Don't be afraid to volunteer to take a piece of traffic for relay or delivery; no one will bite your head off if you mess up and most VHF traffic nets are training nets, meaning that most of the people on the net are knowledgeable about and/or interested in traffic handling and are willing to help "newbies." Don't be afraid to send traffic, either. Think of the National Traffic System as Western Union without the fees. Traffic handling is fun!!!
There is a set way to take traffic as set forth by the ARRL. In fact, they produce special forms just for that purpose. Books of these forms may be purchased here and a PDF version is available here. More experienced traffic handlers use a scrap of paper or type the message into a word processing program on their computer (such as Notepad). No one way is better, use whatever feels comfortable.
How to write up a message to prepare for sending
When you're finished, take the message to a local VHF traffic net, and, after another station enters it into "the system," in a couple of days you may get a message back either over the air or as a phone call from a fellow ham who will relay the message to you.
- On the first line of the piece of paper, at the leftmost edge, write down the message number. Most people start numbering their messages at 1 at the beginning of the year and continue, sequentially, through the end of the year, when they start over. Traffic handlers who send out mass amounts of traffic every month institute this process on a month-to-month basis. A message number is kind of like a serial number or a reference number. I have also heard of a system whereby the month, day, and the year, is incorporated into the message numbering system, such as 1106 for a piece of traffic sent on January 1, 2006, and so on. Usually only the more meticulous record keepers use this method.
- Next to the message number, write down the precedence of the message. Most messages have a precedence of routine.
- Next, write down the Handling Instructions.
- After the handling instructions comes the callsign of the station of origin. Since you are originating this message, your callsign goes here.
- Next comes the check, or the count of the number of words in the text of the message; it's best to save this step until after you have completed the message. The check includes all of the words and symbols between, but not including, the addressee and the signature.
- Next comes the place of origin, or where the station listed in the originating station block was located when the message was written.
- Next, write down the date that the message was written.
- The next part is the second most important part of your message next to the actual text of the message: the addressee, or who you want the message to go to. Try to get as much information about the recipient as possible: name, street address, city and state, and zipcode. Phone numbers are preferred. Write this down, starting on the next line, as you would in addressing an envelope (i.e., name on a line, street address on a line, etc.).
- After the addressee comes the text of your message; start this on the line after the last line of the addressee. It can be of any length but most traffic handlers try to keep the text down to 25 words or less.
- Now, skip 2 lines and put you signature. Most people put their name and callsign; some just their name.
Example of a finished message:
106 Routine G KC8OJN 6 Martinsburg, WV Jan 23
Nick Siebold, KC8OJN
1013 Chestnut Drive
Martinsburg, WV 25401
Greetings from West Virginia X
When you read this message to someone over the air, leave couple seconds in between words so that the receiving station can get everything written (or typed) down. If the receiving station needs clarification on how a word is spelled, read back the word using the phonetic alphabet. The message above should sound like this when read over the air:
"Message number one-zero six...routine...gulf...kilo-charlie-eight-oscar-juliet-november...
figure six...Martinsburg...West...Virginia...January figures two-three...Nick...Siebold...
I spell sierra-india-echo, bravo-ocsar-lima-delta...figures one-zero-one-three...chestnut...
drive...Martinsburg...West Virginia...figures two-five-four-zero-one...figures three-zero-four,
five-five-five, one-two-one-two...break for text" (release the PTT and wait for the receiving
station to confirm that he has copied the preamble down correctly, then resume) "Greetings...
from...West...Virginia...initial x-ray...figures seven-three...break and sign it Nick...
kilo-charlie-eight-oscar-juliet-november...end...no more (or 1, 2, 3, etc. more if you have more
messages to send)"
The counting of words:
In the example above, "Greetings from West Virginia," counts as 4 words; "X" (read as "Initial X-ray") and "73" (read as "Figures seven-three") count as one word each, for a total of six words. Count everything between (but not including) the phone number and the signature. Figures, letter and mixed groups, and single letters count as one word. Mixed groups are letters and numbers together, such as 498A (read as, "Mixed group Four-Nine-Eight-Alpha").
How to receive a message
After you have volunteered (or been selected by the NCS) to take a piece of traffic, grab a traffic form or a piece of paper and a pen and copy down everything that the sending station says. When he reads the signature, ends the message, and turns the frequency over to you, if you have copied everything down correctly, say "Copy your number (message number), (your callsign) back to net." If you need a fill, need the sender to send again but slower, or if you count the words of the text and it doesn't match the check that the sending station read, feel free to ask for corrections or help here.
How to deliver a message
Now comes the part that most people dread: picking up the phone and delivering the message to the recipient. DON'T WORRY!!! Just follow these steps and you should make it through unscathed.
- Once you have copied down a message and have a free moment, pick up the phone and call the recipient, or, if given the incorrect phone number, use every resource at you disposal to find the right number and make the call. If all else fails, you can always write a letter; you are by no means obligated to spend a stamp on a piece of traffic, but some people think that it is good practice to deliver the message by any means necessary.
- If answered in person or by an answering machine, introduce yourself, explain that you are not a salesperson and that you have a message for (name of the recipient) from (the name in the signature). It is also advisable to give some other identifiable information such as the place of origin or a named organization.
- After the person recognizes who the message is from, read the message. Even if the recipient is a ham, don't read the preamble and deecode any ARRL Numbered Radiograms. Read it as you would in normal speech.
- When you're done you may engage in some idle conversation about the contents of the message or about Amateur Radio and the National Traffic System in general. Just be yourself!!!
- According to the handling instructions on the message, you may be required to get a response from the recipient and send it back to the originator. Whether you get one or not (don't worry if you don't), it is also advisable to give your phone number.
For further (and possibly better) explanations of how to send, receive, and deliver, traffic, please read and/or download the information on the following pages:
National Traffic System Methods and Practices Guidelines
Public Service Communications Manual, Section 2, Chapters 1-11
You may also want to purchase The ARRL Operating Manual