. The mixed group of letters and numbers, however, is counted as one word for the check.
  • For example, text spoken as “The radio is an Alinco mixed group Delta X-Ray seventy seven Alpha” would be written on the form as:
    and would count as six words.

IV. SIGNATURE – The name of the person who originated the message.


A) The person and their title, who wrote the message, not the amateur handler. ALWAYS GET A SIGNATURE PRIOR TO SENDING A MESSAGE! This will provide you with certainty that you have it right, it also eliminates capricious messages (unnecessary messages). Signatures can be as lengthy as they need to be, eg, The Honorable Mike Easley, Governor of the State of North Carolina.

V. REC’D AND SENT BLANKS – Provides an audit trail


A) This section of the Radiogram is often left blank. However, it is important to complete these blanks to provide an “audit trail” when and if there are questions about the clarity and/or meaning of messages by the originating station. Also, if a message is lost, or has the text changed, use of the Rec’d and Sent Blanks can assist in finding where the traffic has experienced difficulty, and correcting the error(s).
B) This is not part of the message, but bookkeeping notes for your own files.

Example: a message does not reach the addressee. The originating amateur station could ask you when you received (REC’D) and later SENT the message to another station or to the addressee. This is good information to have on record.



A) If you didn’t copy the complete message, or have questions, it is ESSENTIAL to ask for clarification or “fills.”
There are several ways to do this:

  1. If you know the number of the word, as measured on the Radiogram, then ask for that word by number. That is, the Radiogram is five spaces wide and five rows high. The third word of the fourth row would be number 18. You could ask for a repeat of 18?
  2. Ask for a specific word or name.
  3. Example: please repeat the callsign.

  4. If you didn’t get the last part of the message, you can ask for “all after.” For example, you could ask for all after the word “hippopotamus” by asking for a repeat of “all after hippopotamus.”
  5. If got last the last part of the text, but missed the first part, you can ask for “all before.”
  6. Example: please repeat all before hippopotamus.

  7. Check your word count, with the count of the text in the preamble. You may have written a word as two units (South Carolina) when it was originated as one initial unit (SC). Another common problem is in giving temperatures. Temperature may be given with the degree sign and the letter “F” as a mixed group or “degrees” may be used as a word. Look for obvious grammatical problems that can foul the word count by making it off by one too many or one too few words/units.


A) Below is an example of a completed Radiogram. The check is 19, including two X-rays. A final X is not used to end the text, as that would be unnecessary. Note that Zip Code and Telephone number are included, but are not part of the check. Preamble, Address and signature are also not part of the check.


Write legibly. If you copied the original message quickly, please copy it over in very legible handwriting, such as blockletters. ARRL format for copying CW (See “Now You’re Talking) is recommended. The recipient of the Radiogram will much appreciate this, and the Radiogram will look much more professional.


A) “Book Form” is useful when sending multiple pieces of traffic which have some identical components. This is commonly used when the same text is being sent to multiple addresses. The goal is to reduce the time needed to pass these messages.
B) For example, suppose the state EOC director wants to send the priority message “All shelters need to conserve water” to four counties in the western region of the state. Four messages would be created with their individual message number and address.When the state wide traffic net is opened, the local representative would announce he was holding four priority messages for the western region (some might also say they have a book of four priority messages for the western region…this protocol varies between nets and operators).When the local holder is paired with the western region receiver, he would announce that he has a “book of 4″ priority messages with the address being different for each message. The sender would then send all of the common parts first. He would then follow with the uncommon parts (each message number and address).

Here is an example of book traffic for four (4) recipients. This is Priority traffic, with a Check of 6:

Common Preamble (without message NR)Common TextCommon Signature P NC4EO 6 Raleigh NC Aug 13 BTAll shelters need to conserve water BTJohn Smith Director NC State EOC BT
Four unique addresses
(with separate message NR’s)
NR 1 Swain County EOC Director
1 Main Street
Fontana NC 27384
828-999-8888 BT
End of message, 3 more

NR 2 Buncombe County EOC Director
2 South Street
Asheville NC 27777
828-444-5555 BT
End of message, 2 more

NR 3 Jackson County EOC Director
4 East Street
Sylva NC 29999
828-555-1234 BT
End of message, 1 more

NR 4 Graham County EOC Director
7 Mountain Street
Stecoah NC 27373 BT
End of message, no more.

In the above example the preamble and message text were only read once and
each of the addresses was associated with its message number. This prevented
needless repetition and saved time.

Note that all four messages were sent to one receiving station. The western
representative would then go to his local net and “unbook” the traffic to
send each complete message to each recipient.


Hopefully, you will find this brief manual to be practical and help build your confidence and abilities in formal traffic handling, especially during simulated or actual emergencies. It is a “fluid” document, subject to revision. Please send any comments to This document could not have been written without the generous assistance of Uncle Dave N4QPM; Dick KD4ISC; and Bob WX4MMM, with html formatting and graphics by Gary KN4AQ.